THE BLOG
03/11/2013 12:59 pm ET | Updated May 11, 2013

Get Your Head in the Game

A good portion of my day is spent talking with women my age. More often than not, we are reaching for the title of that book we loved or fumbling for the name of that actor who co-starred in that movie with what's-her-face.

So, when I read about a new technique for developing a photographic memory, I was encouraged that I might be able to clear a bit of my meno-fog.

Supposedly, it only takes a few minutes a day for a month and all that you need is a dark room, a bright lamp and a sheet of paper with a rectangular hole cut to the size of a paragraph for the words that you want to remember. It involves turning the light on and off and making your brain develop the ability to "photograph" the words so that eventually when you look at something, then look away, you remember it.

Spies and CIA agents have apparently been using this secret technique for years and it was classified as top-secret, but there are so many aging Americans today struggling with questions like "What did I come into this room to get?" that some high-level security clearance has been granted to leak this memory building secret.

I'm also considering implementing another memory enhancing technique called a mnemonic device. For example, If I need to remember to buy applesauce, I build a "memory palace" where I picture someone famous as well as ironic and therefore unforgettable like Demi Moore swimming in a vat of it.

I do still have a few marbles. Decades ago, I sprouted energy antennas from my years of waitressing in college. When used on my kids, I call it my ESPN (extra sensory perception of knuckleheads) and it also helps me read the vibe of any person walking down the street.

But memory loss is a sniper. When I was young, I didn't appreciate it. Oh, how I regret never having been anyone's phone-a-friend in the '80s! I could instantaneously pluck exactly the correct sliver of trivial knowledge from my vast cerebral storage unit at any given moment and it came out of my mouth exactly as I intended, which is not something I can promise these days.
Now, I can't remember what I came into CVS to buy. Turning around in a complete circle used to work, but now it just makes me look like I've lost the marbles that I actually have lost.

Repeating a phone number out loud, over and over again, does not guarantee that I will actually be able to remember the number long enough to dial it.

Since our memory gives us many capabilities, it is anguishing to feel it disappoint us when we ask ourselves a question and the answer exceeds our grasp. Our memory helps us to have insight, to find wit and humor in our personal exchanges, to connect the dots between previously unconnected notions, to learn from mistakes and to brainstorm new ideas. All of these virtues depend on our ability to remember.

Our memories make us who we are.

So, what does this have to do with exercise?

To quote the great baseball coach Yogi Berra, "90% of the game is half mental." When you build-or at the minimum, maintain-your memory skills, it hones your focus. When you are focused mentally, you are more able to make yourself do things you might otherwise allow yourself to skip, like exercise. And as you become more proficient at finding your focus in your workouts, the more relaxing and effective your training sessions will become.

Your focus is a tool that gets you to your goals in a different and better way than willpower. Willpower is a depletable resource. Think of willpower as a tool that will only last a limited amount of time, like the red bar on your cellphone that makes you start looking for an outlet.
Focus, on the other hand, is like a river. The more you channel it in one direction, the more power it has to transform your life. Once you start to focus, the easier it is to stay focused. It's like dialing binoculars to the best clarity. Once you find the clearest view, it's like locking onto a receptor sight; once you find your focus it is easier to maintain your focus.

According to Joshua Foer, the author of Moonwalking with Einstein, the brain is amazingly neuroplastic, meaning that is a mutable organ that is capable of reorganizing itself and readjusting to new kinds of sensory input. We are never too old to put new folds in the cerebellum. So, if we can improve our ability to remember, then we are training our brains to send out motor impulses with greater efficiency and optimization which means that we are more focused.

According to Foer, focus is what makes the difference between experts and non-experts. Experts notice things that non-experts don't even see and have an almost automatic sense of what to do with it. They can juggle more information at one time than the rest of us.
Professional athletes come to mind as well. Focus is a main factor that differentiates between the major leagues and the farm team, between the Olympic trials and sitting the bench. Pro athletes are the experts of their sport. Experts are the vanguard of our people. We need experts. When they make discoveries or invent things, they will reach back to all of us and pull us alongside them or if they are playing a sport, perhaps we will stand up and cheer them on.
A strong memory is a virtue because it represents the internalization of knowledge out there in the universe. It is bringing the outside in.

Training our brains to memorize is really training ourselves to be more mindful and to pay attention to the world around us. Remembering happens more when we consciously decide to take notice.

Remembering is everything. Remembering soothes me and reassures me that I know where I'm going and what I'm talking about. Doesn't it feel great to reach for a name or a word and then to have the answer surface? "Mission Control to Houston, We have contact!"

Remembering makes me feel like I've learned something, even if it's what not to do.

Remembering gives me something to talk about later on. It is the way my ADD medicates itself. It's how I psyche myself up in the morning and how I wind myself down at bedtime. Remembering is bliss.

Now.

Where was I?