Forget It and Get Smart

It’s so frustrating to not be able to remember something.  But it can also be a little scary and maybe embarrassing.  “You’re not as young as you used to be, Ken.”  That’s what they’re thinking!  (Likely not…but this is what we do, right?)

Scary and embarrassing.

Scary because these days we might wonder whether Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia has come to claim us.  Embarrassing because that piece of information is right there on the tip of our tongues and we can’t quite reach it….while people wait patiently (or not) for us to finish our thought.

But what if I told you that forgetfulness helps learning?

Well, according to researchers at the University of Toronto (suspicious Canadian source, I know)…the goal of memory isn’t to hold on to all information, but rather to hold on to useful information and let go of that which is not useful.  This for the purpose of optimizing intelligence.

So if I forget to pick up the loaf of bread on the way home….that’s just me getting smarter?

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH) forgetfulness is a normal part of aging though folks sometimes worry that it is the onset of Alzheimer’s.  They list a few useful examples of the differences between forgetfulness and Alzheimer’s.

  • Forgetfulness – missed a monthly payment.
  • Alzheimer’s – Problems managing monthly bills.
  • Forgetfulness – forgetting the right word in mid-sentence.
  • Alzheimer’s – having trouble maintaining a conversation.

WebMD has some good tips for improving your memory.  Here are a couple I like and use frequently.  (Let’s see if I can remember them….)

TALK ALOUD TO YOURSELF – I use this one everyday as I pull away from the house in my truck.  “The garage door is closed” I say…because if I don’t say it I end up circling back to check it.  Oh, and by the way, the garage door has been closed 100% of the times I have circled back.

POST REMINDER SIGNS IN YOUR HOUSE – I use this one a lot to….though it would be more accurate to say that my wife uses this one a lot on my behalf.  Lots of post it notes.  “Don’t forget your computer / iPad / snacks / Trash to Curb”.  Sometimes I still forget the “trash to curb”….wink, wink.

MNEMONIC TRICKS– Righty Tighty, Lefty Loosey….you get the picture.

EXERCISE MIND AND BODY – regular exercise, reasonable nutrition and a solid sleep plan helps in this area and others.  But don’t forget to exercise that brain muscle, too.  Read, play a musical instrument, trivia games, chess, etc… something fun and sustainable .

That’s all I can remember to say about forgetfulness.  Did I miss anything?  I hope so….

…because according to those Canadians, that’s me gettin’ smarter.


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The Happy Life – Magic Word

I work in an office park that is primarily medical offices.  As a result, I see a lot of people who are not doing well from a health standpoint. There are a lot of pained faces, slow moving seniors, slings and bandages, folks who look pretty sad over their lot in life, unhappy about the cards they have been dealt.

I walk by these folks and, as is often the case in society today, there is a great deal of effort to avoid eye contact on both sides of the interaction.

But I have discovered an almost universal truth.

You can almost always change someone’s facial expression with one simple word as you pass by them.  The change is almost always positive!  There are exceptions but they are rare I assure you.

It’s a magical word with powers that stretch well beyond its modest size.  It’s a word that everyone knows but we are sometimes hesitant to use for fear that our intentions might be misunderstood.  It’s a word we fear may intrude on someone’s carefully guarded privacy.

It’s not a vulgar word at all…though some people might not have a positive response to it.  Perhaps an unhappy reaction to the word would say more about the disposition of the receiver than the giver of the word.

It’s such a simple word and it can mean a great deal to some folks….not as much to others.  That’s the thing about this word….it can be like a key that unlocks so many other things if spoken to the right person at just the right moment in their day or life.


That’s it.  “Hi.”  And if you’re feeling froggy you might get fancy and add a “How ya doin’?” for punctuation.

Henry David Thoreau famously wrote “The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation.”  I’ve always been touched by that quote because it reminds me that every person I see is carrying some source of pain in their lives for which most of the people around them are unaware.

A simple gesture, two letters, one word…can make all the difference sometimes.

Take a chance today….and say “Hi” to a complete stranger that you would not usually acknowledge.  Watch their face change…..and if you feel froggy follow it up with something fancy.

You never know….YOUR face might change too.


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The Happy Life – Present

Remember roll call back in school?

Bobby?  “Here.”  Sue?  “Here.”  Jerry?  “Here.”  Cyrano?  “Present”

Present.  Really Cyrano?  Present?  Smart aleck.

I remember thinking how using the word “present” during a roll call had the effect of making you stand out in a crowd.  Being “present” in a sea of folks who were simply “here” made you a little different.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to the conclusion that being “present” is probably still less common than it should be, makes you a little different, but has a value that goes mostly unappreciated.

