You’ve all done it. You walk into a room and think to yourself, what did I come in here for? Or you’ll forget the name of someone you know well. Or you’ll forget how to do a simple task at work. Sometimes you’ll even look at your taps and wonder which one is the hot one. And people are correct about being concerned about it. They’re right–it is getting worse. But not because Alzheimer’s is running suddenly rampant.
Long term and short term memory require you to be present for what it is you’re trying to remember. So what’s this mean for some housewife who leaves the grocery store without the thing she came for? Or the husband who walks down the hall to talk to a co-worker only to forget what he came to talk about? The answer is mindfulness. Presence. It’s to get out of your head and back into your body.
Of course it’s possible you could have some form of dementia and yes the odds increase as you age. But they’re still long odds. It’s far more likely you’re just a victim of the present day and you have too much on your mind. By the time the wife gets to the store she’s thought about a million things. On the way down the hall the husband thinks about who he should ask to play squash next Tuesday, and did he remember to call the furnace guy, and what had that woman said to him earlier? Thoughts thoughts thoughts.
People have never been more forgetful, and there’s signs of this everywhere. When I’m at the store the cashier always asks, did you find everything you were looking for? and of course they all say that because they’re taught to by the research firms that tell them a lot of people would have spent more money if they only remembered what they came for, therefore it is worth it to remind them.
Because I know people are very nervous about their memories, when they ask those questions I will often lie and answer that I usually remember when I get home, which will almost always get the people behind me to burst out laughing in understanding. They’ll often comment to confirm how many times they’ve done the same thing.
The truth is I rarely forget anything at the grocery store. I’m more likely to do it in my office where it’s easier to be distracted by things my brain considers more important than shopping for groceries. But when I’m shopping for groceries that’s pretty much all I’m doing. I’m in my body, I can feel the weight of the cans in my hands, I can feel the coldness of this surface versus that, I note the textures on the fruits, the details of the colours on the signs and labels. I’m drinking in the world around me without judgment or thought. It’s just there and I witness it. And that’s the key. The witnessing. If you’re not present you can’t witness, and if you can’t witness then you can’t remember.
Want to get a better memory? Want to worry less about your mind? Then tell it to shut up. After all, it’s just you talking to yourself. It’s not like you don’t know that stuff already. You don’t need to think about it. You can’t multitask, that’s already been proven. So if you can only really do one thing at a time why do you keep trying to do 100? The problem is not that you have 100 things to do, the problem is that you’re not present for the one you’re doing.
Human culture is becoming addicted to thinking. People have come to see a sea of language as being where they live. It’s why they’ll write Look Up on the sidewalks of major cities. Because people are so lacking in presence that they need to be reminded that they’re on a street and that there are serious dangers present.
You have five senses you’re consciously aware of. Start recombining them back into one holistic experience. Stop all of the commentary, the bitching, the worrying, the wondering–and just be. Just be where you are and do what you are doing. You’ll be calmer, happier, you’ll get more done, you’ll make fewer mistakes, you’ll be more original and you’ll remember it all much better.
There’s a reason you sleep a third of a day. You need time to wire the other two thirds into the rest of your memories. So all you have to do is get a good night’s sleep and keep hydrated enough so your cells will function effectively and you can wire all those memories in and then use them the next day, week, month and year.
It is very unlikely your problem is your brain. It is very likely that you are using your brain in a way that is making you busy-headed. Quiet all the thoughts and connect with your natural environment. You won’t trip, choke, bump or drop things. You will be where your physical self is. And that presence will help your awareness take in more information which can be cross-wired with more information, thereby strengthening the overall fibre of your memory.
Do not panic about losing control of your mind. There are many benefits to mindfulness so take control instead. It is your mind. Use it to be where you are, doing what you’re doing, and then notice how you walk into a room and you do remember what you went in there for because you didn’t divert to do a bunch of thinking in the time it took to walk fifty feet.
Relax. You’re fine. You’ll notice how fine if you quiet your mind and slip into Now. It’s a really awesome place to be alive I look forward to seeing you there. Have an awesome day.
Scott McPherson is a writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.