Memory Month Day 27: The Treasure of the Mind

Memory is like our own personal treasure that we get to carry around with us every day of our life. We may not be using it all every day, but it’s there.

Via Wikipedia

 

This treasure is also part of what makes us who we are. Of course, I’m largely speaking about autobiographical memory. However, the other types of memory contribute to who we are in their own ways. I find it beautiful that we can have this chest with us all the time, and whenever we need something, we only need to open one of its drawers, and there it is!

Of course, there are times when this is not the case. There are times when we want to find something, but we don’t know where to look for it. So we open drawer by drawer, hoping it’s in one of them. If we find it, we feel happy. If we don’t we get frustrated and angry. More so if what we needed was something important. Then, there are the cases when we need something, but it’s simply not anywhere in our chest. It may be the case that it got thrown out accidentally. Or maybe we haven’t put it in any drawer in the first place.

The thing with these scenarios is this: there is still hope. Yes, we couldn’t remember that thing, despite having tried really hard for a good half of a day to recall it. Frustrating? God! To no ends!! Hopeless? No, not at all…In fact, even when we haven’t remembered something we thought we did, we can just try to do it again. Maybe the method was wrong, we were tired, or we weren’t paying enough attention. These things can be fixed.

But what happens when we can’t open a drawer? What happens when we know the information is there, but we can’t get access to it, because the drawer got stuck? Then, even when it becomes unstuck again, we start having a sense of dread at the idea that perhaps the problems will start escalating, and soon we will no longer be able to open the drawers at all. Then, we will be stuck, standing in front of a treasure that’s locked forever, right in front of us.

Via Wikipedia

And then there are worse cases. There are cases in which the chest itself starts to disintegrate, little by little, and all we can do is look at it and wait. The passing of the time, for all it’s worth, becomes more than an enemy: it turns into a torturer, which pushes us to a place where we don’t want to be. In certain cases, this torturer blinds us to the final outcome. It destroys the chest, without letting us see that the chest is slowly disappearing. A big defining feature of who we are is taken away, and we may not know.

This is the case in Alzheimer’s disease. Memory is slowly, but steadily disintegrating, and the patients are not even aware of it. They don’t know that they don’t remember, and so they become easily frustrated and even angry. Their treasure is taken away, and they don’t even know they’re losing it.

Today’s post was a little out of the ordinary for this month’s topic, but I didn’t want to end the challenge without mentioning the absence of memory. Just as we do with many other things, we tend to take the ability to remember for granted. I know because I do it too often. However, I hope that you’ll join me in appreciating the blessing our memory is.

/Larisa

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Memory Month Day 26: Working Out the Memory

Just as a physical workout does wonders for the body, so does a mental one for memory. In fact, this is what this entire month has been about. Today, however, I had a realization that I think is pretty awesome.

  Via Wikipedia

As I was walking along the street, I was trying to think if there was anything that I have to remember, for which I could use the Memory Palace. In the end, I realized there wasn’t for this day. I sighed, regretting the fact that I’m missing out on what I’m supposed to be doing this month, which is work with my memory.

Anyway, as I kept walking, I noticed that there was a car on my way. Every day I passed that specific area on my way to uni, and that car was always there. So I looked at its license plate, wondering if it seemed familiar. I mean, after seeing something every day for a few months, you’d expect I would feel as though I knew that license plate. Nope. I didn’t. The reason is that I never thought to pay attention to that. I just sort of looked at the car, noticed it, then looked away.

So…can you guess what I ended up doing? I memorized the license plate! Is this a little bit on the creepy side? Perhaps…A little bit stalkerish, maybe? Yeah, just a tiny bit. Though I should say I have no idea who owns the car. However, I realized that it would be the perfect opportunity to give my memory a workout, and see what happens.

I still can remember the license plate. Of course, I’m not going to tell you what it is, because it doesn’t sound like a good idea. I don’t know exactly why this is so,but  there’s something in my mind that becomes horrified even at the idea of doing this.

Regardless, what I wanted to say, with this rather strange example, is that there are constant opportunities for us to improve our memory. I’m not even going to explain just how much the internet can help with that, because it’s too obvious. But even while outside, on a walk, you can take advantage of countless opportunities to give your memory an edge!

 

/Larisa

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Memory Month Day 25: Trouble with Locks

Today was a little hectic, but I managed to get out of it alive, which is pretty great 😀

Via Wikipedia

I started by realizing that the amazing system our brain has for making some actions automatic can sometimes lead to unwanted side effects. When I say “unwanted”, I mean unwanted from my perspective, of course. But maybe you’re a little confused about what I just said. Our brain is capable on putting some actions into “automatic” mode, at least if you perform them enough times. This means that once these actions can take place automatically, you don’t need to use as much conscious effort to perform them…you just…do them. An example of this is when learning to drive a car. At first, you have to pay attention to every single step. However, after enough practice, all the necessary actions just flow one after the other, without you being consciously aware of every single one of them.

