Have you ever studied for a test and felt prepared only to have your mind seem blank when the test was in front of you? If it hasn’t happened to you, you are one of the lucky few that haven’t had this experience.


Multiple things can contribute to such and occurrence. However, the way the information is connected in your brain is often a significant contributor to the mind going blank.


Often, this occurs because of the environment in which a person studies. The person may have sprawled out on their bed, put on their headphones, and listened to music while they studied. This helped them tune out the world around them and focus on the information that they were studying. They may have reviewed the materials for class and studied until they dropped.  By the time they finished, the person may have been confident that they would land a high score on the test.


The next day they sat down at their desk confident that they were well prepared. However, when they looked down at the test, panic set in. They felt confused as everything on the test looked like a foreign language.   “How could this happen?” the person asked themselves. After all, they had studied for hours and thought they had everything memorized.


The issue in this situation likely arose because of the drastic change in environment from a comfortable relaxed situation with music to a silent environment sitting in a hard uncomfortable chair. The pathways to the studied information were new and fragile. They had not been reinforced enough times in various situations to truly imprint and create strong connections. Therefore, they were difficult to retrieve in a different setting.


At this point, the situation often worsens because anxiety sets in further hindering recall. By the end of class, the person who studied and began the day with confidence in their ability to do well on the test may be worrying if they will receive a passing grade.


This story is only one sample of the many reasons that a person may not recall information in a particular situation. Our memories are held within a very complex, intertwined system of connections. Therefore, recall can be sensitive to a variety of factors. Fortunately, we have established multiple ways to access much of the information allowing us to retrieve the information in various situations.


The next time you are having difficulty retrieving some piece of information – a name, how to do some task, or where you left your car keys – try remembering the context of when, where, and how you learned or last knew that information. You just might find that you can access that information after all!





When I was young, I enjoyed “Connect the Dots” pictures. When you connected the dots, which had a number or letter next to them, in correct numerical or alphabetical order, an image would appear.  You could then color the image.  “Connect the Dots” images continue to be used  today as a learning tool. 


“Connect the Dots” for young children generally are simple with part of the image already drawn. Having a portion of the image visible assists the child in seeing the connections that they needed to make. In contrast, “Connect the Dots” for older children are sometimes quite abstract. In this case,  the picture only comes into focus as the dots are connected.


I am not sure who originally created “Connect the Dot” pictures. However, it appears the originator created them as a game to make learning fun. Yet, they are more representative of how humans think than the creator probably realized.


Human beings are constantly connecting the dots. One of the earliest connections that children likely make is that if they cry, someone will feed them or change their diaper. As children grow and develop more advanced thinking, the connections they create become more complex.  By the time people reach adulthood, connecting the dots is so ingrained in their brains that they do it thousands, if not millions, of times per day.


An individual’s truths, beliefs, and perspectives develop over time through a series of connections and observations.   In turn, all of these factors combine and recombine to create new connections, conclusions, and perspectives.


Conclusions and generalizations occur when connections are made  a path of connections is followed repeatedly.  When a connection occurs enough times, it becomes  an unconscious automatic connection or path. On one hand, this is a great benefit.  Without automatic connections,  humans would be continually relearning information and reassessing situations. The ability to build upon prior connections and paths allows learning and achievement that would otherwise be impossible. On the other hand, it is these very connections and pathways that can lead to gross generalizations and invalid conclusions.


Unconscious connections and pathways are like deep ruts that were created when the wagon trains went over the Oregon Trail.  Once a person’s thinking or a wagon’s wheels are in a rut, it is nearly impossible to adjust course.  Information may only be a few steps away, but still be completely unattainable.  It might as well be on the other side of the mountain because there is no way to venture over to it to check it out.


Reinforced pathways is the primary  reason that people tend to become stuck in their ways as they age. Unless a person is continually looking at information from different perspectives, they will have difficulty trying a new path because the old paths are too strong. This is why it is so very important for people of all ages to continually learn new things and to challenge their own thinking.


A good indicator that it is time for a person to infuse themselves with new ideas is when they  find themselves saying, “But, that’s the way it has always been done.”  Likewise, it is time for a person to consider if the other  has a point if they automatically reject any idea that doesn’t align with their beliefs, thoughts, or perspectives.


It is so important that people of all ages continually infuse new ideas into their thinking.  Those ideas challenge previous ideas, beliefs, and perspectives, allowing people to make new creations by connecting the dots differently. The challenge is to keep changing the picture!