Usually we say that forgetting something or someone is the hardest part of dealing with a situation or a loss. That may be in the case in those situations for many people, but I find that forgetting things can be very easy to do in more immediate situations, such as the time I left my van running when I went into the gas station to buy coffee — in downtown Indianapolis.
Another example is that before I leave on a trip, depending on how rushed I am, I may go back into the house four or five times to get the things I forgot. My family just laugh and shake their heads, “What did you forget this time?” or “You back already? That was fast!”
Sometimes I worry that these seemingly minute moments of forgetfulness might turn into dementia or Alziemer’s disease so I have relied on a few fairly solid ways to reduce the number of things I forget.
First, I make lists. Yes, I am a list maker. I will list out everything I need, or lay things out in the evening so they are ready to go in the morning. That way my half attentive brain can just remember to look to the list, and the list can do the rest of the work for me.
When I am rushed, I forget more things than if I had planned ahead and made that list.
If I am not in a hurry, and I do not have a million thoughts on my mind, my memory is far better.
So memory for me requires I empty my mind of extraneous thoughts and be in the moment. So I have taken up practicing meditation and mindfulness as a means of helping improve my memory of what I need or what has happened in a given moment in time.
In addition to these more short term memory issues, I tend to recall fewer details about various events and situations than most of my family and friends.
I may remember distinctly walking in my pumps and cute skirt down an empty and dimmed hallway after school in my eighth grade junior high school by myself listening to the echo of my heels bounce off the tile floor and concrete walls, and not remember who I went on a trip with, to some park in Indiana with a lake on which I learned to waterski. I just know I learned to waterski somewhere with someone.
Thankfully, in an article in Psychology Today, Robert N. Kraft, Ph.D., says, “The broadest reason we forget is that in our everyday lives, we focus on understanding the world, not remembering it.”
This explains my contextual memory. I tend to remember things when I understand the significance in which they took place, or when I am brought back to that moment with a strong sensory such as a smell or being on the street where I played as a kid.
The context will open the flood-gates of my long-term memory of something or many things that took place in that context.
Kraft also says that memory is designed to be selective, because to recall all the details of every moment of our lives would be very time consuming and brain consuming. We filter out what we need and let the rest fade into the background.
I selectively “forget” events or instances that are painful. I am able to compartmentalize them and leave them out of my conscience so that I can function in my everyday life without balling my eyes out.
An example of a painful memory I am able to selectively forget is seeing my brother’s dead body at the funeral home. He looked as if he would rise up and say, “Jokes on you!”
He did not. When I revisit that memory, I lose my breath and tears cloud my vision, but I have gotten very good at letting that memory pass and replacing it with a less hurtful thought — another benefit of meditative practices that help you control your thoughts which act like puppets on your emotional heart strings.
People are diverse, and we all have varying degrees of memory capabilities. I wish I could be like Truman Capote, who had a photographic memory, but I am not.
Fortunately, I have various tools I can use to help me remember and forget as needed. I can write and record the past, make lists, shuffle thoughts in and out of my brain or — something I did not yet mentioned — I can ask for a little help from my friends — and family.
And if all that fails, and I still forget, well then, I guess it wasn’t that important to begin with, was it?