Your Guide to Executive Functions: Memory

by | Feb 17, 2020

executive functions memory

Of all of the executive functions, memory is the one I hear about most often.

Not to get too deep, but memories are what make us human. Visualizing the past and future and predicting outcomes is what separates us from our pets.

Think about the last thing you ate.

Can you remember what it was? Who was around? Did it taste good?

If you are anything like me you have no memory of what you did five minutes ago, let alone the last time you ate.

I also forget important anniversaries, phone numbers and assorted other details.

Memory issues with ADHD can be funny, but they can also be totally annoying.

Executive Functions: Memory

Memory and ADHD

Dr. Thomas Brown describes memory in terms of executive functioning as follows:

“Utilizing working memory and accessing recall. Very often, people with ADHD will report that they have adequate or exceptional memory for things that happened long ago, but great difficulty in being able to remember where they just put something, what someone just said to them, or what they were about to say. They may describe difficulty holding one or several things “on line” while attending to other tasks. In addition, persons with ADHD often complain that they cannot pull out of memory information they have learned when they need it.”

ADDitude magazine describes working memory (or short-term memory) as a shelf:

“Imagine you are going to the store. You need milk, eggs, and bread. While you’re in the store, you suddenly remember you need cereal. You head to the cereal aisle, but as you focus on Special K, the eggs fall off your mental shelf. You arrive home with cereal, milk, and bread, but have forgotten the eggs.”

Keeping more than one idea or piece of information in our minds is difficult. As I always say, in one ear and out the other.

It’s aggravating but it is part of who we are.

Learning about executive functions and ADHD can help you to stress less and live more.

Do one thing at a time

In my article about dealing with your poor working memory, I wrote about the idea of monotasking. If there is one thing I know, it’s that trying to do all the things never works.

Trying to multitask, or juggle several activities at once is a recipe for disaster.

In the Enclave we talk about doing one thing at a time, all the time.

For example, when at work it works better to focus on one major project for the day.   At home, you can choose one household chore and do your best to finish that before you start something else.

Check out my article on monotasking for working memory.

Improve your memory

Understand that you can’t change your brain in a permanent way, but you can create some external scaffolding and routines that will help.

My memory is much better, and I can hold more individual items in my mind when I take my medication. If you haven’t trialed any medications ask your doctor if you are a good candidate.

Tips for managing memory issues:

  • Make reasonable lists.

  • – Write things down, muscle memory helps.

  • – Keep a calendar that works for you.

  • – Break large projects into smaller, manageable chunks. One step at a time.

  • – Develop routines that take the thought out of things. See my post on simple habits.

  • – Set up reminders at the point of performance. (Example: a reminder to grab your purse stuck to the door.)

  • – Practice mindfulness in order to combat distractions.

  • – Exercise, move your body to improve your brain.  It works.

Finally, forgive yourself.  Just do it.

When you screw up, or forget your mother’s birthday own it. Apologize and move on.

People might get offended, but all you can do is explain. Tell the truth about your working memory issues. Explain what you do to stay on top of it.

Journal often, it will help you when you need to go back and review something from months or years ago. Plus it is good for your emotional management.

It can be tough, but learning about executive functions and ADHD can help you to stress less and live more.

Join the Enclave and meet other women living calmer, more satisfying lives with ADHD.