Long Term Maintenance

It has dawned on me that I’m missing something basic.

My motivation for memorizing information has always been driven by a practical need. There’s something I want to do and I need to know this stuff. I learn it and while I use it, it persists well. Then I might not come back to that activity for years. In that time memories get cold but I have good notes. Rereading them seems to rehydrate the information and it’s not that much work to get back to where I was. Some people here are trying to get through exams and the like - it’s a similar thing. The information will be used for a certain period.

I could not possibly keep all that stuff current in my head. I’ve spent a lifetime exploring and studying and if I tried to review all that I have learned on a regular schedule, I’d be doing nothing else all day. As I said, if I put it to bed in good order, I can restore it but it’s not available right now for reference. For this reason, if I want to keep something, I put a lot of work into making notes so that I can do this when I need to. I have boxes of books and notes.

Elsewhere I have posted some drawings I did, I expect them to serve just this purpose for me. A Lukasa is similar in that it’s a physical record from which memories can be rebuilt if lost.

Some people here seem to be acquiring reams of information just to have on hand for reference if that might ever come up. I never see any mention of notes. Of course, if you use it regularly it stays vivid, but over time this amounts to a huge stash of information and it can’t all be visited that often. How do you maintain your inventory over the long term?


I believe most people just use Anki to keep everything up there, and it tends to work for me. Another way I like to foster long-term maintenance is to continue learning the nuances of whatever information I’m reviewing, or find out novel ways the information can be applied. If you know the deepest underlying reason for why something is, you tend not to forget it. Also, remembering theoretical information like voltage is a lot easier if you’ve tinkered with an Arduino board more than once.

I’ve also been experimenting intermittently with associating information with intense and pleasurable experiences. It’s worked well for the most part and the associations tend to last a lot longer than usual, but it still needs some tweaking for me to start using it regularly.


I keep a written narrative of all memory journeys, along with all corroborating information, in Apple Notes.



I keep well organized audio recordings. Doesn’t sound like the best way, but it works and I am used to it and love it. I can find what I need when/if needed.

I recently started to draw with notes, but I m learning and am not sure how it will grow on me. Your drawings and others have inspired me to explore that part of my brain.

I have been learning with my recordings for over 20 years so…


Do you have a review schedule for all these memory journeys? Are you able to keep most if it on your fingertips? Or do you just review it when it becomes relevant again?

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That makes sense to me while one is trying to learn the material but as long term maintenance, it would amount to a huge load for me.

Another problem I have which may not be general, is that my interest comes and goes. I may get very involved in something for a while and then lose interest for a while. I can’t make myself review material that I’m not interested in. Other people may be more steady than me.

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Are you listening to the sound of your own voice? You know, I never considered that idea. I know I am very strongly verbal, yet this never occurred to me. I must give it some serious thought.

I think, anytime one adds another layer of involvement with one’s memories it strengthens the attachment. Drawing, even a bit will do that. It doesn’t have to representational. Abstract shapes and symbols can work too. Color is a great asset but I’ve been shy to use it. I’m going to make a start on that.


I just got this in my mailbox


This badge is granted the first time you read a long topic with more than 100 replies. Reading a conversation closely helps you follow the discussion, understand different viewpoints, and leads to more interesting conversations. The more you read, the better the conversation gets. As we like to say, Reading is Fundamental! slight_smile

The badge is an automated thing, of course but I really like the last sentence,

“Reading is Fundamental”


Yes exactly, my own voice, and it’s pretty much exactly like note taking but recorded in my voice instead. Sometimes it’s me and a friend, when I have study partners. They are a great source of souvenirs also. I am very emotionally attached to them.

But I have had a growing need to use my hands these last couple of years and these days it is overwhelming I have to develop that habit to pick up pencil and free myself through it like you.

You should give recordings a try. Even if you just record all day long, with audacity you can see where there is voice recording and browse and cut as needed. You can easily make automatic cuts and play on shuffle for wild reviews, etc.

I use to carry my tape recorder! Then my Sony mini disc till they stopped supporting them, then my tape recorder again for years. Today a simple phone has it all. But I use 4 different 4gigs recorders that take SD cards and each have their purpose.


I must think about this. I don’t know if I can stand to listen to the sound of my own voice nor am I sure I can summon the necessary discipline to keep things organized. But given my own mix of abilities it seems very compelling. I like the journaling aspect of it too. These days it’s quite acceptable to walk around in public talking to yourself.

