The brain is an extraordinary organ, with many wonderful qualities, including the ability to forget — which may actually be a good thing. “If we remembered everything that we experienced, our brains would be hoarders, clogged with all sorts of useless crap that gets in the way of what we really need,” says Charan Ranganath, a professor of psychology and the director of the Dynamic Memory Lab at the University of California Davis.
In today’s constantly plugged-in, always-on world, people are faced with a barrage of information — emails, news, pointless meetings, traffic updates, chitchat from family members — far more than anyone can process, Ranganath explains. “Instead, evolution favored quality over quantity,” he says. “We get good quality memories for the stuff that we are paying attention to, and that is often the important stuff.
But if we’re not paying attention to something, we will never really get a good memory of it to begin with.” These issues with remembering often rear their heads at the least convenient times: when you’re in a rush and can’t find your keys, when you enter a room and don’t know what you came for, when you’re talking with an acquaintance whose name escapes you, when a friend refers to a nice moment you shared and you have no recollection.
This kind of forgetting is completely normal, Ranganath says, but is frustrating nonetheless. (Other, more severe conditions can cause memory loss and interruptions to memory recall, such as trauma, Alzheimer’s, and ADHD. Strategies to address these disorders may include therapy and medication, more intensive than the tips outlined here.)
Generally, though, hope is not lost if your recall is a little rusty. Memory is an active process, not a passive one, says clinical neuropsychologist Michelle Braun. “Which kind of undermines a longstanding myth that brain health is just a product of genetics and there’s really nothing we can do about it,” she says. Paying a little more attention and savoring special events can help you remember life’s moments, big and small.
The responsibilities of modern life mean there are more priorities than ever vying for your attention. How many times have you walked away from a conversation having no idea what was discussed because you were distracted by your phone? “You can get impoverished memories for past events because you were never really there in the first place,” Ranganath says
Absentmindedness is one of memory researcher Daniel Schacter’s “seven sins of memory,” common weaknesses in memory everyone experiences. This is when you don’t pay attention to where you put your keys or are so scatterbrained you miss an important doctor’s appointment. “If we’re, for example, engaging in multitasking, we may never really encode the information about where did I just leave my keys or glasses,” says Schacter, a professor of psychology at Harvard University. ….Continue reading