Forgetting things may not be a memory problem

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.


Photo courtesy of

How well you remember may depend on how you learned.

Memory is important. There is nothing as frustrating as standing there trying to remember someone’s name and come up with a complete blank.

We all blame this on a bad memory. That may not be the problem at all.

How well you remember someone or something may all depend on the very first impression. How well did you grasp the facts the first time you saw or heard them?

We talked in a past post (Why you can’t forget the painful past) about how pain is burned into us and happy memories take time to sink in. But there is more than just your emotional state at work in how well you remember.

That forgetting things, it may not be about old age or the beginning of Alzheimer’s. An example may help explain this.

You attend a social function over the weekend and meet some new people. On your way in past a hoard of noisy people trying to find their dinner table you are introduced to a couple and you shake hands just before you are whisked away to your table. You think that their names are Jane and Tom. Later when you say something to your partner over dinner about meeting Jane and Tom, they say who? You mean Janet and Tim?

Not what were their names?  You are not really sure. Two weeks later you start work at a new company.  The boss, you suddenly recognize him, you met him at the dinner meeting, but what was his name?

The problem here is not that you forgot his name. It is not even that you did not try to remember all those people who you met that night for the first time.

The problem is not in the retrieval part of memory. You never really learned this person’s name in the first place and clearly, you can’t remember something you never knew. You have just learned an important lesson.

How well you remember depends on the first impression something makes on you and on your brain. Hear a name clearly, get a chance to repeat it a few times, maybe even write it down and you will probably remember it. But hear it once, over a lot of noise in a hurried situation and it may well never get stored away in your memory.

Much of what we call forgetting is really a failure to learn things in the first place.

Remember that chemicals in your bloodstream can affect the recording, processing, or retrieval of information. To remember something you need to be able to do all three functions. We have talked in the past about how chemicals in the bloodstream can alter the storage and retrieval of information.

If you need the same chemical in your bloodstream to remember as was there when you learned something this is called State-Dependent Learning. We also talked about Marijuana and how it may interfere both with the storage and the retrieval of information. And of course, alcohol can cause blackouts, the total failure to record information even while you are talking and moving about. See “Do people really forget what happens when drinking.”

You now know that another major source of memory failure is not slowing down and learning things thoroughly enough in the first place.

A good memory is important in life and we could all use some help in improving our memory and our ability to make use of that thing we call our brain. Over the posts to come, I will talk more about how to get the best use and mileage out of that thing we call our brain. Better and clear thinking is a skill that can be learned. It does not benefit from the use of self-prescribed street drugs to boost its functioning.

Oh yes, some memory problems can be organic health problems. If there is a chance of that or you are concerned that this forgetting may be excessive, if you worry about having or getting Alzheimer’s, please see a doctor.

But also in the future work on improving your memory by, slowing it down, letting it sink in, and you will find the things you fully learned you will remember better.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

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9 thoughts on “Forgetting things may not be a memory problem

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  8. State dependent learning is indeed huge when it comes to memory. Even with flashbacks it is often a factor- what is a trigger after all than an aspect ogf the present that cues a past learning? nicely wriien post.


  9. I love this post! When I finished with my ECT’s they told me my memory would come back. You know what? it’s never been the same…still I’m remembering a lot more than I did a year ago!
    great post! Hugs Paula x


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