I am always amazed with just how much I fail to remember. I generally remember the large details, what I did yesterday, what big sporting events I went to last year, and the date of my anniversary, but the amount of small details I fail to remember that seem like they would be something I would remember is incredible. I forget things said in conversations within a day or two, I forget small things that I have done such as gestures or what I ate, and I forget who I was with at different places or events.
As Dale Carnegie wrote in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, “The rapidity with which we forget is astonishing.”
Recently I have been doing a lot of reading focused on cognitive psychology and the way we think. What I find surprising is just how often our thinking is not what we expect it to be. We make lots of assumptions, act on shortcuts and heuristics, and filter out a lot of data and information when making decisions and coming to conclusions. What I have learned from all this reading is that we cannot fully trust what our minds believe.
Carnegie’s quote fits in with the research I have recently been focused on and strengthens my argument. We forget a lot. We don’t remember specific details of conversations and we don’t perfectly remember the sequence of events from things that we have been a part of or a witness to. Our minds simply don’t operate in a way to help us perfectly understand and think about the world. There is too much information out there for our brains to try to do this, and instead, we take short cuts, focusing on the important information to start with, and quickly forgetting the unimportant details along the way.
The takeaway from Carnegie’s quote is simply that our minds are not perfect. Don’t expect yourself to remember every single detail, and instead set up systems to remember the big things. Being aware of how much we will forget will help us take steps to remember what we need to remember, whether that is using notes, mental heuristics for remembering key information, or outsourcing our memory to photos, videos, or our own personal scribe. Be prepared to forget a lot of information, and take steps to retain that which matters most.