Why we forget what we want to remember; but remember more which we want to forget!

Does it not happen to you often what you want to remember for sure, you are more likely to forget; but the opposite does not happen for what you really want to forget – it haunts you more?

There are countless real life examples. You suddenly cannot remember name of known persons or places. You forget some words or spellings at a time, you need most! Minds of students become blank, while answering a question in examination, which they had precisely prepared well for.

Your boss has called you for annual review and you put down on a piece of paper all points of your accomplishments. When you come out after meeting with boss, you realize that you had overlooked half of those points! You have to deliver a speech in a conference and work hard to prepare. Harder you prepare, easier would you forget key points to speak.

On other hand, one fine morning before leaving for work, you have argument with your spouse for spending too much money on shopping. You would not be able get over the duel while driving on road, making it unsafe. On reaching office, you decide firmly to forget morning incidence; but you would lose your cool with your sub-ordinates, since morning duel keeps playing at back of your mind.

Why our memory fails at right moment but serves extra well at wrong one!

When we first memorize what we want to remember is in its pure form. See, what generally happens subsequently when we don’t want to forget it:

  1. Our first suggestion to mind to remember and not to forget is registered in our memory as “same information again with emphasis”.
  2. 2nd reminder registers it with a kind of stress.
  3. 3rd reminder accompanies usually with our perception of consequences for not remembering it.
  4. Then, we start to fear for possible consequences.
  5. So, when time comes to recall that information, our mind is loaded or preoccupied, making retrieval more difficult!

This is how purity of original information degrades.

Now, look at what we do to “What we want to forget”:

  1. What is that we want to forget – bad incidences, bad dream, wrong thought, worse scene, random ideas, irrelevant information and so forth!
    By the time we come to a stage of wanting to forget any of above, it takes full circle and make its firm mark in our mind.
  2. Having decided to forget, it is rare that a person would not remember it again. Most people recall often to check whether they have forgotten it! Moment they do this, it dives deeper in their memory!! 
  3. All of above incidences or information are associated with our anger, anxiety, disappointment, denial, obsession, repulsion or irritation, which are essentially past negative emotions.
    Emotions are like cache memory of a computer in our brain. When our mental state is negative, the said emotions also pop-up and refresh that we want to forget.
  4. Normally, things that you want to forget fade over time, when your older biases i.e. emotions get superseded by new ones. But, you have to then struggle with new ones. 

From above, you can observe that spontaneous response of our mind is reverse of what you should be doing and hence, struggle in remembering or forgetting!

Managing to forget is far more challenging than mastering to remember!

Ability to consciously forget, though more complex, makes mind and memory far sharper than capacity to remember!

We have lot of options to remember – memorize by practicing, making hard or soft notes. But, options to forget – nothing! 

You frequently read about – to let go and forgiveness. These are flimsy or even fake, unless you have the ability to forget! Another extremely important thing every leader or preacher advocates is to live in present! People are hardly able to do that, because they are unable to forget past!!

How best to remember and forget, when you want to

To remember on time, here below is what you can do:

  • Make hand written legible notes.
    Note, writing by own hands creates stronger impression in mind. Chances are you may not even have to see your notes again. But, beware and be wary of making notes of too many things!
  • Alternatively, you can make soft notes on your mobile, notepad or computer.
  • Best option is to make mental note only once and link to the image of object, with which it is directly related. May be supplement it by abbreviated hand written note. And then, just don’t worry whether you would remember or forget; believe that heaven will not fall on earth, if you don’t.

To forget what you have to is much trickier and require thoughtfulness. Effective clues:

  • Easiest is to do what you love or engage yourself gainfully.
    However, this would give you temporary respite; not resolve it for good!
  • You would be much better off, if you become broad minded.
  • Real step is – come to terms with what you have to live without and believe that thing is no longer important. Losing importance of what you want to forget is the key to “Forgetting”!
    You would soon realize there is a catch in above – you can lose importance or making the thing insignificant only when you drop your past emotions at least for things you want to forget! 

Now, the most valuable information – what you want to actually forget is all out of your past memories, which have 2 parts – (a) Knowledge or information (b) emotions i.e. biases, obsession, pleasure, pain, fear or frustration. Usually, you latch on to past for fear of losing knowledge or information, which you actually don’t need to! 

