My son’s father sends me a text everyday to take meat out of the freezer for dinner. I work from home, so it makes sense for me to do so. But without fail, I always forget to take out said meat until an hour or two after I receive his text. It’s like I become so focused on my tasks that I overlook the things that should be so easy to check off the list. (Thank heavens for daily planners, am I right?)
It turns out I shouldn’t be too hard on myself: Failing to remember stuff is a sign that your brain is working properly, according to new research.
A recent study published in the journal Neuron found that forgetting details is your brain’s way to make room for important data. How does this happen? According to Canadian researchers, the hippocampus—the region in your brain that controls memory function—grows new neurons that promote forgetting particulars.
In other words, your bad memory is a sign that your brain is working properly by purposely overriding nonessential information with essential details.
“The point of memory is to make you an intelligent person who can make decisions given the circumstances, and an important aspect in helping you do that is being able to forget some information,” says lead study author Blake Richards, a professor at the University of Toronto.
The University of Toronto study backs up past research that suggests forgetfulness benefits your memory. A 2011 study published in Current Directions in Psychological Science found that people who forget unnecessary data are better at problem solving. And, in 2007, researchers at Stanford University claimed that having a poor memory is actually a highly-evolved form of intelligence because forgetful people were better able to remember conflicting, rather than repetitive, information.
But the Canadian study published in Neuron does more than show us why it’s good to forget. It also reminds us that we should rethink our priorities when it comes to remembering details. Are you upset that your kid forgot to take out the trash? Sure, I get why that’s upsetting. But did they remember your birthday or your upcoming work presentation? Because that’s the stuff that counts.
As Richards explains, “We always idealize the person who can smash a trivia game, but the point of memory is not being able to remember who won the Stanley Cup in 1972.”