What You Don’t Remember… About your Memory with Dr. Ari Tuckman
Memory is not one thing, says our guest, Dr. Ari Tuckman. He's back on the show with us this week to teach what we need to know about our memory, and what we might not remember about our memory's relationship with ADHD!
Memory is not one thing, says our guest, Dr. Ari Tuckman, and ADHD might be at the center of your struggles with each component of memory at any given time. More important than understanding that ADHD and memory are sometimes troubled partners is understanding just what you can do to improve your odds when trying to remember the important stuff.
We talk about being kind to yourself and understanding that your memory challenges do not represent a moral failure! And Ari challenges head-on the notion that relying on reminders is a sign of weakness, that there is a difference between an alarm or notification and the motivation to do the thing the alarm is reminding you to do — one does not make the other a failure.
Links & Notes
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Pete Wright: Hello, everybody, and welcome to Taking Control, the ADHD podcast on TruStory FM. I’m Pete Wright, and I’m here with Nikki Kinzer.
Nikki Kinzer: Hello, everyone.
Pete Wright: Are you okay?
Nikki Kinzer: I was looking at a text message as you were doing your little…
Pete Wright: Wow. Yeah. The camera switched to you, and you were mesmerized in the middle distance.
Nikki Kinzer: I know. I was looking at something that my daughter had sent me about a documentary. And I love documentaries, and so it grabbed my attention.
Pete Wright: Oh, yeah. I know. It’s a moth to a flame. Yeah, of course.
Nikki Kinzer: But I’m here now. I’m present. I’m here with you.
Pete Wright: Well, glad to see you. So glad to see you. I’m glad you remembered to show up.
Nikki Kinzer: Thank you. You, too.
Pete Wright: Did you see what I did just right there?
Nikki Kinzer: I know exactly what you did.
Pete Wright: We’re talking about memory today, memory and ADHD. Do you run into this a lot with people dealing with memory and ADHD? Can you describe the context that it usually shows up?
Nikki Kinzer: That it’s hard to remember things.
Pete Wright: Yeah. I guess, that’s pretty easy.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah. No. Well, it’s hard to remember things. It’s hard when somebody in passing asks you to do something or says, "Hey, can you do this?" Or in some cases, "You need to do this." And then you forget. So there’s a lot of bad feelings because it’s not the intention to forget, but it’s definitely a symptom of ADHD. That’s why over this series, we talked about lying, we’ve talked about over-talking. And now, we’re talking about memory because it is something that is so common. And it’s frustrating to people because their intention is not to make others mad or to not remember. Really, you forget.
Pete Wright: Yeah. Well, it is a complicated thing. And I think coming to terms, or at least understanding the various associations with different kinds of memory, different contexts in which memory plays a part in your life with your ADHD. It’s important, and it is so complex, in fact, that we have a fantastic guest to talk to us about it.
Nikki Kinzer: Yes, we do.
Pete Wright: Our dear friend, Dr. Ari Tuckman is back to talk to us about memory. He’s been on several times before, and we haven’t seen him in a long time, and we’re really glad he is here. Before we get into it, though, head over to takecontroladhd.com. You can get to know us a little bit better. You can listen to the show right there on the website or subscribe to our mailing list, and we will send you an email each time a new episode is released. You can connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest @takecontroladhd. But if you really want to hang out with us, you got to head over to the ADHD Discord community. Just visit takecontroladhd.com/discord. You’ll be whisked over to the general community invitation. And if you want even more than the general community, well, I’m so glad you asked how you could be a part of that, too. Just become a patron at patreon.com/theadhdpodcast. Now, Patreon for us is listener supported podcasting. For a few dollars a month, you can help guarantee that we continue to grow the show, add new features, invest more heavily in our community. We’ve got all kinds of wonderful things going on in that community. We’ve got early access to the podcast, member-only feeds, the Placeholder podcast with yours truly. We’ve got the Pete’s Coffee Tech Chat once a month. We’ve got the Happy Hour. We’ve got Coaching with Nikki once a month, all these fantastic opportunities to bring like-minded folks together. I hope you find when you get in there, that it is eyeopening how many people are with you living with the same frustrations, and they’re all in here helping each other out. It’s really a joy. And I should say, they’re in our chat room right now watching the live stream, which you also get access to as a supporting member. So that is it, patreon.com/theadhdpodcast to learn more. Welcome, all of our new members. You’re great. What else do you have to say? Do you have any news?
Nikki Kinzer: No news.
Pete Wright: That’s it?
Nikki Kinzer: Yep.
Pete Wright: That’s all the news.
Nikki Kinzer: Let’s go. Let’s talk to Ari.
Pete Wright: Ari Tuckman is back with us. Dr. Ari Tuckman is back. Ari, it has been way too long. You’ve been on now, and you’ve talked to us about lying. You’ve talked to us about… Oh, my gosh, three or four times you’ve been on the show.
