If you think you don't have a good memory, you probably don't. It is not just a matter of self-awareness. Beliefs about memory ability can cause poor memory. If you believe you have such a weakness, you may not do what is necessary to improve your memory capability.
Our cultural perspective on mental deterioration in the elderly may actually be a cause of poor memory. Researchers have noticed that older people do NOT have poor memories if they live in cultures (such as China) where old age is venerated and there is no general bias about mental deterioration with age. Picking up on this theme, a Harvard University researcher studied 90 people, age 60 or older, and found he could change their memory task performance by manipulating their beliefs about their memory skills.
The manipulation involved creating a bias about memory ability. Subjects viewed a list of about 50 words that either represented senile behaviors ("absent-minded," "senile," etc.) or represented "wise" behaviors ("sees all sides of issues," "smart," etc.). The lists were presented on a computer screen, and the subjects were asked to notice whether a flash occurred above or below a bulls eye that they were to focus on. Subjects were to signal the location of the flash as soon as they could with a computer key press. The rate of stimulus presentation was slow enough to allow the subliminal messages to be encoded but fast enough to keep them from being registered consciously. This was a way for the experimenter to make the conditioning subliminal and implicit. Messages were presented in five sets, each containing 20 words. Before and after the intervention, subjects were given three different kinds of memory tests that are known to assess the kinds of memory decline that occur in old age.