…in a drab and ordinary state,

not doing what we might be,

only half alive and half awake.

- John Wild

o you sometimes fear that your mind has run away from home and isn’t coming back? Ask a young mother, a septuagenarian, a business owner or someone who has just moved to a new city for a new job, and they might all answer with a tremulous “Yes!” It’s easy to panic when your mind feels absent because we have no way of looking inside our skulls to see if it left a note saying when it’s planning to come back. The irony is, of course, that the stress of worry only serves to lengthen the vacation our brain seems to have taken without, BTW, having asked us first.

As you have probably already figured out, there are two things that can help us overcome a bout of absent-mindedness: avoid panicking when your brain has gone AWOL then learn to correctly attribute and address the cause of your forgetful behavior.

(It is crucial to note here that this article addresses only the forgetfulness of a healthy but stressed brain. If after reading it, you or someone you love remains fearful that they are in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease or another form of cognitive impairment, please reference resources such as the Alzheimer’s Association or the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. There are also many diseases, medications and nutritional deficiencies that can cause memory problems. If you feel your body is suffering, chances are your brain is, too. Please search for a physician who will take your health concerns seriously.)

Don’t panic

There is no doubt in my mind that each of us carries a three-pound miracle around inside our skulls. With its 86 billion neurons, this organ accounts for only about 2% of our body weight but a full 25% of each heartbeat goes into the brain to keeping it running. Quite a little powerhouse!! But, miraculous as it is, one has to remember that the human brain is actually deaf and blind. Like air traffic controllers who sit in dark rooms watching computer screens, our brains watch the data coming to it from the five senses. Using those incoming data, it “decides” what is going on out in the world and where it’s going to focus its attention. When our brain stops concentrating on the things we need it to focus on or to the extent we wish it would focus, we feel absent-minded.

So, don’t panic. Your troglodyte yet brilliant brain has just instinctively pulled its focus from areas that the executive functioning portion of your mind wants it to still attend to. The brain will have its reasons for doing what it’s doing that are based on what it thinks is best for you. All you need to do is figure out what data it has used to draw these conclusions. Sometimes when we come to that understanding we realize that the brain has made a wise choice and we do, indeed, need to narrow our focus for the time being. Other times we need to intentionally supplement the brain’s data with input that will draw its attention back to where we prefer it to be.

A healthy but forgetful brain, in other words, is just a brain that is either doing its job right for right now, or one that needs a slight adjustment to its job description.


There are many terrific books on how the brain works, with new ones coming out seemingly monthly. We could delve deeply into all that material, but what we need to know relative to absent-mindedness is that our memories are made through a three-step process – encoding, storage and retrieval.


Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives

- Daniel J. Levitin

Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain

- Antonia Damasio

In Our Prime: How Older Women Are Reinventing the Road Ahead

- Susan J. Douglas



If you have questions, please email me at: jan@self-construct.com


• Encoding: In a very basic sense, when the brain “sees” something that it thinks is important, it will activate those internal portions of itself that convert the information into a memory. That memory will sit in the brain until it is either stored somewhere or it decays. The operative words here are “see” and “important.” Every brain will differ in what channels best register with it (data come in on many channels – visual, auditory, oral, tactile, kinesthetic, etc.) and every brain will decide for itself what is important based on its unique past. When it comes to absent-mindedness, encoding is the most likely culprit because a poor memory is almost always a function of the brain not looking carefully enough at what we think is important.

• Storage: After a memory is formed, the brain again “decides” what to do. As I mentioned, if the information isn’t worth recalling, the brain ignores it until it just fades away. If the mind needs the information for just a brief period (I’ve got to pick up eggs when I go to the store this afternoon.) it will store it in short-term parking. But when the short-term parking lot is full, this can be tricky (see the Stress section below). If the brain believes that the information will be needed further down the road, extra effort must be made to get it into long-term parking, which, luckily, has unlimited capacity. We are all familiar with the skills we can use to store a memory, i.e. repetition, note taking, repeated exposure, rehearsal, mnemonic strategies, setting things to music, geographic memory, and so on.

