Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Hang Around for a Bit and Watch Me Lose My Mind

When I was a kid, my sisters and I used to make fun of my mother's habit of mangling names. For example, Bob Burke would be called "Bill Bark" by my mother.

"Bob Burke, Mom!" we would say, laughing and shaking our heads. "Bob Burke!"

What little smarty pants we were. She should have locked us in our rooms overnight with only bread and water until we learned more respect. I know now how disrespectful, how full of sass we were. I know that because my own children are now doing it to me.

And it's not funny being the one who mangles names. I have this uncanny ability to screw up people's names, no matter who they are. Now, when I look in the mirror not only do I see my mother, I now hear her voice. My biggest embarassment is that I often call some ordinary citizen by a celebrity name. So, I now refer to Jennifer Andrews as Julie Andrews. My children howl with laughter, shaking their heads.

They're this close to being locked in their rooms with bread and water.

I've been thinking a lot about why this is happening. Sure, some of it might be age. OK, a little itty, bitty, tiny part might be age. But I think the biggest culprit for me is the number of distractions and my perpetual multitasking.

I worry that this problem will affect the quality of my work. Mangling names in print is a definite no-no, but it's already happened.

I've been doing some research on how the brain functions, and what I can do to get a better handle on my name mangling and forgetfulness. The key is getting rid of a lot of bad habits and honestly, going back to doing some things the way I used to, especially when it comes to doing one thing before moving on to something else. (No more talking on the phone while printing something out and cleaning out my e-mail.)

According to Corinne Gediman and her book, "Brainfit," there are some things I can do every day to make my mind sharper and improve my memory. I'm only going to list five, because until my mind gets clearer, I won't remember to do more than that:

1. Work a jigsaw puzzle. I'm supposed to work it as quickly as possible and then write down how long it takes. In a week, I'll try it again and see if my time has improved.
2. Go to a movie, and then tell someone about it the next day. I'm supposed to provide names of the actors and the general plot. Maybe my bad habit will reverse itself and I'll start calling George Clooney by some average George's name.
3. Take a walk and really observe everything around me. When I get home, I'm going to write down something I had never noticed before, giving as much detail as possible.
4. Do errands without a list. Currently I have notes to myself on every flat surface of my home. I'm going to try to focus on just one shopping trip and remember everything without a list. I'm trying not to panic at the thought.
5. Read something I don't have an interest in. I read a lot already, but there are some things that don't get my interest: my son's car magazine; instructions to any appliance in my home; and a new age book that's very popular right now. I'm going to start reading stuff that I'm inclined to pass by.

Do you feel your memory is getting worse? What do you do to "troubleshoot" memory or concentration problems?



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Robert Hruzek said...

Howdy, Anita! I know the feeling, believe me. The irony is that after all these years of ignoring computer games, now they tell us the best solution for getting your brain into shape is... a computer game called Brain Age!

But I think you're on the right track - just doing things you're not used to doing, or doing things in a different way. It gets the cobwebs off.

Ian Tang said...

This post reminds of a Bill Cosby bit where he says every parent put a curse on their kids: I wish your kids act just like you. (or some something similar)
Another way to help the mind is to clear small tasks immediately rather than let it linger in your/my mind like answering e-mails after reading or commenting to a post like this one.

Anita said...

I always tell my kids' teachers that I want them to have a lifelong love of learning, and I need to keep that in mind for myself. My mother was 65 when she learned to use a computer, and that should be an inspiration to me, as well!
Thanks for commenting!

Anita said...

That's funny...I always thought of my parents as old. Then I realized that was because my sisters and I made them that way! (Imagine three teenage girls and one bathroom).
On days when I find myself feeling overwhelmed, I'll often pick up a broom and sweep the kitchen floor. Sounds weird, but it makes me feel better because I've gotten SOMETHING done! Thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you about the issue of multitasking as a roadblock to real concentration. I am big into lists myself...Maybe because I like checking things off of them, but that's another whole issue!

I blogged about ways to remember peoples' names: http://keppiecareers.wordpress.com/2008/04/04/remember-their-name-for-career-success/

People love to hear their own name, and it is certainly important in business to be able to put a name with a face.

Thanks for the research and tips of things to do to try to keep a fit brain!

Miriam Salpeter
Keppie Careers

Anita said...

That is indeed a great post. I'm definitely going to try it. I'm just hoping that if I remember the "Brad" part I don't call someone "Brad Pitt" instead of "Brad Payton." I've gotta work on that...and I hope it will improve by erasing some of my bad habits!

Anonymous said...

Hi Anita!
I think that names are tough no matter how fit one’s brain. And indeed, Miriam’s post is an excellent one! On the issue of brain fitness, though, I think Dan Pink’s “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future” is great! He includes exercises for each of right-brain senses! It’s a great read – though Miriam offers better tips for name recall!

Anonymous said...


Oh yes, I can identify with loss of memory, especially when trying to recall a person who I was just introduced to. Good lord, not very pretty.

How I get their name is by very innocently saying, "How do you spell your name?" Imagine the stares I get when I ask Donna how to spell hers!

I agree with Bog - you're on the right track - one thing at a time. I know it's hard but try it. One thing at a time and see how it makes you feel to finish it before moving on to something else. It gives you a little bit of a power trip because then you're in control. Not the other stuff screaming for your attention.

Great article - love your writing style.

Anita said...

Thanks much for the suggestion...will have to check it out. Guess I shouldn't feel too bad until the day comes that I can't remember MY name.

Anita said...

It's reassuring to know other people have this problem. I don't want to fall into the trap of saying, "Oh, I'm terrible with names" and just give up. Then I'll be one of those people who call everyone "son" or "sister"! Thanks for posting, and especially for the nice compliment about my writing.

Karen Putz said...

I was going to say something... but I forgot what it was-- oh that's right-- yeah, I have trouble remembering names and it seems to be getting worse as the years go on.

I've learned to repeat a person's name and to try and use it several times in a conversation. Of course, if I lipread it wrong, that leads to an interesting conversation the first time I say the name back!

As for my own name, I've encountered people saying Mrs. Putts, Mrs. Plotz, Mrs. Puse-- because they can't believe someone would have a name like Putz!