We retain information more efficiently than we realize

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I’ve always felt that I have a pretty substantial lacking in the ability to recall and retain information.  It’s been a source of frustration for me dating back to my middle school days.

trying-to-retain-information-293x300 We retain information more efficiently than we realizeHowever, I’ve come to realize is that while there is a difference between recalling information and retaining information, they both do work together. As it turns out, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time shaming myself for something that I didn’t have a solid grasp of.

Essentially a lack of ability to recall information on demand ends up causing me to doubt my ability to retain information. That has caused me quite a bit of anxiety.

For example, when I am reading my Kindle, I have to re-read a paragraph or page a couple of times to try and retain it. I will then sometimes try and talk through in my head, what the passages are trying to convey.

I do this mainly with books on healing from trauma and abuse, not quite so much with fiction or non-fiction stories. Although it happens with those books too periodically.

I’m so hell bent on trying educate myself and retain as much knowledge as possible, that it becomes a definite anxiety rush when I have problems recalling that knowledge shortly thereafter.

Here’s where the light bulb came on for me recently.

I had to be shown in literal examples by someone, that I truly do retain more information that I realize, and that what I am learning on my own and what’s being taught to me it staying put in my head.

Just because I cannot instantly recall something, doesn’t mean that I haven’t retained it subconsciously.  Go figure!

If someone puts me on the spot and says, “Ok Matt, you just finished this book, now tell me what chapter 7 is all about”.  I will almost certainly freeze up and draw a blank.

Even though I literally just finished the book that day or in the last week, I likely wouldn’t be able to recall much of what I read. That’s where the self-shame can just totally kick into overdrive.

Shaming ourselves constantly reinforces the negativity that we are trying to combat in healing. Conversely, being kind to ourselves and self-championing, reinforces all of the good qualities about us and inspires confidence that we can continue to foster healing.

So where does the positive aspect of this come in? Where do we see that we actually are retaining information and thus having the ability to recall it without even realizing it?

In my case, it’s evident in my writing. It’s evident in therapy or coaching sessions. It’s evident in how I carry myself these days; in such a different manner than I did less than 2 years ago.

Being cognizant of walking my own talk helps inspire me and it inspires others.

When I do a podcast, I’m speaking from my heart and my real world experience. Therefore, I’m not only recalling actual events and feelings, but I’m pitting them against healing strategies that I’ve learned.

I’m validating myself and others, and using what I have gone through as a growing and learning experience. If I wasn’t able to retain the work that I am putting in, I wouldn’t be healing at the rate that I am.

Another example:  I’m in the middle of a session and working through some feelings or memories in my mind.  I begin to recall how a particular CBT or DBT skill can help me deal with these thoughts, and suddenly I’m self validating before I even realize it.

Talk about a confidence boost; realizing that you are retaining more than you ever confidence-boost-300x199 We retain information more efficiently than we realizethought!

So remember, just because you can’t recall specifics about a particular skill or piece of information on the fly, doesn’t mean that it didn’t sink in. It doesn’t mean that your mind won’t bring it too light when you really need it.

Be patient with yourself, be reassuring that you aren’t inept at retaining information like your guilty gremlin would have you believe.

Embrace how your mind works, and be confident that the effort you are putting in will pay you back when you need it.

When you have that light bulb come on, and you see how much you are helping yourself. When somebody starts validating you by pointing out how you are practicing what you learned, that light will brighten your healing path, more than ever.

That my friends, is definitely empowering!




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Blogger-Podcaster-Author-Advocate for Mental Health.

Matt is survivor of childhood sexual abuse & narcissistic abuse, living with Dissociation, Anxiety, & PTSD.

This blog exists to inspire all who have survived the trauma of abuse. All posts, podcasts, and videos are my life as a survivor shared openly and honestly to help inspire as many as possible to speak up, speak out, and not be ashamed.

7 Responses to " We retain information more efficiently than we realize "

  1. I really get this. I do have both short and long term memory limitations. However, I’m more apt to recall something on my own, and I too will become paralyzed sometimes when on the spot/asked to recall things immediately. Not as often though. I’m likely now to just say; hey My memory is working well right now, and leave it at that. I am a carrier of MP so due to possible switching, etc. through life, some hold memories that others don’t. People have to accept that this is the reality of me. Great post. A lot of familiarity re, the shame.

    • Matt says:

      I do the same thing..if I can’t remember something on the fly and I’m put on the spot, I will say something along those lines. “My mind is blanking out at the moment but I’ll go a bit of research and get back to you”. It’s frustrating as hell for me, trying to accept why I can’t recall things on the fly has been hard. It’s an ongoing process. Thank you Vennie, your validation is always so welcome! You Rock!!

  2. lynda says:

    Hi Matt thanks for sharing i have dyslexia i have the same thing as you in that i can read the same page over and over again i ve learnt techniques to put a dot were i ve just finished from. I found DBT therapy not that helpful for myself i actually did it in a group and it wasn t positive but have done a bit of CBT. What actually as helped me and im glad of your blog because it gets me to think i did some art with my therapy and was able to deal with anxiety around my childhood it was the safest way for me as well as my writings/poetry. I am lucky i have a good memory for things and not for other things. Thanks for the blog its getting me to think about stuff in a safe positive way take care Lynda

    • Matt says:

      Art therapy, that is such an amazing help. I’ve found that only is just a fun time but it builds confidence in myself and helps me realize I can use multiple activities to help heal. Reading and Writing, oh yes most definitely. when I write something down I can definitely retain it much better.

  3. Brittany W says:

    My husband has problems recalling information off the top of his head. He thinks his poor memory of from childhood trauma- which he had a lot of- but he still beats himself up about it. I’ll have to show him this post on self-validating and the difference between recalling and retaining info. Thanks so much!

    • Matt says:

      Thank you Brittany for sharing. I truly hope my post can inspire, validate, and encourage your husband. Needless to say I still struggle with this and I tend to shame myself and worry about why I have problems recalling. I’m still a work in progress and continue getting better the more I accept how much is related to my past abuse.

  4. The human mind is incapable of truly forgetting any information it receives. When we ‘forget’ something, that simply means our brains either misorganized the information or organized it purposefully in a manner that it makes it difficult for certain parts of our brain to find. The best example of this is dissociation. As someone with DID, different aspects of me remember different information. My little girl can remember certain things that the adults in me cannot recall and visa versa. Sometimes hypnosis is helpful in recovering information that we have locked away. I used to think, if only I were as smart as the Rain Man! In actuality, I am just as intelligent as he, and in some areas maybe even exceed his intelligence (such as social I.Q.), but his brain has the ability to store information properly for easy reference. The neat part is we can train our brains to recall more efficiently.

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