• Retrieval: Switching metaphors, if you think of a memory as a set of puzzle pieces tucked away in different parts of the mind, you can see that, to recall a memory, your brain needs to be able to link all the pieces together. (This is why the trick of mentally scrolling through the alphabet to remember someone’s name can work – it can give you one of the corner pieces of the name puzzle.) A tip-of-the-tongue moment demonstrates this fragmentation because, even though your brain can “see” nearly the whole answer to what it’s trying to recall, it can’t put the last piece in place to link up the almost-remembered memory. Interestingly, a synonym for memory is recollection – a very clear way to conceptualize the neurological act of re-collecting all the puzzle pieces of a specific memory. Retrieval also involves having your brain look backward in time to pull those puzzle pieces out of your past. We will discuss below how reluctant a brain can be to look back in time when it’s under duress.

Each of these memory-making steps is vulnerable to what is going on in our lives. Let’s take some of the major causes of these vulnerabilities one at a time even though there is much overlap among them.


Stress, the all-purpose word that pretty much describes all of our lives these days, can be thought of in terms of speed. When our world is moving too quickly around us, we are not very well able to resist the pull to try to keep up. We end up trying to “rampage through the checkpoints of American high achievement” to quote the New York Time’s Mark Leibovich. Without realizing it – because we believe we don’t have time to stop and think – we rise to the challenge to relentlessly accelerate by constantly adding new expectations which require us to move ever more briskly through our days. (It is even stressful just to read that last sentence!)

It’s not clear that our brains are well designed for this Le Mans lifestyle. But it is clear how devastating stress can be to memory. With a chaotic and frenetic present, the brain will try to focus on so many things at once that it becomes impossible to properly encode much of anything. Our life will appear in a stroboscopic display of events that we can barely register. The short-term parking lot and what we can call our working memory (more about that below) both get filled to capacity. What does get encoded probably doesn’t get well rehearsed. And what is in long-term memory is hard to retrieve because the brain is too stressed to look backward.

So, about backward facing brains. When the human brain has been depleted for any reason – stress, depression, trauma, fatigue – it protects itself by trying to limit its functions. Like a submarine under attack, it will shut down any unnecessary compartments and consolidate its resources on the bridge. Looking back in time is one of the functions it can eliminate. While clearly a logical strategy, it can be frightening to find yourself one day with a brain that seems so limited. Please rest assured that your brain knows what it is doing and as soon as it feels capable, it will reopen all its functions. In fact, noticing that your brain is having difficulty looking back in time can be an early warning symptom alerting you to the fact that your mind is beginning to be depleted. As all the literature on burnout suggests, the sooner you recognize that you are in the process of depletion, the easier it is to remediate.

Stress, a life led at too fast a pace for too long, depletes a brain and becomes a memory killer. The brain knows what to do under stress, but you may not like it.


One byproduct of stress is rudeness. Huh? Let me explain. A chaotic environment not only creates a tendency in some folks to act discourteously (and, sadly, sometimes cruelly), it often provides cover for them if they choose to do so. As discussed in the article on being nice, rudeness results when people willingly violate your boundaries. An intentional boundary violation is an assault. With enough minor instances or a couple of major ones, we can start to feel under siege, and battles take up a lot of processing space in our brains.

It behooves us, then, to monitor the amount of rudeness we are exposed to in a given week. If our earnest willingness to participate in our daily lives is met too frequently with disrespect, we will need to give that a serious think. We may need to limit how exposed we are to toxic folks, enlist a few compatriots to help us fight back, strengthen our defense systems to protect ourselves or perhaps up our level of exercise.

But please always remember, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Stepping away from a righteous battle knowing that you have the capacity to make a difference does not necessarily signal weakness or lack of integrity. Sometimes it is an authentic and difficult choice to preserve your precious, precious brain.


If life has been so empty and/or painful for you that your ability to care about anything has been severely compromised, you can find yourself closing off avenues in your life that are trying to bring you data. This isn’t a bad thing if it can allow you enough of a break from despair to heal, but left untreated, this strategy can create a constant and extremely unpleasant state. It does so by spinning up a vicious circle – withdrawal from pain keeps us from engaging in positive behaviors and the lack of positivity creates even more emptiness. Again similar to burnout, the sooner you recognize that what used to matter to you is no longer doing so, the easier it is to reverse this ominous trend.

There are several ways depression can impair memory. The first thing you will notice is that retrieval becomes more effortful as the brain starts to protect itself by refusing to go backward. Then you will start to realize that, even when you go looking for memories, you cannot find them. This happens because the depression has hijacked your engagement in life (also a way the brain tries to protect itself so that it can heal in the short term). But with disengagement, the brain is led to believe that things don’t matter, meaning that it will not expend the energy necessary to store memories. If what we are seeing, thinking, feeling or doing fails to rise to any level of importance, our brain will let the data drift off into the wind. If the depression becomes advanced enough, the brain will also stop encoding.

