Paying Attention for a Good Memory

Paying attention, being aware of what is going on around you is one of the best skills for overcoming adversity.

Paying attentionIt is also the foundation for building an incredible memory.

I was struggling to find a good topic to write about this morning. After 30 minutes I gave up. I had  a soil sampling project to do for a neighbour. I decided to do that first, so I spent two and a half enjoyable hours walking around fields of wheat stubble.

It was cooler than it has been the last few days, just right for a vigorous walk. The first leaves on the maple trees are starting to turn orange. A sharp reminder that we are nearing the end of summer. The wheat stubble crunching under my feet. Patches of undersown clover with purple flowers showing green through the golden brown wheat stalks.

A good morning outside in the fresh air, good exercise.

Over lunch, I watched this TED video by Joshua Foer about how we can improve our memories.

Joshua explains how it is quite simple to train your memory to remember the sequence of a randomly shuffled pack of playing cards, hundreds of people’s names or thousands of random numbers.

Watch the video or click this link to Joshua Foer’s website for more information on how to develop your memory to competition winning standards.

For me, the most important lessons in the video were not the tips for improving memory, they were Joshua’s comments on:

The importance of paying attention.

Some of the gems:

Having little need to remember any more, we’ve forgotten how.

Want to live a memorable life? Then remember to remember.

Our lives are the sum of our memories. How much are we willing to lose of our short lives by losing ourselves in our Blackberries and iPhones?

He explains that having a good memory comes from:

  • Paying Attention
  • Being Deeply Engaged
  • Attaching Significance to what we want to remember
  • mindfulness

It’s really hard to do and have those if you are focused on a little electronic screen.

Paying attention and being aware of what is happening around me has saved me from serious injury many times. Saved my life once or twice. Saved another man’s life because I was paying attention, noticed something that did not fit the picture and decided not to shoot – all in a fraction of a second. I wrote about it in this post.

Perhaps I am lucky to have lived in the times and places I did. For a large part of my life I lived with constant threat from bad people, dangerous animals and hazardous situations. I don’t think that is the only reason.

There were fewer distractions before smart phones and the internet. There was also more engagement with the outside world, more mindfulness.

There are many examples today of people who do pay attention, are engaged and mindful of the world around them. Some are writers, some artists, some creators, some inventors and entrepreneurs.

Most children are engaged and mindful even if they often pay attention to the wrong things.

Few social media and video game addicts can be as mindful of the big world out there.

I will remember this morning’s crunching walk through the wheat stubble and clover, the breeze ruffling the slowly bronzing leaves of the trees. The smell and feel of the damp soil as I pushed the brown core out of the sampler.The large round bales of straw dotting the fields like random scatterings from a giant’s pill-box. The fluttering sparrow with a damaged wing that I almost stepped on. The refreshing coolness of the water from my refillable water bottle when I got back to my truck.

What will you remember from paying attention today? What memories will you add to the sum of your life?

How many of today’s memories are you willing to lose by paying attention to your smart phone, tablet or TV screen?

Leave a comment, I’d like to hear your thoughts.




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  4 comments for “Paying Attention for a Good Memory

  1. Tim Gibney
    August 22, 2015 at 5:37 am

    Peter when you stated “Perhaps I am lucky to have lived in the times and places I did.” I was surprised. As I don’t see any luck in it. I believe you were placed in those past situations for a reason, then moving to North America has helped you inform others of those past incidents. If it wasn’t for your past and what you’ve written and spoken about my life would not have been enhanced as it has been. In other words, your recall of your past has helped me look at life with new eyes.

    • Peter
      August 25, 2015 at 9:02 am

      Thank you Tim, perhaps “fortunate ” would have been a better word than “lucky”. However. I really do consider myself fortunate to have lived in the places and times I did, despite the sometimes difficult circumstances.

  2. August 23, 2015 at 10:48 am

    I am not positive that electronics – i-phones, Blackberries, etc., – cause people to lose memories. What they more often do, especially if used mindlessly, is prevent people from living in and enjoying the present. I think that today’s gadgets when over used and used mindlessly prevent people from living in the present. I guess in some ways that would mean memories are not made. So maybe you are correct.

    But I also have to wonder if these gadgets stop memories or only changes them.

    I do not have a memory of today yet. Too early in the day. But I will remember yesterday. I spent the day with my brother who has Alzheimers. Yesterday was the worst I have seen him. So difficult for me to see and process. I am still trying to deal with and sort out my thoughts, feelings, and memories of yesterday. Am going to a fun and mindless movie today to help me forget.

    • Peter
      August 25, 2015 at 9:06 am

      You are right Roberta, concentrating on electronic devices causes people to miss all sorts of stimuli that could create memories.

      It also causes some of them to walk into life-threatening hazards, especially cars at traffic intersections.

      Hope you enjoyed the movie and that your next visit to your brother will be better.

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