Brain Training

Leo Mehr
2 min readJun 6, 2019


Last weekend I went to a brain training class.

This was a rather serendipitous opportunity provided through Stanford’s graduate student-run event program, and one that I definitely would not normally seek out. Brain training? I’m already in school, taking classes, conducting research, why devote time to seemingly useless and mundane tasks when I could be focusing on learning things truly relevant to my field of study? On a whim, I decided to take this 1.5 hour class, and it was well worth my time.

The class focused on memory. Here’s a motivation. Say you’re at a social event at meet Andrei for the first time. You chat a bit, he’s friendly and the conversation is good, but shortly after parting you realize — agh! You’ve already forgotten his name! These experiences can be embarrassing and frustrating. This is a basic failure of memory, but there are a couple simple techniques to dramatically improve your ability to store and recall information.

The thesis of the class was that often when we think we have a recall error (what was his name again?), what actually happened was an “encoding” error (turning the information received into something that the brain can more readily store,

Two techniques to improve our ability to encode information are 1. Arrival and 2. Encoding Optimization.

  1. Arrival. Before you go to an event, begin a new task, or transition to another part of your day, focus briefly on “arriving” at the moment, being deliberate with your thoughts and actions, and being present. If you’re about to meet new people, make the commitment to yourself that you’re truly going to listen to them and remember what they tell you.
  2. Encoding optimization. When you receive information, there are two ways to increase your brain’s ability to store it and recall it later: (i) association — associate the new piece of information with other information, e.g. you meet a Kevin that reminds you of Kevin from Home Alone, or he’s from Iowa like your freshman roommate — and (ii) alliteration — think of other words that start with the first letter, e.g. Lion Leo, Happy Hanyu, Jittery Jim.

These techniques are useful tricks and work well for the simple task of remembering people’s names. But I believe these simple ideas reflect the more profound importance of mindfulness, especially “arrival”.

For the majority of our days, we amble through our routines, mindlessly execute our actions, and wander our thoughts elsewhere outside the present moment. By being deliberate and forcing our mind to be present, we increase our awareness and our chances of more lasting memories.

(Thanks to Mohit Bhasin for running the class and for inspiring the majority of what is written above!)