Ari Tuckman: I think it’s just…
Pete Wright: Is it just two?
Ari Tuckman: I think we did lying. We did relationships. I think one of them, Nikki [crosstalk 00:04:44].
Pete Wright: It was the lying one. You and I were a dynamic duo. Well, it is…
Nikki Kinzer: Only show I’ve ever missed.
Pete Wright: Crazy.
Ari Tuckman: Wow.
Pete Wright: Crazy. Well…
Ari Tuckman: Is that an honor?
Pete Wright: Dubious.
Nikki Kinzer: Well, it meant I was really, really sick.
Pete Wright: On the eighties. I’ve never missed a show. So I don’t know if that’s an honor or a slight, let’s just…
Nikki Kinzer: Well, you have to be here because I can’t do the stuff you do. So if you don’t show up, no one’s going to be here.
Ari Tuckman: Yes, yes, yes.
Pete Wright: Right. Well, all right. We are talking today about ADHD and memory. Recent study found that 81% of adolescents with ADHD surveyed suffered from some deficit to their working memory. So Ari, we are here with you to help educate us on what is going on. What are the kinds of memory that we need to be thinking about and how does ADHD impact it? And then hopefully you have some direction for us to help us through the muck.
Ari Tuckman: Yeah. So first of all we talk about memory as if it’s one thing. Memory’s not one thing. Memory is lots of things, right? So let’s just quickie there. So working memory, which is a term that probably a lot of people have at least heard whether they understand it or not, but at least they’ve heard it. Right. So working memory is one of the executive functions. It’s the most immediate, shortest kind of memory. It’s sort of like when you take a phone number off a piece of paper and start typing it into your phone. That’s working memory that’s holding that on deck. When you’re talking to someone you’re like, "Oh, I have a thought. I’m going to wait and then I’m going to say it," hopefully that’s working memory holding on. Working memory is working. It’s actively holding. Or another way of thinking about it is working memory is basically storing what we are paying attention to. Right, so whatever’s front of mind in the moment. So there’s that. Then there’s other types of kind of shorter term memory, which is a little bit longer than working memory. So in 20 minutes, I need to remember to whatever. There’s long term memory, which could be he’ll remember in third grade when whatever happens. So episodic events in our life. Then there’s more kind of factual or declarative knowledge, oh, Columbus discovered America in 1492, if that’s kind of still, I don’t know, whatever, or H2O is the symbol for water. So there’s stuff like that. There’s prospective memory, remembering forward, "Oh, tomorrow I have to blah, blah, blah." Right. So all these different kinds of memory. So when we talk about memory, sometimes it matters exactly what kind we’re talking about.
Pete Wright: Prospective memory is, it feels strange doing an ADHD podcast and never having uttered the words prospective memory. That is a new term to me, remembering forward.
Nikki Kinzer: So that’s remembering that you have an appointment next week without looking at a calendar
Pete Wright: And it’s so directly related to the ADHD experience.
Ari Tuckman: Yeah, absolutely. Some perspective memory is rather short term, like five minutes from now, or "Here I am kind of grabbing my junk out of the car. Wait, where are my keys?" Or it could be a time-specific thing, "Next Wednesday at three, I have a dentist appointment," or it could be like, "Oh, next time I see Nikki, I need to tell her blah, blah, blah." And that might be tomorrow or in a month or in the year. So sometimes the trigger is a time. Sometimes the trigger is an event. I mean, it all gets a bit nuanced, but I think it’s really interesting, frankly.
Nikki Kinzer: Well, and I think I remember reading something in one of your workbooks about when you remember something and it’s the wrong time of remembering it. So if you’re in the car and you realize, "Oh, I forgot. I needed to make this phone call before I left." Is that part of the perspective memory, or is that something different?
Ari Tuckman: Yeah. No. So that is perspective memory. Like, "Oh, I have to make this phone call," but the problem is, it got triggered at the wrong time. In the car is not maybe the time to make that phone call, and remembering before it’s time also, isn’t that helpful either. It might reinforce it like, "Oh yeah, remember that call," but it’s not the time to act. So prospective memory’s all about kind of point or performance, the time and place and/or place that you can do the thing. And this is definitely one of those places where folks with ADHD struggle that they might remember to do it but not at the right time. So either it’s too late or it’s too early or whatever. And unfortunately, we often don’t get partial credit for remembering afterwards.
Nikki Kinzer: Right, right.
Pete Wright: But can’t we get partial credit for other stuff because I need to start collecting. I call these tasks, the French have this term, [inaudible 00:09:59], I think, escalator wit. It’s a way to define humor when it comes too late. It’s that thing, you remember a joke, but you’re already on the escalator, and you forgot to say it when you were with your friends, or a comeback or something. It defines that. For me, I have always associated these kinds of tasks where I remember to do something when the context is already shifted or I haven’t arrived at that context yet and risk forgetting it, an escalator task. It’s a thing that just doesn’t fit the here and now. And that has always been a model that’s really helped me to at least have a bucket of escalator tasks that I need to circle around to every day.
