Now What Did I Come In Here For? Strategies for Remembering What You’re Looking For

Deborah West and Janet Niemeier, National Resource Center for Traumatic Brain Injuy
Memory Matters: Now What Did I Come In Here for? Strategies for Remembering What You’re Looking for

Walking into the kitchen, Wallace stopped dead in his tracks, scratched his head, and wondered, "What the heck am I doing in here" Last he remembered, he was sitting in front of the TV. "This is crazy," he thought. I know I came in here for something, but for the life of me, I can't remember what it was."

“Wallace” is in good company. Forgetting what you are looking for is a common problem reported by persons who’ve had a brain injury. What can be done to remedy this frustrating problem?

Strategies for Remembering What You’re Looking For

  • Avoid trying to do too many things at once. It’s much easier to forget or get confused when you are trying to do different things at the same time.
  • Repetition, Repetition, Repetition. Repeat the name of the object of your search over and over until you find it.
  • Write down what you’re looking for. Even just one word may be enough to trigger your recall.
    • If paper isn’t handy, write on your arm or hand.
    • If a pen isn’t handy, “write” with you finger.
  • Take something with you to remind you what you’re looking for. For example, if you’re looking for your checkbook, take the bill you intend to pay.
  • “Retrace your steps.” For some, going back to the “scene of the crime” helps them recall what they’re looking for.
    • Walk back to the last place you remember being. Look all around.
    • Try to form a picture in your mind of what you were doing. Were you sitting or standing? Were you alone or with someone?
    • Pantomime or “act out” what you were doing (e.g., writing something down, opening a drawer, leafing through a book).

Create an Action Plan

Create an action plan for yourself to help you remember what you’re looking for.

Here are some ways to do that. Answer the following questions for yourself as a way to create this action plan for remembering.

  • I seem to have the most trouble remembering what I’m looking for when…
  • To help me remember what I’m looking for, I will do this:
  • Next time I forget what I went searching for, I will do this:
  • I will check my plan on this date to see if it’s working. If not, I’ll need to try another plan.

Wallace returned to the den and noticed his half-eaten bologna sandwich.

Pickles, he thought to himself, smiling. As he returned to the kitchen, Wallace repeated “Dill” over and over again until he got to the fridge. Pickle jar in hand, Wallace strutted back into the den to, well,...“relish” his victory.

Posted on BrainLine August 19, 2008.

Chapter reprinted with permission from the NRC TBI publication, Memory Matters: Strategies for Managing Everyday Memory Problems. From the National Resource Center for Traumatic Brain Injury, Virginia Commonwealth Model Systems of Care. Reprinted with permission.

Comments (4)

Please remember, we are not able to give medical or legal advice. If you have medical concerns, please consult your doctor. All posted comments are the views and opinions of the poster only.

Here's another strategy. I tell my cat what I intend to do (i.e. "I'm going to the kitchen to get a napkin"). By hearing the words out loud instead of just thinking to myself, I increase the brain systems involved in processing the event. So if my creative thought areas don't remember, maybe my auditory processing areas will - I'll remember hearing what I told the cat. (cat not necessary for this strategy). Sometimes it works.

There is great wisdom in, 'A place for everything, and everything in its' place.' It is Very important for me to set something down in the same place, like my wallet in the top right dresser drawer Everytime I am done with it. Everytime. I have found that if I put anything at home just 'there' for second, while I do something else, it gets up and walks away. Another great adage is, 'Better safe, than sorry.' After arriving at work, and I was about to shut the car door, I felt for the keys in my pocket, jingled them 'til I heard them clanking together, took them out, put them back in, shut the door as I felt the keys to have a physical assurance that, yes, I had not left the keys in the car. It is just what we have to do. Jacques Dalton THI February 15, 1992

Despite shopping lists/whiteboards/to-do lists, I am often frustrated by my memory deficits because at the time what I need to remember seems so simple.  One way that works (if I REMEMBER to actually do it) is the old "string on the finger" technique.  I will place something in the wrong place to jog my memory, it can be the string or rubber band on the finger or an object by your chair or doorway.  I often, when parking my car, will leave my to-do list or something on my seat as a reminder of a shop I need to visit on my drive home.  

Brain training using eeg biofeedback, also known as Neurofeedback, can also be useful to improve declining brain functioning with aging, or after a head injury.