FOCUS: Forgetting

Personal Mastery

“Not the power to remember, but its very opposite, the power to forget,
is a necessary condition for our existence.”
Sholem Asch


Think about it. If we remembered everything we learn every day, our minds would explode. In fact this is just the trouble with some learning disabilities, where people don’t know what to filter out, where and how to stay focused. Or – think how important it is that we forget a slight, an unkindness from someone. Too much remembering of emotional pain can keep us from enjoying the present or moving forward.

So – is it too much to extend this knowing – this valuing of the art of forgetting – to our aging selves? I forget a lot of things these days: where I put important things, that I am supposed to call someone back, the name of a character in a book I love. Sometimes I have the first letter, and the rest comes 8 hours later. Then there’s my dear friend who misplaced her phone and found it in the refrigerator. She didn’t forget where the phone is supposed to go – she was just distracted. I even made a spread sheet to remember where I’d stored some important things, like the vacuum cleaner instructions. But now I can’t find the spreadsheet! So imagine my delight when, while having a relaxed cup of coffee with my friend Astrid, I couldn’t think of something I was trying to pull out of memory. Astrid would have none of my angst at not remembering.

 “I think this forgetting is like a cleanly swept attic with a breeze blowing through,” she offered. I immediately loved the metaphor and thought of my aging brain in this fresh, new way! The better to leave room for all the wisdom, right?

There are, of course, many things we are told to do to help keep the brain working well. Here are a few:

  • Meditate (I’ve been doing this every day and find it helps me stay relaxed and focused.)
  • Play brain games (including cross word puzzles and word games of all kinds – also software such as MindFit and the Brain Fitness Program)
  • Exercise (especially aerobic exercise 30 minutes 4-5 times/week)
  • Learn something new – a new skill, language, recipe (I’m taking painting lessons and I can FEEL my brain cells rearranging themselves!)

I don’t want you to think I’m taking this too lightly. My dear husband Hal, who died one year ago last week, had serious short term memory loss in his last years. He was at first quite distressed. He DID many of the things listed above, which, I’m convinced, slowed down his forgetting. And then he began to accept how unimportant a lot of the forgotten things were. He focused more on enjoying the moment!

On the way to accepting that some change is inevitable, it can be helpful to come up with reframes, metaphors like Astrid’s, that allow us to see this forgetting thing in a more positive light. Almost everyone I know is working like crazy to get rid of the junk, or what’s no-longer useful, in their homes. Maybe our brains are doing this for us, even while we sleep!


  1. How can you do everything possible to keep your brain sharp, while at the same time

  2. Creating and embracing metaphors about why it’s important to be a good forgetter?


Please join me for a 45-minute telegathering to explore more deeply the topic of forgetting. Thursday, January 31. 2013 at noon Eastern (11:00 a.m. Central, 10:00 a.m. MT, 9:00 a.m. Pacific)  1-218-862-1300 PIN 276583.  No need to register….just call at that time!

Reach me: 1-888-907-HOPE (4673)or e-mail I am a personal and executive coach and would be happy to offer you a complimentary coaching session by phone. Each month FRESH VIEWS focuses on a single topic, relates it to one of the five disciplines of a learning community, and offers a coaching tip and a follow-up telegathering. Please forward it to friends and colleagues. My purpose in writing FRESH VIEWS is to nurture, prod and encourage readers to think and talk about these topics with their families, friends and colleagues. Mine is only one view. Multiple conversations may deliver us to insights only hinted at here. Such a process sustains the vitality of learning relationships, learning families, learning organizations and learning communities.

Sharon Eakes | 720 Maple Lane | Sewickley, PA 15143

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720 Maple Lane, Sewickley, PA 15143
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