So, if you keep dropping your past emotions, you have nothing to lose but only to gain great ability to remember and forget what you need to. That would take you to the top of your life!


8 responses to “Why we forget what we want to remember; but remember more which we want to forget!”

  1. Ravi Athalye Avatar
    Ravi Athalye

    Dear Murli,
    I confess at being bad at forgetting and bad at remembering. Usually when the work in hand is interesting my mind lives in the moment. I guess what is relevant to the work in hand sends out a prowler to the memory bank and if excited with what is being processes I have better success remembering.

    On a cold start I will fail miserably in remembering. If the fact has no meaning associated I am almost zero remembering. I remember names with whom I have spent time communicating .

    Certain personalities with bad memories I have now learnt to remember less often. It is a deliberate effort.

    I think when inspired memory comes like magic. When bored I have minimal recall.

    You might expound on this.


    1. Murli Avatar

      Many thanks for sharing candidly your real life examples!

      There is nothing wrong in forgetting or not remembering, what you don’t need. Actually, it is a great quality; challenge would be – does it work even when you are anxious to remember or forget when you are obsessed or biased?

      Inspiration and emotions are stimulants of mind and its memory and therefore, these would work magically to recall and remember. There are other attributes like desire, greed etc that also have similar effect to remember concerned information or things. What happens when you are not driven by any of these? That is the crux of the post. Moreover, the said attributes can read your memory and write but can’t erase (what you want to forget).

  2. ravi athalye Avatar
    ravi athalye

    When anxious memory abandons me . Under pressure I have bad memory.

    The ability to insulate the criticality of a situation from the process of remembering is perhaps a natural make up of a person. James Bond is superhuman as portrayed in movies.

    However there are intense panic moments when inexplicably I have recalled processes. Example when a car skids on black ice to turn steering into the turn and ease braking to prevent tire lock.

    I can play tennis and table tennis and under extreme pressure innovate a winning stroke. Strange.

    You figure that out.


    1. Murli Avatar

      I appreciate your additional thoughts, which are very useful in thinking deeper!

      Under feeling of despair, danger, pain or like, mind tends to focus on same and shuts other thoughts or memory. That answers your 1st two paras.

      As for the balance, I am sure you know of many cases of “Adversity bringing excellence”; “When on brink, many bounces much higher”! In many articles on this site, I have tried to explain that in these situations, mind gets extremely focused and you have single thoughts with no conflict (of thoughts). It is this state of mind, which springs unique or amazing ideas/actions. Many would call it miracle; but it nothing but this state of mind!!

      1. Ravi Athalye Avatar
        Ravi Athalye

        Dear Murli,
        Under extreme conditions even in Physical phenomenons the properties change to provide amazing results. Super cooled metals have zero resistance and super heated gases in Plasma have a change too. Electrons when excited to same levels returned to the base state causes LASER which has it’s unique properties. Our normalcy is based on earth conditions that enable life to be sustained. Without this reference what is normal and what is extreme is meaningless.

        The human mind when without clutter becomes free flowing like super cooled metals and do mimic this to have creative thoughts. What is creative? Something which a statistically large number of people would not be able to create.

        Brain is the new frontier for exploration. Interesting structures, that absorb , analyze and create have to be studied to give a scientific measure to what is today a non quantitative expression.

        Your blogs would in the future would be blog of brain status in metrics .

        Thanks for your blog.


        1. Murli Avatar

          Very scientific and impressive analogy for functions of mind! Thanks a lot!!

  3. Rudra Avatar

    Same thing happens to me! 🙁 Well, I can use this post now, specially the information in ‘bold’, to forget less important things in life… there are many. As you suggested, I think the easiest is to do what you love or engage yourself gainfully, even if this would give you temporary respite.

    Good information… thanks!

    (Am I missing something at the end of your 2nd para… “Denial”??)

    1. Murli Avatar

      Thanks a lot for your precious feedback and views!

      Yes; it is very appropriate to forget what you don’t need!! You would reap excellent benefits from the same.

      No; you are not missing anything. It was my mistake to have left “Denial” inadvertently. I have edited the same. Thanks for pointing it out.

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