As I stood in line at the grocery store last week, I overheard a man say to the checker, “Go ahead and charge me for the bag. I never remember to bring mine.” The checker smiled and replied, “I have a trunk full of grocery bags myself. I always forget to bring them in.”
We all forget to do things now and again. Perhaps a hair appointment slips our mind and we are terribly embarrassed by the snafu.
But chronically forgetting to perform everyday behaviors is a different story. It’s a habit, not an isolated incident. We come to define ourselves by the misbehavior we pretend to abhor.
We often blame external circumstances: “I’m just too busy to take my vitamins.” Or we’re secretly resistant to the action: “I hate exercise. I never remember to do it.” We may even view it as a personal shortcoming, saying, “I just can’t remember anything these days.”
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These excuses fail to address the real issue. The behaviors we forget are unimportant to us. We never intended to perform them. We may pay social lip service and publicly agree to do them. Secretly, we file them in the “never in a million years” category, then justify falling short with a lame “It slipped my mind.”
We don’t like admitting this to ourselves or loved ones. It tends to land us in the emotional dog house. Telling your wife, “Our anniversary doesn’t matter to me,” is a marital no-no. Saying “Oops! I forgot!” to your boss can mean you’re out of a job.
The truth is, we do what we’re personally committed to doing. We never forget to take a child with cancer to his chemo appointment. A parent’s impending funeral isn’t overlooked.
Each of us should assess our varied activities and decide which we’ll keep and which we’re not interested in performing. Some we’ll select because we enjoy them. Others we do because they’re required by our employers or the law. Still others make loved ones happy; we comply to keep the peace.
The rest we should either acknowledge that we’re not doing or step up to the plate and get them done. It’s time to stop kidding ourselves and everyone along with us.
SOME TIPS FOR MINIMIZING YOUR FORGETFULNESS
Convince yourself that you have a good memory. Stop telling yourself that you’re forgetful. That perpetuates your sense of helplessness and prevents you from taking control. If you do have concerns about your memory, see an expert for an evaluation.
Identify what you want to remember. Be specific about what you want to accomplish. Momentarily focusing on the task at hand means you’re more likely to recall it when you need to.
Write it down. The physical act of writing activates other parts of the brain that can help you remember.
Make a plan for remembering it. Devise a scheme that ensures completing your task. For instance, store shopping bags in the front seat of the car so you’ll see them every time you drive.
Visualize your new behavior. Incorporate multiple senses in your image: see yourself in action; notice colors; smell any associated odors; hear relevant sounds. A detailed mental picture stimulates recall.
Make an association. We’re more likely to remember something if we pair it with another image. For instance, if you want to remember your girlfriend’s birthday, July 20, you might associate the month of July with fireworks and the number 20 with the Roman numerals XX. Your image could include X’s exploding in midair on the Fourth of July.
Organize your life. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Eat meals at regular times. Keep important items, such as wallets and sunglasses, in the same place. Self-regulation is a vital component of memory.
Keep a datebook. Buy a paper calendar or create a digital schedule. Put in activities you do every day, such as going to work or exercising. Add in extra items, like appointments, birthdays and chores. Consult your schedule throughout the day to stay abreast of your commitments.
Write a daily to-do list. Prioritize what you want to accomplish each day. Cross off items as you complete them. This simple step creates structure and helps you feel in command.