During her 2017 Success with ADHD Telesummit, Laurie Dupar of Coaching for ADHD interviewed Dr. Kari Miller, of ADHD Clear and Focused (https://adhdclearandfocused.com) about how to unleash your secret ADHD memory capacity.
When she was in college, Dr. Kari Miller was a single mother with a job, so she had to learn how to boost her memory skills.
Memory and the Brain
According to Dr. Miller, you have more control over your memory than you realize. We’re lucky to be living now when neuro science is revealing how the brain works and how to make it easier to boost your memory. In fact, at least two thirds of your memory are derived from factors that you can totally control. You can build a framework to improve your memory, whether you have ADHD or not.
People want to improve their memories in many areas of their lives, including names, conversations, directions, location of objects, why they walked into a room, vocabulary, and everyday tasks such as remembering to take their keys out of the ignition.
Memory is everything you do. It’s not a thing. In fact, it’s an action word. It’s the result of taking the right kind of action. The first step is to understand what the brain requires to turn an experience into a memory. The parts of this process were coined R.A.D. memory, by Judy Willis, a neuroscientist and middle school teacher.
R is for Reticular Activating System (RAS). This is the network of nerve pathways in the brain stem connecting the spinal cord, cerebrum, and cerebellum. It mediates the overall level of consciousness. The RAS alerts the brain there is something incoming that is unfamiliar. Is it a friend or foe? Is it related to your goals and your survival? What the RAS considers to be important is passed to the hippocampus, the elongated ridges on the floor of each lateral ventricle of the brain. The hippocampus is thought to be the center of emotion, memory, and the autonomic nervous system. This is where something can be remembered. It’s our job to tell the RAS that it’s something that’s important and should be passed to the hippocampus to be remembered.
A is for Amygdala. This is the area of the brain that assigns emotions to experiences through the senses – sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. The memory function won’t start unless the amygdala decides the experience can go through its filter.
D is for Dopamine. Dopamine is a neurochemical that kicks in when we enjoy an experience or anticipate a positive experience. It helps your mind focus on what you want to focus on, i.e., it regulates your intention. If dopamine levels are low, then new information or new experiences are totally lost. If dopamine levels are high, then you’ll be more focused, more interested, and more likely to remember an experience or information. Think of dopamine as the neurochemical that controls the “Save” key in your memory bank.
Only the most dynamic experiences pass through the R (Reticular Activating System) and A (Amygdala) and then are saved by the D (Dopamine).
When you actively direct your attention, it’s more intense and the brain is more likely to remember. You must deeply engage and focus your attention for something to have a stronger chance of it being remembered. You must pay attention in a particular way. Once a memory is saved in your brain, it’s connected to other saved memories in the brain. You can tie new information to existing memories in your long-term memory in meaningful ways. In other words, it’s like leaving breadcrumbs from the old to the new memories.
The following techniques are fun and essential if you want to have a better memory. They can work for everyone.
However, people with ADHD have a heightened need for stimulation, which they can apply to improve their memory by using these stimulating techniques shared by Dr. Miller.
Memory Framework – LACES
The strongest type of memory framework is labeled LACES, which stands for location, association, context, emotion, and sensory frameworks. Here’s how it works.
Location – The brain is skilled at processing physical location. Use the power of place to improve your memory.
Association – Connect something you already know to something new you want to remember to anchor your memory.
Context – Create a story to enrich the fabric of an experience to give you more power to remember it.
Emotion – Find creative and fun ways to make the information you want to remember full of emotion, e.g., sexy, outrageous, funny, colorful, loud, or gross. Information will get processed and stored in your memory with these types of emotional triggers. The emotions prime your motor system to act and raise your dopamine levels, which saves the memory. An alternative method to ramp up your emotions is to connect the experience with your values and identify why remembering something is so important to you
Sensory Frameworks – Make an association in your mind with what you want to remember and your five senses. For example, use songs, movements, smells, and/or touch to match your sensory type to what you want to remember.
The more you identify and use your strengths with this framework, the more you’ll remember. AIM for a better memory. Get things in your brain bank. Use the LACES framework to form a new habit.
Attention + Imagination = Memory
Here’s an example of how to implement the LACES framework to help you remember to take your car keys out of the ignition.
Imagine a wind chime made of car keys. Design the keys any way you want – their shape, color, pattern, and number. Imagine the wind chime tied to the door handle on the inside of your driver door. How does it sound? How does it feel? Can you imagine how your car door feels about this? Get in touch with that door. Mentally get out of the door and your wind chime starts to demand attention. What is your wind chime saying to you? Maybe the car key starts jumping out of the ignition and starts to sing to you.
Use vivid, unusual, crazy images. This experience gets the attention of your brain. At this point, when you reach for the door handle the images of the loud chime and the singing key will get your attention. You’ll more likely remember to take the key out of the ignition. You could even tie a few keys to your door handle and that will retrieve the vivid imagery with a story about a serenading key and a panicked door handle. Use sights, sounds, textures, and movements to improve your memory for this every day task.
In conclusion, these techniques aren’t optional if you want a better memory. You can have fun creating memories and taking control over things that are important to you.
You can reach Dr. Kari Miller at Adhdclearandfocused.com.