How to Remember That Thing You Forgot

We had yet another winter storm this morning. The skies had opened up during the night and glazed the car, the driveway, and the mounds of already accumulated snow with an icy shell. My feet were slip-sliding on the sloped driveway as I tried to make my way to the car. I just couldn’t get… What is the word? It’s not commonly used. It has two syllables. Sounds like something a British person might say. I think it starts with P.

I’m finding this happening more and more. I’ll have a word on the tip of my tongue, but sometimes I can’t spit it out. I can barely drool. I’ve always had the ability to remember even the most trivial things like phone numbers from my childhood and titles of obscure movies. I can also retain important things like names of my clients’ children, birthdays of friends and family, and what time to pick up the kids. So when words start to elude me, all I can think of is my great aunts who have lived into their 90s and are all currently suffering some type of dementia or memory loss. I think it would be torture to live for decades but not remember any of it. So I’m determined to flex and tone my brain muscles and keep these hereditary memory issues at bay for as long as I can.

Here are some helpful tips:

  • First, know your learning style. I’m a visual learner, which means I retain information better if I see it or read it. I remember what I write down, so I tend to take detailed notes and use lots of colorful highlighters. To me, everything in the world can be better organized with a great spreadsheet. Take this quiz to find out what kind of learner you are, and read some tips relevant to your learning style.
  • Take a walk.  A study from the American Academy of Neurology suggests that older adults who walk between 6 and 9 miles per week cut their risk of developing memory loss in half compared to their sendentary counterparts.
  • Feed your brain and improve your memory. Eat  your veggies–dark, leafy greens, tomatoes (some might say they are a fruit)–and colorful fruits (berries and melons) to get a healthy dose of B vitamins and antioxidants. Remember your Omega-3 fatty acids, too. You can get them from salmon, tuna, walnuts and flaxseed.
  • Play games. Brain games. One of my favorite brain game sites is I also love the free app Word Warp.
  • Do Neurobic exercise–think aerobics for the brain. Brush your teeth with a different hand or get dressed with your eyes closed. Take a new route to work or shop at an unfamiliar grocery store. Break out of old habits and work those neurons!
  • Use tricks like stringing together words that start with the same letter of each word you need to remember. For example, I learned the nine planets in order from the sun using “My Very Elegant Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas” (or “…Just Served Us Noodles” when poor Pluto was stripped of its planetary status). I learned the preamble to the U.S. Constitution by singing the Schoolhouse Rock song.
  • Get enough sleep and keep stress levels low. I know. Easier said than done. But try.

So when you can’t remember that word, or where you left your car keys, just relax and take a breath. The retrieval process is like looking through a filing cabinet of memories. Your brain will continue subsconsciously rifling through the folders until the memory is found. 

The word I couldn’t remember?  “Purchase” (noun: firm foothold or grasp). It popped into my head three hours later.

One Comment

  1. Daniel says:

    Thanks Donna for this informative blog. It really bugs me when I can’t remember things especially when I go to another room to retrieve something that I needed and once I get there I totally forget the reason I am there to begin with. It sometimes helps me when I retrace my footsteps and I guess my brain is rewinding and will retrieve what it was that I needed. I will certainly try to eat more Omega3 fatty acids and also try to break my being a creature of habit. thanks again Donna.

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