It’s embarrassing for any executive or professional to forget the name of the person you just met, but it’s not life-changing. It’s the other working memory lapses that have a much bigger impact on your relationships and your career: consistently veering off course during a conversation, interrupting people because you’re afraid you’ll forget what you want to say, or arriving late for important meetings because once again you got caught up in a phone call.
It’s not just frustrating for you – but for everyone else around you. No matter how good your intentions are, weak working memory will wreak havoc with your results.
The significance of working memory to your overall performance cannot be overstated. It is the linchpin to all other executive functions. If it’s in top working order, other executive functions will be too. When prioritizing, working memory helps you remember – in the moment – all possible priorities while you sort through them. When planning, working memory helps you hold in your head all the details that you need to make time for. Regulating your emotions requires you to remember what you’re trying to achieve – despite the pull of strong feelings.
You may be accomplished and highly intelligent and still struggle with working memory. When you do, the contrast between your intellectual ability and your ability to execute consistently can have a devasting impact on your self-concept. No matter how smart you are, or how much you care, the people around you may judge you for these working memory lapses and not who you truly are. Worse, you may be judging yourself.
Here are some ways to support your working memory:
- Identify when you will need memory strategies
You are unique. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Great memory strategists know themselves and have a tool kit for every occasion. Good strategies are efficient, automatic and flexible.
- Assume you’ll forget – everything
Never assume you’ll remember something just because it’s front of mind right now. Your brain needs a strategy to remember it 30 minutes from now. Or tomorrow.
- Create your own external hard drives
Visuals are essential. Plans, agendas, and a central notebook are all great. Whatever method you choose, it should be in plain sight. If you have to open a device, or look for the post-it-note, you’re giving your working memory one more thing to remember – which will definitely not help you.
- Create visual memory
This is a good trick for someone with solid inner vision. Put the idea into your mind’s eye. See it. Experience it. Describe it to yourself. When time comes to remember it, go to your mind’s eye to find it.
- Say it out loud
As you say it out loud to yourself or another person, really pay attention to the words. If you forget names, repeat that person’s name and look at them while focusing on connecting their name to what you know about them.
- Chunk information
Practice categorizing or chunking items that go together and focus on the chunk, not the detail. Your working memory remembers chunks of information much better than 30 odd details.
Pay attention to your working memory and show the world – and yourself – just how amazing you are!