Braindamage – Broken memory and remembering things.

Frequently I get asked how I remember things with my broken short term memory. The short answer is , I make a list. In this little article I’m getting into the subject of lists and how to go about them. Not making too much or too few lists and what not.

This is purely my way of getting by with memory disfunction and a lot of the stuff is applicable for people with fully functioning brains as well. Because everyone’s mental energy drops during the day. And in the end only sleep can recharge the brain.

It’s also nog a ‘one size fits all’ solution. There are lot’s of variations within the field of memory and how to memorize stuff. This is just a representation of how I do it. And I hope some of you will get some inspiration for managing ones own memory deficiency. We all have it. We all forget stuff.

I thrive with stability, a good nights sleep, a steady day planning. And my day to day is where my first list comes around the corner. My weekly planning. It’s a weekly representation of what I’m doing that week. The must do’s and how much time a have for other stuff which I can use to plan things. Or not.

I am working with a fairly simply point system. During my recovery period I have experimented with how much an activity costs energy wise. For my daily load balance I derived the number 28 from these experiments. So in order to be able to get on the next day and be my cheery self I don’t want to go over that number.

So I have a maximum points in cognitive energy which is set to 28. My Energon (Transformers reference !) so to speak. I can use these point during my day and must not go over them. For example, reading an easy book for half an hour , minus 1 point, A hard one minus 2. Outdoor appointment 3 points down.

I can also collect points by resting, well not totally, like mediation for 15 minutes 0,5 points added, running for an hour 1 point added. All adding and subtracting towards the 28 total points available.

So that’s the rundown of the first list. It’s not an exact science by the way, it’s my guideline for the week. There are weeks which will be better, or weeks that are worse. But staying near to the 28 points will mean the majority of my weeks should be stable.

But there are more lists, a list for when I set foot outside my door. Which contains of stuff I need to bring. Phone, keys, wallet, headset and so on. That list has been replaced by a ready to go bag which contains most of these items. Basically a list in a different form. Always ready for its purpose.

There is a list for whatever pops in my mind. So stuff that comes to mind and I want to remember. It’s basically the collection of my short term memory.

Within my daily planning there is stuff to do. Which will get on a to do list. I really hate that list as it is the never-ending list of lists. It gives you the feeling that you are never finished. Which you are not. But this can be contained.

I have a small to do list which only contains 3 items , which have the most priority at that time. Ones I completed these 3 I trash the list. Which means I have finished something.

Breaks , my and everyones best friend. It’s impossible for me and the rest of us to be fully cognitively active at a high leven all day long. Yes even for the superstars among us. Cognitive energy declines during the day. And recharging only really occurs when sleeping. Processing the experiences of the day takes place during our sleep. And we have to process it all in order to recharge.

Taking breaks have the function of recharging in between. So in my planning they are there all during the dat. These have 0 in value, so they don’t do anything against the decrease of my cognitive energy. Only meditation and exercise will do that.

The one thing you must remember is not to start the to do list and knowing you cannot finish it. It leaves an open ended task at the end of the day which will haunt the mind during the rest of the day. So quitting earlier sometimes is not a problem.

If you are doing a high cognitive energy task, plan it strict. Make sure there are no distractions. Mail off, phone out of reach, take a break before starting , stop when the planned time is up.

Someone which has trained for doing high cognitive energy tasks has about 4 hours of real energy during the day to do these effectively. So going over that time hardly does the job any good, grinding it out for 8 hours might be fun for the hashtag ‘#alwaysbusy’ but really does not do you any favors. The elimination of distractions does.

The day planning and to do lists are what you can do at the maximum of one day. And very important, leave room for unexpected stuff, You can’t plan a day from dusk till dawn with pre planned activity’s , meetings take longer, so then also do breaks. You must not skip breaks. The day needs to breath , have room to grow or shrink. Otherwise you will loose steam and energy and that all takes away from doing stuff properly , and your day will be run by the unexpected.

Practical lists, or more notes are the final variety in my list repertoire. I write a daily entry in my journal which has all the stuff I did, my mental and physical state and whatever thoughts need writing down.

Besides the journal , I write when I read books. For some just a quick scribble to remember some things so I don’t need te re-read pages and get on reading. And notes when reading books I need for future reference. The things I want to remember I take notes and later I will work these notes out till full blown notes which takes a larger picture into account. I have a lot of summary’s of books I read. Very handy if I want to revisit some of the knowledge.

