Do You Have A Good Working Memory? Do You Even Know What Working Memory Is?

The last two weeks have been among the most frenetic in my life!

I’ve moved from the section of New York City where I’ve lived for 48 years; I’ve started renovation on an 1899 house with overgrown front and backyards, absent a kitchen or a single bathroom; shuttled back and forth, sometimes five times a day, between a temporary rental apartment and the house, and worked every single day on my biggest passion, FabOverFifty. I have always prided myself on being able to multitask with the best of ‘em, but I’ve been juggling multiple projects like I’ve never juggled before.

Last night, minutes before going to bed, I suddenly realized my handbag wasn’t in sight, and since I’m currently living in a 400-square foot studio apartment, I knew I simply hadn’t misplaced it. I became frantic. My life sits in that bag. Keys to all the doors of the house; a few hundred dollars in cash; checkbooks, and my wallet with every conceivable piece of crucial ID. My mind started racing. I got back into my temporary home a couple of hours earlier, so I had those keys. Surely, I had to have left my bag in the car. I popped on a blouse (sans bra) and shorts, and raced out of the building, running most of the three blocks to the blue VW Golf.

There it was, resting comfortably on the back seat, where I had obviously tossed it on my last outing. I grabbed it, held it to my chest, and thought, “You’re doing too much, Geri.”

But am I?

All this got me thinking about how we “exercise” our brains, so I Googled to see if our brains are muscles, and can be trained to get stronger. I learned that our brain is not a muscle, it’s an organ, a pretty important one. But some say it acts as a muscle because it can be trained to improve cognitive functions like working memory or math skills. But what’s “working memory”? Back to Google, I found this definition on medicinenet.com:  

“Working memory is a system for temporarily storing and managing the information required to carry out complex cognitive tasks such as learning, reasoning, and comprehension. Working memory is involved in the selection, initiation, and termination of information-processing functions such as encoding, storing, and retrieving data.

“One test of working memory is memory span, the number of items, usually words or numbers, that a person can hold onto and recall. In a typical test of memory span, an examiner reads a list of random numbers aloud at about the rate of one number per second. At the end of a sequence, the person being tested is asked to recall the items in order. The average memory span for normal adults is 7 items.”

If we can train our brain to improve cognitive functions, such as working memory, I’m in training for the Working Memory Olympics Team.

I’ve been asking my brain to recall all kinds of lists, all day long, including my renovation choices and how much money I’m spending on them, from clearing the overgrown brush in the backyard to repositioning the supporting wall in the front yard, from which tiles I’m using on the bathroom floors to which wood I’ve chosen for the parlor floor (that’s the name Brooklyn brownstone owners use for the floor at the top of the house’s front steps), from the color for the kitchen island to the pattern on the backsplash; my FabOverFifty deadlines, from writing a blog for a new beauty company to creating a proposal to introduce an exciting new health supplement; my personal obligations and dates, from feeding my son and daughter-in-law’s cats while they’re away to when I’m going to Will’s wedding and the Barbra Streisand concert (tonight!)

Multitasking Businesswoman or office worker sitting at the computer and fashion icons or application.Business woman shiva vector illustration concept.Aside from leaving my handbag in the car last night (it was late in the day and I was exhausted), I think I’m doing pretty well in the working memory department. My memory certainly isn’t as sharp as it used to be (when I was in my 20s, 30s and 40s, I could remember endless lists without writing down a single thing), but with the help of Google Docs and the notes app on my iPhone, I’m keeping track of my hectic life.

Weight training and cardio are important exercises to keep our muscles and heart in shape. But I urge every one of my FOFriends to train your brain to make sure your working memory stays sharp, too. You don’t have to move!

  • Corinne Garrett

    Given the circumstances, I don’t think you have a thing to worry about, Geri. All of us have left stuff in the car, particularly the backseat where it is out of sight.
    I once left a small cantaloupe that rolled out of the bag onto the floor in the car in our garage for 2 days. You can only imagine what that smelled like 48 hours later in the Florida heat…and I was only in my 30’s at the time.
    Your stress level is way up and you are doing way more than your usual. You aren’t “impaired” because you left your purse on the backseat! Have a glass of wine and thank you for good Karma that you beat an auto burglar to the purse!

    • Geri Brin

      Hi Corinne,
      Loved your cantaloupe story. I did think about the fact it was still there. Fortunately, the car wasn’t parked on a well-lit street and the bag is dark brown! Fondly, Geri