Quick, what did you have for lunch yesterday? If you are among my younger readers it doesn’t count if you remembered immediately, but if you are over 40 congratulations for remembering at all. It isn’t that our brains can’t remember as we get older, but that things do slow down. The retrieval process, for example, takes longer. That’s why I want to start a new version of the tv game show Jeopardy – “Jeopardy 40+”. In this version, nobody is allowed to answer for 30 seconds, thereby giving our brains time to open the file cabinet drawers as it were and evening out the playing field.

Clearly the IT people who want us to change our passwords monthly, make them random non-words with symbols, without any sequential alpha numeric characters, and all WITHOUT WRITING THEM DOWN ANYWHERE, have not yet reached the age where this is a small challenge.

So, how do we get things to stick? In his book, The Owner’s Manual for the Brain, Pierce J. Howard says that to convert information from your short term memory you must purposely want to memorize it. (Which reminds me of the old joke, “How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb must really want to change.”)

Howard suggests these 3 steps:

  1. Intend to memorize it
  2. File it by mentally organizing the information.
  3. Rehearse it over and over

Often the failure to remember is actually a failure of attention, rather than of brain function. When we multitask or do things out of habit, it is harder to remember them – like when you are driving on autopilot and you don’t consciously remember passing every point along the way. I have learned that before I leave the house I have to look at the coffee pot and mentally say to myself, yes, I have turned it off, or it won’t stick among all the little running out of the house tasks (or perhaps I should just buy myself an automatic shutoff coffee pot and save the brain space to remember something else!).

I have a friend who always leaves her phone number when she leaves a voice mail. Over time, I could remember hearing the her say the number in her messages and eventually it stuck. That is an example of another device – using different modalities. I have read that if you memorize something while smelling a scent, for example, you will remember it better in the presence of the same scent.

Go now, light a scented candle, memorize that password, and shut off the coffee pot. Oh, and remember to blow out the candle.

“I am so forgetful lately that sometimes I am not sure if I am remembering something, or if it is an entirely new thought” ~ Geri Moran