Have you ever wondered why it’s so infuriatingly easy to forget the things you really need to remember, but remember the things you don’t really need to?
It can be frustrating when you’re trying to learn a new skill or remember the flow of a presentation or a sales pitch, and if you’re anything like, me, once you’ve stopped the learning process in any given situation, you can almost ‘feel’ the stuff you wanted to remember slipping away.
Some people appear to remember everything and forget nothing. This skill is amazing to watch in action. I know someone who in one evening read a book on a coding language he was unfamiliar, and then proceeded to create a fully working program with it the following day.
Forgetting stuff that’s important to you can be both annoying and problematic if what you need to remember is really important. These days, with the ubiquity of mobile phones constantly within reach, it’s less of an issue. However, this still doesn’t prevent us from remembering only two of the three items we were meant to buy when we popped into the supermarket. Why is that third item always so elusive?
I decided to do a little digging around to see whether this was something I should be concerned about, or am I just Mr Average in the memory department.
Who should come to my rescue, but the famous, now deceased, Hermann Ebbinghaus.
Mr Ebbinghaus, better remembered by his friends as, erm, hang-on… no, sorry, it’s gone.
In 1988, he published a book called ‘Über das Gedächtnis’. Memory: A Contribution to Experimental Psychology. Apparently, this landmark book has been referred to by probably every book ever written on the subject, so Hermann clearly knew his onions.
His research uncovered three main elements of memory;
1) Decay from memory. Otherwise known as ‘the forgetting curve’. This charts the percentage of things you’re likely to forget over time.
2) Space practice. This suggests that reinforcing what you’ve learned after 15-20 minutes can have a significant impact on what you’re able to remember.
3) Primacy & recency. This means you’re more likely to remember things from the beginning and the end of a list.
So, thank you, Hermann. It’s helpful knowing that the majority of people have exactly the same experience and that I’m not alone.
From now on, when making a list, I will put all the really important things at the beginning and end with only the things I don’t really need, or need to do, in the middle.