Things to Remember, Things to Forget

I often feel like my recall ability is sub-par. I tend to remember general feelings, rather than specific conversations. Some events stand out in my mind while others fade away. My brother is often amazing me by recalling the most random things from our childhood — down to details like what we were wearing and what we ate for dinner.

Let’s face it: your brain is loaded down with a lot of information. The stuff you need the most — directions to the store or your ATM code, for example — needs to stay with you. Other things can be filtered out and left to fade away if they aren’t relevant or urgent.

But then your brain throws you a curveball. You may always remember the phone number of the first house you lived in, or something similar. It seems useless or irrelevant. But is it truly useless? That phone number or zip code or address that you may never need to use again can trigger other memories — it can be a gateway to things that happened when that information was useful and relevant.

Many times, we can choose what we want to remember and what we want to forget. Here are some tips to help your brain save the important stuff.

  • Use your technology (or your phone and address book) to your best advantage. You don’t HAVE to use brain space to remember phone numbers, mailing addresses, and other information. You can store it physically — in your PDA, cell phone, or on good old pen and paper — and access it when you need it.
  • Think about the importance of what you are learning. For example, when you’re at a party, don’t stress about remembering everyone’s name. Remember the people you had a meaningful interaction with; remember the people you hope to see again. Don’t be embarrassed to ask a person for their name again — everybody forgets names now and then!
  • Let the bad stuff go. Bad memories have a bad habit of lingering when we don’t want them to. Use visualization to give a bad memory the boot. I like to make a mental picture of a bad moment, then turn it to sand. An imaginary wind comes and blows the bad image away. You can also try thinking of your bad times and disappointments like DVDs and eject them from your memory — just replace the disc with a happy memory instead. Reliving the bad stuff is continuing to give it power. Letting it go into storage is a good way to move forward.