Ari Tuckman: Yeah. But that’s the thing. Success in life is about doing the right things at the right time and place. It’s about kind of the coordination. It’s kind of hitting the mark in the right way at the right time. So there are definitely some things that we can go back and you do them late and it’s not that big a deal, but there are other things that it is. So things like, I don’t know, buying airline tickets, if you wait too long, there aren’t the flights that you want or they’re not the price or whatever. I mean, anytime you’re paying bills, then you’re incurring late fees if you weren’t able to put those in the bucket. This idea that fighting to keep track of all of these things is, it seems to be, the sort of muscular tissue tied to present and future anxiety. I might not even know what’s in my escalator bucket. I just know that I should feel bad about something. It’s that ticking time bomb. I don’t even know what’s going to blow up on me tomorrow. It’s probably something, but I don’t even know what it is as opposed to, yeah, I definitely know because I didn’t get my boss that thing I said I was going to yesterday. And I don’t know, sometimes knowing is worse. Sometimes not knowing is worse. I guess it depends. There is this thing of this just overhanging feeling of, I don’t even know what the ax are over my neck is. And that is draining. It burns a lot of mental energy.
Nikki Kinzer: Well, and I can also see a situation where you’re in a meeting and there’s really important information and you know you need to remember it all, but it’s almost so overwhelming because it’s coming all at you and then feeling like you’re missing something or you forget. They did say something, but you really don’t remember them saying it because you’re trained to process all this information. That would be another example of working memory because it’s that immediate. So what about, this has nothing to do with necessarily ADHD, but just with age. Somebody will say something to me, "Remember this?" I really do not remember. No clue that this happened, that I said it. Is that just an age thing because I’m turning 50 in a month. So maybe that’s all it is. I don’t know.
Pete Wright: Welcome to the birthday anxiety show. You didn’t know this is what you were getting. We’re glad you’re here.
Ari Tuckman: Yeah, my pleasure. So I’m a couple years ahead you on that one, but I mean, some of it is age. A little bit of that is age. Certainly menopause is not your friend when it comes to this kind of stuff. So that’s probably the more likely culprit.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah, yeah. I’ve been told that too, Ari Tuckman
Ari Tuckman: I know, I know.
Nikki Kinzer: Thanks a lot.
Ari Tuckman: Right. I’m familiar with the process. I mean also just in general, right? Being overwhelmed, having too much on your mind in general, feeling stretched too thin or just in that moment being a bit preoccupied. It’s sort of like the information doesn’t get taken in, held in attention, processed and then passed back into long term memory. So it’s not actually a memory problem in the sense that your hard drive doesn’t work. It’s that the hard drive didn’t get enough. And that’s a thing where then your friend says "No, remember? Blah, blah, blah. And this was happening. And then I this," and you’re like, "Oh, okay. Yeah. All right." There’s a little bit of something that got written onto the hard drive, but not enough that you could, bing, spontaneously kind of pull it forth. And sometimes it’s like, ain’t nothing there where you’re like, "I have absolutely no memory of that. I’m not even sure that was me." So but it seems like a memory problem. It’s really more of an attention problem in the sense that you didn’t have your full attention, so the information didn’t flow through attention and back into long term memory. Or alternatively, it might be a thing that at the moment of where you’re trying to recall it, again, otherwise kind of preoccupied or whatever. You’re not putting your full resources to drawing it out of long term memory.
Nikki Kinzer: So would mindfulness be something where if you practice that if you’re really trying to be very present in the moment, would that help you capture that memory and have it stored into long term memory?
Ari Tuckman: Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, definitely. Okay. And just in general, I think about all this sort of good communication advice, all this ADHD communication advice, which is really just good general communication advice, like don’t be looking at your phone, don’t have the TV on don’t have kids and dogs running through the room when you’re trying to talk, summarize what you said, ask questions. All that stuff is really about helping us kind of keep the desired information front and center in attention, process it enough to really kind of understand it and do something with it. So then it gets chucked back into long term memory. Well, that implies that distraction is the enemy of both making memories and it’s the enemy of recall.
Nikki Kinzer: And keeping them, yeah.
Pete Wright: It’s a great way of putting it.
Nikki Kinzer: I’m always a little surprised when I’ll talk to a newer client and I’ll ask them how do they capture their tasks or how do they kind of organize their projects? And it doesn’t happen a lot, but every once in a while I’ll have that person that says, "Oh, I keep everything in my head."
Ari Tuckman: Oh, are they 15 year old boys with ADHD?
Pete Wright: Are you in my house right now? For crying out loud.
Nikki Kinzer: No! That’s the thing!
Ari Tuckman: All my 15 year old boys with ADHD that I see…
Nikki Kinzer: That’s what they think.
