Monday, February 1, 2010

AWARENESS - Never Misplace Your Glasses or Car Keys Again

The other day I was in my office working on an article when I heard a loud crash from the other side of the house. I bolted out of my office to see what had happened. When I got to the kitchen, I saw a pan lid and some forks on the floor. We have three cats, but none were in sight. No way to know which one was guilty.

After I cleaned up the mess, I wondered how warm it was outside. The outside thermometer said 72 degrees - warmer outside than inside! I went from room to room opening windows, and then returned to my desk.

As I prepared to resume my work, I realized that my reading glasses weren't in their usual place on my desk. I looked all over my office for them, but they weren't there. I hate it when I misplace something!

I retraced my steps to the kitchen, but my glasses weren't there, either. Frustrated, I headed back to my office, and out of the corner of my eye I saw my glasses on the dining room table. I had set them down before running into the kitchen. But I had no memory of doing so....

That's how short-term memory works. Information is held in conscious awareness for six to ten seconds to allow the thinking part of your brain to figure out what it means. This begins the process of integrating the information into long-term memory. The more ways you relate it to what you already know, the easier the memory will be to access. If you don't think about it at all, the information will soon be wiped clean from your consciousness forever and replaced with new input.

It's a good, efficient system. Only the important stuff is stored in memory. Everything else is trashed.

And that's what happened when I set my glasses down. The memory of that act was discarded forever. It's a good thing I didn't run out to the back porch...I'd still be looking for my glasses!

I'm sure similar things have happened to you. Now you know why. The lesson is simple and practical. If you want to remember where you set your billfold, your gloves, your keys, your glasses, whatever...consciously think about what you're doing when you do it. Look at where you put it and think something about it, such as...  

I'm in a hurry and i need to set my glasses down, but where would be a good place? How about right here on the corner of the countertop? I often put things here, so I should remember. I'll leave them close to the edge so I notice them later when I walk by.

So being forgetful doesn't automatically mean you're losing it, even if you're my age. It probably just means that you didn't take the time to pay attention to what you were doing and think about why. You probably didn't give your brain a chance to integrate your experience into long-term memory.

Knowing how your brain works gives you an advantage in life. Another adventure in metacognition!


Meredith Bell said...

I love your strategy for storing something in long-term memory, Denny. I'll use it more often so I have fewer frustrating moments trying to re-locate something I've misplaced.

Bette Novak said...

Thanks Denny for the insight to short and long term memory. Mine short term has been tested lately and so I now don't feel so nervous about "forgetting" things and then remembering them later..maybe. Good article. Thanks again.


Tamara G. Suttle said...

Hi, Denny. At 50 years of age, your post is a timely reminder for me. I, too, use your strategy for placing "must see" things in highly visible places. However, the even better reminder for me in your post is to pay attention, stay in the moment, and act with intention.

Thank you for the reminder!