What It’s Like to Have Difficulty Remembering to Remember (Prospective Memory)

What It’s Like to Have Difficulty Remembering to Remember (Prospective Memory)

What It’s Like to Have Difficulty Remembering to Remember

(Prospective Memory)

One of my most frustrating ADHD-related difficulties is failing to “remember to remember.”

That ability is called “prospective memory.”

When I learn strategies for self-regulating, communicating, and organizing, lack of prospective memory makes it hard to remember to use them.

It also makes it difficult to stick with habits — which makes everything harder.

Too often, I forget to do the right thing at the right time. Then I feel stupid, awkward, and ashamed.


In the cartoon above, a man who failed to take his medicine explains to an upset woman who’s probably his wife, “It tastes good and is guaranteed to improve memory, but I can’t remember to take it.”

Like the man in the cartoon, some people with ADHD forget to take their medication because they lack the prospective memory to remember to remember to take it. So, they just “never get around to it.” 

It’s easy to appreciate the irony if it’s not happening to you.

It’s About Time (and Emotions)

My real problem is not that I don’t remember at all.

The problem is that I don’t remember at the right time.

I might remember at the wrong time. Sometimes I suddenly startle awake in the middle of the night, thinking of odd tasks I need to do that will have to wait til morning. Or I’ll remember on a crowded bus or train – or any time and place I can’t perform the task immediately, before I forget again.

It’s hardest to remember to remember when I’m emotional.

When I was young, my mother tried to teach me to calm myself when I started feeling angry by counting to 10. When the appropriate moment came, we’d already be starting to argue. My mind would be overflowing with anger, hurt, determination to be heard, fear of my own feelings, and attempts to calm down and communicate. 

It’s hard to suddenly stop all of that and think, “hey, there’s something I’m supposed to remember right now. What was it?” [1]

I had a chance, but only if I had thought about counting to 10 recently, and traces of my resolution were lingering in my subconscious.

That rarely happened. 

I was confused and frustrated because I never remembered to count to 10.

And I had no idea why.

I never heard about “prospective memory” until college, after I was already diagnosed with ADHD. Until then, it was just another mysterious inability to do normal things that I tried to block out as a child and figure out as a college student.


Where Is Prospective Memory in Your Life?

Think about any difficulty you have doing things, sticking with habits, or applying strategies you’ve learned. It will be easier if you’re neurodivergent, but we all have times when we’re inconsistent and fail to do the things we intend to do. 

How much of the difficulty comes from not remembering to remember at the right time?

Next time you’re trying to figure out, “why didn’t I do the thing?”, add prospective memory to the list of possible reasons.

Do you or someone you love have difficulty with prospective memory? How do you make it easier to remember to remember? Tell us in the comments and on Kind Theory’s social media

Emily Morson

About the Author

Emily M. is a writer fascinated by the infinite variety of human minds. She grew up inexplicably different and was diagnosed as an adult with several forms of neurodivergence, including ADHD and an auditory discrimination disability. Feeling as if she were living life without a user's manual, she set out to create her own. In the process, she met other neurodivergent people on similar quests. She began working with them, advocating for inclusion, accessibility, and autism acceptance. Seeking to understand how neurodiverse minds work, she became a cognitive neuroscience researcher.
Her favorite research topic: what do children learn from their intense, passionate interests? Wanting to help neurodivergent people more directly, she trained as a speech/language therapist. Ultimately, she turned to writing, combining research with personal experience to explain autism and ADHD and champion acceptance – because everyone is happier when they are seen and accepted for who they are. She envisions a world where neurodiverse people have equal opportunities for education, loving relationships, and meaningful work. 

She also blogs about autism and ADHD research at Mosaic of Minds. You can chat with her on Twitter: @mosaicofminds

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