Ali Baba and the forty thieves: How can stress change a whole story?

Life as a brain can be really tough sometimes. I hardly ever get sleep since I need to control the central nervous system and regulate virtually all activities of my boss' body - day and night! One aspect that really affects my work is stress.

Let me tell you about an old story from the book "One thousand and one nights," which shows how stress can influence your memory: Alibaba and the Forty Thieves. In this story, a poor Arab woodcutter called Ali Baba overhears a group of forty thieves who visit their treasure store. The thieves' treasure is in a cave, which opens or closes only when you say the magic words, "Open Sesame" or "Close Sesame". When the thieves are gone, Ali Baba enters the cave himself and takes some of the treasure home. At home, Ali Baba's rich and greedy brother, Cassim, gets to know about the cave. Cassim goes to the cave to take more of the treasure, but in his greed and excitement, he forgets the magic words to get back out of the cave.

Open Sesame

Cassim is simply too stressed in that situation. So the thieves find him there, and kill him. At this point the story hasn't ended, but it is clear that there won't be a happy end for Cassim.

Nowadays, you all read, hear or talk about stress. But what is stress, and what does it mean to me, your brain? Stress is the feeling you have when you must handle more than you are used to. Under stress your body responds as though you are in danger. Stress hormones like cortisol increase your blood pressure and reduce immune responses. A certain amount of stress can be normal and even useful when you need to work hard or react quickly. However, too much stress can weaken your immune system, make you sick, and affect your learning and memory power. Stress forces you to focus on more primitive survival needs, which again blocks chemical reactions in me that are necessary for learning.

Techniques like yoga, autogenic training or progressive muscle relaxation can be very helpful when you are in stress and have to learn new things at the same time. If Cassim had known that, his brain would have worked better, and his life could have been spared. In addition to such relaxation techniques, good time management can be very beneficial at alleviating stress. But, believe it or not, simply having fun during your learning sessions can also go a long way to help reduce the blocking effect of stress.


So... do me a favour: have fun and keep cool!

Yours, Brainy

P.S. If you want to know more about relaxation techniques, go ahead and have a look at our next NewsLifter issue.

 My tip

We brains get used to the writing system of our mother tongue. Especially changing the direction of reading and writing when you learn a foreign language is a tough task for us. But if we get the right exercise, and if we have fun while learning, we can do it. The MemoryLifter software also supports scripts that are written from right to left. A great example with this feature is the new Arabic Learning Module!

MemoryLifter is available for free. The success of this freeware depends on whether people recommend it to others. Please forward this newsletter or tell a friend.



  • 2009