The Persistence of Memory (or lack thereof)
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I’ve always played or sung music, professionally or otherwise. I remember most melodies I hear, just about every commercial jingle from my past, and all the pop songs from “my era”, whether I liked them or not. Music teachers call it “tonal memory”. I’m grateful I have this ability, but other info does not so easily gain a foothold in my mind, and some memories have disappeared like a contrail behind a jet.
As to access- we may recall easily when we’re more calm and clear, but when our ADHD shows up, and the prefrontal cortex is challenged (adios executive functioning), our ACCESS of memories and other data we have stored in our heads is challenged. We may set an appointment when our executive functioning is working well, so in THAT state of mind, we assume we’ll remember and we will keep it in our heads. Then sometime before the appointment, up pops ADHD, there goes our access, and here comes another missed appointment.
One more key element in this area is “registering” info, is what we do to get info into memory in the first place. You may hear something you want to remember, but if you hear it AND write it down, or say it out loud, you’ll increase the probability you’ll register (and retain) what you heard. When you use 2 or more learning/processing modalities (audio, visual, tactile), you increase the odds you’ll register and retain info.
Here are a few ideas and tips for managing ADHD challenges around memory, registering info, and retaining/accessing info:
- identify the situations in which you have the attentional challenges that cause issues
- write things down, keep a journal, take photos, make audio notes- we do these things to make sure we have a way to access the info and memories that can’t be accessed when we’re challenged by our ADHD.
- it’s OK to double or triple up on reminders for the high priority items (calendar entry, note on desk, note on refrigerator). DO WHATEVER WORKS (when my car’s low on gas, I have a note that says GAS in large letters that I keep on the console, and I stick right over the tachometer so it’s right in my face).
- DO NOT rely on keeping info in your head- write it in a task list, calendar, or journal
- speaking of journals, start one if you haven’t yet. When you have a great evening or a “memorable” conversation, or you learn something useful, journal about it. Even a few words will work. You’ll be glad you did later when you find yourself wondering what that great conversation you had was about.
- if something needs to be retained, write it down NOW. Even 5 minutes can be enough to forget a name, number, or appointment time
- no matter how many ADHD management skills we learn, we’re going to forget things. Learn and employ the skills, especially this one: learn to not get upset with yourself when you forget something. Let it go, keep moving forward, and if you can find any humor in it, go ahead and chuckle at yourself. It takes the pressure off, plus you get extra points for setting those around you to wondering what’s so funny…
- offloading info like this from your brain is like clearing clutter from your desktop. There’s less to get in the way of mental processing, and that’s a very good thing.
(painting above- "The Persistence of Memory" by Salvador Dali, 1931)