From Forgetful to Focused

Have you ever experienced the “What did I come in here for?” phenomenon?

In everyday life, it’s what happens when you walk into a room and forget why you are there! Happens to everyone. How do you know you’re simply having “one of those days” or if it’s something more?

It’s ironic that people with ADHD often forget things because their memories are actually good.Yes, that’s right!

Those with ADHD forget things because of their attention.

Your memory is only as good as the information you put into it.

Interesting things hijack your attention. When that happens, you may not fully attend to something important, so things don’t make it into your memory.

Some describe their working memory as shorting-out. Information is taken in but then dropped or knocked out before transferred into long-term memory.

“What? You never told me that!” This is especially true when your attention is on something else at the time, like the computer or television.

What is Working Memory?

Working memory is the most immediate, shortest-term memory. It stores what you’re paying attention to in the moment. Did you catch that? Working memory and paying attention?

If you’re not paying attention, you can’t put it into your working memory.

Your working memory helps you hold on to information that you’re processing, and will act on soon – like remembering a phone number while you dial it. It also lets you hold a task in mind while you work on it – like thinking about cleaning your room while you actually do it.

What do Working Memory Struggles Look Like?

Very often , those with ADHD will say they have sufficient or even exceptional memory for things that happened long ago, but great difficulty in being able to remember where they just put something, what someone just said to them, or what they were about to say.

Some may have difficulty holding one or several things “on line” while attending to other tasks.

Those with ADHD often complain they can’t pull out of memory information they have learned when they need it.

Some struggle with verbal conversations or instructions compared to written where they can go back to reference them.

Ever wonder why people with ADHD interrupt? Often they worry they’ll lose their thought from their working memory if they wait for the other person to finish speaking.

Notice difficulty in finding books to hold your interest? It’s very demanding on your working memory to assemble all those words into meaningful ideas.

How do you know if it’s a memory or attention issue?

The key to remembering something is noticing it first. If you’re not noticing something, often the problem is not memory, it’s attention.

Oh, and here’s the zinger….the only way to know if it’s a memory issue or an attention issue is to remember to pay attention – YIKES! Zero in on your attention:

  1. What things do you commonly forget? Make a list.
  2. Notice who you tune-out? Who is involved in these conversations you forget? Why do you tune them out?
  3. How do you learn or process information? Can you remember and pay attention better when reading compared to getting verbal cues?
  4. Do you struggle to write letters, essays, emails or texts?
    What’s getting in the way of getting your thoughts from your head to the piece of paper? Too many thoughts? Unorganized thoughts? Overwhelm and anxiety set-in?
  5. Can you remember a phone number long enough to dial it? Can you remember it if you repeat it out loud?
  6. Are you able to read a passage or article and answer questions about it afterwards? What other ways would work better for you?

Action Items

  1. Ask a friend or family member to help you recall what was happening around you when the forgotten conversation happened. Who else was there? What do you remember seeing or hearing? What other task or activity were you doing during the conversation? What distractions popped up such as a phone call or another person entering the conversation.
  2. Who are the people you want and need to pay attention to the most? How comfortable are you asking them for some support? What does support look like for you? Would you like this person to offer gentle reminders to you such as, getting your calendar to mark an event immediately, getting a pen and paper to jot down some important details, or asking you to repeat the information back to them.
  3. Look at the big picture. The times you’ve forgotten things, can you recall if you were getting enough sleep? Had you been too busy to exercise lately? Had your diet taken a nose-dive? Even the slightest shift in life-style can wreak havoc on our ability to pay attention. What surprises did you uncover about your memory and ADHD?

What is one thing you want to start doing to improve your working memory and attention? It can be anything you discovered above.

  • Getting more zzzz’s.
  • Adding protein to your diet.
  • Taking a walk every day.
  • Turning off all electronics when talking with someone.
  • Asking someone to repeat something for you.

Try something new and see what changes for you!

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