10 Ways Your Memory Can Help Keep You Safe During a Pandemic

Don't Panic button

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Coronavirus. COVID-19. SARS-CoV-2.

It seems like you can’t read the news without hearing something about the latest global outbreak.

And with misinformation spreading faster than the virus itself, how are you supposed to know what’s truth and what’s not?

More importantly, how can you maintain your health (and sanity) during a time when everyone seems to be on the verge of panic?

Let’s take a deep breath…

And then look at 10 ways you can stay mentally and physically healthy during this worldwide crisis — by using your memory (and some helpful tips from the folks on the front lines).

Ready to do this?

Let’s go.

Want to skip ahead?

1. Scrub-a-dub-dub
2. Pretend your hands are on fire
3. Don’t listen to Uncle Joe
4. Do listen to the experts
5. Stock up, modestly
6. Memorize phone and other important numbers
7. Meditate and get your Zzzs
8. Save face masks for health care providers
9. Memorize directions
10. Don’t panic
Live Your Magnetic Life

As we begin, remember what the wise writers of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy would advise us…

Don’t panic.

One of the best ways to survive any crisis is to stay calm, be rational, and remember that nothing in life is certain.

Well, other than our first tip for staying healthy…

1. Scrub-a-dub-dub

You may be getting a little tired of hearing it, but properly washing your hands is one of the best things you can do to stay healthy.

Whether you sing “Happy Birthday” (twice) or some other song, be sure to wet your hands thoroughly, lather everywhere, clean under your fingernails, rinse, and dry.

Even better, Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez, a pediatrician with Columbia University Medical Center, advises a new habit for everyone: wash your hands as soon as you walk through the door of your home.

And even if your hands are clean, remember: don’t touch your face. Even if you’re following these excellent self-isolation tips.

2. Pretend your hands are on fire

But, but, but!

“How can I keep from touching my face? That’s so hard to do!”

For the technique I’ve been using, I imagine I have gloves of fire on my hands and don’t want to touch my face.

To stop touching your face, imagine you have gloves of fire (or ice) on your hands

If you don’t like the image of fire, try ice or some other substance. The point is to use a simple visualization that you link with your body.

To remind yourself, you can draw a small dot or even the word “fire” or “ice” on the back of your hand.

Lucid dreamers often do this to help them remember to do “reality testing.”

These approaches are linked to another kind of technique for remembering where you put your keys, such as imagining them explode when you set them down. You are simply adding an imaginary layer of multi-sensory imagery to a regular operation.

Here’s another related tip:

If you want to combat that effect when you leave your living room to get a pair of scissors in the kitchen, only to forget what you are looking for, you can imagine scissors in your hand and make a fist around the imaginary pair.

3. Don’t listen to Uncle Joe

No offense to Joe, but unless he works for one of the global health organizations whose work revolves around mitigating the effects of COVID-19… he’s probably not the best source of information.

The same goes for most of the internet. Seriously.

Most of the mainstream media outlets are driven by views and clicks. And what gets them the most eyeballs?

DRAMA! TERRIBLE THINGS!! THE WORLD IS ENDING!!!

Instead of allowing the media to drive your personal narrative and understanding of what’s (really) happening, choose your news sources wisely.

If you’re wondering who to trust, here’s a chart that breaks down media bias.

4. Do listen to the experts

For health-related issues, it’s also good to look to the experts. In this case, the World Health Organization (WHO).

Additionally, for readers in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For those of us in Australia, the national Department of Health. And for readers elsewhere in the world, your trusted regional or national healthcare organizations.

I’ve also been watching Dr. John Campbell’s detailed daily updates on YouTube, including this great one about washing your hands as soon as you get home:

Tim Ferriss recently shared the following recommendations on how to stay informed:

The trick is to make sure your reading comprehension skills are strong. A lot of the panic comes from people failing to understand what they’re reading and the nature of scientific processes.

