Why do we sometimes forget the steps of a task we’ve done many times before?


For example, I got out of the shower and could not for the life of me remember if I dry my hair with a towel before putting it in the hair turban.

Neither way seemed right, and the more I thought about it the more I honestly couldn’t remember. It once happened when I was in middle school and I never did figure out if I was doing the task the same way I used to before.

In: 7

Accessing abstract memories and executing tasks built over time into muscle memory are separate cognitive tasks.

Chances are your post-shower routine evolved after repeating the same tasks over and over again rather than planning out the task sequence ahead of time. The latter you would be able to execute from memory.

Your best bet is to hop in the shower again until you forget about this problem.

I have some numerical codes used as part of my banks’ logins, which I know by heart and enter every few weeks almost-instinctively.

A couple of times I’ve gone to enter the number and suddenly I’m not sure, or can only be sure of the first 4 out of 10 digits. This almost always happens when I’m multi-tasking, and listening to something or reading something numerical, which corrupts the recall. Having got corrupted, it might take until the next day, before I can remember it “unfiltered” without being corrupted by the recent uncertainty. Weird.

Occasionally I go to pour my cornflakes into my juice-glass instead of the bowl at breakfast, I don’t know why… but on at least one occasion it was when the routine was broken because I’d run out of juice …so the autonomous process got violated…?

So maybe the insight is that this happens when something you do incredibly often and autonomously gets interrupted by external events or an intrusive thought… and then your brain finds itself in a limbo state between replaying autonomous actions and ‘normal’ thinking when it’s paying attention?