How To Unstick Those File Drawers of Memory

How To Unstick Those File Drawers of Memory

When traveling to certain places, we move forward with our bodies and backwards in our memories. In other words, we advance into the past. These are the words of essayist Andres Neuman. Sometimes when I am reading, a sentence like this will strike me and I just want to explore it. Haven’t you found that going to a place, eating a certain food, encountering an old piece of clothing sparks and charges your memory? Suddenly you are in a place, looking at the past from where you stand in the present. It has to be the place, food, clothing etc that quickly opens the file drawer where your memory was stored.

Today John and I took a very familiar walk to the duck pond near our home. Maybe because I was thinking about this post, I was suddenly transported back to the ducks swimming on Dolphin Lake in Homewood, Illinois. The visit that stands out was one my husband captured in photographs–our two daughters feeding the ducks. Did that help store the memory? I think so.

Profound feelings of satisfaction filled me during that duck pond visit long ago. The sun was disappearing in the west, the water changing colors because of time of day and the ripples the ducks created in their excitement–food!  As parents we knew we were doing something ordinary, but the faces of our children told us that these were moments they would remember.

(I need to mention at this point that memory is a double-edged sword. I’m very aware of that. Recent research reveals that post-traumatic-stress-disorder,  PTSD, is all about memory–a very negative experience of being dragged back to a place a person does not want to be. It’s powerful and hard to cure. The file drawers of bad memory easily open and there are reasons for that.)

But today, let’s focus on the positive things we can all do to improve memory. Again, the brain is a powerful file cabinet that stores all of our experience. Often being in a new environment can get our synapses to spark even more–so that the storage of memory is enhanced. The drawer opens quickly and the memory is spread out before us–like my vision of our daughters feeding the ducks.

According to Carolyn Gregoire who writes for the Huffington Post, there are other things we can do to keep those file drawers from sticking (takes time for the memory to come) or from opening all together (we totally forget).

  • if you are a visual learner, take advantage of that; visualize the FOUR BEATLES if you have to be somewhere at 4:00 o’clock; I don’t have a photographic memory, but when studying in nursing school I could often remember details of a disease process, let’s say, by remembering where that list was on the printed page.
  • brain games like Lumosity, Suduko and crossword puzzles are credited with their ability to make memory more supple and fine tuned.
  • the Method of Loci or the “memory palace” was Cicero’s tool for enhancing memory. In this technique, you memorize the layout of some building or geographical entity and then assign to each place a memory. (if it were a street of shops, each shop holds one memory) Retrieval of items is achieved by ‘walking’ through the places you have established. Visualizing those places will activate what you need to remember.
  • Baker-Baker. Remembering a person’s name won’t work as well as remembering what he or she does for a living. The test case was used with the name, BAKER. People associated images of baking like pans and measuring cups–more things to help remember the name. A med student applied this principle using the story of Lance Armstrong to remember complex and detailed information about chemotherapy; Armstrong was the “hook” that helped him retrieve the medical details. When trying to remember paragraphs of information, create a “hook” that will act as a strong association to bring up the information more clearly.
  • take a nap; after storing information, resting the brain boosts storage and memory.
  • eat omega-3s that heighten working memory and fight against the risk of Alzheimer’s.
  • label people. FDR was able to remember the names of all of his staff, because he literately pictured their names printed on their foreheads. Another researcher suggests assigning a color to that name makes it even easier.
  • and the last one goes without saying and needs little research to back it up: pay attention and avoid distraction. You cannot remember complicated information for an exam if you are also listening to music or watching You-Tube.

At the end of each day, I always run through a list that I created years ago to organize tasks that I need to complete–maybe not every day, but certainly over time. This helps me keep things lined up and I can then have a working schedule of the next day’s tasks or events in my mind. It works. What do you do, Readers, to keep those file drawers sliding open in a flash??  Happy memory.

Thanks to:;

How To Unstick Those File Drawers of Memory

18 thoughts on “How To Unstick Those File Drawers of Memory

  1. In addition to visualizing it also help to write down the experience and to remember how you felt. This allows all three learning experiences to do their magic. I find that doing this enhances the remembering process (at least for me).

    • I think some people are very good at doing that. Emotion, positive and negative, registers experience–joy and pain–and increases the chance a visual will accompany. But if we associate feelings with something we simply want to remember, yes the drawer should open very quickly. Thanks.

