MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It happens all the time. We put down our phone, keys, wallet or glasses and can’t remember where any of it is ten seconds later.
So, why does this happen?
Bridget Robinson-Riegler, a professor of psychology at Augsburg University, says it’s not because we’re losing our minds — it’s because we’re trying to do too many things at once.
“Short-term memory is about attention and not at all about memory,” Robinson-Riegler said. “You set your keys down, but you’re not paying attention to where you set your keys down because you’re thinking about work, or you’re thinking about dinner. And so therefore you never encoded where you put the keys.”
We made memories by encoding them into the brain. That happens through a number of different aspects, including the people, the surroundings, the emotions and the story of what happened.
Each of those pieces of memory are stored in different places in the brain. When people recall or retrieve that memory, they put all those pieces back together from the different parts of the brain. There is no such things as one stored memory.
So, if a person didn’t pay attention to where he or she put the keys, the pieces of that action never made it to the brain.
Stress and sleep can make a difference because they limit a person’s attention span.
Robinson-Riegler says it’s hard to improve a person’s short-term memory, but recommends someone be more mindful of the moment.
Pay attention to the small tasks that we generally do automatically. For example, stop and say out loud, “I’m putting my phone down here.”
Perform a silly task before locking the door in the morning, or pick one spot and make sure the keys go there each night.