Remembering That You Forget

I have some ideas for living well with a poor working memory. First, allow me to park those ideas temporarily while I share a definition of working memory.

From “Working memory is a system for temporarily storing and managing the information required to carry out complex cognitive tasks such as learning, reasoning, and comprehension. Working memory is involved in the selection, initiation, and termination of information-processing functions such as encoding, storing, and retrieving data.” You will find an excellent and more detailed explanation of working memory at

Working memory is an active, present-time process. Like very short-term parking, it allows you to briefly park information—while you shift your attention to other relevant information—and then bring back the parked information as needed to complete the task at hand. You use it when you cook from a recipe or assemble an item with complex instructions.

Did you remember that I have ideas to share about living well with a poor working memory?

Working memory also allows you to coordinate multiple tasks. You might need to pause a conversation when leaving a restaurant to look around for items you brought with you without losing the thread of the conversation. Since your working memory doesn’t work well, you should know that it is socially acceptable to ask the person you’re talking with to “hold that thought” while you scan the environment for your keys and phone. This allows you to use the other person’s memory instead of relying on the unreliable—yours.

To employ a consistent ritual for departure from a restaurant, you will need some kind of prompt to exit your selective attention (from your conversation) and turn on your open awareness (to your surroundings). Standing up to leave could serve as your cue to scan the immediate environment and check your pockets or your purse. I check for lumps in my pockets (keys, wallet, phone) before departure from home or from any place I visit. Still, there is no guarantee that you will remember to use the strategy because of your attention inconsistency.

So, here is a complimentary strategy to further increase the chance that you will not leave something behind. When departing a restaurant, take your time and walk very slowly and deliberately to your car. This strategy worked for me last Saturday. I was leaving a restaurant to go a nearby Barnes & Noble bookstore to sign copies of Living Well with ADHD. My wife and her brother were already getting into my car while I was ambling behind, continuing my conversation with a friend. I was half way to the car when our server came jogging toward me from the restaurant with an object in his hand, yelling to me: “Sir, you forgot your phone!”

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