Mastering Your Memory

Posted on September 8, 2015



Two months ago (Note to readers: If the word “ago” causes you to have an anxiety attack, this post is for you), Life in the Boomer Lane took advantage of a memory workshop, “Mastering Your Memory,” being offered to the Realtors in her company. The company offering the workshop promised that by taking the workshop, one would be able to remember a list of 20 items, in the correct order. This was, in LBL’s experience, equal to faith healers being able to scream “Heal! Heal!” and the person being slammed in the chest or head would then start screaming, “I can walk!/I can see!/I can hear!/I can carry a tune!”

Before signing up for the workshop, LBL contacted the person running it. She explained to him that her inability to remember anything was not due to inattention, not caring, or ear wax.  It was, instead, due to a condition affecting the frontal lobe, which obliterated LBL’s ability to orient herself in space, remember people’s names and faces, and to keep more than 10 items in her closet at any given time or she would forget what she had.

The instructor had never heard of this disability, and was skeptical about LBL being able to reach the magic 20 item goal.  But he felt that taking the workshop might improve her ability to remember anything. LBL signed up. It wasn’t a good sign that by the time LBL hung up the phone, she forgot the instructor’s name and the title of the workshop.

LBL was skeptical about what she could learn when, on workshop day, the instructor verbally gave everyone a list of 20 random items.  Much later, people had to write down what they remembered. Several of the participants groaned, “Oh this is SO hard!  I only remembered 15 items!”  Others remembered about 10, but had them in the correct order. LBL remembered about three items in no particular order and checked the clock about 15 times.

The good news is that the workshop was interesting, enjoyable, and LBL was able to stay relatively focused for the three and a half hour period. The last time LBL was able to stay focused on anything for that period of time, involved sex, recreational drugs and a different century.

Because LBL cares for nothing as much as she does being a source of enlightenment in the world, she will now share the big memory secret she learned with loyal readers. This is that, in order to retain information, we must put it somewhere. And that “somewhere” has to be a place that is easily accessed.

If you are a normal humanoid, your brain probably resembles a large toy chest. The toy chest contains all kinds of wonderful things in it.  In fact, it contains everything you need to remember.  But, unfortunately, the only way to retrieve one specific bit of information is to dive head first into the chest and start flailing around, running the risk of being poked by all manner of items you aren’t looking for. The other choice is to dump the entire chest on the floor and start rooting through everything. This usually ends up with you picking up information you weren’t looking for and taking time-consuming mental detours in decades that nobody cares about anymore.

Instead, the workshop replaces that toy chest with a filing cabinet. Now, everything is filed away, neat and orderly. We used two “filing cabinets” in the workshop. The first was our bodies and the second, our homes. Our body has the advantage of always being with us, whether we want it to be or not. Our homes have the advantage of being imprinted in our minds. Most of us could probably close our eyes and successfully “walk” through our house, without even being distracted by the dishwasher that hasn’t been emptied in days or the mail that is piling up near the front door.

LBL wasn’t very successful with the body-as-filing-cabinet approach.  She got entirely too distraught at the thought of having random, strange items attached to her body parts, especially eggs between her toes (an actual example in the workshop).  She has enough problems with actual random, strange additions to her body, such as large lumps that appear in public places. So she chooses not to mentally create even more baggage.

The house-as-filing-cabinet was another story. This one was shockingly successful. LBL went from being able to remember about three to five items on a list of 20 (and not in any kind of order) to later being able to recall 11 items, in the correct order. All she had to do was to walk through her house and place each item in a designated place in each room she entered.

Has LBL used this technique since the workshop?  Absolutely not.  She is far too busy forgetting things. On the other hand, thanks to the workshop, she will forever imagine a pair of jeans hanging from her kitchen window and a pair of panties in her refrigerator. That must count for something, right?

Posted in: aging, memory loss