Defeating Forgetfulness by Improving our Working Memory

Can we imagine a life where we do not remember how to do all the tasks we do in a usual day?

To make it more complex, let’s imagine ourselves in situations where we cannot even use our prior knowledge to deal with the present situation. Almost everything we do is guided by some prior learning. Our mind has the power to mold the present situation using the experiences from the past and this ability is known as working memory.  

Working memory is essentially our ability to hold information in memory while we perform complex tasks. It includes the ability to draw past learning or experiences to use in situations at hand or something in the future.

People who have a strong working memory; face no problems keeping track of things, or the promises/commitments they have made. They find it easy to remember details from conversations and important information. On the contrary, people with a weak working memory tend to be forgetful. When they are focusing on a particular thing, they lose focus of any other competing information or cues from their environment. For instance, they may forget minor obligations or miss the steps to completing a task etc. Teenagers often overestimate their extent of remembering information.

Most of us, do not even acknowledge this as a weakness until we absolutely have to depend on lists and written reminders to keep track of the important things. While you struggle with this skill on a day-to-day basis, it still does not have to impair your functioning. Here are a few strategies that can help improve our working memory.

1. Modification Strategies
Sometimes structuring our environment to build in as many environmental cues as possible can be a very effective strategy for improving working memory, since forgetfulness is a major problem. Creating visual and auditory reminders for important tasks and obligations can help us in performing the task on time. Moreover, if you are good at organization but weak in working memory, you can learn to organize your information in a way that the chances of you forgetting something are minimum. For instance, you may organize a specific place for your keys so that losing them is least likely.

2. Soliciting Help from Others
Everyone who has a weak working memory usually knows someone who has a good working memory. You can always ask those around you with a good working memory to remind you of important things that you need to do, as long as you do not blame them for not reminding, this could be beneficial for you.

3. Chunking Down Information into Smaller Parts
The last thing that a person with a weak-working memory needs is an overload of information. Information overload can be very overwhelming for a person who struggles with remembering things. In such cases, chunking down the information into smaller bits can be very helpful to remember things. It makes focusing on information as wells as retaining it much easier.

4. Making Use of the Checklists
Most of us underestimate or feel repulsed by the use of checklists in our day-to-day lives because we think using checklist makes us dependent on external cues for remembering the basic things, or that having a checklist is another obligation we need to fulfil. You can always make your checklist as friendly as possible, keeping realistic standards of performance in mind and customizing it around your needs.

5. Developing Routine
Building a routine simply means building a time schedule to address the problem you are struggling with. For instance, you can set up a time in the evening where you can gather everything you will need for school the next day so you do not forget. Eventually, it will become a part of what a usual day looks like for you.  

6. Say ‘NO’ to Multitasking
When we are multitasking, we are maxing out our brains potential to handle complex task. An inability that it inherently possesses. Multitasking might get you to finish the task faster but it reduces the work efficiency and the quality of work, not to mention how taxing it can be for a person who has a weak working memory. We are providing more sensory overload to ourselves than is feasible when we’re working on more than one thing at a time, which is why it becomes next to impossible to remember every detail of a task or information.

7. Mindfulness to Sharpen Memory
Mindfulness is a very effective exercise, which can be very beneficial for those struggling with weak memory as well as weakness in sustaining attention. Since a big part of working memory is based upon attention and retaining information, using mindfulness can help with improving working memory. Working memory can be significantly enhanced if we learn to self-regulate ourselves. Through mindfulness, we learn to make a conscious effort to visualize or form mental images of what we need to do.

8. Mental Rehearsing
Mental Rehearsing is another way of improving working memory through visualizations. If we picture everything we need to remember or keep recalling it to ourselves, it’ll be much easier to retain that information because we’ve elaborately thought about it. To put it simple, we’re trying to form connections between what we know well and what we’re trying to remember.

Author: Iqra Naz
Clinical and Counseling Psychologist
Family First Institute 

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