This is a great system, because it makes us be much faster than we normally would be. Think about it: when your mind simply goes on “auto-pilot”, it performs things fast and accurately. This is even more important for life threatening situations. Let’s say you’re driving, and unexpectedly, the car in front of you decides to stop. If you had to actively think to yourself “now I have to move my foot over the brake and push it”, you would probably be unable to stop your car in time. However, you don’t think consciously to do it, you just do it. Like a reflex.

Again, that’s an amazing implementation! However, it comes with little problems, and I’ve figured one out today. Because you don’t consciously think of automatic actions, that means that you may not even realize you’ve done them. And this is exactly what happened to me in regards to locking the door. As I was sitting on the bus, admiring the melting snow outside, it suddenly occurred to me that I may not have locked the door. I started to worry for a few moments, but then I remembered that after I left the apartment,  I stopped in front of the elevator, in order to put my keys in my bag. This meant that I had indeed taken out my keys, used them, and then placed them in their spot.

The funny thing is that I couldn’t remember the actual act of turning the key in the lock. That information was erased from my mind completely. However, the things I did before and after were still there, filling in the missing details.

That’s one of the reasons I find memory so amazing (apart from the fact that it helps us be who we are). Even when you can’t remember one particular thing, you can search in the depths of your mind for information that is connected to whatever you want to know. You might not always find it, but when you do, it’s the best feeling in the world, isn’t it?

That’s about it for today! Let me know if you have similar issues to the one I had with locking the door! It would be interesting to hear them 🙂

 

/Larisa

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Memory Month Day 24: Remembering is NOT the Same as Doing

Today has been a great day in terms of the challenge. In terms of taking action, however, today wasn’t the greatest…

DSCN0630I finally decided on the space I want to use as my Memory Palace. Not only that, but I also put it to use. How? Well, I had a list of things I had to do today. The most important item on that list was doing some research for my Cognitive Systems class. Despite its importance, I somehow managed to forget to do it a few days in a row, so I decided to change that. I imagined that on a stand close to the entrance in my Memory Palace there was a notebook that had “Cognitive Systems” written on it. Then, along the way I normally follow after entering the space, I “placed” other items that corresponded to the remaining things I had to do. One of them was studying for German (more on that below), and so I pictured my German textbook laying on the floor. So on and so fort. Oh, and just to let you know, I also had all these lists written down on my agenda. I needed a back up plan in case my Memory Palace would have crumbled! 😀

Thankfully, I was very much able to remember everything I had to do, and in the order I was supposed to do them. However, I also felt an ever so slight increase in stress, as I constantly went back to my Memory Palace to check whether I can remember everything. Of course, my reaction is due in part to a lack of trust in this technique, since I’ve never used it before. I’m hoping that as time passes, I will trust this technique more, and this will lower the stress associated to using it. Ideally, I should start to trust it as much as my agenda, though this seems a little too out of reach.

As for studying for German, I did most of it on the bus, which was great because this allowed me to do two things at once (travel AND study). Basically, it was vocabulary I had to learn, which meant that I could use last week’s visualization technique. For each word, I painted a very clear picture in my head of what it meant. At the same time, I repeated the word in German and in English, occasionally switching the order. For example, for the verb “to draw”, I imagined a piece of paper with a hand over it, drawing something. At first I didn’t go very detailed, but the more I repeated the words, the more I worked on the clarity of the scenario, until I could see even the pencil quite vividly.

These were my successes today. However, as I mentioned in the beginning, I also learnt today that remembering is in no way the equivalent of taking action. What happened was this: I had a list of six items I needed to get done today. The awesome part was that I remembered them all. The not-so-awesome part was that I could only do half. This was due to a time constraint so I don’t really mind not being able to do everything else. However, I will admit that it annoys me juuuust a little bit. I guess we all just have to accept that some victories come with lost battles as well.

Have you had a similar experience to this? Let me know!

/Larisa

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Memory Month Day 23: Can a One Day Juice Cleanse Help Memory? I Hope So

 

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Firstly, today I did a one day juice cleanse, which essentially meant I didn’t do anything that required a lot of effort. And yes, I’m talking about both physical AND mental effort. Obviously, I’m not saying I strapped myself on to a bed and started at the ceiling all day long. In fact, I still studied, read, and did nearly all other activities I would on a normal Sunday.  However, I took it slow, which means I had lots of breaks and rest times.

Now, since I’m on this topic, I have a few things I want to say about my experience. I can understand the idea behind juice cleanses. Aside from giving your body only healthy things to ingest, they also make sure you’re getting all the veggie servings you should be having. However, it is beyond me why anyone would want to keep up with a juice cleanse for more than a few days. I only did it for one day, and I can’t say I’m a big fan of feeling like I have no energy the entire time.

