Memory Blocking: Why You Can't Find Shit You Lost
I just finished summer exams today, and this stuff is fresh in my head. So I thought I'd get out an article on it, not least because it's fascinating and affects everyone. This one's about memory, more specifically memory blocking, how it can fool us and keep things from us.
So there I am, racking my brain, searching desperately the depths of my memory stores trying to bring up the location.
Pulling things asunder, looking under beds, between books, searching in places it could not have been in a million years!
“Damn it! I'm getting on a plane at 5 am and it's already 11:30, I'll be bolloxed in the morning”, I said out loud.
“You're always leaving things to the last minute”.
The wise one pipes up from the bathroom, the heralder of the blatantly obvious with her inevitable voice of reason.
“Yeah thanks love”, I said, with my equally certain air of cynicism, thinking something entirely different.
What am I going to do here, I thought.
I'd already been searching the house for hours. It seemed like my need to find that damn passport was working in spite of me.
“Right, this isn't working”, I said.
“I'm gonna try this silencing the mind craic and see what happens. What could it hurt to try”.
10 Mins In The Chair
I had been reading a lot of material on the nature of the subconscious and how behind the scenes processes are going on that direct our awareness and decision making.
Most of the information I had gathered was second or third hand, and was what we might otherwise term “pop psychology”.
However, it proved relevant nonetheless.
I sat in my office chair, and I closed my eyes.
I had been experimenting with meditation over the previous few months, so I managed to silence the noise in my head pretty quickly.
Apart from being a lot calmer most of the time, easier to get on with and so on, there were no significant life-changing moments.
That's how they say it comes, slow and steady. Then one day something big happens, maybe.
Anyway, the kids were in bed now, and the house was pretty quiet.
I sat there just listening to my breath, and within about 10 minutes it came;
Wardrobe, black sports jacket, inside breast pocket.
I opened my eyes immediately, stood up and walked straight into my bedroom, opened the wardrobe door and reached into my jacket pocket…
It wasn't there.
I'm only Joking! It was there. Right where the voice inside my head said it would be.
No Conscious Recollection
I'm not one for sensational stories of personal enlightenment, how I found Jesus Christ, the big G and all that jazz and you won't get that here now.
Jesus didn't tell me where my passport was, nor did some winged angelic creature come down to help me.
But something outside my conscious control and awareness did happen.
I know to some it might seem small, but to me, this was a big deal. Something else was going on, and I had the first-hand experience of it.
Still, today, as I think about that, I can cast iron guarantee I had no conscious recollection of putting that passport in my black sports jacket pocket.
Maybe someone else did, my wife perhaps?
If so that would make it even more remarkable.
The voice in my head was clear; “Wardrobe, black sports jacket, inside breast pocket”.
There was no doubt about the clarity of the direction.
So Here's What's Happening
I study psychology now and will eventually take my studies further when I qualify, all going well.
As such I've managed to put some structure around what I already believed to be true about my mind.
And in particular, memory.
Bottom line is memory works without your effort most of the time. Yes, it's possible to manipulate it consciously, but for the most part, it's automatic.
When you shut the fuck up for a bit, quiet your mind, it can work in your favour. Making you calmer, helping you find stuff you lost etc.
We are exposed to millions of data bits every day of our lives, and in many cases, we are not conscious of what's being stored and what's not.
Now, that causes problems – a topic for discussion another day maybe.
In fact, it's helpful to understand that your brain is not storing memories. You don't reach back into the file storage system in your brain to recover past experiences.
Memory is a right now active process that pulls on pre-built schemas, established neural pathways to piece together events.
These schemas dictate a lot of what we see and perceive in the world, and they do so automatically.
These ideas and mental frameworks influence what we call free will too – yet another topic for discussion another day.
Encoding Below The Conscious Awareness
I think it's safe to say that I put my passport in my black sports jacket pocket.
At the time I was zipping back and forth to the UK quite a bit, and I used to wear that jacket a lot, so makes sense.
You probably had similar experiences of finding something that was lost long after you were looking for it, right?
“I don't remember putting that there”, you say.
Maybe you don't know at a conscious level, but subconsciously there was an imprint.
While you were frantically trying to find that thing you were actively blocking yourself from seeing it.
This “blocking” is another psychological phenomenon of memory and is one of the 7 Sins of Memory, a recognised aspect of memory foible.
There's no way we can control everything that we take in, and maybe there's no point trying.
However, there is value in becoming more consciously aware of ourselves and our environment, taking time to chill out, to get out of our own way.
Give it a go.