So You’ve Got A Terrible Memory…

So you have a bad memory. Let’s just examine that a little more…

You see, here’s the paradox; you’ve never forgotten that you think you have a bad memory. You remembered it everyday and remember to forget the things you need to remember. If you really and truly had a bad memory, there must have been times when you forgot that you had a bad memory and forgot to forget information and done extremely well in some exam or tests…

photo credit: ajari

Because when you say you have a bad memory, by definition you should forget that you have a bad memory, but you never have, have you? Has this ever happened? My guess is no and that your a little confused about what I’m saying.

People who think they have a bad memory, in fact have a better memory than most and have a good way of hanging onto useless information, like their belief about their memory. But this is good, especially for people sitting exams in which a lot of unimportant information needs to be learned.

The brain is a very useful tool, but it’s designed to forget information.

Sorry what?

Let’s explore this a little more. Your brain must make sense of all the information it takes in every second of everyday. It does this in 3 ways.

  1. It generalises information. It groups things together to make it easier to operate and perceive things in the world, for example, opening a handle on a door. Once you do this on one door you do this on all doors without question, your brain assumes that this door is the same as that. Its a good process that helps speed up learning.
  2. It distorts information. It distorts information to fit your model of the world. Some people think that opening a large business in a small area will bring much needed employment, others will see it as destroying the local surroundings and putting small traders out of business. Both are right, but which way does your brain distort the situation to bring it inline with your values and beliefs.
  3. It deletes information. You brain dumps information that it does not think is important. When you recount your day or tell someone about what you did the previous afternoon, you leave out huge chunks of information. You summarise the information down and don’t tell them how many steps to took to get to the door, which hand you used to open the door, how much pressure you applied to the handle, how the handle felt, which muscles you engaged to open the door, which foot you led with out the door….

If you did it would take hours to communicate with people.

If you sometimes find yourself forgetting information, be happy in the knowledge that your brain is functioning properly.

Your memory will hang on to important information. More specifically information that is used often. By using information often your brain will know its of value and so you will be able to recall it easier. Things like your friends names and phone numbers, PIN numbers and passwords are all information that is easily recalled due to the fact that the information is being used on a daily basis.

If you, like me, have had more than 1 phone number over the years you may find it very hard to remember your previous numbers. I do. With some effort I can get most of the number but I cant remember it easily. This is fine, because I haven’t been using the number for years so may brain does not need to consciously remember the information. It has been deleted.

Information is stored easier when:

  1. It is used or recalled often.
  2. It is sensory appealing or stimulation.
  3. The information is ordered and in a sequence.
  4. When things are funny.
  5. When things are exaggerated.

When you sit down to learn and study material, be it for junior cert, leaving cert or college exams, keep the above 5 steps in mind. Make your study more sensory appealing, add not only sight and sound but touch as well. Exaggerate your notes, make them funnier and have them in an order that makes sense.

So, if you found this of use, great more to come!

In the mean time you can check out some of the courses I run for Leaving Certificate Students on the Areas of Memory, Motivation and Time management here at

Let me know what you think people!!


1 thought on “So You’ve Got A Terrible Memory…”

  1. I really like this article. I have always had trouble with memorizing facts for standardized tests. I always thought it was because I was easily distracted, but after reading this, I think it is more of the fact that there is nothing about what I am learning that seems to “stick” with me. I would like to know if you could/would go more into depth as far as some of the methods that I, or someone else would take in exaggerating notes and/or making them more sensory appealing. For example, if I had to memorize many definitions for a math test, and I’m terrible at math, what would be some of the methods I would take to gain a better memorization. Thanks!

Leave a Reply