You have to pay attention, if you want to remember something. This may sound simple, but the most common reason healthy adults forget is because they fail to focus. Distractibility can account for memory lapses no matter what your age.
The most sensitive aspect of intellectual functioning is attention. It is therefore quite susceptible to being disrupted. In order to acquire information so we can later remember it, we must be mindful and focus on what we are trying to learn.
In other words, the problem isn’t that we forget, but that we don’t “get” what we want to remember from the outset. Does this sound easy to you? It is. But think for a moment of all the things in your daily life that you really don’t pay attention to. Consider the following questions about information we encounter every day:
- What letters, if any, are missing from the telephone dial?
- How many light switches are in your house or apartment?
- What word appears over the image of George Washington on a quarter?
- What color is at the bottom of the stoplight?
Why Distraction Causes Memory Problems
As you may know by now, many of us forget things simply because we are unable to actively attend to information when we are getting it. This is true as well for things that we read or see. We are not going to sufficiently acquire the information, and will not be able to have it later when we want it, if we are not focused on something that we are reading or watching.
Distraction is an particularly significant concern in recalling information that is read or seen. We often try to do many things at once, when we are busy. Reading the newspaper, listening to the radio, or watching a TV show often happens in conjunction with other tasks, such as having a conversation, cooking a meal, or driving to work.
Rarely do we give ourselves the opportunity to focus solely on the material we are reading or seeing. It may be harder for us to divide our attention as we grow older, so that performing multiple tasks may make it harder for us to recollect information we are introduced to during those actions.
How did you do? Chances are you don’t know the correct answers to some of these questions, even though these are things that you come across, sometimes regularly, over the course of a typical day.
Why? Because we are not always mindful of things we do or see every day. Only by focusing our attention can we sufficiently acquire information and have it later when we need to remember it. Can we improve our attention? Absolutely. How? Here are two basic habits we can develop to enhance attention and maximize memory fitness immediately:
You will be more likely to pay attention to it, to “get” it, and to “have” it later when you want to remember it, if you are aware that you are hearing or seeing something you want to remember. Increased awareness of the need to remember will increase your attention toward that information.
Have you ever forgotten whether you turned off the oven? or lost your car in a parking lot? Well, imagine if you had been more aware that you needed to be mindful of where you parked or whether you turned that knob.
If only you had thought to yourself, “Okay, I need to pay attention now so I will remember what I’m doing.” Being more aware in those circumstances would have encouraged you to pay closer attention and made it more likely that you would remember that information later.
Make the effort
You must try to focus your attention. Being aware that you need to pay attention without making the effort to do so is like sleeping with the unread text book under your pillow the night before final exams. It never worked, did it? Well, the same rule applies here. It isn’t enough to know you must be mindful of something you want to remember: You must then do it.
So simply make the effort to look around and pay attention to where you are, when you park your car at the mall and want to be able to find it a few hours later. Most likely there are some signs or other landmarks to help you remember where you’ve parked.