Brain fog. That nebulous clouding of consciousness that seems to affect so many of us with Meniere’s disease. For years I have fought an uphill battle against brain fog and have spent countless hours researching ways to try to reduce its effects. Fortunately, I have found many strategies that work quite well.
If you are just tuning in for the first time, make sure to check out part 1 of this series where I cover an overview of brain fog, lifestyle management techniques for reducing brain fog, creativity exercises, and Nootropic (cognitive enhancing) supplements.
One of the most frustrating aspects of brain fog is the way it seems to rob you of your ability to remember things. Losing focus and attention is one thing, but forgetting your responsibilities, promises, and to do items, is another thing entirely. It has the power to damage your personal relationships.
It’s good, then, that there are ways to strengthen your memory with techniques that have existed for thousands of years, yet only recently have been rediscovered.
Another aspect of brain fog that can be incredibly devastating is that fuzzy feeling of fatigue and lack of motivation that many experience. It becomes hard to get anything accomplished when your mental energy levels are low and you feel unmotivated. The good news is that there are ways around this as well.
By the end of this series, you will have many tools at your disposal for fighting brain fog. Though no one technique may ever be enough to eliminate brain fog completely, it is my hope that by employing many or all of them, your brain fog will reduce drastically. Let’s dive in.
Over the years, one of the things that has helped me control my brain fog the most, is cultivating a love of learning. For so many of us, we have a tendency to go through our days like robots mindlessly following a script. We go to work, we come home, we watch TV, we play on our iPhones, and browse Facebook. All novelty gets lost and distractions rule our lives.
I have found that engaging your mind with intellectual stimulation can do wonders to mitigate the effects of brain fog. For me this has taken a specific shape. I read as much as possible (often for several hours a day), I listen to interesting TED talks, interviews, and podcasts, and from time to time I take online courses to learn new skills.
I have found that by constantly feeding my mind interesting knowledge on topics that fascinate me, my mind seems to be sharper and less impacted by brain fog. When brain fog does occur, listening to an audio book or watching an interesting documentary is generally a good way to get my mind revved up and firing again.
Make time in your routine for intellectual stimulation. Learn that new skill you’ve always wanted to learn. Start reading that stack of books or novels that has been accumulating dust on your shelf. Fire up Netflix and watch an interesting documentary. Figure out what fascinates you, explore, and be inspired; it will build up your mental energy.
Passion, Momentum, and Motivation
Passion can be a powerful force for building momentum and motivation in your life while brain fog can quickly reduce both. The more you have in reserve, the better. By discovering the things that you are passionate about, that get you fired up and excited to be alive, and pursuing them, you can tap into a source of energy and love for life more powerful than anything you could have imagined.
So how do you find out what lights a fire under you? Well, it helps first to think back to your childhood. Before the world force-fed you an understanding of how life works. Before all your heart breaks and pain. Before Meniere’s disease. What did you love to do as a child? What did you want to be when you grew up? These questions will help get you thinking in the right direction.
Here is another good question to consider. If you never had to worry about money or illness, what would you do with your time?
Would you start a business? Make art? Make music? Help others, maybe work for a charity? Maybe you would write a book or a play or a memoir. Maybe you would learn a craft.
It’s OK to not have the answers. Just asking the questions is a good start. My advice is simple; try lots of new things. Expand your horizons as much possible and when you find that something that gets you excited, you may be on the right path. Even if your Meniere’s symptoms limit you, there is still plenty to explore and do on the internet from home, not to mention the occasional days of relief from your symptoms. Take advantage of them to the fullest.
In my opinion, passion-fueled momentum is the most powerful force in the universe for counteracting brain fog. The raw, pure, unadulterated excitement that comes from working on a project that you are passionate about cannot be understated; treasure these moments.
By finding your passions and shaping your life around them to the best of your ability, you can greatly reduce brain fog’s ability to affect you.
Before I get into specific techniques, I want you to grasp one thing right now; memory is not a fixed trait. It is a skill that can be learned and enhanced through training. This simple truth is cause for hope.
For many, including myself, brain fog can severely impair memory and recall ability. The impact can however be lessened by understanding the inherent strengths and weaknesses of our memory capabilities and learning techniques to leverage the strengths.
For some reason, people are generally bad at remembering numbers, lists of words, and abstract concepts. On the other hand, people are usually very good at remembering images, stories, physical locations and places they know.
The basic technique is to take difficult to remember information and transform it into something that our brains can easily remember. This practice is known as “Linking” and all it takes is a little bit of imagination.
Linking is a powerful memory trick and is easy to start using right away. You simply take the thing you wish to remember and turn it into a story with vivid, exaggerated images in your mind.
