Saturday, October 02, 2021

Memory Tricks

I have discussed memory a bit, that we do not remember remote events anywhere near as well has we think we do and some of the reasons for that, but i don't think I have ever shared my little tricks on the matter.

When you can't find something and have looked in all the good places, do not then proceed to the medium-good possibilities.  It won't be there, and that method will simply reinforce the incorrect memory tracks that didn't work the first time.  You will find yourself looking at those "really good places" six or seven times while you are checking the medium good ones.  Look in the utterly stupid places instead.  Look under the car.  Look in the refrigerator.  Pull out the paper slips for your financial records this year. Those will break the seal and allow your brain to remember the unusual answer.  "Oh yeah, I put it in the pocket of that light jacket I never wear but threw on yesterday to go to the store when it was raining." If a half a dozen stupid places don't work, you likely have to stop and do something different for a half-hour.  But I usually find that the stupid places do reveal the true answer. 

This is explained by what is called state-dependent learning, related to the idea that if you learned to play darts drunk and became good, you should always be drunk when playing a game you really need to win; or that if you stayed up late and were angry studying for a final exam, you should make sure you are angry and tired when you go into the exam. It works in the negative as well, that your imagined "best state" for remembering probably isn't and you need to switch lanes.  Obviously, if you have a routine for exams that has worked in the past you keep rolling with that, because that itself has a state-dependent quality.  Yet in the absence of that, revert to the learning environment.

Secondly, once you have found your lost item, make sure you start storing it in the first place you looked, because that is where your brain thinks it should have been.


Texan99 said...

I use a crossword trick that sounds like what successful Jeopardy players say they use: a kind of disengaging of mental gears that allows an answer to float up. It sometimes works for things like recalling a tune or someone's name. I'll have to try it for finding items I've misplaced physically.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I just had that work this morning. I was looking for a medicine I knew had arrived this week, and kept looking in the only places it could possibly be, based on the information of remembering where I had opened the packet. I checked underneath furniture and in the little slots that things sometimes fall halfway to the floor and get stuck. Nothing. The supply was not desperate, so I gave up and took a shower. In the shower, it occurred to me that it had been a different medicine that had just arrived, and the one I was looking for had yet to be ordered. The recently-arrived medicine was indeed in the cabinet in its proper place on the left hand side, and my email confirms that I have not yet ordered the refill for the one that goes on the right.

With that distancing method, you will sometimes remember a thing just as you are dropping off to sleep, or in y case, while out on a walk. You have to force yourself to write it down, even if you would rather not, because you can easily forget it twice.