Cognitive Trick - Write It Down

Pen And Paper

“Write it down, quick before you forget, quick, do it now, quick… too late, sorry I’ve forgotten what you said. Can you say it again?”

This is a very common scenario of my everyday life. This situation is fine when you’re in conversation with someone – who doesn’t live with the burden of a painfully shit memory – as they can probably remind you of all the words of wisdom you were spitting at them, but when you’re down at the shops buying the groceries for the week that’s going to feed your family, this is more than a hassle. 

Another obvious occurrence is the lack of problem solving skills. To combat these, I have to write things down. This was one of the first things I learned in the brain injury 101 class I took in rehab. Ok, there was no brain injury class but maybe there should have been? That may mean that blogs like this one will become obsolete, so ok, maybe there shouldn’t? 

Anyway, this was one of the first things that was drilled into my little injured brain whilst I was going through rehab at Epworth. The lovely staff even bought me a diary equipped with my very own pen. As silly as that may sound, they knew that one of the most helpful tools to combat my cognitive challenges, better known as cognitive dysfunction, was to write things down. 

Not only is this a great idea to help me not miss my neurology appointments, but its also great for problem solving too. If you’re someone who can store all the information about a problem up there in your brain, without writing it down… good for you I say, good for you. Unfortunately for me, I’m not so lucky in this department so putting it down on paper – or the trusty iPhone – is the next best thing. 

Think of your brain as a box. Boxes come in all shapes and sizes but every time you damage that box, it lowers it capacity to hold things i.e. information. This is where the pen and paper come in handy because they can help you to build a new box that’s unbreakable… in metaphorical terms that is.

Let’s say that I’m working out a problem with a healthy brain. In my head I would be able to brainstorm different solutions to this problem, evaluate the success of each solution and make a list of all the pros and cons to the solutions of that problem. I would be able to put together scenarios for each and store them in a nice, retrievable location so that I can come up with my solution. Now let’s say that solution ‘A’ doesn’t work, a healthy brain would still have the capacity to now try solution ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’. Problem solving is a very complex cognitive function that requires us to store many things in our ‘box’. Now, imagine fitting all that information in one little damaged box, how would life look then? Writing things down is the best way to help you to create a second box so that you can sort through things and put everything in its own place. 

If you are someone that has a brain injury yourself and keep forgetting to ‘write it down’, here’s a quick suggestion for you: Go out and buy yourself a little notepad. Buy a nice one if you like, as you will have it on you all the time and you want to take a bit of pride in this accessory. 

Now set an alarm so that it goes off several times a day, reminding you to have your notepad on you AT ALL TIMES. That way, you can always write down information, as you need to throughout your day. This alarm will form the habit of having your notepad on you at all times. 

It’s all well and good to have your notepad on you but if you’re not writing information in it because you forget to, then it’s kind of pointless really so you can even practice jotting things down every time your alarm rings. Maybe quickly write down what you’re doing, some thoughts, emotions; what ever you feel like that will reinforce this habit. You can, still to this day, hear my alarm go off during the day with a reminder reading ‘Red Book’, prompting me to have my little red book on me at all times. 

I would give anything not to have to live my life in this way but that’s just silly to even think about it because this is the way life is for me now. Instead, I’m going to use every tip and trick in my little red book to help me take on the challenge of my injured brain so that I can still achieve everything that I want to in my life.