Quick: Who invented the cotton gin? When was your car inspected last? What did you eat for breakfast this morning? If you've drawn a blank on one or all of these questions, you know how unnerving it is when thoughts and information vanish from your mind. "We rely on memory for everything we do, from coming up with creative ideas to communicating effectively," says Tony Dottino, founder of the annual USA National Memory Championship, a mental matchup where competitors memorize decks of cards, unfamiliar poems, and long sequences of names and numbers.
And while it's natural to fear that your forgetfulness is a sign of something serious, like early-onset dementia or Alzheimer's disease, experts say you shouldn't sweat it. "Memory lapses are normal—not because there's a problem, but because our lives are busy and difficult, and there's simply too much to remember," says Barry Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., founder of the Memory Clinic at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore, and author of Intelligent Memory: A Prescription for Improving Your Memory (Penguin).
In fact, you probably have more memory power than you think. And if your mind isn't as sharp as you'd like, there are some healthy habits and mental strategies that can help clear the brain fog and recharge your recall beyond what you thought possible.