Short Term Memory Loss – What Causes It?

Do you suffer from short term memory loss?

If the answer is a loud and clear “Yes I do!” then I have some news for you.

It might not be a memory problem – it just seems like one.

Let me explain.

In my work helping people improve their memory and develop their skills to be able to remember and recall just about anything they want, I am often confronted by people who are convinced that their short term memory is not working very well.

Now there are medical conditions and injuries that affect peoples recall of recent events, but though I do get the occasional enquiry from people suffering from those, the majority of my work is done with normal healthy people.

This post is not about those sorts of challenges because I am not qualified in those matters, I merely help people by showing them a variety of memory improvement techniques that I have found work for me.

So when I am approached by someone who claims to have a problem with their memory, I always try to get to the bottom of exactly what it is they are struggling with (identifying the problem is a good two thirds the way towards a solution).

What I have found is that someone who is struggling with their memory often cites occasions where they have “forgotten” where they have put their keys/wallet/bag/car (yes even the car!).

Common is the challenge of walking into a room only to have completely “forgotten” what it is they went there for.

Now it is very easy to jump to the conclusion that a problem with memory is what has caused this.

And so what happens is the person believes their memory to be poor and that they are suffering from short term memory loss.

And then every time they cant find their keys/wallet/bag/car (I know you were surprised first time but yes, even the car)  they have ANOTHER reference point to why their memory is no good.

Their belief that they have a poor memory strengthens.they start forgetting more stuff..and so on.

But if we have a look at what has probably happened it is not really a memory problem at all.

To understand what is behind these sorts of occurrences (which must happen millions of times a day around the world), we need to understand a little bit about the subconscious mind and how we learn.

I will assume that you drive a car for this explanation.  If you don’t you can relate what I am about to tell you to some other skill or activity you do regularly that you do so well, you hardly have to think about it.

When we learn we go through the following stages of mastery:

  • Unconscious Incompetence – We do not know that we do not know
  • Conscious Incompetence – Now we know we do not know
  • Conscious Competence – We now know, can do it, but we have to think really carefully about it
  • Unconscious Competence – We now know it so well we can do it without thinking about it

If we relate this to driving a car then Unconscious Incompetence is us not knowing that we don’t know how to drive.

As kids we see our parents drive the car, cars go past driven by other people and whilst we have probably never really thought about it we don’t know that we don’t know how.

Then there comes a point at some time in our lives when we are more conscious of the desire to get around ourselves without the need for relying on Mum and Dad Taxi and we realise it would be great to be able to drive.  At that point we enter Conscious Incompetence because now we know we cant drive.

Then that fateful day arrives when we start taking our first driving lesson and it really hits us that we definitely DONT know how to drive.

Then after a few lessons we begin to get the hang of it and then all of a sudden we are driving (albeit under supervision).

However although we are driving ourselves we still have to think about using the pedals, changing gears, indicating to turn etc.  So now we are Consciously Competent.

We stay at this stage through our driving test and beyond.  So even though we might have got our license, in the early days we still have to think really hard about what we are doing when we drive.

But over time and with practice, the actions required to drive the car start to become automatic we don’t have to think about them they are done almost unconsciously.

That is when we become Unconsciously Competent.

Now if you have been driving for a while and you are in the Unconscious Competence mode you may have had the experience of arriving at home or at work on a journey you do often and know really well and arrive not remembering going through a particular set of lights or turning at a particular junction.

You have no conscious recall of that part of the journey yet you must have passed that way otherwise you wouldn’t be where you are right now!

Everyone who has been driving for a while has had this experience and here is what is happening.

Because you are in the Unconscious Competence mode, you don’t have to think about what you are doing.  Your subconscious does it for you.

This means that you can consciously think about something else while the rest of your mind is in automatic.

So when you have finished a journey and cant remember parts of it, it is because you weren’t “Conscious” at that stage in your travels.

No you weren’t asleep, your conscious mind was elsewhere which is why you have no conscious recall of the journey because you were in “automatic”.

Your subconscious has its memory of what went on, but you try accessing that without delving into hypnosis!

Now don’t let this worry you because if something out of the ordinary happens en route, your conscious mind would kick in straight away.

So how does this relate to short term memory loss?

Well when you walk into your house you have probably got a hundred and one things on your mind as you arrive home

things about your day at the office

what you are going to do about the garden

getting ready for dinner.

…and so on.

Whilst you are thinking about all those things you go into the Unconscious Competence mode of arriving back at home (something you are likely to have done hundreds if not thousands of times) and whilst you are not “consciously” thinking about it, you put your keys (or bag or wallet) down.

Now occasionally you will put them in a strange place without thinking about it (because your rational mind is not involved with the process).

So when you come to look for your keys later on you cant “Consciously” remember where they are because you were never “Consciously” involved in the process of putting them down.

Your subconscious knows where they are but your conscious mind does not.

And of course when this happens you instantly jump to the conclusion that you have “forgotten” where your keys are and that your memory must be getting worse.

If you have a few incidences of this in quick succession, you start to tell more people about your “poor memory”, it becomes a belief which moulds your identity and then you start having more examples to confirm your belief and the downward spiral has begun.

So whilst you may think you have a short term memory loss problem, all you really have is a concentration problem.

Learn to live in the moment and be more in the present and you will experience this less and less and you wont need to look for memory improvement techniques.

Do tell me what you think and if you have any really funny examples of supposed “short term memory loss” then do share them in the comments section below.