Ari Tuckman: They don’t have time to write it down. They’re amazing.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah. Yeah. For sure.
Pete Wright: They also haven’t showered in six days.
Nikki Kinzer: Well, I have a 20 year old who thinks the same thing. Yeah, and haven’t cleaned their room or taken the trash out. So I get that. No, but it was always surprising to me a little bit that I think they truly believe that, but yet you’re coming to coaching because obviously there’s an issue here of not remembering or not getting things done. So, I mean, I will always say like, "That’s not a great strategy. We don’t want to keep it in your head," but what would you say if somebody says, "Well, I just keep it in my head"?
Ari Tuckman: Yeah. So this is definitely a thing that I’ve got some thoughts and even a couple lines on. Almost never, when somebody tells me that, do I have the thought, "Wow, I’ve just met the great Foreskin with the amazing memory."
Pete Wright: Boy, they really have it together.
Nikki Kinzer: Who has ADHD, yeah.
Ari Tuckman: Right. They have this spectacular photographic memory. Nikki, like you said, if they’re killing it, why are they paying you? They got better things to do than hang out with us. No offense to either of us.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah. Totally.
Ari Tuckman: So usually what I think is either you have no idea how much you’re forgetting or there’s a bit of resistance to actually addressing how much you’re forgetting or something. So usually the line that I take with this is, if you can remember inside your head everything you have going on in your life, then you don’t have enough going on in your life. You want a life that’s busy enough, that’s interesting, that has got a bunch of different… Maybe that’s just me. I don’t know. You want a lot of stuff going on so that it exceeds your internal memory capacity. Rich, fulfilling.
Nikki Kinzer: That’s the point.
Pete Wright: Balancing and stretching you in new ways.
Ari Tuckman: Yeah, exactly. So I mean, look, we didn’t set this thing up 20 minutes ago. Right? You didn’t just call me and say, "Hey, are you free now? Let’s do it." I don’t know when we set this up, a month ago or something? So obviously, this went into my calendar. So the other thing of it is, sometimes, the folks who say they can just remember everything are also then the ones who, I don’t know, let’s just say are not happy with other people kind of nudging them, nagging them, poking at them about stuff. What they’re not necessarily fully appreciating is if you don’t do it, other people will step in for you, usually your mom or your spouse or your boss or your coworker because your lack of paying attention to it is making them anxious. They see what isn’t getting done. So it kind of becomes this, I don’t know, this kind of antagonistically dependent kind of interaction or relationship. "Don’t tell me what to do, except I need you to." "Wait mom, when is that?" So it’s like, they don’t like it, but they can’t change it either. And hopefully then, fingers crossed, that by better understanding their ADHD by maybe talking to someone, maybe a little bit of the right medication, now they have the option to actually be able to track this stuff in a way that’s actually helpful and hits the mark often enough. So maybe now it’s worth kind of taking a chance and not just doing this whole like, "Well, I don’t really care, whatever," which is kind of a way of not having to put themselves out there in risk failure.
Nikki Kinzer: So there’s a resistance sometimes from people that don’t want their computer to tell them what to do. So they don’t want the computer or the reminder, "do this, do that." But yet they’re still looking for some kind of structure to put these thoughts and these things that they need to remember. Any happy medium that you’ve found that’s flexible enough for the ADHD mind but still gives you those reminders when we need them?
Ari Tuckman: Yeah, so this totally feeds into what I’m going to be talking about at the big ADHD conference that Chad had at ACO we’re doing. So in November in Dallas. So I often have this thing come up where clients will say, "Oh, I’ve tried setting alarms, but they don’t work because I just turn off the alarm, and I don’t do the thing anyway." And my response to that is, "No, actually the alarm did exactly the thing it’s supposed to do." The point of an alarm is it makes you aware. "Oh yeah, that thing at this time. Here we are." What it doesn’t do is make you motivated to do it. That’s a different job. You need a different tool for that job. Now, of course, if you don’t have awareness, game over. We’re done. So setting some sort of reminder, an alarm, whether it’s your computer, your phone or a person in your life, to see it as "all this si doing is making me aware. I now have the opportunity to think about whether I actually want to do this or not." So it doesn’t make you do it. It just gives you the opportunity to think about it. And maybe it isn’t the time, or maybe, frankly, it is the time even though you don’t feel like doing it. So then you need to really think about, what am I doing with this? Does this make the cut? Is this important to me? Why is this important to me? How am I going to feel about this later? Not, do I want to do this now, because probably the answer is no. By the way, the answer will also be no tomorrow. How am I going to feel about this later? Why does this matter? Why is this important? That’s how you get to the motivation to actually do the thing. And in the bigger picture is to sort of think about it. Is this worth it to me, if I set these reminders or create a schedule or tell someone I’m going to do something? Do I want to be held to it? Because if I can accept that I might have to be held to it because there’s enough benefit, fine. If I don’t want to be held to it, then make that decision front and say "Look, I’m not going to do this. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. I can’t promise you either way." So sometimes part of it is being more intentional about what you agree to or not.
