It occurred to me today that something I take for granted in my everyday schedule might be interesting to some of you folks, as well. I wanted to share.
I’ve always had some troubles with word association, especially when it comes to speaking out loud. I’m fine when writing, since writing requires a certain amount of forethought, and then another round of editing (at least my writing does). But when I’m speaking, I often have trouble remembering words, especially proper nouns and the names of gadgets and technical equipment. I’m lucky that most of my friends and family are great guessers, since I end up saying stuff like, “You know, that THING that does the other thing, with the handle – it’s multipurpose! I bought it at Walmart last June on a rainy day. I was wearing a purple t-shirt. You were with me, we were talking about pigeons.”
It doesn’t help that my short-term memory has never been that strong, but my long-term is excellent. If I’m endeavoring to remember what I’ve done in the recent past, I can, but most of the time I’m daydreaming or thinking about other (read: much more important) things, so it seems useless for me to remember which shelf I put the mayonnaise on in the fridge, etc. The Man and I frequently have very interesting conversations where he tries to figure out what I meant when I just said “I don’t know where I put that thing thing we were talking about. Maybe it’s in that place where it always goes, under the stuff.” After knowing me for 6 years, dating me for 5, he usually doesn’t have to ask what I meant anymore. It says a lot about his innate awesomeness that my incredible ability to remain vague doesn’t throw him off of his game in the least. He also knows that though I love to make lists, it’s always best not to hand me one for safe keeping, because it WILL disappear. I frequently lose loose scraps of paper with important information FOREVER, and since I never throw things like that away, I still haven’t figured out where they go. One of life’s little mysteries.
Anyway, I know that I don’t remember things because I just don’t pay attention. What can I say? I’m a million miles away on a much more interesting plane, and I’ll always be the one who prefers thinking about universal Truth to remembering to buy trash bags on my next trip to the grocery store. I am also cognizant of the fact that the insane gaps in my spoken conversations have to do with being an introvert (According to Marti Olsen Laney, introverts tend to use word association more than extroverts, which is why if I’m trying to say something like ‘pie’, my mind first goes ‘grandma’ then ‘grandma’s oven’ then ‘grandma pulling something out of the oven’ then ‘pie’. This all happens much faster than it took to type it, but if you’re one of those people who has trouble pulling a word from the ether, try to take note of what’s actually happening in your mind next time you’re drawing a blank).
What I really didn’t like was that my attention span had started to shrink, pretty drastically. I had read about constant computer use and its effect on our ability to focus, and was pretty sure that my love of the internet in its many amazing guises had something to do with the problem. Although my first two problems bother other people a lot more than me, coupled together the three problems were impacting my life. I’m a pretty intelligent woman; my snarky sense of humor, great judge of character, and attraction to truthfulness always draw in other like-minded folks in a crowd. I wanted to expand on this, grow as a person, and not let diminishing mental faculties affect me at such a young age. I should be becoming more powerful now, hitting my stride, not petering out.
So what to do? Around the time this all started to bother me, I was doing some research for my company into computer labs for continued care retirement communities (basically retirement homes with nursing home components), and looking into what kinds of programs were available to help keep aging minds going on full throttle. I was intrigued by the idea of specific training to help keep the brain from basically atrophying as we get older. During my research, I ran across an advertisement for a website that has brain games for keeping your mind sharp. It sounded interesting, and I decided to try it out to see what the fuss was about. I ended up signing up for 2 years of training as a result.
The site is called Luminosity, and its effect on my life has been pretty profound. You can try the site out with a free trial, and a two year membership puts the full experience at under $60 per year, which is so worth it. Once you’re a member, you can sign up to take any course or combination of courses that you’d like. The games on the site have been advised and tested by some of the leading neuroscientists in the country, including experts from Stanford, Berkeley and UCSF, and are constantly being added to and updated. There are general courses that focus on improving your reaction time, memory, attention, flexibility, and problem solving abilities, or you can delve into just one of these areas at a time. The training consists of short, entertaining games with tasks like remembering the order of squares that light up, or making a cute little penguin race around a rotating maze, or playing a ‘Memory’-esque game that matches faces to name tags. Every day I play five short games that take me about 20 minutes in all to finish (they could take much less, but I like to repeat some of the games to work on my scoring).
The site also includes graphs and charts that allow you to see where you stack up next to other users in your age range, as well as keep track of your own improvement. There’s a social media aspect where you can make friends and share accomplishments, and you can also play any game you’d like at any time. There are a few games that I tend to return and play quite often, including a word association game that has greatly improved my ability to speak intelligently in front of other people. I still have problems remembering the name of gadgetry, but my attention span has improved dramatically, as has my ability to put a name to a face, and weirdly, to do math problems in my head, which is a definite bonus.
It’s a great website, and if you’ve worried about keeping your brain going strong, I’d encourage you to check it out.