Aside: one of the confounds in the research on memory and aging is the ubiquitous presence of depression in many of our older citizens. Given enough effrontery (see Rudeness above), many older folks can be left feeling so marginalized that it can be hard to stay engaged in life. (This is why stimulants such as Ritalin can be effective antidepressants for seniors – it artificially ups one’s energy, which can up one’s participation in daily living and break up that vicious circle.) So if you are a senior and believe that your memory is weakening, please don’t accept this as a normal part of aging. It can be caused by many reversible things – one of which is depression. For more information, see Aging below.


Often incorrectly confused with depression, grief does have a similar effect on the mind. When we lose something or someone important to us, we are again in a boundary situation. Our brain has to decide how to help us get through this adversity. What the brain wants to do is to stop life for a moment, focus on the multitude of feelings that accompany the chaos and trauma of a loss and then start to plan how to continue on with our days. But life today rarely allows for that. What tends to happen instead is that the executive functioning portion of the brain tries to herd the rest of the brain back into line to keep things moving along. As you can see, this creates some serious inner turmoil resulting in a brain distracted by the push-pull within.

Normal bereavement involves acknowledging what was lost (e.g. a loved one, a possible future, a relationship, a physical potency, beauty, etc.), assessing how great the loss was and exploring what life looks like absent the lost item. An integrated brain can handle that push-pull as it allows for the natural and unpredictable eruption of idiosyncratic emotions while simultaneously maintaining some connection to the rituals and responsibilities of daily living as the unique grieving process unfolds.

What clinicians call a “complicated bereavement” is one that has created such turmoil within that the brain defaults to one side or the other. This split results in either the executive functioning portion of the mind trying to act as if the loss wasn’t that big of a deal, and insisting on jumping fully back into life, or the emotional portion of the brain being lost in the feelings of loss and wanting life to completely stop. Outside assistance is most often needed to help a person recover from a complicated bereavement.


If you are in pain, at least one of your working memory slots will be taken up with monitoring, easing and tolerating the discomfort. Let’s take a brief detour to incorporate the concept of working memory into our understanding of absent-mindedness.

It’s been hypothesized that the human brain can manipulate 7±2 things at a time. This processing capacity can be called our working memory. This concept clearly has some overlap with the construct of short-term memory because, to the extent data are registered within this working memory, they are clearly in line to become a short-term memory. The distinction is subtle and not too important here, but you can think of working memory as containing those data we need to solve a problem plus any random information that is intruding into our problem-solving attention. So if you’re sitting on the couch working on a crossword puzzle, you brain has 5 to 9 files open on its screen. Some of the data are just being held there – like keeping in mind how long you want to devote to this activity and remembering that you have a fresh pot of coffee brewing. Other data are being manipulated by the brain as it works on the task at hand – in this case sorting possible answers to 16 Down relative to the perpendicular words, the theme of this particular puzzle, words frequently used in crossword puzzles, etc. For an extremely thorough article on working memory see Nelson Cowan’s article here.

The greater the pain, obviously, the greater the disruption to the ability of the brain to manipulate data. Chronic pain will also affect both encoding and retrieval because what starts to matter most to you are those things that can alleviate your pain. If you find yourself in this situation, please gently remind your brain to unabashedly use as many memory aids as possible.


Fear has an odd effect on memory. On the one hand, it can create an instantly unforgettable experience that is seared into our memory banks. This is called “single trial learning” and is very effective in helping us avoid forgetting potentially fatal things. But what we could call low grade fear can inhibit memory formation by undermining our sense of self-efficacy, which weakens the free-range aspect of the human brain. By this I mean, a confident brain is one that willingly scans its environment for opportunities rather than furtively watching for danger. Am I still being too vague? It’s like this – if we are going for a lovely walk through the forest of life but are too afraid of tripping to take our eyes off the path to look around, we are not going to remember much about the hike. Capiche?


Of course stress, rudeness, depression, grief, pain and fear all negatively affect sleep. But often folks suffer from sleep disorders distinct from life stressors. No matter the cause, however, sleeplessness KO’s memory. A big reason for this is that critical memory sorting and consolidation happen while the brain is asleep. I always picture a crew of 1950s secretaries in their pastel cardigan sweaters that shows up in the brain after hours and gets to work reading, cataloging and filing all the paperwork our day has created. Pick your own image, but interfere with this process at your own risk.

