Poor memory - I've lost the car

“It was right here…!”

It can be a terrifying moment. You return to where you’d parked your car. And it’s gone.

‘Where did I leave it? It was right here…! Now its gone…’

And you search and search.

All over the car park.

Faster and faster as panic builds.

‘It’s been stolen!’ Panic. So you search all the same places, again.

And then realise it wasn’t this car park – it was the one down the road.

Poor memory – or poorly used memory

A genuinely ‘poor memory’ is possible but, short of illness, is much rarer than we think.

More common, very common in fact, is ‘poorly used memory’.

Remembering needs your full attention. Just for a second or two, but it does need full attention to work well.

However most of us multi-task. So while doing one thing, such as locking your car and leaving the car park, you’re probably

  • Thinking what you’re going to go next or about something that happened earlier
  • Chatting with a friend.
  • Checking your messages
  • Distracted by something or somebody in the car park.

What’s not getting your full attention is physical location of your car – in relation to the layout of the car park.  Not the colour nor make of nearby cars – they’ll probably be gone by the time you get back!

How to remember better

The good news is you don’t have to learn a new skill: you just have to stop getting in the way of an existing skill.

You have to regain the habit of doing something you used to do excellently, naturally, and automatically.

Now, like many adults, we’ve got to dust off that skill – the ability to give something your full attention for a second or two.

Remembering needs full attention

NLP suggests that we primarily think in 4 main ways: in pictures, sounds, feelings, and inner conversations.  (Thinking in smells and tastes is possible but not called upon that often in daily life).

Some senses are better than others for certain tasks. And the most effective way of remembering where you’re parked your car is…. with a mental picture.

It’s easy.

Take your mental snapshot by devoting a second or two to mentally imprinting or ‘registering’ it.

Full attention…

To do this give it your full attention – for a second or two.

In this second or two your attention is fully on the scene.

No distractions!

Not picturing what you’re going to do next. Not listening to what the other person is saying. Put the phone aside for a moment. It’s mental snapshot time!

Incidentally, children do this really well – because their lives are less pressured or complicated. And, for many of us, our ‘image registering’ skill weakens as we become older – life becomes more complex and we become careless.

Remember this a brand new skill: we’re just dusting off and refreshing one that served us well for years.

Now, back to car parking!

Okay, this has been remembering where things are, in general.

So, finally, let’s get back to remembering where you leave your car.

As you walk away from your car stop. Now look at it using each of the following 3 tips.

You are taking mental snapshots of what it will look like as you return.

Because the image you see as you lock the car will be different from the image you see as you return to your car. One is a close-up and the other is from the entrance as you arrive back and scan for the car.

The close-up is pretty useless! Because it isn’t what you’ll see as you arrive back at the entrance to the car-park. And the close-up includes nearby cars which will most likely have been replaced by other cars when you return.

Snapshot 1: Take your first ‘snapshot’ near enough to see the car against the background – pillars, windows, signage, etc.

Snapshot 2: As you are about to leave the carpark, or that level, stop and look back at your car. Take your second snapshot – again noticing where the car is in relation to the surroundings (but not, of course, other cars.)

Snapshot 3: Whilst getting back into the habit of ‘registering’ images in this way you can ‘cheat’. Use your smart phone to physically take the first two snapshots. And it’s not really cheating: it’s helping you get into the snapshot habit!”

And finally…

The American writer Tryon Edwards (1809-1894) made an interesting observation:

The secret of a good memory is attention, and attention to a subject depends upon our interest in it.

This was first published in our Newsletter on 5 February 2018. Revised 10 January 2023.  You can subscribe here to receive your copy every few weeks

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