The Art of Forgetting

William James once said, “In the practical use of our intellect, forgetting is as important as remembering”. Forgetting isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes forgetting a test answer or the new person name can be frustrating but it isn’t the end of the world. To me, forgetting seems to be an art form. When my professor gave a lecture on memory (which included forgetting), I honestly was really blown away.

How Forgetting is Studied

Funny enough, in order to study how memory works psychologists study how people forget things. This is done through recall and recognition test along with various other tests that shows how much information people retained or more importantly how much they forgot.

What is Forgetting

The best theory that tries to grasp what it means to forget is the Retrieval Failure Theory. This theory says that memories are like boxes in a storage unit. At first, when there isn’t much in the unit, the boxes are really easy to get to. Once the unit starts to fill up, however, some boxes can be hard to reach to become unreachable all together. So, when we forget something it isn’t that we lost the box. When we forget, we just couldn’t find a way to get to the box.

Choosing Your Art

Somethings we will want to “forget” like that awkward date or goof you made in front of your boss. However, there will be boxes you will want easy access to such as the topics on that big test. So how do you help your brain have quick access to the right boxes?


Studies have shown that if you organize information that is coming both in and out, it is easy to remember. Categorizing lists, drawing diagrams and pictures, and being in the right setting are three big things that can make a difference. We remember pictures better than words so making visuals will bring boxes closer to the front. If you can, try to study in the room you will be taking the test. This will help your brain remember things better because the physical input location will be the same as the output location.

Forgetting is a weird but interesting and fascinating process partially because what we think it means to forget something isn’t what it really is at all. It is an art and process being done by our brains without us even knowing. Memories are being rearranged in our brains all the time and we are oblivious to it (until we start the test, of course). So really, when it comes to the organization of our knowledge, forgetting is just as important as remembering.



Kraemer , Phillip. “Memory and Innovation.” Psychology of Innovation . 22 Jan. 2019, University of Kentucky        , University of Kentucky .

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