Let’s face it. Everyone—or most people I know—claims to have a bad memory, and if you’re reading this article, you most likely believe you’re an offender.
Maybe you find yourself forgetting crucial deadlines, forgetting important items, or forgetting someone’s name. You get excited about trivia games only to realize it’s become a game of chance. In this article, I’d like to reassure you, and maybe give some tips on how to remember things better!
On a slightly more serious note, physical and emotional trauma can also greatly affect one’s memory, albeit in different ways. This article does not take these factors into account, and thus might not be the best to seek any actual advice from.
First of all,
Forgetting is okay!
Obviously, this isn’t applicable to the truly important things, but there’s a certain guilty, self-loathing sort of stigma around forgetfulness, even when the most it causes are mild inconveniences. Writing this with an audience of teenagers and young adults in mind, I doubt most of us are worrying about the differences between forgetfulness and dementia. It’s much more likely we’re beating ourselves up for forgetting things.
Going down the list of things we forget, there’s the forgetting of the mundane:
For me, it’s my student ID or mouse more often than not. Occasionally, I forget to wear my headphones. For me, these are items I bring to campus every day and vary in degree of importance. It’s practically muscle memory at this point, subconscious actions I take going about my morning routine.
It’s because it’s subconscious that we tend to forget these things. Memories are created with attention behind the intention, so for example, replying to a text message as you lock the door on your way out might lead to a “Hey, did I lock the door behind me?” ten minutes later. Even if you did, you likely wouldn’t remember due to it being a recurring action in your life that your brain doesn’t even bother to create a memory for, and your attention is on other things. This applies even if your mind is simply wandering, thinking about the day ahead.
That’s the first point: memory is created by attention.
Therefore, to combat forgetfulness, we must pay attention to everything around us, perform daily routines with a hundred per cent focus, take in every detail of our dressing table, meticulously go through the contents of our backpacks before setting off.
Of course, these are unviable solutions for most of our lives. After all, we’re unable to actually pay all of our attention to everything, everywhere, all at once. There’s no real way to truly avoid slips of the brain, to never forget where the parking ticket is, and to never forget whether the stove’s on or not. You could make a checklist, set reminders, put up sticky notes, but personally, I think that checking for important items only on the days you truly need them is enough. Routine means that more often than not, we’ll carry it out, so there really isn’t a need to sweat out the little things in life when you do forget. Just take a breath, recognise that this is completely normal, and carry on.
Onto our second item, there’s the forgetting of the unmundane (undane?):
It’s the things we really don’t want to forget; the things we don’t encounter often in daily life.
Or your friend’s friend’s name, who you caught in conversation, and now you’re sweating as they greet you by your name. Or the name of that song that everyone knows but suddenly, we’re all drawing blanks, sitting in the karaoke room. Something about mama ooooooo…?
This is completely normal. Again. Although I’ve certainly never been in a room full of people who forgot the Bohemian Rhapsody, it’s common to forget something and come grasping for something that is similar, or in some way associated with the word, or phrase. It’s called the ugly sister effect (yes, it’s named after those two lovely souls in Cinderella), when the two stepsisters appear to the prince rather than Cinderella herself. It just doesn’t quite fit.
And there comes the second point: ugly stepsisters are a force to be reckoned with.
Unfortunately, however, there’s no quick way to go straight for Cinderella. Oftentimes, demanding answers from the ugly stepsister actually gets you stuck with her, so the best way to find Cindy is to simply ignore the stepsister and to not pick at your brain. Asking someone else helps too, obviously, and this goes with simply looking it up if you need to–it doesn’t actively make you less wise, or lazy. It’s just how you’re accessing information in a timely manner.
So there we have it: the two main points of forgetfulness.
To reinstate: it’s okay to forget these things. Obviously forgetting the due date of your assignment can land you in some pretty hot water, but it’s not so much of an issue, mentally, unless you already have suspicions concerning your health. In which case please get that checked out. Forgetfulness is a symptom rather than a cause or diagnosis, so if you’re genuinely concerned, please seek help from a qualified medical professional. One example that isn’t as obvious as dementia, for example, is ADHD. For one, dopamine, which people with ADHD tend to have lower levels of, helps with memory making and the mental links we make. As stated above, memories are created by attention, thus making it much more likely for them to miss out on that crucial memory creation–not always due to a lack of attention, but due to an influx thereof, in the sense that they might be thinking of/noticing multiple items at once, wherein the “important” things slip through the memory making machine.
Memory is also often in the interest of the beholder–research has shown that on average, we’re more likely to remember our successes and less likely to remember our own misdeeds and failings. On the contrary, however, we’re more likely to remember something outrageous that someone else did, compared to some other great feat they might have achieved. It’s so far in our interest, actually, that when we misremember or retell something, it’s often biased and one-sided.
The upside to that, however, is that we’re less likely to hold onto every upsetting image in mind and thus be happier. Another (scientifically backed!) pro is that research has proven that forgetting is, in a way, built into us for survival–or at least, for us to deal with life better. Our brains have evolved to forget things. It forgets information they deem unnecessary, like the food you had for lunch yesterday, or where those pink socks you hardly wear are kept. The less use we might have for something, the more likely it is for us to forget about it. Technology, too, arguably has a role to play in this–with information at our fingertips, we’re likely to completely forget about something like a celebrity’s full name. It’s irrelevant, and you wouldn’t remember it unless you were a huge fan. Point is, forgetting small details and remembering the big ones actually helps us to make better decisions. For example, while you might not remember the exact reasons why you had a fight with your significant other, you might remember the general scenario and take care in making better, wiser decisions should a similar situation arise.
To conclude, there’s no shame in being forgetful. Most of the time it’s simply your healthy, working brain doing what they are supposed to do, and even if you find yourself forgetting more details than most, it’s really nothing lists and sticky notes can’t fix. Keeping yourself physically active, getting enough sleep, and eating the right food helps too–especially sleeping approximately 7 hours minimum, but, hey, I’m in no place to give orders. Just keep that in mind the next time you pull an all-nighter before a test. Here’s to shining like gold in memories to come!
…Or something along those lines.
Written by: Erika