4 Brain-hacking techniques for memory, creativity, and loneliness

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We are going to look at 4 brain hacks that offer some direct benefits for a short duration. The first brain hack revs up the brain for better recall. The second one uses a much-ignored but highly relevant memory system. The third trick affects the brain holistically for creativity. And the fourth counters loneliness.

Let us first define a mind/brain hack.

In the context of this article, a brain hack is any activity that you can do which will deliberately manipulate your brain’s functioning to give you some additional benefit. 

Example: Do this to increase memory for 1 minute. 

brain hacking article cover, image of matrix style numbers with a line drawing of a brain

1. Move eyes side to side to temporarily boost observation and memory capacity

Want to remember something really well or observe reliably? Move your eyes left to right or right to left (sideways) for about 30 seconds consistently. You will now have a heightened memory for what you just learned or read before making your eye movements. You will have better recall of details, and you will be less confused.

How? Moving eyes side to side[1] engages a number of brain regions that are connected to cognitive skills in each of the 2 brain hemispheres (the left and right hemispheres). The corpus callosum plays a role here. It is the major highway that connects the left and right sides of the brain. Cross-communication between both sides creates more mental resources available at your disposal.

This way, the brain is ‘revved up’ by eye movement for a short period, so you can now utilize more mental resources. This may also help to remember information better after eye movement, but more research is needed to understand its scope.

Use: Improving observation on purpose for a small amount of time, improving your recalling (remembering) capacity for a short duration

T&C: Works best for right-handed people, not left-handed people.

There are long-term ways to improve your memory and observation, which you’ll find in the linked articles.

2. Recall at random & remember to remember

Can’t remember minute random details? Use a remember-to-remember trick at random times. This type of memory is called prospective memory. You simply need to mentally mark some information that you come across as important. You are now attaching weight to this information (you can even imagine hanging an anchor on that information, get creative). Once you do that, you should recall that bit of information shortly after.

After that, mentally mark it as remembered and then schedule another moment in the future for remembering. But when you schedule, you are just reminding yourself to remember it. You should actively recall that detail there and then. This will become a neat habit once you learn how to quickly recall details after a while and mentally mark them as ‘recalled.’

How? Information carries some level of importance. We can call this the ‘weight’ of information. This is the same as you remembering an exam date easily, whereas you struggle with remembering the date you last ate some Chinese food. This weight is crucial in remembering that detail. But memories that are not given much importance fade away fast. Once you remember to remember and recall it there and then, you reinforce that memory and delay its decay. After doing this a few times, that memory will be strong enough for you to rely on it. Perfect for trivia you learn in meetings and classrooms. 

Use: Remembering phone numbers, names, information gathered through small talk or business meetings, bank details, vocabulary, etc.

T&C: Needs practice.

3. Use random music to help creativity

Have you reached a creative block? You can space out to actually let your brain figure out solutions automatically. Spacing out isn’t the hack. The hack is that you listen to random music when you space out and then return to your work. This will have stimulated many brain regions that may be unrelated to your problem but could help with creating a solution using the other stimulated regions of the brain. So you will have different brain areas working in concert to help tackle the problem. 

This technique has a secondary use case. You can also listen to different types of music while working. Similar rules apply, and the music could help you focus and let you intuitively think about new perspectives using the newly stimulated brain regions. 

How? Music stimulates A LOT of the brain, more than anything else. It engages all sorts of brain regions[2] that are seemingly not connected to sound. This simply provides more mental resources to address the problem at hand. And each of these regions is good at doing something that might be useful to you. Applying the processes of a certain brain region to information may create something creative.

In fact, according to the construal level theory, it is possible that the distraction of music increases the processing load of your work and shifts to a “global” big-picture perspective, allowing your brain to think in an abstract way. This promotes creative thinking. 

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Use: Getting over a creative block, looking for ideas, novel solutions, etc.

T&C: This mind hack depends heavily on your musical preference, the type of work you are doing, and your baseline attention. Here is more research on the topic. 

4. Hack your brain into thinking it’s not lonely

Social exclusion can make you feel cold, literally[3]! Your fingertip temperature drops when you feel excluded. And feeling cold can increase loneliness even more. There is a way out[4]; touch something warm, like soup, coffee, a hot shower, blankets, and snug clothing. It increases physical warmth.

How? Your brain interprets physical warmth as social warmth, which reduces loneliness! The current understanding in psychology is that all forms of warmth recruit at least 1 common brain region to process warmth, and warmth itself is a fundamental dimension of perception. So 2 types of warmth are inherently linked together, and one warmth processes the other warmth.

Use: Helps when you have winter lows, depression through loneliness, and no one to hang out and connect with.

T&C: It’s a temporary mood repair technique. Eventually, you’ll have to counter loneliness systematically with better approaches.

Want more trivia about the brain? Check out my curated list of uncommon psychology findings.

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5 thoughts on “4 Brain-hacking techniques for memory, creativity, and loneliness”

    • Thanks for the comment! Yeah, one could call these exercises but people often assume exercises to have long-term changes and these tricks won’t have those long-term changes. Just short-term benefits.



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