I was very shy to start drawing. I started several times in my life but my initial efforts were so inept I was discouraged. What freed me was trying to make sketches for woodworking projects. There it didn’t matter how good it looked, it just had to work. Once I got going, it wasn’t long before I did begin to like what I was turning out. At that point it becomes fun and propels itself.


For some reason, I love memory palaces. Homes I have lived, places I went to on vacation, stores I visited, I turn a lot into memory palaces. Most of all I love creating them, as in creating from scratch. Various subjects have palaces build to be visually recognizable as a place for that subject. That helps retain a lot of factual information, as rather than having notes on paper, I have notes in my head. For most I do have an Excel page listing the loci, the images and the information just in case, but I mostly use a string of techniques that help contain the information way longer.

First of all is senses. I want every image to contain multiple senses. Sounds, smells, tastes, I need the images to involve me in more than one sense.

Second is a recovery moment. This is more time consuming at first. I start with walking through the palace twice on the day I create it, then another time the day after. Then I skip two days and then walk through it again. I skip 4 days next and after than I skip 7 days. I then do it exactly one month after. I have an excel sheet that tells me when things are due, and I set the dates in my phone calendar inbetween the two recalls on the first day. That both gives me a few minutes between the recalls, and I won’t forget to do a recall later on. After that month break, I want to check up on a palace once every three to twelve months (depending on the urgency to know the things). This is where an excel script helps me, it shows me when something is threatening to get overdue.

The recalls are done as fast as possible inbetween tasks of daily life. Moments like walking to the grocery store, a quiet moment at work, waiting at a traffic light, taking a shower. In order to pass the recall I need to know the image I placed, and the information it represents. Most of these recalls take about two minutes.

Aside from taht there is another technique I use, which helps me improve retention of more abstract concepts (like philosphical constructs) and chains of events (like the chernobyl disaster). I argue it, or I explain it in a simple way. I think of reasons why it is different, and then debunk them using the knowledge I have gathered. I argue it with myself, and I teach it to myself, but both are like a preparation for when I have to do it with someone else.

An example of an argument. I could think of a set of conditions that have to be met for the earth to be flat. Which can be observational in nature (we can see endlessly into the distance), or have to be measured (If I place a laser 1m above the ground and shine it straight east, parallel to the ground, It should pass though a hole put 1m above the ground, straight east from the laser, but a few kilometers away, the laser should pass right through the hole), but usually I stick to logic (if the earth is flat, why do methods made for a spherical earth work as well as they do?). Yet arguments like “everything else we see in space is ball-shaped” is not a valid argument, as the prescence of something is not always a reason to rule out the prescence of something else. It has to actually explain why the condition I set is false or can’t be true.

As for the teaching, I usually try to turn it into a story that I can tell my oldest daughter to help her understand. I named Chernobyl, to remember what happened there I have a story in my head, told in a way where events cleanly lead to other events, rather than the chaos it actually was. It is still the same story, but some things are left out. In that story there will be things that need further explaination for an 8-year old, from what radioactivity is to how the movement of the control rods moved the neutron flux to a more concentrated part of the reactor. This forces me to dig deeper in understanding, rather than knowing.

Understanding is a big part. Just play the why-game with yourself from time to time, it helps a lot. I once had a student ask me why we need to understand in order to know, as he passed many tests by just reciting the information he had to learn. So I gave him a physics question, a simple “If I let a ball fall straight to the ground, is the impact with the ground smaller, greater or equal compared to if I throw the ball horizontally away from myself? What if I put the ball in a canon and blast it into the distance?” That is a question that is often used in schools, but he couldn’t prove either point with equations. I asked who could, and someone got up. I let him write on the board and he actually got pretty close to a solid explaination for why the impact of all is mathematically the same. I then moved to my point, if you understand how something works, it is easier to recall why it works. If you know why it works, it is easier to remember how it works. And if you know how it works, you know what the story is. No matter if you are right or wrong, the deeper understanding allows you to retain information way longer than just knowing the information will allow.



I would really like to click Like twice. I need to read this post more than once. First, I am happy to encounter someone that has the same habits of recalling as me! It is great we can revise so much on the go, and a little here, little there. It has changed my life for the better.

