Forgetting Boring Data
Problem: You tend to forget appointments, addresses, PINs, and passwords. Take heart―the brain wasn’t designed to store such data, called declarative memories, for a long time unless you make a concerted effort to do so. This type of information, which by nature isn’t special or exciting, has a short shelf life. Other declarative memories include historical dates and birthdays.
Solution: The only way to make essentially boring data part of your long-term memory is to store it properly so you can retrieve it later on. “If you don’t make a conscious effort to learn your PIN, your short-term memory will flush it out immediately,” says Zaldy S. Tan, M.D., director of the Memory Clinic at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in Boston and author of Age-Proof Your Mind. Attach some sort of meaning to it. For an important date, like your niece’s birthday, give it an emotional connection (eight days after the Fourth of July). For less important information, like a dentist’s appointment, don’t even try to remember. “This is exactly why God invented the PDA and the date book,” says Aaron P. Nelson, Ph.D., chief of neuropsychology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston, and the author of The Harvard Medical School Guide to Achieving Optimal Memory (McGraw Hill, $17, amazon.com). “The onus isn’t on your brain to do the heavy lifting.”