Sometimes the hardest thing about remembering to do something… is remembering to do that thing. Our brains use processes of information encoding, storage, and retrieval to help us remember specific things from the past, but what about our brain’s ability to remember things in the future? It can be hard to remember upcoming events such as an upcoming dentist appointment, a meeting to attend, or an upcoming test. Our memory is designed to support the retrieval of events from both dimensions. In planning and organizing upcoming activities or setting goals for the future, we use what’s called prospective memory. This type of memory is extremely important, just like the memories of the past, or retrospective memories.
Effectively using prospective memories relies somewhat on your ability to use a system of episodic memories, and the attending to of autobiographical events. Episodic memories are composed of your recollection of past experiences at any time or place. Using these episodic memories helps you create a foundation for understanding of future contexts and enhances your prospective memory. Autobiographical events such as time, place, and emotions are utilized in planning and achieving future goals. Just as the autobiographical factors may affect your ability to remember past events, the same is true in forming a foundation for remembering future plans.
One article divides prospective memory into three categories: Time based, event based, and activity based memories. These categories are based on your use of retrieval cues when going through future memory recall stages. These prospective memory categories will cause a foundation to be formed, which will help you along the retrieval process as you become aware of remembering your plans. To exemplify, time based memories will be tied with time related characteristics, such as remembering that the specific time of the dentist appointment is at 10 am. The event based characteristics are paired with events that you cause, which are related to the future task to be remembered, such as trying to remember to study for the test by placing the textbook in front of your TV. Activity based events refer to the activity related to the plan, where you will more easily remember to put a check in the mail if you picture yourself stopping by the mailbox on your way to class, where walking to class is the activity.
It is suggested that these memories should all be used in unison to best mold together and enhance your understanding and recall of prospective memories. Remembering to take note of time, events, and other cues can be used to remind yourself of the plan, which will help you retrieve the memory, thus performing the execution of the chore. These heightened prospective memory techniques will help you visualize your goals, centrally processing the event and all of its implications, rather than only focusing on the outcome, where you may more peripherally know that the event should take place, increasing the possibility of failing to understand and perform the steps necessary to remember. For example, if you know you need to turn in a paper for another class just before a class at 5:00pm, you may try to process and understand the time, as well as walking path implications, in addition to holding the paper in your hand as you walk. This will help you form deeper knowledge of the plan, as forming the cues using the categories of time, event, and activity based memories will be more beneficial than simply stating “I need to turn the paper in before 5:00”.
Forming prospective memory representations will help narrow on the intended goal. People can mold their thoughts in a way that makes retrieval cues more available, and it is possible to shape the encoding of information, which causes it to be easier to recall. Everyone can form their own prospective memory devices, create their own retrieval cues, and increase the likelihood of remembering a future event, given conscious thought.