Reality Check: An Attitude About Forgetting

Last post, I used a personal example to discuss the challenge of forgetfulness. I had devoted considerable time learning how to use a piece of software. But by the time I needed to use that knowledge, it seemed that all I’d learned was forgotten. To say I was annoyed would be an understatement.
Sometimes we try to remember by cramming. Have you ever experienced a late-night cramming session before an exam? All that important knowledge flies out of your head the moment the exam ends. Hopefully, not before.
We can forget so quickly. The “forgetting curve” shows that we lose so much information shortly after learning it.
Even though forgetting is normal, it would be helpful if we had some control over what we remember. Are there conscious actions that we can take to help us?
The good news is yes. We can increase our ability to remember.
One strategy for remembering is called spaced repetition. We can slow down the forgetting process by repeating the information at intervals after the original learning. Repeated exposure apparently signals our brains that this information matters. Repetition in short bursts is more effective than one long memorization session.
Another strategy is to use different methods to access what you want to remember. For example, while reading and rereading does provide repetition and may help somewhat, a more effective method would be reading, followed by something different, such as answering questions. Take a little quiz!
What if you don’t have someone to quiz you? Not a problem. Create your own quiz. In fact, the effort required to create your own quiz on the information may make it even more memorable than answering someone else’s questions.
Another strategy is teaching, which is a great way to learn and retain information. Explaining information to someone else gets us working a little harder to recall it.
Don’t have anyone to teach? No problem; teach the cat. No matter what creature you teach, the process will still involve recalling the information and will highlight what you’ve forgotten. Do it out loud for more entertainment.
Here’s the most heartening point that I gleaned from this research. Even if we think we’ve forgotten something completely, once learned, it’s faster to relearn later on. Somehow, that knowledge is still retained in our brains.
I was very annoyed about my forgotten software knowledge. In my aggravation, I tried haphazardly skipping through information that I believed I “should” already know.
When I saw the forgetting curve (again) and was reminded that it’s faster to relearn once you have learned, I chose to drop some of that annoyance.
This led me to a question, “Does our attitude change our reality?” I would like to think so. That is, I hope that this positive thinking stuff actually has a positive effect on our realities. If it only results in feel-good, happy illusions but without reality-based results, then that doesn’t work very well. Not for me, anyway.
If my previous learning wasn’t wasted, but just needed refreshing, then I realized that I should methodically work through the tutorials again.
Somewhat less annoyed, I plowed through the information again. It went quickly and I picked up nuances that I had missed the first time. It’s so much easier now. Huh.
The only difference was my attitude. When I had viewed the relearning as waste and tried to take shortcuts, I made slower progress than when I recognized it as valid repetition and dropped my annoyance about “forgetfulness.” Ultimately, I made better progress.
So does your attitude change your reality? Maybe not directly, but your attitude can change what you choose to do. And what you do—the actions you take—can indeed change your reality.
What’s your attitude toward forgetting?

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