We’ve all been there. We go into the supermarket for a few, key things, and come home with a bag full of stuff – only to find we’ve forgotten the very things we went in to buy.
Is it because our memory is decaying over time (scary) or because of what scientists call ‘interference’? This is where similar information is crowding out the things we need to remember.
... WARNING ...
Here comes the science bit – jump ahead if your brain is starting to hurt and/or you just want to get to the practical stuff (we won’t mind!)
Researchers at the Rotman Research Institute in Toronto found the nature of the initial memory was key. Mostly, two causes were in play, with one or the other the primary reason for forgetting.
What people had to do between learning the memory and having to remember it was an important factor.
Memories are categorised as either familiar memories or recollection.
'Familiar' memories allow us to hold something in the brain without the complete detail. So, you might know someone’s face is familiar but not remember their name (happens all the time, right?)
'Recollection' however is a different process and means you would remember the name and how you know them. Recollection memories are contained in the hippocampus area of our brain and are relatively unaffected by what we do between learning them and having to remember. They are more affected by decay.
Familiar memories are held in the extrahippocampal structures just outside the hippocampus. They are more sensitive to interference (phew).
…HEY! Hello again - here’s the really useful stuff…
For many busy people, in particular mums and dads, interference is a key reason for forgetting things. In other words, our busy brains have so much to cope with that they overwrite things which we need to get.
Think about what’s on your mind every day.
Students – Bet you’re thinking about that girl/bloke you met last week, your overdue essay, your part-time job, when you last washed those pants, and who ate the slice of cold pizza you were saving for breakfast...
Young professionals – Your brain is full of train times, deadlines, espresso martinis, how many reps you did at the gym, and whether that holiday you saw online is now more expensive...
Parents – It’s getting children to and from school (on time!) each day, helping with homework, ensuring their clothes are washed and ironed, remembering everything you need to do for work, remembering birthdays, anniversaries, booking holidays…
That’s why there’s always one thing, often something seen as not vital (such as a toothbrush), that we can’t seem to remember to buy on our shopping trips.
Our memories become less accessible - it’s like trying to find one piece of a jigsaw in a box full of similar jigsaw pieces.
One useful tactic is to create systems for certain tasks which mean you don’t have to keep remembering them.
- Ensuring your bills are on direct debit, rather than having to be paid by bank transfer, mean they won’t take up valuable space in your brain.
- Creating alerts on your phone for birthdays (a few days before) will mean you don’t forget them or stress about having to buy last-minute gifts.
- Getting subscription boxes for items you need, but which your brain might not see as immediately vital in the same way as food, will also help free up your headspace. This is especially useful for toothbrushes, oral care products, shaving items, and grooming products.
Let Brushbox free up some much needed space in your brain, so you can focus on the important things (like remembering the name of that person who speaks to you on the train every day...)
Get yourself a subscription box to remember with Brushbox: