Posted by: wordsmithsuk | August 16, 2013

Why do we forget the shopping but remember our birthdays?


It’s no surprise that many of us get very worried about our minor or major memory lapses. How often have youYellow brain thought or said ‘I’ve a memory like a sieve’ or ‘I forget so many things these days – I must be getting old’.

But the truth is that that your memory, like that of every other human being, is truly magnificent. The tiny percentage of things that you might forget pales into insignificance compared to the hundreds of thousands of things that you do remember – without even thinking about it.

One model identifies four main reasons why we forget:

  • Repression
  • Mindset
  • Absentmindedness
  • Interference.

Repression is responsible for a small proportion of our forgetfulness. Sigmund Freud believed that we unconsciously repress memories that cause us pain or anxiety. We remember positive things much more easily than negative ones.

Mindset refers to your state of mind, your attitudes, your beliefs about yourself and about the world. If you truly want to have an excellent memory, you have to believe that your brain is magnificent.

Absentmindedness means that your mind is elsewhere when it should be concentrating on the here and now. So a lot of ‘forgetting’ is simply failing to lodge things properly in the brain in the first place. You will remember things much better if you train yourself to pay close attention to what you are doing and what is going on around you.

Interference is probably the most common reason for forgetting. This is because  large numbers of similar memories become so jumbled that they interfere with one another. It is impossible to remember what you had for lunch one  Friday ten years ago because the memories of many similar meals become mixed up. The problem is that you can’t distinguish one memory from all the others. But you will remember that particular lunch if  it was your birthday,  you just landed a new job or you won the lottery on that day. To remember things well, you have to make them stand out by associating them with something extraordinary and positive.

Why do we remember?

The trick is to take control, to ensure that important memories can be recalled when they are needed. In brief we remember:

  • When things are exaggerated, positive or fun
  • When we are interested and motivated
  • When we are really paying attention
  • When information stands out because it is unusual
  • When we can picture what we want to learn
  • When the information makes us feel something.

The brain is a ‘sleeping giant’ and we can all do a lot more to harness its power. Scientists think that most of us use less than 1% of its full capacity. So we’ve all got a huge amount of potential there, just waiting to be tapped!

If you want to realise more of your potential for remembering all kinds of facts and ideas you may like to consider arranging a Making the Most of your Memory one-day in-house training workshop. This is currently available as a cost and time-effective in-house event (ie run your organisation’s premises) for groups of between 6 and 14 people. Contact us for costs and availability.

If you can’t make a workshop, have a look at our fantastic audio book Memory and Learning for Success which Memory-Learning-for-Success-200px-9780954886028talks you through everything you have to do to train your memory, no matter what your age or circumstances.

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