Nikki Kinzer: Well, and it’s more empowering, I think that way because I think that if you don’t have the reminder and you forget, then that power kind of choice is taken away from you because it’s already passed and you forgot to do it and you didn’t get to do it. But when you have the reminder, you get that empowerment of making that choice and thinking about those questions that you were asking to make a decision that later you can say, "I made that decision because of this. It wasn’t just taken from me because I didn’t remember."
Ari Tuckman: And that’s exactly it. Make an affirmative decision. Own it. Either way, I don’t care what you decide. But make a real decision. To say, "Oh, I’ll just remember it," it’s a bit of a passive decision. You’re sort of making the choice without actually having to leave your fingerprints on it.
Nikki Kinzer: Right. Right.
Pete Wright: All right. Forgive my colorful language, but my inner child is a 15 year old petulant dick.
Nikki Kinzer: It’s out now. We all know.
Pete Wright: It’s out. And so first of all, reframing, Nikki and I were just having this conversation about reframing, not just what an alarm does, but what a therapist does or an ADHD coach does. They’re not there to remind you to do the thing and then do the thing for you, whatever the thing is. This idea of discovering that well of motivation and coming to terms with, is this thing important to me, is such a critical step. And I know we’re talking about memory, but insofar as you have some thoughts on helping one build a stronger relationship with that 15 year old petulant dick because I’m not alone. I don’t want to out anybody in the chat room, but they’re outing themselves and they all agree. They’re all fighting the same kid in themselves. What do you think?
Ari Tuckman: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think it’s big and important and it does go deeper. Memory is sort of a little bit simple and kind of, I don’t know, just cognitive, strategic, tactical, whatever, but there is this kind of deeper emotional part. And a lot of the work that I do when I see the 15 year old dicks is to help them figure out, what do you actually want? We know what your parents and teachers or whoever, we know their opinions about you. What do you actually want? What matters to you? And I can totally appreciate this sort of oppositional thing of don’t tell me what to do. I work for myself. So I’m not the stranger to that thought. And yet, is it really serving you? Are you picking the right battles or are you just picking battles to fight? Are you picking a battle because you don’t actually know what you want? What am I doing with myself here? Is school actually important to me? What does it get me? Am I willing to suffer for it? And in that case, somebody giving you a reminder is not necessarily just for their agenda. It might also be for yours. What do I stand to gain in this?
Pete Wright: I can impersonate somebody who has it together pretty quickly. I can also know that he’s screaming back here all the time.
Nikki Kinzer: Oh yeah.
Pete Wright: And sometimes that works. Sometimes that allows you to just get over whatever the next hump is. But at some point, addressing your point, you’ve got to realize what is important to me. For example, is the pain that I’m experiencing now, or the action I’m about to take just because it’s a dopamine hit worth the pain that I will suffer as a relation to it later that isn’t immediate pain? That sort of either delayed or intermittent reinforcement of pain is sometimes the trick that allows me to keep having the fight and not just coming to terms.
Ari Tuckman: And that’s definitely true. I mean, there’s a number of things you said, so the intermittentness of it, like, ‘Ooh, I might get away with it." And that’s true. You might actually. So let’s be honest, you got to put that into the math but there’s also the part, and I mean, we all do this to some extent, but some people in the world do it much more. And folks at ADHD tend to be in that latter group that we don’t feel the future as much as we feel the present. So the suffering of doing the thing you don’t want to do right now feels much bigger than the reward for doing it, the later reward for doing it or the later suffering for not having done it. So it becomes a bit of an unfair fight, right? It’s hard to talk yourself into it. It just doesn’t feel worth it. And then later, by the time you do feel it, it’s kind of too late maybe to change it. so all of the alarms that we set also need to be accompanied by something that has immediate reinforcement, some sort of traps or electricity has been used in these sorts of cases before.
Nikki Kinzer: Like the shack-tato.
Ari Tuckman: Shack-tato. I still have it right here.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah. Oh, yeah. See, this is a potato that shocks you.
Pete Wright: This is no longer on the market, Ari.
Nikki Kinzer: A really interesting tool.
Pete Wright: You turn it on and it plays the music to psycho. And when the music stops, it shocks the crap out of you.
Ari Tuckman: Wow.
Pete Wright: And so you have to like throw it, but it’s also broken.
Ari Tuckman: You go do something.
Pete Wright: And so it sometimes doesn’t shock you, but sometimes shocks you real hard. That’s what it is.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah, that’s fine.
Ari Tuckman: So you’re not supposed to drop it if you do the task?
Pete Wright: Only if you do the task! God, must finish email. This is so hard one handed
Nikki Kinzer: That positive psychology, positive reinforcement. We don’t know. We don’t do that. We just shock each other.
