Here’s an interesting project— try to think back to your earliest memory.
your VERY earliest.
Don’t worry, I’ll wait.
——- — — – – — – – – –
(insert waiting theme song from Jeopardy)
Okay, not that long. Geez, don’t have an aneurysm.
It’s really hard isn’t it? If you’re the average person you don’t have many memories before the age of 4.
Maybe a couple, a handful at most. They get progressively fuzzier, the younger you were when it happened.
Don’t feel bad. You can chalk it up to Childhood Amnesia.
Yup, that’s a real thing. Childhood Amnesia. Something about our brains not done forming or something stupid like that…..
And the worst part: it’s proven you actually remember less and less of your childhood as you get older.
I’m not talking about losing them when you’re old and wearing dentures. Right now. Whether you’re 14, 24, or 44. The memories are slipping through our fingers like sand. Not all at once, but rather -piece by piece. We cup our hands and hold most of it….but given enough time, the majority falls through the cracks.
So why does this matter?
Well, apart from sentimental reasons…..the little stories in our life will add up to the giant narrative.
We construct the base of our identity from these memories.
I like to think it works a lot like the Implicit memory. Every day, you tie your shoes, without thinking about how you do it. Although you only learned it once, it now it affects you subtly every day.
Certain experiences define us. They shape us. Mold us slowly into a different person.
The push-back: I know some people might say, “good! I don’t want to remember some of my childhood!”
but this is really extremely frustrating for me personally.
I didn’t always feel this way…..but I’ve realized I want to be able to tell my kids stories about everything– how I grew up, the good and the bad.
It makes me reconsider just exactly how much I may have intentionally blocked out too. It begs the question, can we intentionally try to recall those memories?
[Don’t worry, I’m not going all Inception on you. It happens all the time in our daily lives.]
For example, children who were abused maintain a sort of partial brick wall, which may come tumbling down when an event/person later on in life pulls the bottom one out. Believe it or not, that trigger is almost never a therapist, trying with all his might to force it to budge. It’s random. [ http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/article.aspx?articleid=173431 ]
If those extreme cases – the farthest, most disassociated, unwanted memories – can be salvaged……surely our normal ones can. Right?
Note: There is a difference between recognition and recall. —-Recognition is the association of a memory with an event or physical object you’ve encountered. So, you might see a baseball glove and suddenly remember how your grandfather took you to a Texas Ranger’s game. Recall is more like a Fill-In-The-Blank. It’s not even multiple choice. You have to remember something, with nothing in front of you to help.
So, what to do about this?
Well, the brain is a muscle, like any part of your body. Time to pump the iron.
If you’re looking to improve your memory, with training techniques, there might be far more indirect brain benefits than you realize:
It will keep you telling those hilarious stories at social events, lower your stress, keep you better organized, stay mentally healthy, more alert, and better grasp concepts.
My Practical Tips:
- Eat “Brain Food.”
Yes, I’m hitting you with the diet stuff first. Let’s get it out of the way. Hey, if it makes you feel better, I’m medically allowed to add wine to this list.
- Get enough sleep.
(Yes it’s that simple. No, we don’t do it.) Nothing makes for a foggy day like being sleep-deprived. The reverse is true: nothing makes you feel more alive and alert than a full night’s sleep.
- Carry around a notebook
Whether you’re nostalgic or frustrated, a new parent- creating a book of bedtime stories, or collecting material for your memoir, ALWAYS carry a note book with you. everywhere. Best advice I can give you.
Stimulates production of new synapses, essentially new pathways which are applicable to any situation (whereas learning Sudoku might not help except in number-related puzzles). Also, the increased oxygen to the brain= good thing. Trust me. Last but not least, when you work out, (whether cardio or weights) it releases the feel-good chemical endorphins. (see link for targeted work-out tips)
- Play video games (for real)
Neuroscientist Yaakov Stern of Columbia University said in an article, “It requires motor control, visual search, working memory, long-term memory, and decision making,” [also ability to control and switch attention among different tasks.] “People get better on tests of memory, motor speed, visual-spatial skills, and tasks requiring cognitive flexibility.”
- Stay creative.
Don’t just do busy-work and boring work. Do something everday you love, for you. Writer Charles Bukowski didn’t believe in the “tortured genius.” He believes our motives affect our performance.
It’s good for the soul. And apparently your memory retention? Also, don’t forget to laugh at yourself! Many memories are embarrassing, but don’t let that stop you. You might find some of them hilarious now, which you swore you’d never speak of again. In fact, tell it to a friend. Laugh until you cry. You never know, it might bring up other pieces of the event, if it happened with a friend.
- Drink green tea.
- No More Mean Girls. Make real friends & real memories.
Surround yourself with healthy relationships. Ok fine, we can still watch the movie. I just mean, friends are the ultimate memory booster. They always remember stuff for you, good or bad. They induce those memory recall situations. Not to mention, people are the most important memories.
- Try meditation, reading an old book, visiting where you grew up, yoga, crosswords & Sudoku, using Mnemonic devices, active listening to radio news, trivia games, or (my favorite) photo albums.
I’d love to know:
What proven method did I leave out?
What unconventional method works for you?
What’s your strongest memory?
What triggers your flashbacks?