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The perils and perks of your selective memory

Saturday, August 25, 2018

There was a great movie released in 1997 called ‘Men in Black’. You know, one of those unrealistic yet hilarious action flicks where you could, temporarily, escape into a different world. The two heroes of the story, apparently charged with some Very Important Work in the world had a special device. If you had witnessed something they thought you shouldn’t have, they could erase all your memory of the event with the press of a button: “Just look at this light for a moment…”

Perhaps this fantastical device wasn’t all that far-fetched, as it seems it might already be operating in our own lives. And in fact, there’s a part of our brains that performs the same function.  As information comes in from our senses (like sight, sound, touch, taste, smell), your brain decides what’s worth paying attention to, what you should remember for a few minutes, and what should be remembered forever.  In short, what seems unimportant at the time is tossed away, forgotten.

A very useful attribute it is, too, because if you had to remember every small thing in your day: (like who you spoke to, what you said, how you felt, what you ate, which part of your body itched momentarily) you could soon feel quite overwhelmed. Instead, we pay attention to what seems to be important at the time.

Alas, when you’re focused on improving your health, this selective memory can be a hindrance. This ease in forgetting makes it possible to walk out of a consultation and almost immediately forget the practitioner’s advice; as though one of those devices had just erased your memory. The same thing can happen as you try to recall what symptoms have changed since your last meeting with them. You can’t remember because when it happened your brain didn’t deem it as something worth remembering. But that makes it harder to sense when you’re progressing too. So what can you do?

One tool you could use is a notebook. Write down the issue that you’re working to heal and each day make a brief note of how you’re going. What’s changing, whether you’re trying out a new therapy and how it’s going for you. Then at your next appointment you’ll be able to easily and accurately let them know how your treatment is progressing, how well you responded to what they prescribed, and what still needs to be attended to.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy "Tips For Better Brain Health" 

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