Pete Wright: Right.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah. No, no, no. But one thing I do want to highlight just because I think it’s an important distinction is what you said earlier, Ari, about the tool, or the alarm is just the tool to remind you. It’s not the motivator. And I think that’s really important for people to hear because I think it’s really easy to immediately believe alarms don’t work for me. This doesn’t work for me or I can’t do a planner or the calendar’s always a mess. When you can separate the tool of it being a tool and then what are the other strategies to get you started and to make it happen kind of two different things that we’re talking about.
Pete Wright: Well, and isn’t this also what causes us to kick our reminders to the next day. I’ll get an alert that says, "Pete, do this thing on this day," and I’ll see it. And I’ll be like, "Oh, and it just reminded me. It did its job. And now I’m going to say, remind me again tomorrow." And we’ll see what the list of red tasks looks like. Really, it sounds to me like that reconditioning. This hasn’t met me at the intersection of interest and Goodwill. At some point some it might, but it might also…
Ari Tuckman: I mean the other piece of it is sometimes whenever I talk about setting reminders to actually pause for a sec and think about it, like, "Okay, so where will I be at that time? What else is going on? Is this a likely good time? Or is this not?" So some of the magic of setting reminders is being a little bit intentional about when the reminder goes off. So it’s more likely to happen. But there’s also the thing of, I don’t know, Pete, I got to think at least sometimes, I’m going to give you some credit here, strategically speaking, it’s actually not the time to do that thing. I’m actually doing more important things. So sorry, reminded thing, you don’t make the cut. You’re not number one right now. And to slide it off is actually kind of a reasonable choice. So kind of give yourself credit for those moments. Also give yourself credit for sliding the reminder to another time, not just turning it off.
Pete Wright: Well, I’ll lean in on you giving me credit. This is where I come back to visual scheduling, block scheduling actual tasks on my calendar. I would be completely hopeless if I didn’t have my weekly calendar and see a task come up and say, "Okay, I’m going to move that to another open spot on my calendar" rather than just not doing it or putting it on the same time tomorrow. That process for me has saved my life being able to be intentional about that. I couldn’t do my ADHD without it. That’s my accommodation.
Ari Tuckman: But that is exactly what I recommend. I’m so glad that you’re saying that is scheduling time non-specific tasks into your schedule. So not just to-do lists. To to-do lists are graveyards of failed aspirations like, "Maybe one day I’ll do this," but it’s also kind of like, "Oh, here’s a thing. Is now the time? I don’t know, maybe. What about this other thing next to it? I don’t know, maybe. Or the other one, maybe that’s actually the thing to do." So it’s sort of like a lot of nothing happening.
Nikki Kinzer: Or I’d rather just pet my new kitten.
Pete Wright: Yeah. Right, right.
Nikki Kinzer: That sounds like fun.
Pete Wright: That is always the better, the more enjoyable option.
Nikki Kinzer: Totally.
Ari Tuckman: So that’s not even a competition. So actually taking stuff from the to-do list and sticking it into your schedule at specific times, it’s not just appointments or meetings that have a specific time that go into your schedule, but this other stuff gets put in there too, makes it way more likely that it’s going to happen. I mean, it’s not a blood oath. You’re not held to it, but it tips the odds.
Pete Wright: That’s exactly the way I think about it. And I think the benefit of this kind of block scheduling for me is that when a reminder comes up for a thing on my calendar, the one thing I’m not looking at is my to-do list with all the other stuff to choose from. I’m eliminating choice. If it’s that one thing that’s on my schedule and a new kitten, I only have to make a decision between those two things, not the other 50 tasks that are on my schedule for today and a kitten.
Nikki Kinzer: Right. And we do have a new kitten. His name is Toby.
Pete Wright: Of course you do.
Nikki Kinzer: I’ll have pictures. Yeah.
Ari Tuckman: Nice. Awesome.
Pete Wright: Go ahead, Nikki. Sorry.
Nikki Kinzer: Oh, I bet, Pete, you’re going to say the same thing.
Pete Wright: You do it though. It’s your show.
Nikki Kinzer: Okay. Well I just want to go back to the memory. Are there some tangible, like takeaways that people that are listening can say, "Hey, I want to try this" or some strategies or things about that working memory?
Ari Tuckman: I mean, some of this is… What we’re talking in terms of the scheduling is kind of capturing it. So it’s not in your head. You’re kind of, as Barkley says, you externalize it, take it out of your head and put it out onto something. So by intentionally planning out your schedule or taking a reminder and putting it into your schedule or whatever, it offloads it from your memory. So then your memory can do the other things that it has to remember.
Pete Wright: Can I inject something here? I need you to say out loud that offloading or externalizing the things that you feel are important for you to do is not a failure of you as a person because I hear that all the time.
Ari Tuckman: Let me come back to my line. If you can remember inside your head, everything you have going on in your life, your life is too damn boring. Come on, man. You got to have more than that.