You can also talk with your own medical professional:

When I was booking my flights to go to TEDx Docklands in Melbourne (February 2020), I visited my family doctor to air my concerns.

As I told our doctor, even though speaking at the event presented a huge opportunity for me as a memory expert, I didn’t want to infect others should I become sick.

She said two things:

  1. We all have to simply go about our lives, and
  2. If you’re going to get sick, get sick early. Later, it could be very difficult to get help.

The second point involves a bit of dark humor, but if you really think it through, it does make sense. 

Although my heart didn’t feel 100% right about it, I went, and to my knowledge, none of the attendees has fallen ill.

And thanks to the memory techniques, I could relax and deliver because I know how to memorize a speech.

Anthony Metivier TEDx Melbourne Presentation

I did keep close to our hotel, however. We can visit the art galleries and museums next time we’re in Melbourne.

5. Stock up, modestly

I bought extra water, food, and toilet paper weeks ago.

This was especially important because I have multiple food sensitivities. I won’t be able to just whip into any old can of chili if I can’t make it to the grocery store.

As you prepare, think about other things you would need if you had to self-quarantine or practice social distancing for a week or two.

For example, do you have a fire blanket for every person in your home?

At first, my wife thought I was insane for buying them, but it only takes a second to put one over your shoulders in the event of an emergency — something you won’t be able to do if you aren’t prepared.

Health experts also recommend that anyone who uses prescription medication on a regular basis have at least a 30-day supply on hand.

6. Memorize phone and other important numbers

Sure, you’ve got everyone’s number stored on your phone.

Woman holding phone. In a crisis, it's good to memorize important phone numbers.

So… what are you going to do if you lose your phone when you’re too sick to keep track of things?

Or how about your insurance number?

There are endless situations where you might need your bank account number, phone numbers of your immediate family, and credit card instantly on the tip of your tongue.

Remember, building mental strength is helpful in emergencies as well as your day to day life.

7. Meditate and get your Zzzs

It’s not just helpful for your memory — getting enough sleep, eating well, and practicing mindfulness meditation can also improve your immunity.

One simple body scan visualization that won’t necessarily protect you from a virus – but can be very relaxing and orient your mind on health – goes like this:

As you lay on your back, imagine a healthy color like blue or green entering your lungs and flowing through your body. Try to follow it through your lungs and veins all the way down to your toes.

 

Then, as you breathe out, imagine all the impurities this healthy color has picked up exiting your breath in a color like white. Imagine it disappearing into the atmosphere.

Repeat 5-10 times, until your body begins to feel relaxed. You can even come up with your own variations.

8. Save face masks for health care providers

Neither the WHO or the CDC recommend face masks for community use in healthy individuals. If you are healthy, the only time they do recommend wearing protective gear is when taking care of a person with a suspected or confirmed 2019-nCoV infection.

Woman in surgical face mask. Protective masks aren't recommended for healthy individuals.

If you’re just trying to stay healthy, the jury is out on whether wearing a mask helps or hurts your chances. In fact, NPR has done quite a bit of in-depth reporting about the matter.

If you’re very prone to touching your face – and the visualization above doesn’t help – wearing a mask might help you stop touching your face. But for many people, it just creates another surface for infectious particles to get trapped on.

And remember: if you do touch your face, be sure to wash up.

9. Memorize directions

It’s one thing to consume directions — like “don’t buy masks,” or “call your doctor before visiting their office if you’re experiencing symptoms.”

But to really internalize the directions, you can memorize them. As mentalist Derren Brown points out in his book Tricks of the Mind, by memorizing to-do lists, he was more likely to actually complete them and follow the plan.

Here’s how to do it:

Create a Memory Palace that has enough space for the directions you want to memorize.

If you’ve never created a Memory Palace before, here’s a free training to teach you how:

Magnetic Memory Method Free Memory Improvement Course

Let’s say you’re memorizing the direction to call the clinic before showing up.

On Magnetic Station one of the Memory Palace, imagine yourself picking up a big red phone and calling the clinic.

