I’ve got a memory like one of those bowls with all the holes that you use to drain spaghetti, although I generally just use the pan lid, because why dirty another dish?
It’s getting worse as I get older. To help me remember important information, I’ve developed a couple of handy tricks. I call these the Memory Building Blocks:
- Kiddius Memorius
Things learned as a kid stay with you much longer than things learned as an adult, and there’s a scientific reason for that.
The brain has a little section called…called… let’s call it the Kiddius Memorius. This part soaks up memories like one of those really absorbent wipers you use in the kitchen, and which they now say you shouldn’t use because they’re germ-magnets so all you’re doing is pushing the germs around the counter, instead of getting rid of them. When we become adults, our bodies produce a hormone that shuts the front door on the Kiddius Memorius lobe and locks all that information safely inside.
It’s because of the Kiddius Memorius lockdown that, when I’m a drooling, diaper-clad nursing home resident, unable to remember my own name or what year it is, I will still remember the entire air-drum solo to In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, and playing “doctor” with Bobby Hightower behind the garage when I was 6.
- Total Sensory Immersion
If you rely on just one of your senses to remember things, you’re doomed to failure. The secret to getting information firmly stuck in your brain is to use all your senses, something I call Total Sensory Immersion. That’s how I prepared for tests in college.
First I read my notes – sight. Then I wrote my notes out longhand – touch. Finally, I read the notes out loud – taste and hearing. I repeated this regimen throughout the night, pacing back and forth, and by the next morning the fifth sense, smell, was also fully engaged – the horrible smell of my dirty, all-nighter self.
To this day, a whiff of stinky armpit sets off an involuntary response, “Phew! Smells like a Stats final.”
Songs are always easier to remember than dry facts and numbers. That’s just how the human brain is programmed. Setting information to music increases the rate of retention to the…to the…that little number that you write a little up and to the right side of another number.
This is a scientific fact that was proven by Potsie in that Happy Days’ episode where he was cramming for a test about the heart, and everybody was wearing 1950s clothes but had 1979 hair.
- Drooling Dog Training
People can be trained to associate one thing with another. For example, when I hear a bell ring, I immediately think of ice cream because of the trucks that drove around our neighborhood in the summer when I was a kid.
This technique was invented by a guy who rang a bell every time he gave his dog some kibble. After a while the dog started drooling as soon as he heard the bell ring, even if there wasn’t any food. Because of this scientist’s landmark research, the technique was named after him: Drooling Dog Training.
Now that we are familiar with the Memory Building Blocks, let’s look at a real life situation in which I use the whole spectrum of techniques. See if you can recognize them in action.
My parents moved from 909 N. Lincoln to 5551 Stoney Creek Drive more than 6 years ago, and I still can’t get their new address to stick in my brain.
Memory Building Blocks Solution:
Our old street was named after Abraham Lincoln. We are conditioned to associate President Lincoln with chopping down a cherry tree because of lessons learned in childhood. Cherry pits are sometimes referred to as stones, which are, by definition, stoney.
Cherry trees grow in orchards, which are found in the country. When I think of the country, I invariably start humming a favorite song by Three Dog Night, “Out In The Country” because I used to lie on the couch and listen to their album over and over again after high school dances, especially if the cute guy I was crushing on didn’t ask me to dance, in which case I’d cry as I sang along. This song says the country is where “the rivers like to run” and a small river is a creek.
If you want to visit a cherry orchard out in the country, your best bet is to drive there. Otherwise, it could be a really long and sweaty hike.
Last year a movie came out called “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”. I didn’t see it, but I bet those vampires were evil. The master of evil is the devil, and his sign is 666. But vampires aren’t quite as evil as the devil, maybe only 5/6th as evil, so their sign might be 555.
President Lincoln probably found it pretty lonely at the top. I imagine being a vampire is also rather lonely. I think Three Dog Night said it best in their classic song, “One (1) is the Loneliest Number.”
See how each piece of the puzzle is carefully, skillfully interwoven to knit the whole memory together?
I reinforce these lessons by subtly working their address into the conversation each time I call my parents.
I might say,
“Hi, Dad, located at 5551 Stoney Creek Drive. What did the doctor say at your last appointment? Does he want you to go for more blood tests, not at 5551 Stoney Creek Drive, of course, but at the hospital?”
“Hi, Mom! How’s it shakin’ there at 5551 Stoney Creek Drive? Did you know I used to play doctor with Bobby Hightower behind the garage at 909 N. Lincoln, but NOT at 5551 Stoney Creek Drive? Because you just moved there a couple of years ago?”
As I sit here, writing 5551 Stoney Creek Drive over and over again on a pad of paper, then licking the paper while ringing a little bell, I am confident I will have my parents’ new address indelibly burned into my brain in no time. Soon, when asked where they live, I won’t miss a beat before I blurt out – 6663 Crying Vampire Orchard!
I hope you find the Memory Building Blocks help you as much as they have helped me. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to dash. I suddenly have an uncontrollable craving for one of those red, white and blue ice cream bars in the shape of a rocket.