Is Trust the Answer to Your Short-Term Memory Loss

concentration and focusI think I’m more forgetful these days. Names, next steps, appointments; calls to return, to-do’s.

Is it due to age? Perhaps; every year I seem to get 365 days older.

Is it due to the complexity of the world? These days, 6 degrees of separation is so five minutes ago. It’s at least down to 4 degrees, closing in on 3.

Is it the ubiquity of mechanized devices to substitute for memory? Could be: kids who learn math on calculators forget how to do addition, and with wireless to-do lists integrating with everything, we have no good reason to exercise our memory muscles—maybe they atrophy?

Maybe. But there’s another explanation.

My doctor put it this way:

The brain circuitry for cognition is fairly complex. Before you can talk about memory, you have to talk about the whole process that precedes it.

If memory is flawed, sure, your memory recall capability can be to blame. But so can your memory storage capability—perhaps it slowly degrades.

Further back in the chain, maybe the storage placement function is to blame—memories are getting stored in the wrong places.

But most likely [says my doctor] it’s that the event was only weakly impressed on us in the first place. The photo was under-exposed. The signal to noise ratio was too low.

In other words, if you’re not paying full attention in the first place, your memory recall is doomed from the outset.

Multi-Tasking is Mugging My Memory

I think he may be right. Multi-tasking may be mugging my memory. I certainly see that happening in others—sitting in classes with blackberries and open laptops. Texting and phoning; reading and watching TV and texting.

A close friend made the same suggestion to me just a few days ago. Since then I’ve been making half-hearted efforts at stopping my multi-tasking addiction, and what I’ve discovered is–I’m pretty hooked.

Interestingly, paying attention is also at the heart of trust. Trust is inherently a relationship: a relationship between one who trusts, and one who is trusted.

At the heart of any relationship is the attention that must be paid, one to another. If attention is high, the relationship is strong. If it’s weak, then so is the relationship.

Why Focus is Central to Trust and to Memory

What is it about paying attention that makes it critical to both memory and to trust? I think it is the same phenomenon. Relationships, like events, only make impressions on us if we are open to them.

If I’m not paying attention to you, you can’t make an impression on me. And of course I won’t trust you. Which means you will not be trusted, and I will miss out on the experience of trusting. Bad stuff all around.

But if I pay attention to you, I will notice things about you, as well as being open to you. I may come to trust you; and you, being noticed by me, may behave in a more trustworthy manner. We allow ourselves to be paid attention to. Good stuff all around.

I think I’ll start small; batch processing email rather than staying constantly on the grid. Cold turkey is kind of frightening.

Who knew that fixing my multi-tasking might help my memory as well as my relationships?

I’ll keep you posted. If I remember.

5 replies
  1. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    Hi Charlie,

    RE: paying attention

    Working with couples (a la John Gottman) these are but a few questions indicating if I’ve been paying attention to my partner (assuming this info has come up at some point/s over time):

    I can name my partner’s best friend.
    I can tell you what stress my partner is currently facing.
    I know the names of some folks who have been irritating my partner lately.
    I can tell you some of my partner’s life dreams.
    I am familiar with my partner’s religious/spiritual beliefs and ideas.
    I can tell you about my partner’s basic philosophy of life.
    I can tell you the relative my partner likes the least.
    I know my partner’s favorite music.
    I can list my partner’s three favorite movies.
    I know the the most special times in my partner’s life.
    I can tell you the most stressful thing that happened to my partner as a child.
    I know my partner’s major current worries.
    I know what my partner would do if s/he won the lottery.
    I know the color of my partner’s eyes.

    or have I just been too busy to pay attention (a la your recent post on "me" being the center of the Universe)? How do I respond to the fact that I don’t know? Is it OK, no big deal…? How would my partner respond? Do I care? Does my partner? 

  2. Greg Falken
    Greg Falken says:

    I was just at a parent meeting at my son’s school where his teacher equated paying attention with respect. Etymologically (is that a word?), the word respect comes from look back at, regard, consider; from re- "back" + specere "look at".

    I find that a big part of being good at something comes from paying attention to it. One way that I think about my work is that clients pay me to pay attention to those parts of their business in which I have expertise.

    My biggest fear in focusing on one thing at a time is falling behind on everything else. In my perfect world, I would only work on one or two projects at a time but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen anytime soon. Batch processing emails would be a good small step for me too.

    Thanks for putting me on this track today.

  3. barbara garabedian
    barbara garabedian says:

    Has anyone noticed how the people that have no issues w/multi-tasking such as using their blackberries & phones while supposedly "listening", are many of the same consultants /sales folks /Mgrs who explain/complain that "pricing" & "no employee loyalty" are the reasons for what’s killing their businesses? Wonder if there might be a connection…No, couldn’t be!

  4. Ian Brodie
    Ian Brodie says:

    Building on Peter’s post, I find my wife is my greatest cure for over-tasking. I’ve found out the downside of multi-tasking when I’m supposed to be paying attention to her!

    More seriously, it’s blindingly obvious I should give the people I love my full attention.

    So my current strategy for clients and potential clients is to pay attention to everyone as if they were my wife. it kind of works.



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