I used to memorize a lot and could revisit a lot out of the top of my head, nowadays that is very hard, and writing helps me with this proces.

Finally, write the lists and notes on paper, with a pen, or pencil. Not in digital formats. Not in an app, not in words excel or whatever just write it down.
Ok maybe just a format for the weekly planning, but fill it out by hand.

Writing as an activity, etches the writings in the brain. And amazingly enough also in my damaged brain. So buy notebooks in all shapes and sizes and start writing.

This is the first epistle about life with brain damage and the practical side of things all people can benefit from. Nobody has endless amounts of (cognitive) energy. But with some simple methods you can improve some aspects.

Mindset – How to get things done.

Mindset, how to get things done. Whatever that may be! Well I have done a lot of experiments with what works for me and what I should improve when I want to get stuff done. It consist of a few key ingredients. First and foremost is planning. Have a goal , break it down into steps and plan the time, resources and order and start stepping.

Well that’s easy. No it’s very hard. When I first started using weekly planning sheets it was out of sheer necessity because I would otherwise forget everything. It was in place for me to get by on a day to day bases.

Then after a lot of trial and error I got my day to day in order and got myself thinking what do I want challenge myself with. And make a plan. Then I started falling into some traps. First and foremost I planned way too much , too much tasks and too much goals.

Which brings me to ‘rule’ rather recommendation number 2. Plan too little. There will always be something that takes up more time or an unplanned event will destroy your carefully set to do list.

Have no more than 1 great goal at any time in 3 categories. Max, why ? Well otherwise it will get muddy and stuff starts drifting. You can only focus on so much. For example , set a work or learning related goal, one physical fitness and one personal life goal. Learn how to program , run a 10K race and plan a trip. Or whatever you want. There will be lots of other stuff needs doing besides those goals.

It’s also divided into 3 categories for a reason, one is demanding on the brain, one on the body. You can keep those two nicely balanced , your brain needs time to digest newly learned stuff and exercise helps a lot (as does sleep) , the third must be less of a braindrain and more in the way of relaxing.

You have only about 4 hours worth of intens brain work a day anyway. If you trained yourself right.

So keep to do lists small, and allow yourself much needed rest in between. Recovery is key. Only make new to to lists when old ones are fully done. Don’t put notes and reminders for future tasks on existing to do lists , it will distract.

Makes a nice bridge to the last tip for today, when doing work that needs a of your brain power , make sure you get rid of any distractions. Put away your phone, disconnect the internet, don’t open your mailbox. Make sure you fully focus on the task at hand. Make sure everyone knows you cannot be disturbed. Make sure you have a way of letting people know they cannot disturb you during those hours , only for emergencies. And let them know what an emergency looks like.

Make sure you don’t stretch yourself too much in those intensive brainpower consuming sessions. Set an alarm after an hour or two and take a real break. Jus eat something or enjoy a good coffee. Do not let your distractions in, no phone no email no internet. Just time for recovery. Limit the total amount of time to a max of 4 hours or so per day. Start with a half an hour and build from there. It’s hard focusing with such intensity.

I have made all the mistakes having way to many goals , too much on the to do list and every distraction possible at hand. It leads to frustration and anger because nothing gets done within the time frame you planned for it. Not even close. It’s not easy getting razorsharp focus. It needs a lot of training. The mindset isn’t just there the moment you decide it is. It needs training , consistency and rhythm to cement itself.

And for now , rule or recommendation 3, don’t be too hard on yourself. There will be days when everything goes easy , and there will be days, weeks even when nothing works. Just trust yourself and stick to it. You will get there and it will get easier to get your focus back. Make sure you evaluate your goals over time, is it still the right goal and does it need adjusting. Are the steps still the right ones. Have no fear of throwing goals in the bin if it’s not achievable for you. Just start a new one. I have trashed more than I finished. But made sure I learned from my mistakes. That’s why it’s important to evaluate.

And have fun, it’s not always fun, nor should it be. Some goals will be a necessity in order too get forward. But make sure you have fun along the way. And set fun goals, stuff that you know is fun from the beginning. And never give up on yourself and the process.