At Better Speech, we provide online speech therapy for adults, and often work with people who have trouble organizing their thoughts.
During these cold winter months, many of us stay indoors and tackle those projects that are forever at the bottom of our ‘to do’ list. Eventually, there are no excuses and it comes time to face that messy closet. It’s time to get organized. We buy containers and new shelving, make lists, categorize by how and when we use this or that item. We almost instinctively know how to put all of that stuff in order.
But when it comes to our thoughts, we don’t always know what to do. Speech therapists work with people who have trouble organizing their thoughts. Why do some people have trouble getting their thoughts organized? Sometimes it may be due to cognitive decline, like in people with dementia. Other times it may be people who have just suffered a stroke and have lost some of their abilities. It can also just be the way a person has always been. At Better Speech we often get clients that don’t have any official diagnosis. Yet they still know they need help.
Here are some of the top tips our speech therapists recommend:
Secret #1: Don’t Be Detail-Oriented
If you try to absorb and mentally work with a truckload of material bombarding your brain, you won’t be able to easily hold up a stop sign in time to begin sorting and organizing it well. It’ll quickly become muddled and unyielding. What happens is similar to shoving too many things into the X-ray machine as you’re going through airport security. Suddenly the TSA agent can’t see anything and the whole machine gets jammed.
Now, the mind won’t ever literally break down if it receives too much information at once, but all of us have experienced being inundated with too much information. To maximize our ability to mentally organize incoming thoughts and ideas, we need to have a sorting system in place. We can’t wait until the mind is already sinking under the weight of too much data. By then it’s too late. This is when separating the important facts from the distracting details is paramount. Facts are not the same as details. And here’s a tip: Most important facts get repeated more than once, but they tend to be buried by distracting details. So pay attention to those repeats.
Secret #2: Chunk It Down: Think in Fives and Tens
Why are Social Security numbers given in chunks of three, two, and four (999-99-9999) instead of as one unbroken number (999999999)? Why do phone numbers have hyphens in them? Because it’s much easier to remember information when it’s grouped into smaller chunks. I find that my brain prefers to remember things in groups of five, but maybe groups of four or eight will be your magic number.
Groupings allow you to organize information and sometimes apply other memory strategies, such as key words, or a code you totally make up using your imagination. This method can be used for a wide variety of tasks, from recalling lists of items to remembering basic concepts, important points, or topics that you want to cover in a presentation at work or perhaps in approaching your boss for a raise. In a studying environment, if you’re trying to figure out how to commit to memory a long batch of notes, see if you can break down your detailed notes into chunks of five main concepts. This will help you mentally organize all the material and recall the important facts.
Secret #3: Once Upon a Time: Don’t Forget the Power of Story
Stories make things memorable—and organizable—because they allow us to paint pictures and produce movies in our minds. They help us create order out of chaos by attributing a clear and tidy image to a piece of information. This in itself is a way of organizing thoughts and data. Stories inherently force order because they are themselves organized entities—they have a beginning, middle, and end.
Storytelling is essential to memory, and being able to create stories in your mind, however absurd or ludicrous, is a fundamental memory strategy. Go with what works for you and, most important, what’s fun for you. And if creating stories out of key words isn’t your thing, then try making up a mnemonic sentence instead. Find associations between the information you need to know and an area in your life you’re passionate about. For example, I associate lots of information I need to retain with baseball. Maybe for you connections can be made with marathon running, cooking, tae kwon do, dancing, or painting.
Secret #4: Find a Single Word for Each Thought
A fourth way to help classify and categorize large amounts of incoming data so you can mentally organize your thoughts and capture what needs to be permanently stored is to do what many expert orators do: label chunks of similar information with a single word or term. Not only can this technique help you hold the remote control when your brain is besieged with information, but it can be incredibly useful when you are asked to speak in front of a large group while mentally juggling a library of details to share in your remarks. The pressure to perform alone can smother your memory and steal the thoughts you’re trying so hard to keep on the tip of your tongue.