Context and non-transference of behavioural routines

My prospective memory (remembering to perform a planned action or intention at the appropriate time) is properly awful.  It completely and utterly sucks.  This is why I write extensive lists, about everything, in all areas of my life.  On the surface I may seem deceptively good at doing my usual routines in the usual context, but don’t be fooled – change the context and it all falls apart.

Every day when I’m in my car, driving to or from work, I think to myself, “I’m really bored with this CD, I should put a different one in my bag for tomorrow”.  I fully intend to perform this action as soon as I reach home.  But once I get inside the house, I just do the normal things that I do when I’m get home, which does not currently include picking out CDs.  So the next time I’m in the car, I’ll get annoyed with myself because I’m still listening to the same boring CD.  And so it continues, every damn day.  Why can’t I remember to pick out a CD?

When we go out with the children in the car at the weekends, I only ever have tissues on me by chance (for example if I’ve needed a tissue that day and it happens to be in my bag).  This is despite the fact that we need a tissue every time because one or other of the children is always snotty.  So why can’t I check that I have a tissue with me each week, or better still, keep a packet of tissues in the car?

It’s the same problem.  It is as if my brain can’t transfer this type of knowledge across situations, and unless I’m prompted by something or someone else, I won’t recall what I wanted to do or even that there was something that I wanted to do.  It has got to the point now where I think I need to start writing myself a note in one situation, and holding it in my hand as I go into the next (if I put it in my bag I won’t read it until I’m in the first situation again, which is not where I need it).  This way I will be forced to read the instructions inside the house, bringing the conscious awareness and the knowledge along with it.

Perhaps this should be my next experiment.  And who knows, by writing this blog it may even raise my own awareness of the issue and I’ll start remembering to do things.

PS Whilst writing this, I have selected a CD for tomorrow and it is in my bag – hurrah, but still no tissues – boo!

© Catastraspie, 2012.

A box of Scotties tissues

A box of Scotties tissues (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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16 Responses to Context and non-transference of behavioural routines

  1. arifmvega says:

    Thats a big one for me too. In 15 years of self employment I have come to know that if I don’t know the answer to a text right away I had better say so. For example, I get a text “can you come weed the garden this week?” Well, um, hold on I have to check my schedule… 2 weeks later I get a follow up “Can you come weed the garden this week? If not I can hire someone else….”.

    Its really bad.

    I have a 9-5 now lol.

    • catastraspie says:

      Hehe! I have a daily schedule, a weekly schedule, a pocket diary, a to-do list, a work to-do list, and an Outlook calendar that syncs with my phone… 😀

  2. Brilliant, so true! Even after having two children, the oldest being 9 I can never remember the tissues.

  3. Quarries and Corridors says:

    Thank you so much for writing about this! Along with fragile working memory, meaning I totally forget what I’m in the middle of doing if I get distracted, what you describe is the absolute bain of my life.

    I think my most impressive example is forgetting to cut my toe nails when they start hurting with shoes on. It takes them getting long enough to cut the skin and cause constant stinging for me to remember at home when I’m not wearing shoes. What’s most frustrating is that literally every time I put my shoes on running up to that point I’ll go ‘Argh I forgot to cut these, now it’s going to hurt ALL DAY, I must remember to cut them tonight!’ What I should do is stop and cut them while getting ready to leave the house, but of course I’m always running at least 10 minutes late by that point so I can’t.

    I very often set alarms with notes on them telling me to do stuff at certain times now, I also send myself emails and write Tweets knowing I tend to see my own tweets at least later on. I’d always pegged this up to a combination of Executive Function and working memory dysfunction, so thank you again for providing words for this I can Google for papers!

    • catastraspie says:

      Hi there, thanks for your comment! I imagine it probably is an executive dysfunction thing, like automatic behaviours (driving to work when you’re not supposed to be going to work), and the inability to respond to environmental cues in a different way without prompting. Your toenails example is so spot on!
      I really like your idea of tweeting, I’d not thought of that and will give it a go (but may have to email myself now to remind myself to tweet about tweeting myself later 😉 ). If all my notes, lists, reminders and alarms don’t work, or I can’t access them at a critical point (like boyf says please transfer money into current account or we will go overdrawn, but I am on the bus at the time or have forgotten my phone), then I turn my watch round to the inside of my wrist. This is like my lucid dreaming/The Matrix trigger and grounds me each time I see it, so that I remember that there was something I was supposed to do… if only I could remember what it was…

      • Quarries and Corridors says:

        Your watch suggestion just reminded me that when I was a student I used to write reminders all over my hands – I wish that was still acceptable in adulthood, it would make remembering things in different situations a lot easier!

      • catastraspie says:

        … Is it not acceptable? I still do that!!! o.O

      • Quarries and Corridors says:

        I think I stopped when I got a job and was meant to look vaguely respectable, or maybe one of my partners persuaded me to looked terrible before that.

      • catastraspie says:

        Hmmm… I clearly need to revisit this behaviour!!

  4. Life Skills Teacher says:

    Evernote is the best solution ever for this problem. Because I can connect alarms to the notes that go off when I get to the right context. Or I’ll see the previous note when I go to put in a note about something else (not more lost sticky notes)
    And I can even use dictation software to dictate a note while I’m driving and email it in, so my poor working memory doesn’t have to hold onto it until the end of the car ride.
    I seriously don’t know what I did before Evernote and calendar alarms. Forget things, I guess.

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