To demonstrate, I will walk you through the process of remembering the following grocery list: Eggs, Beef, Green Beans, Celery, Fish, Chicken, Guacamole, Bananas, Ice Cream, and Orange Juice.
Now, read the following ridiculous story slowly and as you read, really try to vividly imagine the scene in your mind:
The Easter Bunny is sitting on top of a ladder in the middle of a field, violently throwing giant brightly colored Eggs at Cows grazing in the field. The cows moo loudly in protest. Across the field, Mickey Mouse is laying in a large hammock, made out of a single giant Green Bean. Mickey is drinking a bucket sized Bloody Mary with a whole stalk of Celery sticking out. Suddenly, Mickey turns to see a large Fish with human legs, chasing a two headed Chicken across the nearby road. The two headed chicken dives into an Olympic-sized swimming pool filled with Guacamole on the other side of the road to hide from the fish. The fish gives up on the chicken and heads home and to his delight, finds his bathtub is filled with a massive Banana Split Ice cream Sundae. He eats the entire thing and turns on the faucet to clean out the tub only to find heavy pulp orange juice coming out. He shrugs and takes a drink.
Now, go back and reread the last paragraph several times, really imagine it, in as much detail as possible. Once you’ve done that, minimize your browser and grab a pen and paper.
In your mind, I want you to play back the story. Mentally walk through the details of the story and as you get to each image, write down the corresponding grocery item it represents. For instance when you get to the cows, you write down beef.
I’m willing to bet you were able to remember the whole list. Pretty amazing, right?
By taking information you need to remember and transforming it into a vivid and imaginative story, you will have a much easier time remembering. When choosing images and scenarios for your story, the more extreme, exaggerated, disgusting, crazy, humorous, and dramatic, the better. We remember things that invoke emotion, whether shock, disgust, laughter, sadness, etc., with much greater clarity then mundane, random facts.
Memory Palace Technique:
The memory palace technique builds directly on the concept of linking. It is fun to use, easy to learn, and has been around since the time of Ancient Rome.
Earlier I mentioned that people are naturally very good at remembering places they know. This is because a large amount of mental energy is devoted to navigating our environment. I’ll give you an example:
Close your eyes, and imagine you are standing at the front door of the home where you grew up. Open the door and mentally walk through the layout of your childhood home. You can probably remember the layout with a surprising level of detail. You may be surprised to find you can remember the layout of most places you visit frequently.
Combining this natural tendency of memory with the vivid imagery of linking creates a powerful framework for remembering information.
By mentally placing vivid images, that represent what you are trying to remember (linking), throughout a well-known location, you can easily recall the images later on by walking back through the location in your imagination. The term “memory palace” refers to any location you can easily visualize and use to store and remember information.
To get started, first choose a location that you know perfectly, such as your current home. Next, identify 10 different locations, in order of how you would walk throughout your home. For instance, the first location could be your driveway, the second location might be standing outside your front door, the third location, the room on the inside of the front door and so on. Make sure each hallway or room is counted only once.
Once you have identified 10 distinct locations within your home, close your eyes and mentally walk through the locations, in order, several times. Once you have it firmly in your mind, you can populate each location with an image that corresponds to what you are trying to remember.
If you think back to our grocery list example, you could imagine a giant Easter Bunny carrying a basket of large Eggs at the base of your drive way, while a herd of cows rushes towards your front door (representing Beef). Inside your front door, you find Mickey Mouse drinking a bucket sized Bloody Mary with a full stalk of Celery sticking out. You get the idea.
When each of the 10 locations has an image stored, you should be able to recall each image by mentally walking through the memory palace. Give it a try! The first time I recalled a list correctly, I felt like I had discovered a super power.
A variation of this technique is to use physical places on your body as locations to store information. In this amazing video, memory expert Jim Kwik demonstrates using locations on your body to memorize 10 bullet points of a speech.
With this technique you can learn to do incredible, seemingly impossible things, like memorizing a shuffled deck of cards. To my surprise, I was able to learn to do this with only several hours of practice. There are even international memory competitions where participants compete with each other to accomplish insane feats of memory. The world record for memorizing a shuffled deck of cards is a mind blowing 21.9 seconds.
These techniques have been powerful tools in helping me to overcome the memory impairment of brain fog. Hopefully they will work for you as well as they have worked me, but keep in mind, it takes practice!
More Resources for Memory Techniques:
So that concludes this two part series on conquering brain fog. I hope you have learned a lot! I still struggle with brain fog, but to a much lesser extent than ever before. In fact, I have far more good days than bad, and when brain fog does strike, I am ready to fight, and have the tools to reduce it.
Always remember, there is so much hope! Meniere’s disease will never define you. It cannot and will not ever be bigger than your dreams.