  2. I find that being calm, when one is forgetful, is the best policy. Getting yourself all worked up and feeling out of place will not trigger your mind. I just say to myself, “it will turn up, or I will remember it tomorrow.” This really helps a lot………Bill

    • Yes. I agree. And sometimes the memory will come seconds later. Stressing about it blocks the signaling. Thanks, Bill.

  3. OK, have to confess here. I love learning about many things…and so wish that sometimes I had a better sequential memory but alas its definitely spatial! I think that learning the computer glitches would be easier if I had better sequential memory. I am learning though to exercise both through reading and experiencing things step by step. But my organization is helped by visualizing where something was or is in memory…and its fascinating that colors often bring forth a long ago memory – for example, my eyes went quickly to a bright blue car the other day and I distinctly had a memory of a bright blue inner tube I had while swimming when I was young, that I loved. Smells work that way also, bringing back many fond memories, and music. Oh my yes, music. I was on a cruise shortly after my husband died, and when walking through the crowds stopped and burst into tears as a band and singer was playing Stardust….it was our favorite song…and I was whisked back to the exact time and place at the Sweet Shoppe where we had decided that many eons ago…Godwinks….as someone has said – for sure. Thanks Beth, your writing always evokes thoughts and memories for me.

    • Love your mentioning other senses that can bring back memories. I was going to mention Proust and his cookie, but it’s been used so many times, I just didn’t. Smells are strong memory awakeners. Almond lotion, I mention in my novel, could remind me of my mother. And thanks for the Godwink and your husband. Sometimes I fast-forward and wonder how I will live when John is gone, if he dies first, because we have a lifetime of being together and almost everything will remind me. Grateful for the now.

  4. These are all excellent tips in the world of recall. I have always been bad at remembering names so I don’t beat myself up about it now.If I really need to remember someone’s name I associate them with a fruit. Sometimes it even works!

    • With fruit. I love that. I think we have to use whatever works. Your creativity makes me smile.

  5. II find myself worrying about dementia way too much. I’ve found if I stop and take a moment to breathe and not panic when I can’t recall something it helps.

    • Yes, I do the same, Barbara. What upsets me is if I’m caught–like I was talking to a doctor the other day and she knows I’m a nurse and I couldn’t remember the word vascular. She had to prompt me. It’s upsetting, but the draws just open more slowly. Wish I could go to your luncheon in NJ. Hugs, Beth

  6. I’m like Bill who posted above: I try to stay calm and reassure myself that whatever word, name or bit of data is floating free of retrieval will return in time, the drawer will open–although it doesn’t always release until the conversation has moved on to something else.

    • Yes, that happens to me frequently. Like my comment above, my friend said vascular and was on to something else. But I guess the bottom line is that it’s still in there, just a little sluggish. But we are all in this together. Beth

  7. I’ve noticed that my recall (words, names) is impaired if I’m tired, and that even one glass of wine can also affect it. At this age, a good night’s sleep isn’t always a given, and I’m not giving up my wine. So I’m learning to live with it, and not be too hard on myself. As you and another poster said, it’s still in there…:-)

    • Thanks, Roxanne. Yes, don’t give up that wine as it has other properties that are good for you. I definitely believe in relaxation and yet it might slow us down a bit, but we need that. That body can’t go at a frantic pace every minute. Thanks for your comment.

  8. I have a weird wonky brain so “memories” are difficult – often, they come out in my novels: I’ll write something and later think “That scene is so familiar to me” – and sometimes a family member or friend will read it and say “hey, something like that happened with us!” And I won’t even have recalled it consciously – only subconsciously. Lovely blog and post. I will try some of those hints when I want to recall something wonderful!

    • Thanks so much, Kat. Fascinating that you store info and it reappears in your writing–but then surprises you. I also rely on past experience in my writing, but I am conscious of it–thinking about something with my mother possibly and wondering how I can use it in my creative work. But each of us has different methods of storing and using info. Beth

  9. I think like so many things, a stall in the memory track can be worse if we think more of it than we should. Someone else mentioned remaining calm. It’s so true, the first thing to do when you can’t find a word, or remember a whole conversation is calm down and get off the ledge of what it “could mean.”

    Timely post for me today, thank you.

    • Thanks, Susan. We could create one of those STAY CALM posters that the British started.


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