Many years ago I heard a Cambridge professor describing the brain as a glorified muscle, saying that as with any muscle it needed exercising. Some while ago I decided I would purposefully use my brain and keep it active. I’m grateful to Rochford Life for giving me yet another outlet through which to use my brain, as limited as this page may be. I don’t like computer games generally but on my computer I am a Freecell addict and I hesitate to tell you what number I’ve reached. I also regularly do Sudoku and a daily Crossword – and I read.
However, I’ve learnt something about memory which has taken away a lot of my worries. It is this: I have noticed that my memory varies throughout the day and it largely depends on my state of health and tiredness. When I’m tired or run down, my memory is rubbish. When I’m feeling bright and bushy-tailed, my memory is brilliant!
But how about those of us who maintain that we just have bad memories? Is that actually true? Well, over the years as I have pondered this there are one or two obvious things that have come to mind. First, we remember things that get repeated again and again – hence the method of teaching children to learn their times tables by rote. No, I agree with the educational theorists who say, but it doesn’t explain to them how it works but, my word, watch the adult who learnt their tables by rote versus the one who didn’t. Want to learn a telephone number? Write it on several pieces of paper and put them around the house where they are clearly visible and every you time you see it, read it out loud. After three days turn the papers over and still repeat the number – you will!
Second, we remember scary or painful things. My wife has always, wisely I believe, refused to watch films that involve torture because she says once she’s seen it, she can’t erase it from her memories. I wonder how that runs with young people and some modern horror computer games? What goes in the mind stays there.
Third, the problem is not getting stuff into your mind so much as getting it out again. The same Cambridge professor I referred to earlier, told a story of a cleaner who went in regularly to the rooms of a Classical Greek professor who often had students in with him when she was cleaning around them. One day she was involved in a serious car accident and went into a coma. While in the coma she started uttering words – large lengths of classical Greek that she had inadvertently heard as the professor and students read it out loud. What goes in there, stays there. The key is getting it out.
Years ago I used to teach English Law to construction students and at the end of the year, doing a revision session, challenged them to see how much they could jot down in note form of the year’s syllabus. They all protested against it, so I talked to them about ‘triggers’. Starting with a large clean wall-mounted blackboard, I simply wrote the word, “Law” at the top in the centre. I then created a skeleton ‘family tree’ with seven spikes down from the first horizontal line. “So what are the main topic areas we’ve covered?” I asked. They promptly gave them to me and they went on the board. “OK, so let’s just take the first one (more lines and spikes), what did we cover in that?” More immediate answers. Within half an hour the blackboard was filled with the entire syllabus – in detail!
A modern form of ‘trigger’ that I’ve found very helpful is my archive of family photos I now store on my computer. Can you remember what you did on that holiday to Greece six years ago? I can! I just go through the files to that year in ‘My Photos’ and do a quick run through the hundred and fifty photos I clicked off back then. Instant recall! Photos of family events taken with the digital camera and stored on your computer act as a beautiful reminder of family history. We’ve badgered each of our kids to keep family scrap books or journals recording the lives of each of their children. “You’ll look back after the years have flown by and wish you could remember what they did and when,” says my wife to each of them. Partially successful! You know what kids are like at taking advice!
So those lost keys? What triggers can we use? First, the obvious places we put them – hooks, handbags, shelves, table etc. Second, when did we last use them? What were we wearing? What did we do when we came in? Reach into your mind and find that memory.
A fourth thing about memory is that we tend to remember things that are important to us and forget the trivia (there are exceptions). If birthdays aren’t important to us, we won’t remember them, but if we come to a place where we realise birthdays are important to others in the family, then we may want to change that and the obvious thing is to buy (or create on your computer) a year planner that shows all the family’s birthdays and anniversaries. It’s really all a matter of priority really, and that really convicts me!
A fifth thing about memory is that often we live such busy lives, or have such a busy family whirl going on around us, that you need to recognise that you just can’t hold on to all the information that is flying around your head. A calendar with plenty of space to write on, or a large diary, is invaluable to handle much of modern life. It’s not that you have a rubbish memory; it’s just that you haven’t worked out how to handle all the family information.
One final thing: don’t hold on to bad memories. Either learn from them and recognise why they were bad and then forget them, or focus on good memories of life. If you’re loved one has passed away, don’t dwell on the difficult years of declining health, focus back on the many good years before, and be thankful. Thanks is a great healing tool.
Well, that is more than enough. Now what was I going to do next? I’m sure I had something I wanted to do next. What was it? I’ll have ot think about that.
Quote: “Even if you were in some prison, the walls of which let none of the sounds of the world come to your senses – would you not them have your childhood, that precious, kingly possession, that treasure house of memories?”
(Source: Rainer Maria Rilke)
I nearly didn’t write this article – I forgot! I used to worry about memory loss. I thought I had a terrible memory. I couldn’t remember events in the past and I don’t remember telephone numbers and dates of birthdays. I started feeling a little neurotic when I went upstairs to get something but then couldn’t remember what it was when I got to the top of the stairs. Losing my wallet around the home was another common cause for going around the house muttering about declining old age.
A number of years ago my father-in-law had a stroke which wiped out his short term memory. He could remember things years ago but in a conversation he had a memory of about three minutes which brought a whole new meaning to ‘deja-vu’. I have an ageing friend who, for other reasons, has moved into the same place. It makes you realise just how much in conversations we rely upon the past and so when the past is no longer there communication is strictly limited and tough!