Why do we forget?

Forgetting, is it that we just fail to remember, let things slip or is it a deliberate approach to erase a memory; something we really want to cease to think of.

Studies suggest we forget things for a number of reasons:

  • Encoding failure – we cannot remember what we do not encode. A break in our attention span doesn’t allow us to commit the information to short or long term memory.
  • Storage decay – poor durability of stored memories leads to their decay. The longer we hold the memory the more it fades from our mind.
  • Retrieval failure – although the information is retained in the memory store, it cannot be accessed. We have all experience a retrieval failure where you have a tip-of-the-tongue moment. Given a clue or prompt the memory comes flooding back.

How much of the forgetting is by choice and how much of it is because our attention has lapsed, the memory has faded or we just can’t retrieve the information.

With harsh and difficult information we make a conscious decision to not allow a short term memory become a long term memory, by repressing the recall of a negative experience.

As individuals, we filter information and at times we alter and potentially lose the memory from our minds. Eyewitness accounts of an incident can be influenced simply by introducing new information as part of the interview process influencing the recall of the event.

Is all the art, in the remembering! That moment when our human frailty kicks in and we receive enlightenment as the memory comes flooding back. But is the message we receive, the memory, a pure one?

As humans there is no perfect data bank where we retain everything exactly as we have received the information in. Our memories become altered by existing knowledge that we have already stored merging with the new information we have received. So where all else fails, we fill in the gaps.

So you are probably wondering why I’m going to such great lengths to question why we forget.

I was out walking just recently listening to a song that was all about how we choose to remember our past loves! We choose to remember the finer qualities of the people we have moved on from (or they from us), if that’s the case then we did we move on at all. It’s only when we revisit the past that we realise our memory has been altered.

As this song is playing through my head, I started to think about how much we commit to memory in our everyday lives with our client and colleagues; in fact all our relationships. We rely on how we encode information and commit it to our short term memories for everything we do.

As a Business Consultant, each day I commit ever increasing fragments of information to be encoded and entrusted to my short term memory; some of it may even make it to my long term memory. It’s in times like these that I outsource the retention and recall of information to technology – where would we all be without it?

It’s also at times like these that we need to step back and de-clutter our minds to allow our receptors a moment of peace in preparation for the next onslaught of information.

So now, each day I make a genuine effort to spend time clearing my mind so as not to let the memories fade and make sure the recall button in my mind works when I need it too. I do, however, make sure I use technology to its advantage by not storing unnecessary information in my mind by using an external hard drive instead.

It’s not why we forget but how we remember that’s important!

What do you do in your business to protect your memories?

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