When children first learn to count, they often use pebbles or other physical objects to aid them. Once they get good at counting on their fingers, it still takes time and effort to transfer this skill into a different context. Children who have learned to count using their fingers need to learn to do the exact same thing using pen and paper.

Applying our existing knowledge and skills in new situations is not a spontaneous process. It’s harder to apply something at our workplace if we learned it a long time ago in a classroom — sounds true, and is true, as confirmed by by university professors Susan M. Barnett and Stephen J. Ceci in 2002.

It doesn’t help that our brain was built to forget information that doesn’t seem relevant. Even if we paid attention while studying, and our brain encoded the information correctly, it may not have been consolidated into our long-term memory. That step can be influenced by anything—from how we slept that night, our stress and anxiety levels, or whether the new information conflicts with what we already know.

And even when we’ve done everything right and have the newly formed memories in our long-term storage, our current situation might be missing the cues that allow our brain to retrieve them. Think of all the times you went to the kitchen for something, only to find yourself there and not remembering what you wanted to do — you left the cue back in the other room.