Thanks for the memories

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: January 15th, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Now, where did I put my keys? Have I already picked up my dry-cleaning? Has that billboard always been there? For the life of you, you just can’t remember.

Don’t despair. Not only is the act of forgetting incredibly common, leading neuroscientists say it’s essential to proper brain function. In fact, if you remembered all the mundane, routine events of your life, your brain would be so overloaded, you’d drown in a sea of inefficiency.

Scientists say recent studies show the brain appears to be programmed to forget things that aren’t important.

The brain’s pre-frontal cortex, the area of complex thought and planning, sorts and retrieves the memories of these routine events.

Researchers at Stanford University’s Memory Laboratory discovered that the more people forgot these mundane memories, the less work their cortexes had to do to recall a specific memory. In other words, forgetting frees up brain power for other tasks.

A good example? Learning a new computer password every few months. As you forget the memory of the old password, it gets easier to remember the new one.

What if you want to remember more of every individual day? A good method is keeping a written journal, scientists say. Not only does it provide a tangible record, it also forces you to take a moment to reflect. Taking photographs helps, too.

But don’t beat yourself up for forgetting a few simple facts. Chances are, you’re just making room for the memories that are truly important.