Game Your Way to a Better Working Memory and Strengthen Your Brain

From Dominoes to Abstract Drawing: Build Your Mental Agility

By Richard Restak, MD, The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences
Edited by Kate Findley and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily

Improving your memory doesn’t have to involve flashcards or other tedious tasks. Dr. Restak offers fun exercises and everyday activities that will sharpen your memory and IQ.

hands playing dominoes
Recreational games such as dominoes and bridge are good ways to boost your working memory. Photo by Bogdanovich_Alexander

Test Working Memory

Exercises are a great way to test your working memory. By doing so, you can strengthen your brain and repair some of the damage caused by exceeding our cognitive load—the amount of information our brains can hold. 

For the first test, write down the following names: Fred, Stacy, Richard, Stanly, Ida, and Ed. Recite the list. Then recite it backwards, and then in alphabetical order. 

Finally, recite it according to word length because the names have different numbers of letters. Ed is two, Ida is three, Fred is four, Stacy is five, Stanly is six, and Richard is seven.

You can also test your working memory for designs. In four minutes, draw as many original abstract designs as you can. The key is to not use any repetition in your drawings. 

Use Games to Improve Memory

According to Dr. Restak, recreational games such as dominoes and bridge are another good way to boost your working memory. On memory and reasoning tests, bridge players outperform people who don’t play bridge. Poker and chess can also work to this effect.

Here’s a quick test of your working memory. What was the last movie you saw? That question might be easy to answer if you rarely go to the movies. You might scan your long-term memories and say, “Well, I guess a year ago, I saw a movie.”

However, if you go frequently, you may run a mental movie of your own, thinking of movie companions, your usual habits—movies on weekends only, during the week, with lunch or dinner—all these various things. Suddenly, you’re running all kinds of information not directly related to movies through your working memory.

In addition to taking up activities and games that involve working memory, you can engage in memory exercises in your daily activities. At odd moments, you can mentally manipulate things such as the names of the players on your favorite team—for example, arranging them in alphabetical order.

Why Working Memory Matters

Many exercises in working memory also involve creativity. They involve the powers of observation, looking at things in great detail and being able to put them together. 

Memory goes hand-in-hand with heightened alertness and awareness. If you’re not alert and aware, you’re not able to do any of these exercises. 

In order to excel at working memory, you must also make links between the past and the present. For example, if you’re about to meet up with a person, you might recall past conversations and experiences with this person in order to enrich your present conversation. 

Working memory exercises can be a great learning and refreshing tool. For example, you can review and recite the names of the 50 states of the United States. Go from east to west, then west to east, or according to their founding dates.

One of the most distinguishing characteristics of the human brain is to maintain information and keep it in mind while turning our attention to something else—a key function of working memory.

Increasing our working memory leads to an increase in IQ as well. By improving working memory, we exercise our frontal lobes—our most highly evolved brain structure.

This article was edited by Kate Findley, Writer for Wondrium Daily, and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Proofreader and Copy Editor for Wondrium Daily.
Dr. Richard Restak is Clinical Professor of Neurology at The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. He earned his MD from Georgetown University School of Medicine. Professor Restak also maintains an active private practice in neurology and neuropsychiatry in Washington, D.C.