When we learn something new, it seems like our only goal is to remember it as best we can. We might read, study, and revise to try to lock the facts in place,soliciting promises from ourselves that we’ll never forget them. And don’t get us wrong— recollection is important. Memory does serve some useful functions during the learning process.
However, psychologists and cognitive researchers now argue that sometimes, forgetting something is just as necessary in the process of learning. Forgetting what we learned and remembered has several surprising benefits.
When we learn something and then forget it, the memory may linger in our subconscious, and trying to recall the material again— even if the effort fails— can trigger mental processes that make it more likely that we eventually will remember the information. A recent study showed that when people try to recall what they’ve forgotten, this produces an emotional response which encourages the subconscious mind to reinforce the memory and push it into long-term storage.
This idea of forgetting and then trying to recall information is also similar to a learning style known as “spaced review.” This is a concept where, instead of applying all of your energy in one intense study session, you instead try to relearn it several times over a long period of time.
In addition, when children learn an incredible amount so quickly, their minds can become overwhelmed. Forgetting some of these ideas allows them to resume learning from previous points instead of starting from scratch. These “forgotten” and revisited memories help students better space out and remember their lessons as they go along.
When we understand that forgetting is just as important as remembering, it helps us to take a step back and relax when we’re worried about not remembering something. The next time you go to pour over facts and figures in order to remember them, take a deep breath, try to forget the details, and sit back and relax. When you know that you heard the information just make an emotional request to your subconscious and wait until it delivers the answer you requested. Have you ever had an answer on the tip of your tongue?