How often does this happen to you? You’re in the middle of an everyday task when suddenly, without warning, a brilliant idea pops into your head. You weren’t seeking it out; you weren’t planning on it. It just arrived, as if by magic. It is the proverbial light bulb going off, a Eureka moment. And then, just as quickly as it came, the idea vanishes, as if into thin air. That light bulb goes off, and you’re left racking your brain trying to conjure it back up, as if you were a magician attempting to pull a rabbit from a hat.
Forgetting things isn’t uncommon. We have only so much memory storage in our brains. And for the majority of us, it feels like we’re close to capacity on most days. As Edward K. Vogel and Trafton Drewal wrote in Scientific American, “Though the brain contains detailed representations of lots of different events and objects, we can’t always find that information when we want it.”
How does one combat the problem of great ideas vanishing from our minds just as we have them within our grasp? The solution is easier than you might think.
One of the most frustrating elements of a great idea vanishing from our memories is the inability to fully recall it. Saul McLeod writes in Simply Psychology, “The events between learning and recall have no effect whatsoever on [memory]. It is the length of time the information has to be retained that is important. The longer the time, the more the memory trace decays and as a consequence more information is forgotten.” While it’s possible to recall great ideas on occasion, more often than not, trying to remember them leads to nothing but frustration.
And therein lies the problem.
When we attempt to recall a lost flash of genius, we’re consciously trying to bring back a thought that came about unconsciously, with seemingly no effort. If that forgotten idea originally occurred to us while we were exerting no mental effort to do so, why should we expect it to come back to us when we’re willfully attempting to remember it? The solution seems to be a paradox: to better remember something, we shouldn’t remember it at all. How is that even possible? You likely already know the answer, yet you may think it’s too deceptively simple to work.
So do you want to know the way to never have another idea escape you ever again? The simple solution to capture great ideas the moment they occur to you, and never have to worry about recalling them from the recesses of your mind once they vanish? You simply need to carry around two extra items.
A notepad and a pen
This sounds surprisingly simple, almost too simple, but it works. Having a notepad makes a world of difference when you have a great idea come to you. Shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis perhaps put it best: “Always carry a notebook. Write everything down. When you have an idea, write it down...When you hear something interesting, write it down. Writing it down will make you act upon it. If you don’t write it down you will forget it. That is a million dollar lesson they don’t teach you in business school!”
Onassis isn’t the only successful person to subscribe to this advice. He’s just one of a long list of successful individuals that carried notebooks around with them, recording thoughts and observations they felt were worthy of review, including: Richard Branson, Mark Twain, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Darwin, George Lucas, Earnest Hemingway, Thomas Edison, John Rockefeller and Leonardo da Vinci.
Forgetting things is a part of life. It’s inevitable, and even those of us with superior memories are bound to let a few things slip through the cracks. In fact, a study in 2009 found that the average adult forgets “three key facts, chores or events every day.” Don’t let those great ideas vanish before you’ve had a chance to implement them. The minute they materialize in your mind, turn to your notebook and capture them. Then they’ll never get away.