What Is Working Memory?

What Is Working Memory

What is Working Memory

What Is Working Memory



What IS Working Memory

Adults and children with ADHD struggle often with working memory. But what is working memory? Let’s take a look at what working memory is, and why it’s a struggle for us.

Working memory, both verbal and non-verbal, are some of your executive functions.  Working memory is the part of your brain that keeps you on track and on time. Our brains have both automatic and executive systems.

Our automatic systems handle most of what we do on a day to day basis. Blinking, breathing, and many things that we do with our bodies we do without thinking about it, those are handled by the automatic systems.

The executive system handles the remaining things we do – and executive system requires conscious thought and effort to complete. And for ADHD folks, executive functioning can be exhausting. It’s exhausting because executive function is made up of multiple different brain activities, including working memory. 




Working Memory vs Short Term Memory?

There are three types of memory – working memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory.  In general, short term memory is super quick and stores things briefly.  Working memory is related, but requires the ability to manipulate that information and process it.

Short term memory is the part of your brain that allows you to briefly pull something out of your long term memory. Working memory is what allows you to put those short term memories into actions. The processing piece of working memory helps a person focus on a specific piece of information long enough to use it.

Working memory allows you to hear a phone number, and remember it long enough to dial it. Or read the directions on a box of macaroni and cheese once and then make it.  People who struggle with working memory may need to look at the box over and over again while they are making the macaroni and cheese.

One of the key differences between short term and working memory is that with working memory the person must be able to ignore other info and distractions long enough to focus and complete the task.  A person may have great short term memory and still struggle with working memory.


How Does ADHD Impact Working Memory

We all know that ADHD directly affects executive functioning and that folks with ADHD typically have struggles in multiple areas of their executive functions.  Executive functions are what allows you to utilize information and resources to complete a goal.

The stronger your working memory is, the less work your brain has to do to complete each new activity. This is often exhausting for folks with ADHD.

Struggling with working memory can impact academic or employment achievement, ability to organize, prioritize, emotionally regulate, and independently work. It can impact your ability to pay bills, keep up with household chores, and cause you to struggle with timeliness. 

It can impact intimate relationships and friendships when a partner/friend feels unheard or unimportant because working memory deficits can appear is if we don’t care enough. It can impact friendships, jobs, hobbies, and even cause sleep disturbances.

It can impact self esteem after years of being misinterpreted as lazy, unmotivated, uncaring, disobedient, unintelligent or incapable. It creates a lot of what’s known as “ADHD Tax” – the cost we pay (money, time, or energy) because of an ADHD symptom. In working memory that tax shows up as extra fees from forgotten subscriptions, late fees, time spent going back to get the things we forget, arriving late and/or unprepared.

It can also cause anxiety or perfectionism when an ADHD person knows they have a deficit so focuses all their energy on doing things “right.”

As you can see, struggling with working memory is one of the big challenges for ADHD kids and adults. The good news is, you can both improve your working memory and find ways to accommodate any deficits.




Find Out How I Can Help

As an Master Certified ADHD Affirming Coach who also has ADHD, I’d love to help you strengthen your working memory. Schedule a time for a free, no obligation chat today.


Book A Time To Talk Today


Keep watching the blog and social media posts – next month I’ll be posting a follow up blog to this What Is Working Memory post with tips and tricks for improving your (or your child’s) working memory.

Make sure you follow me on whatever social media platforms you are on, you can find all my social media links below.

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Contact me if you have any questions, thoughts, ideas, etc. I love hearing from you all. My email is Kat@AllBelong.com


Kat Sweeney, MCLC


🌻Don’t Delay Joy🌻

Kat Sweeney, MCLC






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