Yes, I am “directionally challenged”.
I kid you not. I can drive a well known route, miss my exit and end up in Round Rock wondering how I got there.
Did I forget how to drive home? Do I have, as a friend of mine likes to say, Old Timer’s Disease?
We’ve all had an experience of forgetting why we walked to the kitchen. Upon arrival, the reason motivating us to go has scampered off.
Why do these things happen to an otherwise reasonably intelligent person? Do you know someone with similar traits? Maybe you?
But, here’s the thing. I was in trouble a lot as a kid and teenager for forgetting to do stuff.
Lock the door, close the garage door, missed curfews, all sorts of things.
And not one person ever said to me. “Ahh, it’s your age. You’re getting older.”
The truth is I didn’t give a hoot about that stuff. I had my eye on music practice, basketball or the girl down the street. Who cares about a door?
But, later in life, we tend to focus on memory slips. Where are my keys? Dang, I’m getting old!
I say that several times a week and have all my life. One time, as Ellen and I were rummaging through the entire house looking for my keys, she suddenly appears in the doorway, leaning casually against the frame, swinging my keys on her finger in a Mae West kind of way.
“Looking for these Professsor?” says Ellen.
“Yeah! Great! Where did you find them?” I asked.
“Oh, right where everyone puts their keys. In the vegetable bin in the refrigerator.”
In Ellen Langer’s book, Counter Clockwise, she reports on a study that she and her colleagues did on memory and aging. The short story is that the researchers found memory improved in “older” people when what the were asked to remember mattered to them.
In other words, when you think you’re losing your mind, you’re getting old and forgetful, the real reason is you’re not paying attention. Whatever it was you thought you should know, you never really knew it to begin with because it just wasn’t that important.
I can do a lot of things without having to remember each small step. Can you imagine how tortuous it would be if you had to think of each and every step of driving each and every time you drove? Thankfully we’ve been designed to store the routine in a format which, when needed, is more or less automatically retrieved.
Very cool design indeed. This frees us to do one thing and think about something else.
Some people, as in the more common description of the “absent-minded professor”, who seem forgetful aren’t forgetful at all. The absent minded mind was off swimming through the sea of fancy while doing the automatic. The professor never really knew it the first time.
He wasn’t paying attention because it didn’t matter enough in the moment.
My guess is if you apply yourself to each little thing, like your keys, in the moment, stay present with the activity, make the activity matter, you won’t feel so forgetful…because you won’t be.
That’s all I have for now.
Thanks for reading.
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