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: gailgilette.com; visualspatial.org

How To Unstick Those File Drawers of Memory