February Tip: Remembering to remember

A number of years ago, as I fumbled with the multiple keys on my keychain to find the one for my front door, I realized I didn’t actually remember which key I used several times day, every day of my life. I sort of knew it; after all, I used it daily. That meant I remembered it, right?

Wrong. I hadn’t ever consciously and verbally remembered what the key to the front door looked like. I didn’t really remember it; I thought I knew it because I used it.

I held it in front of me and observed: the house key is the blue key with the hexagonal top. I said it out loud: “The house key is blue with a hexagonal top.” That changed the automatic fumbling to an intentional choice.

Now I live in an apartment which requires me to use a fob to enter my building and use the elevator. When I descend the four flights to the ground floor, I drop the key chain into one of my pockets. Up until recently, I would check each of the four pockets of my jacket to retrieve them.

Now I say out loud: “Key in top right-hand pocket.” I also mention where my glasses are, if I’ve pocketed them. My cell phone weighs enough so that I don’t have to remember where it is, especially since it is often in my hands.

I talk to myself to help me navigate the demands of my life. I speak kindly to myself when I make mistakes: “Rebecca,” I say gently, “you can’t change channels with your cell phone.” I laugh and move the remote and my phone to separate places on the couch, so I don’t automatically reach for the cell phone first.

I know I am not alone with these moments of confused automatic behavior. That realization is helpful. Laughing about it is helpful.

Nonetheless, when I arrived at a friend’s house and proceeded to switch from my boots to my slippers, I noticed I had put my boots on the wrong feet. I looked down at my feet and thought – You are not five years old, what happened? I remember it felt a little odd when I put the soft boots on, but I thought it was just my blister from a few weeks ago nagging me. Honestly, I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing.  But now, I murmur: “Left boot on left foot, right boot on right.”