Why Forgetting Things Can Actually Make You Smarter
If you feel like a failure for forgetting that office meeting, read this.
Stock Asso/ShutterstockUh-oh. You totally forgot about that meeting, doctor’s appointment, or birthday dinner—again. Before you beat yourself up, take comfort in the fact that it’s completely natural. In fact, a new paper in the journal Neuron says that forgetting things could actually be a sign of extreme intelligence.
According to the report, a good memory encourages intelligent decision-making by storing important information and removing information that’s not. To optimize your own memory, start with these six everyday habits of people with impressive memory.
“It’s important that the brain forgets irrelevant details and instead focuses on the stuff that’s going to help make decisions in the real world,” Blake Richards, associate fellow in the Learning in Machines and Brains program and co-author of the report, told CNN.
After spending several years collecting data on memory and brain activity in both humans and animals, the researchers found that new brain cells in the hippocampus (a part of the brain associated with learning new things) could replace old memories.
This little brain habit could have some significant evolutionary perks, the researchers say. For starters, it can help us adapt to new situations by removing any old information that could be misleading or harmful. “If you’re trying to navigate the world and your brain is constantly bringing up conflicting memories, that makes it harder for you to make an informed decision,” Richards said.
And although we generally remember big events in our lives, we also tend to forget the specific details surrounding them. Researchers say that our memory’s generalization process could allow us to apply that experience to current situations. Yes, your brain actually does have a delete button—and here’s how to use it.
Of course, “you don’t want to forget everything, and if you’re forgetting a lot more than normal that might be cause for concern,” Richards said. “But if you’re someone who forgets the occasional detail, that’s probably a sign that your memory system is perfectly healthy and doing exactly what it should be doing.”
Richards even recommends regularly “cleaning out” your memory by exercising. (This is the best exercise to improve your memory.) Although some memories may be lost in the process, don’t worry! Odds are, they don’t matter and could even keep you from making good decisions.
Conclusion: Don’t be so hard on yourself for having an imperfect memory. Forgetfulness is just one of the weird habits that prove you’re smarter than most.