Pete Wright: It’s not a moral [inaudible 00:35:38]. You’re still a good person.
Ari Tuckman: And here’s the thing, folks who don’t have ADHD who are highly productive and effective, you think they’re not writing stuff down? Really? You think they’re just winging it through their day?
Nikki Kinzer: Exactly. Yeah.
Pete Wright: Okay. I interrupted you, please go on.
Ari Tuckman: But it’s a good point that there are folks who feel like it’s a shortcoming. If I write it down people are going to think I’m dumb or something but I don’t know. Hell, I would rather be known as that guy who’s always writing stuff down as opposed to that damn guy who’s always forgetting stuff. So if you know yourself then act on it. Say, "Hey, give me a sec, let me write this down." And almost no one is going to be offended. They’re all going to say, "Awesome. That person is taking this seriously. I’m so glad that they want to do this thing I’m talking to them about." Or I don’t know, if they catch you in the middle of something, don’t just be like, "Oh, I’ll try to remember it." Say, "Do me a favor. I’m sort of in the middle of something. I can’t really write this down. Shoot me a quick text or send me an email or catch me tomorrow." So give them a little bit of a job that will make them happier in the end. They’re not doing you a favor. They’re doing them a favor because you forgetting it does not do them a favor. They are not better off for you forgetting. So a little bit of effort on their part, they will be happier for it. But you have to have that ability to be sort of confident enough in yourself to be accepting enough of yourself. But the other side of it, this is a line from Stephanie Sarcas who actually forgot she said it and then heard me say it and then started quoting me. She gave me credit for it. She’s just a good friend that she comes up with an awesome line and then gives me credit for it. But so Steph has this awesome line where she says, "ADHD is the worst kept secret." You think people don’t know that you forget stuff. Really? Seriously? You think that’s going to work out? It’s like being six months pregnant, like, "Oh, don’t tell anyone. No, they already know. Trust me, they already know. So at least if you can show a seriousness of purpose, if you can show that you’re responsible, that you are working at least as hard as them, they will appreciate it. And they will overlook the rest. It’s when they don’t think that you’re trying, that’s when people are going to be much less forgiving.
Nikki Kinzer: I can see that being really important in relationships between partners and spouses, that I’m trying. I am trying to not forget that it’s important to you for me to do this. Interesting.
Ari Tuckman: Yeah. I’m going to quote somebody else. So Jessica McKay, I did a thing on her channel, and she had this awesome line where she said, talking about kind of leaving a mess for her roommate. And she had this line where she said, "This is me trying." So it’s not the outcome. The roommate was hoping, and it’s not what the roommate would’ve done because the roommate I think is more easily organized than she is. But the line is important because it’s, "this is me trying. I am actually doing the best that I can here, even if it falls short from what you are hoping for." But again, most people, unless they’re a giant dick, are going to be kind of forgiving if there’s effort and intention. Where we become less forgiving is when it feels intentional. You don’t care enough or you’re purposely sticking it on me or whatever. That’s where the real problems in relationships come from, whether it’s romantic relationships, roommates, coworkers, neighbors, whatever. So putting the effort and make sure that the other person knows that you’re putting in the effort, especially when the outcome doesn’t seem to indicate the level of effort you’ve put in.
Nikki Kinzer: That’s great.
Pete Wright: One last, last question. Can you comment on state dependent memory?
Ari Tuckman: Sure.
Nikki Kinzer: Well, you have to tell me what that even means. State dependent memory. What does that mean? Okay.
Ari Tuckman: This is like a psych 101.
Pete Wright: Yes it is.
Ari Tuckman: So the idea is… So the state that you’re in makes it easier to remember or if you’re in the same state when you’re trying to remember it, you’re more likely to remember something that happened when you’re in that same state when you recorded the memory, so to speak.
Nikki Kinzer: So if I’m at a wedding and I’m happy, I might remember my own wedding when I was happy at that wedding or something? Is that what you mean?
Ari Tuckman: Exactly.Yeah. That you might access those memories of your own wedding more readily. Or I don’t know, if you’re depressed, you’re going to remember more negative things. If you’re happy, you’ll remember more positive things.
Nikki Kinzer: I see.
Ari Tuckman: So, I mean, I do think that’s a thing because we sort of take cues from the situation that we’re in externally around us, but also internally in terms of how we feel. So that is definitely a thing that happen. So I guess my question, Pete, to you is where you going with that?
Pete Wright: So when I was in college taking psych 101, undoubtedly, I would find myself with a study group and we would just, college, so stupid. The thing that they give you all day long is just massive free fountain drinks at the cafeteria. You can go in any of the dorm cafeterias and they have give you this eco Tumblr that’s like 64 ounces, but you put it on, you strap into your backpack and you wander around drinking free sodas all day long. And I would find that we’d stay up all night studying probably for psych 101 and would be remembering all these things and quizzing each other and we’d be doped up on caffeine and then do terribly on the test until we started doping up on caffeine right before the exams. And we always wrote that off to that state dependent memory. We got to get ourselves up, and I’m wondering if we’re lying to ourselves and each other retroactively. And is there any sense to figuring out or at least being cognizant of your state as you’re trying to remember important things?