Consider the case of old Cyrano who claimed to be “present” in that roll call all those years ago.  Cyrano has a thing for a young lady named Rose.  He is sitting on a park bench in New Orleans daydreaming about a recent encounter he had with the object of his affection, Rose.  He thinks to himself…”Dang, you know what I should have said?  I should have said….well, no…I’ll bet she wouldn’t like that.  Maybe next time I’ll….”

Meanwhile, as old Cyrano is busy ruminating about the past, he looks up from his park bench to discover that two of his football heroes, Peyton Manning and his brother Eli, are walking his way along the path in front of his park bench!  Cyrano starts scrambling for his iPhone to take a video, but it’s stuck in his pocket!  The Mannings are now passing in front of him and Cyrano is still dancing around clumsily, desperately trying to dislodge that phone from his trousers!

Peyton says…”You alright, mister?”

Cyrano is beside himself because remarkably, to save his life, he cannot get that dang phone out of his pocket!

“Uh, yeah, I’m fine…Mr. Manning…er, uh…#!+?*#+!’

Peyton and Eli smile and walk away.  They have seen this a few times.

Cyrano said he was “present” all those years ago.  And he may well have been.  But today, Cyrano is rarely present.

He spends his days reliving his past encounters…regretting, re-running scenarios, thinking about ‘what if’, beating himself up, etc.

And then when something really great is happening in the moment he focuses on capturing that moment for posterity on video.  That way he can enjoy the moment for days to come AND probably get a whole bunch of “likes” on his FaceTwit account….maybe even go viral!

You know the problem, of course.  You probably have the same problem.

We all do at some level I suppose.  The problem is that any time spent re-hashing the past or focusing on recording the present for the future is time spent not focusing on what is in front of us….RIGHT NOW!

…and that means we are missing out on a conversation we could be having with our own “Rose” at this very moment.  Or failing to experience the very thing we wish to capture and take with us for future joy.

Cyrano would do well to focus on what is in front of his nose.  Find and appreciate the Roses in your life because yesterday is over and video only captures two of the five senses.

Roses are spectacular when they bloom but they are only with us for a short time.  They are such a prize…..but you have to be “present” to win.


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Predictable and Connected

“What’s the matter?”

Has anyone ever surprised you with that question?  Has anyone ever asked you that when you didn’t even consciously think anything was the matter….but once confronted with the question you realized that something was kind of bothering you?

I believe humans are emotionally in tune with one another in ways that they do not fully appreciate or recognize.

Much of our individual lives are built around our routines. Think about that for a second.  Do you go to lunch at the same time every day like me?  Perhaps it’s an afternoon snack, a particular time you have your alarm set to wake you in the morning, maybe it’s a call to a family member on the drive home each day.

There’s probably any number of things you do routinely.

Have you ever thought about the effect that YOUR routine has on the routines of the people around you?

Take work for example.  Have you ever thought to yourself….”oh shoot, Cheryl is off tomorrow” and realized that tomorrow is going to be different (maybe harder) than when Cheryl is working?

Of course you have.  I think that’s a relatively universal experience.  But why is that the case?  I think it’s because our routines are predictable, have consequences, and are inter-connected in a way that we are not fully aware of on most days.

We know that any day that Cheryl is off is going to be a harder day because she is such an important piece of your organization.  But maybe we are not fully aware that on those days when Cheryl is off we get to talk to Bob about our favorite TV show more thoroughly.  Cheryl thinks TV is a waste of time….and that has an impact on the group communication dynamic.  When Bob is off the office has a looser feel to it.  Bob is a very serious man, not unpleasant, but very focused.  Everyone either consciously or unconsciously acknowledges that by keeping the tone a little more serious.  But Cheryl, on the other hand, has a laugh you can hear from one end of the office to the other.

So these characters are all made up, of course.  But do the interconnected behavioral dynamics have a familiar ring to them?  Are you thinking about how your co-workers, friends and family all have unique, predictable behaviors that have consequences for the people around them?  I’ll bet you can think of quite a few right off the top of your head!

Now….put yourself under that same microscope.  

What are YOUR predictable behaviors that have consequences for the people around you?

To be clear, I’m not talking about intentional behavior or a technique of some sort used by a leader to drive some result.  That’s a manipulation….a legitimate and useful one, but a manipulation none the less.  What I’m talking about is a function of personality and authenticity…..simply being yourself, your persona….and the impact it has on your group dynamic.

I’m reminded of the ripple effect you get by dropping a stone in still water.  But instead of just the ripples from YOUR stone…there is a sea of ripples coming from many stones.

You ARE having an impact on the other humans in your environment.  In my opinion, it is a serious impact whether you are consciously aware of it or not.

So…step #1 is recognizing the truth of this discovery.  Step #2 is forming a judgment on what KIND of impact you are having.  Step #3 is deciding whether that impact is the kind of impact you ASPIRE to have on the other humans around you.

If we’re honest it’s probably a mixed bag.

So hey….”What’s the matter?”


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