Lack of sleep affects us in two ways then. It prevents us from organizing our life’s events in an elegant way that allows for effective storage of all those puzzle pieces of memory, and it leaves us with a cluttered daytime brain that is less able to attend to the fresh aspects of living that need to be encoded.


The effect of normal aging on memory is extremely controversial. Early research on the aging brain was mainly done on those older people who were easy to find and work with – the folks in nursing homes. Not exactly a random sample as less than 5% of the elder population ever needs this level of care and those who do are ill. Much of the pejorative mythology that “your memory goes as you age” stems from those untenable studies. As researchers got wiser and tried to acquire a more representative sample, however, they ran into another problem. There is no way to equalize perspective between generations, meaning that there are too many differences between the content and frame of reference of a senior brain and that of a youthful brain. In other words, there is no way to make the same things matter to both generations and therefore there is no way to test memory across the two of them. The only way to tell if a person’s memory has been compromised by aging would be to test it regularly over a lifetime while simultaneously correcting for all the sources of duress listed above. Not really possible.

There are, however, two ways a longer life can affect memory.

First, when you’ve lived a long time and have lots of memories, you will be more susceptible to proactive interference in the formation of long-term memories. Proactive interference happens when you need to learn something new that is similar to something you already know. A very common and annoying example happens when your phone insists on updating itself and you have to relearn one of its functions. You can see how overwriting a memory can take a little more effort than simply learning something for the first time.

And, when you’ve lived a long time many of your old memories will have had a long time to decay. Old piano pieces that you used to know by heart have had decades to fade if you haven’t kept practicing them.

These two sources of memory impairment are not brain flaws but are simply neurological safeguards our brains use to keep our mental storage units cleared out. They can both absolutely be overridden if the desire is there. If you want to remember the actors’ names in the 75th sitcom you’ve watched over the course of your life, you can certainly do that if you choose to make that memory important.

All of that is to say, if you are a citizen with both seniority and a healthy lifestyle and you start to feel absent-minded, chances are one or more of the above stressors have reached disruptive proportions in your life. Just like with a young person, your task is to identify and remediate the source of the disruption. But please do pay close attention to the possibility of depression because aging in the Western world isn’t easy. The symptoms of depression can develop slowly and can be subtle in seniors. If you are over 65 and your memory seems to be weakening, please read this.

What’s to be done?

In a healthy and happy brain, then, memories are made, stored and retrieved with a high degree of success and life is good. In an overtaxed brain, one or more of these steps are disrupted leaving us with a lurching and unpredictable ability to administer our day. What follows are tips to help prevent and heal memory impairment. I’m sure you are aware of all of them, but it can be nice to have lots of good ideas collected in one place.

Health: It always makes sense when trying to make a psychological change to start with physical health. Bringing your brain back from vacation is no exception. That three-pound organ needs a lot of wholesome ingredients to keep it running smoothly and it needs a healthy body to carry it around. An unhealthy body sends a ton of messages to the brain and, although that information flow is both helpful and necessary, the sheer amount of data a wounded body sends will compromise memory.

I’m sure it’s not news to you that a healthy brain and a healthy body are a bit of a package deal. I also imagine that there is nothing relative to improving your health that you don’t already know that you should do…eat right, exercise, hydrate, floss your teeth, get regular check ups, relax, socialize, have orgasms, spend time in nature, and so on. Or if you can't get to nature, bring nature to you with houseplants, paintings and birdsongs. There is no phrase I can evoke here that will cause you to reverse bad habits in the realm of daily living, so let me just say this: I hope you can get a little better at these things every day. If you can do that, two years down the road your brain might well agree to take you on vacation with it.

Focus: The human brain is designed for both divergent thinking (a mind reaching out in all directions) and convergent thinking (a mind staying tightly focused on one specific topic). Unimpaired, our brain will pretty much switch between the two on demand. Overburdened, it can get stuck in one or the other to the detriment of creating helpful memories. And sometimes a really tired brain can feel like it’s immobilized in the dead zone between the two in the hazy focus of brain fog.

So while you’re attending to the long-run remediation of the stressors described above (And you are, right?), you can improve your memory in the short run by paying a little attention to where your brain is fixated.