Related to this topic, but not quite there, is this article, which came out on February 21. What it discussed is that research has found lemurs that eat fruits perform better at spacial memory tasks. After reading this, I quickly looked on google to see if fruits also help human memory. It seems that this is indeed the case. So, I suppose I should have been eating tons and tons of fruits this month to give my memory an edge. Well, ’tis not too late. In fact, I should have already done so with the juice cleanse I followed today.

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/Larisa

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Memory Month Day 22: The King of Mnemonics

There’s a reason I let the method of the Memory Palace to take center stage on the very last week of the challenge. That reason is that this technique is a combination of other techniques used to enhance memory.

  Via Wikipedia

 

The Memory Palace is the most complex of all the mnemonic devices I’ve used this month. For starters, it uses visualization quite heavily, because in order to use it, you have to paint a very vivid picture in your mind. That picture should be of a place that you know extremely well. Thus, you can take advantage of your knowledge of that place, and make it help you recall important things. On top of that, you also use visualizing when it comes to the actual thing you have to remember. If it is a specific date, perhaps you’ll imagine a calendar opened at that specific month, and with that specific date circled. Or maybe this isn’t complex enough, and you’ll prefer to build an entire story in your mind to help you remember.

The Memory Palace also uses the technique of grouping things together. Inherently, because it uses a space (such as a house, and apartment or even just a room), it is bound to categorize things into groups.

Rhyming and acronyms require a little more work to be incorporated into this technique, but it’s not that difficult. You can easily use a short poem as a background song playing once you enter your Memory Palace. Or perhaps you can imagine the letters of an acronym painted on one of the wall of your space.

Notice that I used the word “easily”. That might make you think that I believe this method is simple to apply. I don’t. Since it is the most complex mnemonic device I’ve heard of, it comes with its costs. To begin, you have to get creative in order to use it. Real creative. Plus, you also have to spend a lot of time and effort into “building” it, so that you can ensure that it will give you the best results possible.

It’s quite a challenging technique. The funny thing is, I realized this right off the bat. However, now, that I have to actually work with it, its difficulty starts to sink in. For starters, I don’t even know what space to use as its base. I have a few in mind, but I can’t quite decide. And then there’s the practicability issue: it’s hard to figure out exactly what I can use this method for.

Let’s see….I could use it for remembering lists (such as for groceries), for dates, as I pointed out earlier…And I’m running out of ideas. Appointments could also work, and I know this thanks to the Mentalist. Well, I suppose this is a pretty good list I have so far. It’s short, but it does include things that are very important for every day life.

Now all I have to do is think really well of what space I want use as my Memory Palace!

/Larisa

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Memory Month Day 21: Last Day of Painting in My Head

Yes, I do realize that the title makes me sound slightly crazy, but I’m rather fond of it 🙂

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Because, as the title so eloquently points out, today is the last day of visualizing, I wanted to come back to the poem I memorized on day 18. Again, if you haven’t read it, make sure to click  here.

What I omitted to tell you in my 19 day entry was that right after I woke up, I tried reciting the poem, in both its English version, and in its Romanian one. What I realized trying to do this, confirmed what I was expecting and surprised me…at the same time.

As I was trying to recite the Romanian version, I realized I had great difficulties. I could tell you the general picture of the poem, but when it came to repeating its every word, I couldn’t, for the most part at least. However, as I went back to the English version, I recited it almost effortlessly (though I did have to skip two lines!). This was a confirmation of my expectations, because when I was trying to memorize the English version, I used the visualizing method. Of course this method would yield better results than simply trying to shove a bunch of words in my head. I mean, sure, the words are parts of sentences that make sense, and there’s also the rhyming that helps out, but still….It doesn’t compare to the power of creating a mental picture of each line.

So then, why was I surprised as well? You see, as I mentioned in my post for day 18, this poem is written by Mihai Eminescu. This guy is considered Romania’s best poet, which means that I have read this poem before. Perhaps several times, even…Especially since this poem is quite popular (he does have some that are much more popular than this one, but still). And yet, I was unable to recall it as well as the English version, which was new to me.

Now, you might be thinking that I conducted my “research” in a manner that’s not very scientific, because I didn’t control for all the other possible explanations. I completely agree. Actually, I could sit here and write all the other things that are wrong with this study, but that would take for ever. Plus, it’s not the point I’m trying to make. In fact, having conducted my little study in the way I did, gave me more support for this method of visualizing.

What I’m trying to say is this: if the method of visualizing was powerful enough to help me perform better at new material, than at material I had encountered before…well, it’s pretty great. I think so far, I’ll have to nominate it to receive the title of my favorite mnemonic device.

I truly wish I could go back in time and teach middle school me this method! It would have made my life 1000 times easier (at least from the perspective of poem-memorizing). Maybe I would still be able to recite some of them now…

 

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