“How I Improved My Memory with One Daily Habit”
“My love of reading and writing grew. And in my job, I was able to work faster and more accurately. The enhanced focus, plus reading and typing speed gained from my morning routine, carried over to my work and other areas of my life with ADHD.”
I began reading aloud to myself at bedtime some years ago in hopes of quieting the mental noise my ADHD brain made at night, which kept me awake. It worked! Reading aloud did help still my thoughts and improve my sleep, at least slightly. As the weeks passed, I also noticed that my overall reading speed improved, as did my focus on the material. Dyslexia keeps my ADHD company, so this was a welcome albeit surprising breakthrough and it made me curious: Could I edge these cognitive lifts higher?
Beyond Bedtime Reading
I began to experiment by reading aloud for 50 minutes each day as part of my morning routine. This felt good as it built on the calm and focus I’d gleaned from my bedtime reading. To make things more interesting, I next tried to read the text aloud, remember it, then type it up. Like many of us with ADHD, my working memory has always been weak. But as I practiced this process — reading, speaking, memorizing, speaking, writing, repeating — I started to see some real gains.
One month after starting this routine, I was seeing some tangible benefits: as with my bedtime reads, the morning sessions made me feel calmer and more focused. My weak working memory got stronger. I could now recall not just a few words but whole sentences — sometimes even two! My reading and typing speed increased by around 20 percent (measured by the number of words I read and the number written up in each 50-minute session, over a period of one month).
As the gains in my reading and typing took root, the mistakes I made with them diminished. My love of reading and writing grew. And in my job, I was able to work faster and more accurately. The enhanced focus, plus reading and typing speed gained from my morning routine, carried over to my work and other areas of my life.
Today, four years after I began this morning practice and with the gains still growing, it is a non-negotiable part of my daily routine. When events force a temporary pause, say due to a business trip or vacation, a brief decline in the gains mentioned does occur. But like returning to the gym after a holiday, your mental muscles can quickly recover with the gains restored after just a few days of concerted effort.
Activating My Task Positive Network
So why might this technique work? I believe this routine helps reduce my ADHD and dyslexia symptoms by activating my Task Positive Network, or TPN.
The TPN gets triggered when you pay close attention to something. (the opposite to TPN is DMN, or Default Mode Network, a state where our thoughts aren’t focused on anything in particular.) And my daily routine demands that I pay close attention to an interesting variety of things all at once — reading, speaking, memorizing, speaking, typing. It’s a virtuous circle: The more time you spend in the TPN state, the greater your focus will be and, therefore, the more easily you can access your TPN.
Furthermore, researchers at the University of Waterloo Canada found that people who read aloud can see improvements in their memory, lending further credence to my little experiment.
Here’s how you can try this technique yourself:
- Choose a text to read that REALLY interests you — a favorite magazine, book, script, story or academic paper. The format does not matter so long as the reading captivates you.
- Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed and you won’t disturb anyone else as you read aloud.
- Place the text in front of you – if the text is digital and you have two screens, use one to for showing the text and the other for writing it up.
- Then, begin reading the text aloud — keep your eyes focused on the page or screen in front, read the sentence and hold it in memory. Then, look down at the keyboard and type as much as you can remember.
- Attention — at every stage, give your total attention to what you are reading, remembering, speaking aloud, and writing down. Try giving it your all – you may even enter a state of flow.
- Read it back — when you’ve finished two 25-minute sprints, take another five-minute break, ideally away from the screen (stand up, take a short walk, skip rope, look outside, stand on a balance board, jog on the spot, have a stretch, etc.). Then return and read back what you have written as fast and clearly as you can in your most confident voice.
Try to enunciate the words as you go. Really focus on each word and sentence. Don’t worry if you’re tongue tied when you start; daily practice of this routine will reduce the verbal trip-ups as your accuracy, fluency, and confidence improve. See how many words you can read, remember, and write in 50 minutes!
This daily 50-minute routine is ideally done in two 25-minute sprints using the Pomodoro technique. But, in the words of ADHD expert Dr Ned Hallowell, finding ‘your right difficult’ is key to feeling nicely challenged but not overwhelmed, and so leave you wanting more. You may want to try shorter sprints when you start, and then build up their length from there.
As someone who loves reading and writing but has always struggled with both, this exercise continues to be a mainstay of every productive day I have. It demands your effort, but this routine has mitigated my ADHD and dyslexia symptoms — honing my focus, clarity, and memory in really rewarding ways.
How to Improve Memory: Next Steps
- Download: Get Control of Your Life and Schedule
- Learn: Improve Working Memory with These Brain Training Tricks
- Read: It’s Like a Personal Trainer for Your Brain
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