If you are overwhelmed by too much data (a mind stuck in divergent thinking), the tricks you want to use are those that capture pieces of the data and take them out of circulation. That can both clear the decks a bit in your working memory and also allow you to use the capturing mechanisms themselves to organize at least some of what’s on your mind. To-do lists, schedules, Post-it notes, white boards, delegating to others and anything else that can relieve your cognitive load somewhat will allow you room to breathe mentally. You will also want to look at your defense systems, because getting too much data is a symptom of being under-defended. Too many things are probably mattering to you too much at this point in time.

Hyper focusing, or flow, is often seen as a wonderful state of blissful immersion in something about which you are passionate. You may find yourself with a recalcitrant brain, however, that is over-committed to hyper focusing on something you wish it wouldn’t or focusing on something of great interest to you but for far too long. When that is the case you will want to make use of mechanisms that intrude into your awareness (timers, alarms, walking buddies, mindfulness, a standing desk and such) or the deliberate practice of thought stopping techniques (spoken interruptions, movement, distractions, singing, counting, etc.) You will also want to look at your defense systems because you are likely not getting enough data input from your world. It may be that not enough other things are mattering to you at this point in time.

Brain fog, its own special form of absent-mindedness, is the result of a brain overburdened by one or several of the stressors above. It usually resolves itself when – and only when – at least some of them have been eased. The best one can do if this is the case is to watch for issues around safety (i.e. be extra careful driving) and work to eliminate the stressors. But if your brain has gotten into what I would call the floating habit, there may be something else at work here. I see this occur when the owner of a life has ceased to pursue mastery. I have come to believe that the human brain is desperately addicted to the biochemistry of mastery seeking. What a pain in a way. It can be hard to constantly come up with novel mastery pursuits, to initiate them in the face of the blundering of novice status, and to maintain your effort over the long and unrewarding plateau of a normal learning curve. (I have a theory that this is why the games of golf and chess are so appealing – they are impossible for most of us to truly master. Folks can, therefore, spend decades in the pleasant pursuit of the unattainable.) But, seriously, the absence of mastery seeking behaviors – in retirement for example – can account for some of the memory problems that we have as we navigate through life because our brain is unhappy with us.

If the goal is to regain your ability to direct your focus using your executive functioning apparatus and you are having trouble doing so, try to engage your brain in a conversation about where it wants to focus right now and why. Once you two can agree on what is happening inside, perhaps you can then agree on what needs to change to return your poor mind to its original willingness to be flexible and look around outside.

Perspective: Perspective helps us determine what matters in the long run. What matters is, of course, a philosophical question. Therefore, we turn now to a metaphysical exploration of meaning. It is created most potently when we can derive it standing in the psychological intersection of existentialism and feminism. Existentially, our frame of reference is most robust and resilient when it is constructed out of our own hard-fought set of criteria. In other words, we are most powerful when we decide for ourselves what matters and why. Feminists believe that too often “our” point of view has been established for us by the patriarchal world in which we are immersed. That is a very dangerous state of affairs (for both women and men) because inherited beliefs are very, very often misfitting. Misfitting beliefs will cause us to develop a bit of a callous on the part of our self that allows something to matter – leaving us desensitized to what we are doing. You can see how that could lead to problems like boredom, burnout, depression, lack of focus and so on, all of which will hinder our memory. We are supposed to create for ourselves a personal understanding of the relative importance of things in our daily lives based on the talents and gifts of ours that we wish to bring forth and master. We are then supposed to use that understanding to maintain a fairly consistent perspective on what is most meaningful to us in the big picture.

A perspective determined for us rather than by us can create a problem in two directions – either nothing matters because we are not invested in the outcome (see Depression above) or everything matters because we have bought in completely to cultural expectations (see Stress above). Without perspective, our ability to authentically triage what is clamoring for our attention is hamstrung, meaning we are at risk of being a servant to a culture that is extremely willing to tell us what matters.

Petulance: Petulance is that worrisome yet helpful part of our personalities that tries to talk us out of doing things it believes are a waste of time. A petulant mood can inhibit memory because it can limit the brain’s willingness to put the work into remembering. Each of those three steps needed to make and access a memory takes energy and, usually, putting in that energy takes discipline. If, in your wisest moments, you realize that you are not exercising your brain by asking it to stretch and remember things, you may be indulging in petulance to your detriment.

Because this sulky state can be so disruptive to memory – most especially future memory – I want to come at it again from another angle. In some ways, absent-minded is the opposite of self-constructed. When we self-construct we are hovering over our lives and thinking about what we are observing. When we are absent-minded we are allowing our attention to dissolve and our vision to remain unfocused as we float down the river of life more intent on the cold beer in our hand than making navigational decisions. So, if you start to feel your memory slipping a bit, give it a think. Are you floating through your day simply because your life is running smoothly on automatic pilot for a spell (clearly this is fine) or are you disengaging too much from intentional living (clearly not so fine)?

