In a world full of “Post-it” notes, Google Alerts and Calendar reminders, why do we forget so much? That terse note advising us of the “non-attendance” fee, a sharp reminder of our human fallibility. “But I didn’t mean to forget!”
Despite having access to Google, the iCloud and an App for everything, it seems we’ve never had so much to remember. With busy lives and hectic schedules we are always chasing our tails, planning what’s coming next while still worrying about what happened before.
How can we remember better?
To remember something, anything, we have to create a memory, which starts with paying attention. Ah yes, attention, that brain function at increasing risk of extinction as it becomes more superficial, fleeting and fragmented.
“Where is that urgent document I asked you for yesterday?” asks your boss. You’re sure you sent it – but did you? It was just as your colleague popped in to ask you a question and your phone was ringing. Oops, it’s still sitting in “Drafts”.
"You're sure you sent it - but did you?" Image via iStock.
Assuming you did pay attention to take in exactly where you put down your wallet, the second stage of forming a memory is encoding. This occurs at a subconscious level with the critical time being when we sleep. Our clever brain rapidly replays the days' events, picking out the salient details it believes you are most interested in and want to keep for long-term storage. While you are sleeping your brain strengthens those synaptic connections required for that memory to last. Rehearsing and practicing your newly acquired memory whilst awake also helps.
The key to boosting your attention is to first identify and corral your distractions. Then apply your complete and undivided attention to one thing at a time. Monotasking - it's a miracle, the most effective performance and memory enhancing strategy since sliced bread.
Giving your brain enough down time is essential to remember more. When not focused we default to a little mind wandering, the perfect opportunity for the mighty subconscious to start looking for associations and patterns and create more enduring memories. Plus sprinkling in a little extra emotion, especially the stronger ones helps strengthens memories too.