Just forget it….okay, I did!

Published 5:25 pm Friday, July 5, 2024

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I thought of a good opening to this week’s column, but then I got distracted somewhere along the way and forgot what exactly I had in mind.

Maybe I should have written it down immediately instead of waiting!

But isn’t that how it always goes? There are things we want to remember, but the memory has scurried off somewhere into oblivion when you’re looking for it again later. It happens to everyone, even those with a reportedly “really good memory.”

It’s kind of funny and strange what people easily remember and easily forget. I can hear a song for the first time in 20 years and somehow still be able to remember every single word to sing along, but I’ll put a box of macaroni in the kitchen cabinet and not think about it again for the next six months. “Out of sight, out of mind” is the old saying, right?

I can usually memorize the route I need to take to go somewhere new just by looking at Google maps a few times, but I once spent four years trying to find a specific book I had in college but couldn’t remember where I put it when I moved back home. (Maybe that example is less about my memory and more about how many books I had at the time. For the record, I found this one stashed under my bed eventually.)

Memory is such a fascinating topic. Some people have incredibly detailed memories from specific moments in their childhood. Others cannot remember what they ate for breakfast. And sometimes we all remember things incorrectly.

So I was intrigued when I saw a recent article from NPR’s Life Kit series that shared tips on how to improve your memory. I figure that maybe everyone could find something useful in the suggestions, so I’m sharing them here too.

Firstly: Pay attention.

This is a good reminder because it’s so easy to get distracted while doing things and then struggle to remember something important later. The example in the article was about finding your parking space. If you’re not paying attention when you get out of your car and head into the store, then you might have a hard time remembering where you parked later. So if you don’t want to constantly find your car by setting off the alarm, try to make note of what’s around you the next time you’re in a big parking lot.

Create a rule or habit.

For people who constantly misplace small items like your keys or your wallet, create a habit to always put those things in the same spot each time you return home. Your shoes go here in this spot. Your wallet goes there in that spot. Your keys go in this place (and not in the refrigerator because you weren’t paying attention. Yes, I may have done that once.) If you make a habit of using the same places, you don’t even have to worry with remembering later. Grabbing your stuff will just become muscle memory.

Immerse yourself in details.

According to a neuroscientist interviewed for the article, brains are geared to remember things that are “meaningful, emotional, surprising, or new.” So immersing yourself in details gives your brain something to latch onto, and makes it easier to recall the memory later.

If you’re learning a language, for example, don’t just stick to memorizing your textbook. Watch TV shows in that language and listen to music. Find a way to talk with a native speaker if possible. The hands-on experience provides that crucial immersion.

Trigger your memory.

If you listen to a certain kind of music while studying, then when you hear that music elsewhere, it’ll probably remind you of what you were studying earlier. And it doesn’t have to be music. You can associate foods or smells or anything else with something you want to remember. (Which is good to know, because I personally could never listen to music while studying.)

Memorize things in chunks.

Almost no one remembers phone numbers anymore because they’re all stored digitally in our cell phones these days. But in case you had a number you needed to memorize, it helps to break it up in chunks, as opposed to simply remembering each individual number one at a time. Some things are a lot less intimidating to try to memorize if you can break it down into something more manageable.

Try flash cards.

While this tip might not be helpful in remembering where you put things or recalling old childhood memories, if you just have some trivia you want to memorize (and then impress people with later), use some good old-fashioned flashcards. There’s a reason why this technique has been used in schools for years after all. Sometimes remembering something is simply just putting in the work of learning and reviewing over and over until it sticks.

You can’t beat the classics, right?

Memory can be weird and difficult at times, but clearly there are plenty of ways that it can be improved. One tip that wasn’t included in the NPR article: writing things down. Not everyone’s brains are wired the same way, but for people like me, writing something down really does help to remember it better later.

Hey, maybe that’s why I wanted to write all these tips down and share with the rest of you, right?

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or by phone at 252-332-7206.