It’s annoying when you can’t remember something, when it’s on the ‘tip of your tongue’, but you just can’t seem to recall it.
Memory is complex and if you’re struggling to remember something it is often because the information is tucked away in your subconscious mind, below the level of conscious awareness.
Activating the memory network
Memories don’t exist in isolation, rather they are related to other memories.
Memories are also coded in different ways relating to the different senses – for example, we remember what we see, hear and touch differently. There are also emotions linked to our memories.
Let’s use the example of struggling to recall the name of a colleague that a person may have worked with years ago. The mistake many people make is that they keep following the same path, they focus just on the person or, worse still, on variations of the person’s name. Likewise, because they worked with them perhaps they keep trying to recall the person in a work environment.
The problem here is starting specific when you need to be general. Instead, understand that the memory is like a picture puzzle and you need to keep adding pieces, however seemingly unconnected, to start to reveal what the picture is.
Putting the pieces together
Start recalling anything relating to the topic, however vague the connection seems.
Using this example, remember what the former colleague looked like, what job did they do, which friends did you have in common. Maybe you have a memory of time spent with them (inside or outside work) – can you recall how you felt, other things you saw, heard or experienced at the time?
This starts to prime or ‘boot-up’ the mind to make the connections you need – keep adding the seemingly random puzzle pieces and often the picture suddenly snaps into place.
For example, you may remember a time you played football with the person and you remember, the day was cold, and it was noisy and the coach saying “Hey, Rory and JOHN, great game!”
JOHN! That was the guy’s name!!
You know more than you think you know
Like so many of the ‘mind hacks’ I teach in 1-2-1 skills training and workshops, this one involves delegating the work to the infinitely more powerful resource of the subconscious mind.
It is instinctive to try to use the logical processes of the conscious mind to recall something, but as the above illustrates, if that involves simply walking up and down the same path and still finding nothing then it is better to stimulate the creative part of your mind that contains the very information you are looking for.
As with problem solving and idea generation, a focus on using the logical processes of the conscious mind is really applying the wrong tool for the job.
I often use the phrase ‘delegating to the subconscious mind’ and it is precisely this approach which works best when overcoming those ‘tip of the tongue’ moments.