What to do when memory fails you

Saturday May 23 2020

You will struggle to begin with, but soon your subconscious will take over and always put your stuff in the right place. ILLUSTRATION | IGAH | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Do you struggle to concentrate? Or remember things? Constantly lose your keys? You probably need to understand your brain’s attention system better.

It’s purpose is to protect you from all the noise and clutter around you. Selecting what seems important, and discarding the rest.

That’s why you can’t remember the name of someone you’ve just met. It’s not that your memory’s poor, it’s just that your attention system failed to select it.

It’s also why you can get lost in thought while travelling and arrive without remembering how you got there. So obviously your subconscious was keeping you safe. You just weren’t remembering any of it.


It’s also what happened when you lost your keys. That moment wasn’t remembered either.


So train yourself to be more attentive as you arrive home. And don’t just rely on your memory. Because remembering unexciting events like putting down keys is difficult. So develop habits like always putting your stuff in exactly the same place, every time you enter the house.

You will struggle to begin with, but soon your subconscious will take over and always put your stuff in the right place. Even when you’re half asleep!

We also remember emotionally charged events better. So if you’re always forgetting names, try associating them with funny thoughts about their owners.

Concentrating is also similar to remembering. Except that your brain’s attention processes has two parts.

Your ‘Top Down Attention’ is consciously controlled, and allows you to choose what you want to focus on. But it’s easily sidetracked by your ‘Bottom Up Attention’ system. That’s what makes you jump at a sudden noise. It’s purpose is to protect you from danger, so it intrudes anytime something unexpected happens. So your focus will improve if you remove distractions. Such as music, messages and people.

When studying or preparing a presentation, you’ll remember more if you pre-read your material. First skip through every page, glancing at summaries, tables and diagrams. Then read everything.
Highlight key points and make notes to aid your retention. Do you have a marked-up Bible? Think how you can almost see everything in your head when recalling it.


Whenever you find an important idea, write it down. Because new information is either used or lost within a few minutes.

So scribbling something down starts fixing the concept in your mind. Better still, link it to something you already know and write that down too. Linked information is recalled far better than isolated information.

Draw a diagram of important details you have found, linked to show the connections. The mind mostly recalls concepts not words, so that helps you to picture everything.

And then sleep on it. Because your brain processes new experiences into long term memory while you are asleep. So don’t struggle into the small hours. Go to bed!

The sleeping brain also plays with new information, which can produce astonishing new insights. So if you are stuck, stop tormenting yourself and sleep on it!

[email protected]