In Marcel Proust’s literary masterpiece, In Search of Lost Time, a simple bite of a madeleine, that miniature spongy French pastry dipped in tea, famously triggered a vivid journey through the recesses of his childhood memories. This wasn’t just literary embellishment; it was a testament to the profound link between our senses as triggers for memory.
But you don’t have to indulge in sugary, high-calorie foods like madeleines to improve your memory. Truth be told, in the first manuscript, Proust actually used toast with honey, and the second version of the manuscript used a hard biscotto as the evocative mouthful (clearly a carb-kind of guy!)
Today’s leaders can harness the connection between senses and memory recall in a rather unexpected way: through the scent of essential oils diffused at night.
Recent research has brought this idea into sharp focus. A small, randomised, control trial study revealed a staggering 226% improvement in memory among individuals exposed to essential oil scents for two hours each night over six months. This wasn’t a mere nudge in cognitive capability; it was a quantum leap.
A Direct Line to the Brain: The Olfactory Superhighway
Our sense of smell holds a unique position as the only sense with a direct line to the brain’s memory centres. While other senses take detours through the brain’s complex networks, olfaction speeds down the express lane, delivering a powerful impact on memory health.
Regular olfactory enrichment, it seems, can lead to an expansion and increased functionality of these memory areas. This connection is so profound that a change in one’s sense of smell is often an early symptom of Alzheimer’s disease and features in various neurological and psychiatric disorders.
The Nightly Scented Routine for Leaders
So, how can you, as a leader, harness this aromatic superpower?
The study provides a clear blueprint: nightly exposure to a rotation of essential oil scents delivered through a diffuser.
The scents used in the study included, in this order:
Rose, orange, eucalyptus, lemon, peppermint, rosemary, and lavender.
- Choose Good Quality Scents: Select a reputable essential oil brand, with no added fragrances.
- Set the Stage: Place an essential oil diffuser in your bedroom and set it to operate for two hours each night. This consistent exposure is crucial for reaping the cognitive benefits. Remember, the study went on for 6 months.
- Follow the Rotation: Use one scent only per night and rotate through all seven of them (a new scent every night following the order above).
- Monitor and Reflect: With my clients, I use cognitive performance assessments, but you can just pay attention to any changes in your cognitive functions, particularly memory. Keep a journal to track your progress and observations.
Final Parting Recommendation
Middle-aged individuals often jest about having ‘senior moments.’ However, it’s crucial to recognise that major changes in memory aren’t a normal part of ageing.
If you’re experiencing significant shifts in memory, consider checking Dementia Australia’s Worried About Your Memory Checklist as a preliminary step to understanding your cognitive health.
Take a breath—literally—and let the journey to enhanced memory and leadership begin.
I’d love to hear how you go with this practice.