Ari Tuckman: Yeah. No, I think it’s probably both. I’m sure the caffeine itself neurologically was helpful.
Pete Wright: There are all kinds of ways where, way too many ways we’re lying to ourselves. That’s true.
Ari Tuckman: But probably I think there’s something to it. Right? That being in that same state probably did help. But I think the takeaway on this is when we’re trying to remember something is to either physically put yourself into that environment or emotionally into that state, or at least mentally, because you can’t always get there, to just sort of like think around it. "So wait. So what was going on and who was there and what was I wearing? And let me try to picture this and what happened before and what happened after," to try to sort of rebuild the scenario because the more cues you have, the more sort of webs in to that piece that you can’t quite grab, that piece that’s out of your memory. So I don’t know. I remember, this is long ago. I was talking to some drummer from some band that I saw and I ran into him in a different city. I think I was living in Philly and then I’d moved to DC or something. And he said it took him a second because he remembers people, but it’s specific to the city. The context helps him be like, "Oh yeah, you’re that person." So it’s kind of exactly that same thing. So to try to recreate situation in which the memory was born.
Nikki Kinzer: Well, because you can see somebody and you know you know them, but you’re trying to figure out like, "Okay, was that from high school? College, after college? Where you live?" Yeah. Yeah. I can totally see that.
Ari Tuckman: Exactly.
Pete Wright: This also gets to the whole idea of attaching a pneumonic to that. I can totally see the drummer saying, "Oh that’s Philly Ari." You can kind of make that. This goes back to one of my very favorite books, The Memory Palace of Mateo Ricci, which is all about using memory and how he taught… He was a priest and he went to spread religion to the Chinese, and in exchange, was able to teach this idea of memory palaces where you build this structure in your head and assign memories, facts, things, names, places to it. And for some people, the stories I always seem to hear are like, "Hey, he was in prison for 20 years and developed a sky rise is his brain and could remember anything," but it is a practice. It is a practice one can develop to help memory. So anyway, I appreciate your insights on that.
Nikki Kinzer: I can always tell when my husband had an idea or something he wants to remember in the middle of the night because he always throws something in the middle of the floor.
Pete Wright: What a great idea.
Nikki Kinzer: So there’ll be like a piece of clothing or there’ll be something in his sink and I’m like, "Oh, he’s trying to remember something, something he thought of last night."
Pete Wright: Well, it’s another trick.
Ari Tuckman: But that’s exactly it. Well, it’s the thing of tie a piece of string around your finger. Almost never is that a reminder to buy more strength.
Pete Wright: Then you end up with string hoarder and run-on string. Yeah.
Ari Tuckman: Yet again, used to all our string. Got to go buy some more.
Nikki Kinzer: I’ve got to get some more.
Pete Wright: I wish I remembered to actually pay the electric bill. So hey, look. All right. This has been fantastic as always. You’re a gentleman and scholar. Appreciate you being here with us. Where do you want to send people to learn more about your work, doing anything fun?
Ari Tuckman: Probably best place is adultADHDbook.com, and that’s got a bunch of information. It’s got some recordings and book chapters and stuff like that.
Nikki Kinzer: And you’ll be speaking at the ADHD conference, which is in Dallas this year in November.
Ari Tuckman: It is.
Nikki Kinzer: So all of our listeners, if you’re around there, you should go.
Ari Tuckman: Yeah. The first in-person conference in three years, which is going to be awesome. I cannot wait.
Nikki Kinzer: I’ll be there. I have my plane ticket ready to go.
Ari Tuckman: Excellent.
Pete Wright: Everybody’s going to be way too excited.
Nikki Kinzer: That’ll be nice to reconnect people with people in person. It feels like it’s been a really long time.
Ari Tuckman: There’s awesome conversations in the hallway, loitering in the lobby.
Nikki Kinzer: Exactly.
Ari Tuckman: All that stuff.
Nikki Kinzer: The bar.
Ari Tuckman: The bar.
Pete Wright: Speaking of state-dependent memory, good luck with that. Well, this is, this has been a real treat. Thank you, Ari. Thank you everybody for hanging out with us for downloading and listening to this show. We sure appreciate all that you do for us and your time and attention. Don’t forget, if you have something to contribute to the conversation, we’re headed over to the show talk channel in our Discord server. You can join us right over there by becoming a supporting member at the deluxe level or better. On behalf of Ari Tuckman and Nikki Kinzer, I’m Pete Wright, and we’ll see you right back here next week on Taking Control; the ADHD podcast.