6 Best Ways to Remember Where You Parked Your Car
Picture this: You are running late to a doctor’s appointment at an unfamiliar hospital. You glance at your watch while searching for a spot in the parking garage. You quickly park and jog to the elevator while talking on your cell phone. You haphazardly stumble into the building, scramble to navigate through different corridors, and let out a silent sigh of relief as you finally sign in at the check-in desk. You nervously will your resting heart rate to lower while waiting for your name to be called. Your appointment ends and you walk out of the clinic with a relieved smile that is until your cheeks redden at the site of the five-story parking garage, of which to your horror, dismay and embarrassment, you have no recollection where your car is.
Turn off your autopilot and stop multitasking
Multitasking is the archnemesis to memory formation and storage. If you do not use conscious awareness when you park your car or place your cell phone down on a table, you later will have to actively search to find them.
Take a second and think about your drive to work. You drive the same daily route even though there are at least two other ways to navigate to your destination. You may experience ‘just arriving at work with minimal or no recollection of the events from the actual drive from your home to your workplace; this is due to a lack of intentional attention. While driving autopilot to work may not be a terrible thing, being on autopilot when parking in a parking garage may result in a less than ideal situation.
Quick starting point to reduce multitasking: Put down the cell phone. Verbalize aloud the name of the street signs as you pass them. Turn down the volume of the radio. Anyone else guilty of turning down the radio to “see” the roads better when it is raining outside? I know I am not the only one!
Practice a mindful moment. While sitting in your driveway with your car in “park,’’ take 60 seconds to breathe and focus on your surroundings. Next, while again scanning the same surroundings, choose a color and notice all the objects in your yard and in your garage that are that specific color. Choose to take five slow inhalations and five slower exhalations prior to shifting your car from “park” into “drive.” I am willing to bet you noticed more objects when you were focusing on finding the specific-colored ones.
Utilize simple technology technique
There is no shame in the “technology game.”
Low tech suggestion: Simply keep a notepad and pen on you and write down the parking space number, floor and name of the parking garage.
Medium tech option: Snap a quick picture on your phone of the parking space and floor number. Even better – take a quick 10-second video that shows your car, the car space number, the elevator and the environmental surroundings.
Higher tech option: Ask Siri to drop a pin to your exact location and remember the parking space for you! Pro tip: have Siri text that location to your spouse or close relative or friend.
Make mundane memories memorable through bizarre storytelling
Have you ever tried to “mentally write” a grocery list and yet leave the grocery store with a plentitude of items except the key ingredient needed to make a specific dish? Well, you can either sulk and be hungry, order take-out, refer to the above strategy No. 2, or try the strategy of creating bizarre visualization interconnections.
Our brains relish in memories that are emotional, sensory-oriented and personal. That is why if you try to reflect on what you ate on Dec. 20, 2021, you are less likely to remember that date versus if asked to reflect on Decc. 25, 2022 (or other personally important holidays or days individual to you). You may be able to recall not only what foods you ate, but also the smells of cinnamon, the sounds of Christmas Hallmark TV show reruns, the clothes you wore, and the people you shared the holiday meal with.
How to do it: Pretend you need to remember five grocery items such as peanut butter, broccoli, orange juice, paper towels and dish soap. Instead of trying to memorize that list, make up a crazy story.
Imagine making a peanut butter and broccoli sandwich with paper towels as the “bread,’’ followed by pouring a glass of OJ to drink the less-than-appetizing sandwich, and finally washing away the remains down the drains with dish soap. You can make this story more outlandish by pretending you are serving this food masterpiece to your middle school crush. The stranger the story, the easier to recall later when you are present in the store.
Try to chunk information into manageable pieces
Do you know why it is easier to remember a 10-digit phone number versus 10 numbers written out without the dashes? Our brain is wired to recall items better when the numbers are “chunked” together; it is much easier to remember three chunks of information (area code – xxx – xxxx) compromised of 10 digits versus 10 unrelated isolated numbers. The average brain tolerates about seven bits of information before potentially shutting down due to overload, so next time you are trying to memorize the Social Security number of your loved one, consider chunking.
DIY (Do it yourself) mnemonics, aka make your own acronyms
Envision making your own secret language comprised of acronyms. If you want to remember where you parked your car or remember the steps for how to fold a fitted sheet, create your own lingo with phrases or the first letter of a word that will jolt your memory.
Example: Your goal is to foster the habit of gathering the following items as you are walking out the door for work. This is especially important as we transition from working from home back to a job setting.
Here is an example self-created mnemonic -- "WATER” that I use during the work week. This mnemonic keeps me accountable to having my belongings, staying hydrated and going to the gym after work.
W- Workbag/work ID
A- Apple phone/watch/charger
E- Eats/snacks/lunch bag
R- Running/exercise clothes for after work
Give your brain the nutrition and sleep it deserves for optimal performance. Kind of like how when driving a luxury vehicle, you may be advised to “feed” it the premium gas and to let it “rest” in the comfort of your covered garage to protect it from any inclement weather. Your brain works like this, too. Sure, we can choose to put in unleaded watery gas, crank the accelerator, slam on the brakes, and drive the car guns-a-blazing down the interstate. But eventually, the car will slow down, putter, and present with small concerns that turn into bigger and financially unpleasant problems. Your brain not only thrives off adequate nutrition and sleep, but it needs quality nutrition and sleep for performing at its prime.
Small commitment: Add blueberries to your daily nutrition intake. Have you ever heard the phrase ‘brain food’? Our brains work 24/7 to keep our bodies functioning and there are some not-so-secret ingredients that can optimize that functioning. If you are looking for a food to start with, consider adding fresh (or the lower-cost option of frozen) blueberries to your diet. Did you know that the antioxidants in blueberries have been linked to lowering risk for dementia, improving concentration, and slowing down age-related memory loss? Now that’s a superfood!
Bigger commitment: Consider implementing the MIND diet (after consulting with your doctor and registered dietician). The Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for neurodevelopmental elay diet constitutes staples such as veggies, fruits, legumes, olive oil and fish. The combinations of these food groups may reduce the risk of dementia and lower your blood pressure.
Sleep is imperative and a key component to maximizing your brain health and helping our body function at our best. A lack of quality sleep results in decreased cognitive performance, irritability and decreased health and well-being. Some better sleep tricks include reducing your intake of caffeine, alcohol and late-night meals. Minimize taking naps during the day and using electronic devices at night. Assess and adapt your sleeping environment with additions such as blackout curtains or sleep masks, white noise machines, and lighter or heavier blankets depending on preference. Keep the bedroom for sleep and sex only to help your body correlate your bed with sleep. Ifyou feel that your sleep is lacking or poor, communicate to your primary care physician and ask for a referral to a sleep specialist.
Minimize the multitasking to reduce the autopilot tendencies.
Utilize your resources such as a simple pen and paper or the camera on your cell phone.
Use interconnections and visualizations to remember mundane things better by creative storytelling.
Chunk your information and consider use of mnemonics.
Optimize the performance of your brain by increasing your quantity of quality sleep and quality nutrition.
Driving point: You are more than any diagnosis, memory lapse or mishap. Take action and commit to at least one of these memory strategies. Spend less time worrying about finding your temporary misplaced car and spend more time and energy living your life to your fullest!
If you have concerns for yourself or loved one regarding memory, then the next steps are to convey these concerns to your primary care provider who can than discern referring you to a neurologist, speech or occupational therapist, psychologist or others to support and address the situation with you.
Learn more about occupational therapy at Ochsner.