It's not memory failure, I simply was not paying attention in the first place.
by Doyle Ranstrom on May 9, 2021
One of the phrases I have heard consistently throughout my life is "remember, I told you that". I remember my mom yelling this to me at a very early age. My answer, which was always best kept to myself was, "no, because I was not paying any attention". You cannot forget something you never learned in the first place.
As you get older, memory loss is often associated with a decline in mental faculties. So it was with great interest I recently listened to a Ted Talk entitled "How your memory works - and how forgetting is totally OK" by Dr. Lisa Genova who has a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard University.
As you get older, memory loss.... Ok, just kidding. Was just checking to see if you were paying attention. Good job.
Ok, back to the Ted Talk [www.ted.com] which I highly recommend. One of Dr. Genova's talking points verifies my initial comment, you cannot forget something you never learned in the first place.
Recently we were at dinner with some very good friends and the conversation shifted to a trip they made to Norway. At that time, I started thinking about a historical fiction trilogy I am reading, just finished the second book during the time of the Vikings around 800 AD. Then I started thinking if could have been a Viking, I am half Swedish. But I realized I am not tough enough. An owie for me, they would not even notice. An owie for them would be having their arm chopped off in battle and they would keep on fighting. Then I wondered how I would look with a pleated goatee down to my waistline. Not sure I could pull that off.
I did return to the conversation and hopefully was a better and in the present guest.
I do not mean to 'space out" for lack of a better term, but it happens. For most of us, it is really not spacing out, simply not pay attention and thinking about other things. When I was ten years old, when I did not remember something, my mother was not worried about me losing my memory. She was worried about me driving her out of her mind, but that is different.
Dr. Genova states "for all its miraculous, necessary and pervasive presence in our lives, memory is far from perfect". She then discusses what we remember and what we forget and two "ingredients in creating a memory".
One ingredient to create a memory that lasts longer than a moment is attention. "You can only remember what you pay attention to."
A second is when something is on the tip of the tongue called "blocking on a word can occur when there's only partial or weak activation of the neurons that connect to the word you're looking for."
Today, many of us worry about memory problems. But there is a difference between dementia, Alzheimer's and not remembering something you never really learned in the first place. Dr. Genova briefly touches on this in her Ted Talk. For example, if your spouse or significant other tells you to do something and you forget, that is normal. In this scenario, you might want to go with "weak activation of the neurons" as it sounds better than you did not care enough to pay attention. A better option may be to simply apologize and throw yourself at the mercy of the court.
Forgetting your spouse or significant other's name or what they look like is different and if there are concerns there are tests and professionals which should be consulted.
Too often in today's world, others are trying to make us feel like we are "losing it" if we do not remember something. Give yourself a break and take a break from those people. As Dr. Genova briefly discusses, one reason maybe we never learned it in the first place or it is maybe in a remote part of our memory banks and takes time to access.
I do know I need to work on staying in the moment or being in the present, but also have learned to give myself a break when I do not remember something that I probably never learned in the first place. Right now, I am standing in the entryway with my jacket on, so I have to take a moment and remember why I put my jacket on and determine if I am coming or going. Knock on wood, this momentary spacing out is just normal. Wait, was that the front door or the back door?