To memorize the direction not to panic, imagine a giant cartoon version of yourself suddenly relaxing after panicking. Or, think of a pop culture character you know who tends to freak out, like Homer Simpson, and imagine him rapidly transforming himself into one of his more vegetative states.

Think these kinds of visualizations are unlikely to work?

Think again: Dr. Tim Dalgliesh is just one psychologist who has shown that pairing positive emotional states with a Memory Palace helps you not only act more positively, but also remember to do so.

10. Don’t panic

I’ll say it again. And again.

During a global health outbreak moving as quickly and evolving as rapidly as this one, the best thing healthy people can do is to stay calm, informed, and prepared.

If you’re having trouble keeping calm, the WHO compiled some good recommendations for coping with the stress of this outbreak:

WHO Coping With Stress PDF

Live Your Magnetic Life

I’ll leave you with a few parting thoughts:

Be good to people now. Love your loved ones while you can. And don’t wait for things like coronavirus to be a wakeup call because as Michael Gusman reminds us, things can happen anytime.

Until the next time, take care and keep yourself Magnetic (and wash those hands)…

6 Responses to " 10 Ways Your Memory Can Help Keep You Safe During a Pandemic "

  1. Patricia says:

    Thanks for these practical, useful and reasonable suggestions.
    The vid on washing hands was an eye opener to me.
    Thanks a lot Anthony
    I’ll keep magnetic and as healthy as possible…..cause life does indeed happen. Anytime.
    So far – healthy grtz from Antwerp
    Patricia

  2. Shim says:

    Great advice! Thanks Anthony!

    • Thanks for checking it out and taking time to post a comment. Please pass the advice on, particularly about not touching the face.

      As a side note, I find that this has been useful in other ways too. Keeping my hands out of my face has reduced some of my psoriatic symptoms.

  3. Rosemary says:

    Hi there Anthony, Great article. I was thinking about it as I was walking along and practising my usual methods of trying to keep a good posture and started thinking about muscle memory. It occurred to me to ask you whether you had considered muscle memory or using your memory for other physical reasons. Background: I’ve never used to think about posture until I had a small skiing accident which did something to my shoulders. I managed to pull the muscles/ligaments in my shoulders, neglected it and made the whole thing worse. So now I intermittently get bad shoulder ache. To counteract it, I’ve been concentrating on my posture. Some days I don’t think about it at all but other days, I correct my posture what feels like a million times, but I guess might be around 40 – 50 times. Have you ever tried to change a muscle memory or to create a method of improving a physical problem? Recently I’ve been experimenting with the idea of it being part of my identity that I have wonderful posture. That does seem to help but as yet, I can’t tell how effective it is. Any thoughts, ideas on this subject? Best wishes Rosemary

    • Thanks for this, Rosemary.

      I’m a bit of an unwilling student of posture myself these days. I have bursitis, and as a result, am not lifting at the gym anymore. This has caused my posture to sink somewhat and I also have to remind myself to straighten up.

      This suggests that the body needs good musculature throughout to help maintain posture. I don’t think it should normally be a memory task.

      But to make it a memory task, things like the Alexander technique might be worth looking into. I haven’t yet myself, but have been meaning to do so.

      Concentrating on breathing, rather than posture, could be useful as well. If you’re breathing properly, posture must be part of it, and so by focusing on breathing, you’re killing two birds with one stone.

      Finally, certain yoga postures help with developing good shoulder placement. There is also a YouTube channel called Fitness FAQs that has a good posture video. Some of those exercises might help you.

      A Memory Palace with a to-do list in it could include completing some of these exercises. Those that don’t aggravate my shoulder have proven useful for generally keeping a better posture on auto-pilot while I focus on breathing more than anything else.

      The other thing I’m doing is inner and outer shoulder rotation exercises 3x a week at the gym. This also helps with posture. They have to be very light, but help a lot.

      I hope this gives you some ideas and look forward to your next posts on the blog soon! 🙂

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