Think of the times when you try to remember and work on a series of instructions given to you or when you memorize a grocery list without jotting it down on paper. Activities like these require you to utilize your working memory.
Working memory is the cognitive process that allows the brain to hold small pieces of information for a short period of time so that it is readily available in an active state. Information stored in the working memory is easy to retrieve and can be manipulated to help us in reasoning and decision-making.
Just like your body needs regular exercise to stay fit and active, your brain must also indulge in activities that constantly improve and sharpen your working memory. In the following sections, you will find simple yet fun games and activities that you can enjoy regularly while working on your brain’s working memory.
Fun games to improve your working memory
Sudoku is a popular brain-challenging game you can find in almost every newspaper. All you need is a pen to get started and challenge your working memory. The game consists of a 9×9 grid partially filled with digits from 1 to 9. The player must then use logic to fill the grid with remaining numbers in such a way that all numbers from 1 to 9 appear in the grid. When solving a sudoku puzzle, a person relies heavily on their working memory as they keep the numbers in their minds while trying to figure out their placement in the grid.
2. Burger Builder
Burger builder is a great online game to train your working memory. The game is about preparing burgers as per a customer’s order. As the game begins, the screen will display an order. You will have to remember the order details and prepare the burger just as the customer wants it. While you complete the order, you will not have access to the order details. Therefore, you must make good use of your working memory to recollect the toppings and prepare the burger. Once you have fulfilled an order, you will get a more complicated order to prepare and work your brain cells.
Multitask is a game that provides a good multi-tasking opportunity as it requires you to perform multiple activities at one time, all the while using your working memory. The game begins with one simple activity which the player must perform. As the game progresses, a different task adds up on the screen. Now, you have two different tasks to handle at the same time. The game encourages you to use your working memory as you are trying to handle multiple tasks in the gameplay. The difficulty level of the game increases if you continue to perform well. The game ends when you fail to handle the tasks together.
4. Crossword Puzzle
Crossword is another traditional puzzle game that has been around for several years. Like sudoku, you can also find crossword puzzles in the newspaper. You can even play them online if you don’t have access to newspapers. The game is about finding words with the help of clues which must then be filled in a grid vertically or horizontally. In addition to improving vocabulary and thinking skills, crosswords also tickle your working memory to come up with the right word for every given clue.
5. The Grocery List Game
Here is a fun game that’s challenging at the same time. It boosts your working memory and improves your brain’s executive function. This game can be played with two or more players. The higher the number of players, the more fun it will be. The first player begins the game by saying “I am going to the grocery store to buy —–“. Now, the next player will repeat the sentence and add another item to the list. Every player must repeat the sentence and add another item while repeating the list in the same sequence. The player who fails to remember the sequence of grocery items loses the game.
Chess is an intensive game that requires the players to extensively use their working memory to achieve their goals. Studies have concluded that chess helps in improving working memory. This is possible because the game requires the player to visualize positions, weigh the consequences of each move, and make decisions based on the information at hand. Thus, play a round of chess regularly to improve your memory and concentration.
Simple activities to work on your working memory
Reading might appear as a simple activity, but it is great for stimulating your working memory. When you read a piece of text, you use your brain cells to comprehend the information. While doing so, you draw relevant information stored in your memory to derive meaning from what you’re reading. Reading is a relaxing activity that helps in reducing stress and gives the brain a chance to improve working memory without any performance pressure.
2. Mindful Breathing
Mindfulness is the act of being present and focusing on the present moment. Mindfulness techniques such as mindful breathing are known to reduce stress levels which in turn have a positive impact on working memory. Mindful breathing is an art that you can learn through regular practice. Incorporating it into your daily routine for 5 – 10 minutes at the most stressful times during the day can improve the efficiency of your working memory. Other activities that can be done to practice mindfulness and boost working memory include journaling, mindful brain breaks, taking a walk, etc.
Exercising is known to improve physical fitness and alleviate mood. However, many do not know that exercising can also enhance our working memory and brain function. Studies reveal that people who exercise regularly have larger brain areas that control memory and thinking skills. As few as six months of regular moderate-intensity exercise can increase the volume of brain areas that are responsible for memory. So, make sure you take time out for your favorite exercise routine to boost your memory and thinking.
4. Cook a Recipe
Adults struggle with memory issues as they grow older. Simple everyday tasks become difficult as the brain loses its working memory capacity. To strengthen working memory in such a scenario, simple everyday tasks involving multi-step instructions like preparing a meal following a recipe prove to be beneficial. Cooking requires a person to follow multiple steps mentioned in the recipe. While doing so, you engage your working memory and give it a good round of exercise. Other regular tasks such as setting up the table and doing laundry also keep the working memory active.
5. What’s the Object?
Here is a partner activity that you can perform in less than 10 minutes. Think of an object and keep it to yourself. Now let your partner ask you a fixed number of questions, say 15 – 20 questions to figure out the object you have in mind. The questions must be closed-ended with simple yes/ no answers. As your partner asks questions and tries to identify the object, both of you will be actively using and consequently strengthening your working memory.
6. Shapes and Colors
For this activity, you will need to prepare a 5×4 grid on a sheet of paper. Draw a different shape in different colors in each cell of the grid. Keep this sheet handy when conducting this activity with a group of adults. When performing this activity, the person must identify the shape along with its color. For example, green triangle, yellow square, orange circle, and so on.
To make the activity even more challenging, ask the person to identify the color of the shape present in one cell and the name of the shape appearing in the next cell. For instance, the series of identification will be something like this – yellow, rectangle, red, heart, blue, circle, and so on. These variations in identifying the shapes and colors will allow your working memory to work differently in both scenarios, ultimately enhancing its ability.
Working memory is a crucial element of the executive functioning of the brain. Strong working memory allows us to store relevant information and retrieve it quickly to solve problems and perform activities. The best way for adults to strengthen working memory is to engage in games and activities that require them to work those memory muscles. With time and practice, you will be able to strengthen this core cognitive skill and get better at handling daily life activities and situations.