Deluded about memory decay!

How do we prevent ourselves from being caught out by a series of events that ultimately lead us to having an accident?

Once we have been taught how to do something, then we will never forget how to do it!… Wrong! Anything that has been learnt and requires some conscious thought can be ‘unlearned’, forgotten and even misplaced or misunderstood with the passage of time. Even something so ‘natural’ as speaking can be forgotten if we do not speak for many years. There are plenty of examples of this from forgetting a second language or forgetting foreign words to forgetting a first and only language.

We are kidding ourselves if we believe that we will always remember skills or knowledge without any form of practice, recurrent training and self awareness that we need to brush up on our skills and knowledge.

When we lack the information and experience and practiced skills then we will at some point ultimately encounter a situation that we cannot deal with effectively. In our daily lives we face and deal with situations, mostly acceptably but many times we are just plain fortunate that events worked out as they did!

I’ve always been a great believer in repetition & targeted practice of scenarios, reviewing & applying knowledge to a given situation which will enable any rider to make better informed decisions which will allow improved avoidance performance and emergency drills execution!

The reason why riders and drivers have accidents is overwhelming due to the fact they were not expecting the situation to enfold as it did, were not prepared to deal with the situation and were ultimately paralysed in their ability to avoid or evade a hazardous situation.

So, why does this happen and why are we generally so poor at forecasting what our journeys will be like? Well it’s part initial and recurrent training that lacks a focus on worst case scenarios and specific and sustained training in those areas. It is part attitudinal as we will tend to believe that we are better than we actually are…we overestimate our abilities especially when we have not had to deal with an emergency situation. It is part physiological and mental as we will become forgetful as time passes or we will be influenced by bad information and practices which will result in us veering off centre.

So how is it that we can forget such fundamental information and skills that will assist us to maintain an accident free journey but even more so avoid those near misses that we were lucky to get away with.

People forget for lots of different reasons and there are continued studies in this field, but there are some common factors:

  1. Lack of use
  2. Distraction & interference
  3. Stress
  4. Lack of priority and motivation.

Even adding information may at some point lead someone to forget some fundamental knowledge and skills.

So with this mind how do we improve our own performance and how do we become aware enough to acknowledge that we need training?

I have worked in the aviation industry for a number of years and this basic awareness of our own natural deficiencies is fundamental to how we initially and recurrently train personnel and also it enables us to highlight and illustrate how we can all suffer from ‘decay’ even in a short period of time! There is a recurrent training and testing program that occurs in aviation, and in its best application will provide a supportive and nurturing aspect to improve performances! It will highlight deficiencies and how even ‘we as oracles’ are just as susceptible to being surprised by situations or our ineffectiveness to predict or deal with a given situation. We know or we are reminded repeatedly that we are never too good, we need to practice our skills, refresh our knowledge and be aware of influences that can distract us from the primary task… Whether it’s operating machinery in the sky, on a rail track, on the road… With two, three, four, six …or more wheels.

Whether we are deluding ourselves that we or our machines can still perform at the same high level in deteriorating weather and road conditions as we do in favourable conditions. Whether we believe that we will always perform to the best capability when we are not practiced and prepared. Whether we believe that we do not need help and ‘we will be ok’, we don’t need to refresh our skills or knowledge…

The fact remains that our performance, without attention, will degrade over time… We can make simple changes to our approach to learning and teaching and testing. We can change our attitude towards the awareness of these factors and we can prepare for the probabilities and eventualities with a much higher degree of success.

Success means no surprises which means no accidents which means uneventful and incident free journeys which has much farther reaching benefits to us all!