I have a lovely loft office and not infrequently I find myself rushing headlong down two flights of stairs ‘on a mission’, only to arrive downstairs and promptly forget what on earth I came down for. I had assumed these were ‘senior moments’ but no, apparently there’s a perfectly good explanation as featured on BBC Radio 4’s BH programme one November Sunday morning.
New research from Notre Dame University in Indiana, USA has found that the simple act of passing through a doorway can cue our brain to clear out recently stored information.
Prof Gabriel Radvansky explains how a doorway serves as an ‘event boundary’ or ‘eraser’ because we naturally compartmentalise our thoughts in order to deal with a slew of everyday information and brain tasks.
Incredibly, his experiments have shown that memory is much more affected by a physical doorway than from walking the same distance across a room. The very act of moving from one space to another through a door way leaving one event behind and moving into another event stimulates our brains to leave the old event behind. It disrupts the train of thought to make way for new ones.
So if like me, you sometimes forget your train of thought as you rush about, especially when public speaking, it’s not necessarily early onset senility or performance anxiety. Understand it as a kind of ‘pattern interrupt’ in that you will be thinking of a certain set of ideas or things in one setting, and the very act of going into another context disrupts your memory so that you sometimes have trouble retrieving that information.
Radvansky’s Event Boundary Theory has been proven by experiments such as getting people to memorise a number of objects in a box, and then getting them to walk into another room and ask them to remember the objects in a box. The results were way poorer than for those who had just walked a similar distance from one side of the room to another.
It seems that our brains cross a metaphorical threshold enabling us to constantly refresh… trouble is we sometimes throw the baby out with the bathwater and get rid of stuff we need to access in a hurry.
- When your mind goes blank, either physically or in your mind’s eye, go back to the place where you originated the thought, list, set of ideas or whatever. This will often reboot the ‘correct’ memory.
- For those aspiring public speakers among you,
try to utilise ‘The Power of the 3 Points’ in your address to keep a simple but clear and connected thread going throughout your talk.
- Also try to get photo of the room or venue you’ll be speaking in, then use your imagination to picture yourself walking into that room / venue and then delivering your keynote. Close your eyes and look out at the audience in your mind’s eye, and also see yourself from their perspective.
Have fun rehearsing your keynote with these techniques in mind… they might make all the difference and help you avoid those dreaded blank moments.
Or, you can just say you’re experiencing an amazing ‘event boundary’ and they’ll all want one!!