If the latter is the case, please run over and read the article on petulance.

Triage: In this day and age, most of us need to triage our lives in order to protect our brain and its ability to form memories. There are two types of triage required – reactive and proactive.

Reactive triage can be thought of as the daily process of prioritizing what tasks we will undertake based, partly at least, on determining a work load that best protects our brain. If our resources are limited we must subjectively weigh the cost/benefit of each undertaking to see if we should put it on our schedule. To the extent possible, a wise brain owner learns to make those tough choices that leave some things undone but the brain healthy.

Proactive triage requires us to think through what invitations we want to accept moving forward in life. In order to do that well, we need to be able to predict our future levels of commitment. That can be harder than it sounds and here’s why: there are two sources of stress in our lives – voluntary and involuntary. Involuntary stress is fate-driven and is made up of all those demands that the outside world places on us without our permission. Voluntary stress is the result of tasks we assign to ourselves or accept for ourselves. What often happens in a life is this – we find ourselves with a little extra time on our hands, so we find something to do with that time. We may say yes to several things while in this flexible state. Then fate does its thing and piles on the involuntary stress. At that point, obviously, we are overburdened. Like a popular family doctor, then, you need to learn to administer your schedule in such a way as to keep some time always available for involuntary stress deposits (emergencies).

Once you decide that the things that matter, matter, you will need to be aware that it’s possible to have too many things matter. It can take a surprising amount of discipline to protect yourself from issue overload if you are a passionate and motivated individual.

Additional little tips: Here are a few last tips on the repair and maintenance of your memory.

• Learning style: Figure out what channels of information input your brain prefers. For example, if you are a visual learner, you need to habituate to using the written word to enhance your learning (memory), and if you learn best by doing, then doing things is how your strongest memories will form.

• Shallow processing: It can be helpful during times of high stress to notice that your brain is avoiding any depth of processing and to ask trustworthy others to pull your focus when they need you to remember something. Even though you retain the responsibility of deciding if something is worth remembering, a good friend or colleague can absolutely help you stop and pay attention.

• Scaffolding: Your brain likes to attach information to structures that are already in place. Realtors easily remember floor plans, therapists can recall complex family histories and trained dancers can quickly learn and remember a dance routine because inside the brains of all these people are well-established professional patterns. If you want to remember domain-specific information, you may need to work a little first at getting that scaffolding in place.

• Patience: When you ask my grandson to remember the name of something and he can’t instantly answer, he will stop and scroll through his tiny, little glossary of terms. Often he comes up with the right word. What is most striking for me about watching this process, though, is to see the serenity on his face while he is thinking. There is no alarm there about whether or not he is starting down the road toward senility. If we can imitate him when we have failed to quickly recall something and patiently wait while our brain sorts through our immense data banks, I imagine we will have a few more memory victories.

• Recall cues: It is so much easier to remember things when life gives us a clue. When you are trying to become less absent-minded, it can be very helpful to practice putting recall cues in place. These can be as simple as looking around to establish geographical memory, taking the time to link the information to something you know well or making a point of connecting the information to the source of the information.

• Multitasking: As far as I can tell from the research, what we call multitasking is actually an adrenaline-based rapid sequencing of our focus among several tasks. If you are a short-order cook in a busy restaurant this will be a nonnegotiable skill to have. But, to create a life fairly free from absent-mindedness, attempting to pay attention to several things at once is something to avoid whenever possible.

• State-dependent learning: Trying to recall something learned in a non-stressful time can be difficult in a stressful time and vice versa. All the more reason to design and maintain a less stressful life for yourself. Try to visualize a life with a well-rested and unassailed brain. I, frankly and sadly, find that hard to imagine.

In conclusion

Let’s coin a word here – let’s start to think about lightbrained in the same way we think of lighthearted. And let’s define it as a mind that is not so greatly burdened with arbitrary, unwanted or unnecessary loads that it is able to move nimbly through the data of our days, wisely selecting interesting tidbits to store in our memories.

If instead of this enviable place you find yourself in that drab and ordinary state that feels only half alive and half awake, please see what you can do as the owner of that fine brain of yours to lighten its load.

© Copyright 2014 Jan Iversen. All rights reserved.