But as you mentioned, its not enough for certain things…

You are making me think deeper about my need to work on the understanding part. I’ve been trying to put myself in situations where I teach what I’ve learned, so as to confirm once again that I didn’t just memorize, but actually understood fully.

But I’ve been having difficultly finding situations and people to do this with. Who wants to learn this part of grammar at this given moment ? Or how ActionCable works in Ruby on Rails?

And I’ve failed to make a habit of ‘teaching myself’ . I have developed the pleasure and habit to memorize and create palaces daily, but not to do any more than systematic recalls. How have you started to manage to do this on a regularly basis ? Any tips on tricking my brain into this ? I am trying to start small, and tell myself countless times 'this is important you have to be able to understand this well enough to teach this, but its just not cutting it. And when the time comes and I really want to and know the importance, when all the stars in me are aligned, I just get back in hiding in my a memory palace instead and have fun with it.

Perhaps I have had a trauma as a child regarding ‘being good enough at anything to teach to others’ and that might explain that seemingly unsurmountable wall, but I refuse to quit.

I realized how I have been fooling myself into believing I understand certain things very well because I remember every piece of info regarding it, and this needs to stop. And as my need to share and teach is growing faster than ever, so does this wall that is now threatening to fall flat on me. I know I need to pulverize this wall and feel there is something in your post that is grazing the way to do so for me, but I just can’t quite put my finger on it. I know I need to put myself out there more, play the why-game as you say, with myself, and I keep trying, but the road is blocked and its hard to understand what is so wrong with me ; I dont see what is blocking it ! Yet evidently a much bigger shadow than me is.

I also wonder how people such as yourself have gotten to the point where they can teach pretty much anything they learn. It seems so natural and normal and I rarely see any preparation going into this (but I know there much be at various degrees). You guys/gals make it look too easy and I have had too much trouble with it. Hope that huge gap is but an illusion !

Also, feels good to encounter someone that has the same habits of recalling as me! It is great we can revise so much on the go, and a little here, little there. It has changed my life for the better no more trying to find time to revise anything !

Thank you


Nothing as formal as that. But over the course of every week or two I make a point of walking through all of my palaces/journeys to review the material. I usually do it for the 30 minutes between when my alarm goes off in the morning and when I need to get out of bed.

I don’t have a lot of palaces, though. Nine, at last count. And they aren’t huge: My shortest holds four and my longest one contains only about 230 items. For the longer ones, I know where the midpoints are, so sometimes I’ll only go halfway, or only review the second half, just to change things up.

There’s also a natural ebb and flow to my review. I review my oldest journeys less and less over time, because they stick so well. The newer ones get reviewed much more frequently—during spare moments throughout the day, sometimes—just to ensure the information is sticking.



I spread it out, often I don’t have time to build a palace, which is time I can use for recalls. Daily commute, line when grocery shopping, commercial break on tv, all situations in which I can recall but not create. I take those moments.

the actual teaching bit is harder to make time for, but I usually make time for this when I really want to understand something. When I don’t really want to, or when I just kinda want to, it is a lot harder. Usually I imagine people I know. For example, I have a coworker, lets name him John. John is one of those people who constantly thinks that the “elite” is causing the shizzle in the world. From “the governement caused 9/11” to “product companies add things to make you addicted to their products”. If I get to something where I feel like John might say something that disagrees with the facts, I can practice the teaching and argueing with my image of john.

Teaching on the fly comes down to three basic elements. First is how quickly you can process information, some are faster at it than others but anyone can learn to get better at it by expanding their understanding to have more “hooks” in their memory. Second is improvisation, how well can you use the information you learned to other scenarios? This I feel has a lot to do with a combination of knowledge and curiosity. It also means understanding to a level deeper than the thing you learned. easy example, if you learned addition, can you also turn those steps around to get subtraction? I can’t do this, I need time to let things sink in before I can see their full effects. I need practice to see where my explanation is incomplete, but it has gotten better over time. Third is presentation skills in general. People who teach a lot and speak a lot in front of crowds can sell their points way better than those who never do.

I can teach anything I want, but everything I teach for an hour will require ten hours of preparation.


I have been noticing Lynne’s threads recently and the discussions not just of memory palaces but memories associated with the land you live on. I suspect that enduring knowledge is like that. You need a stable place to hang it and the need to do so. Remembering where the food is and where you might get eaten are pretty good permanent memories. 50 years later, I still remember the location of a patch of Saskatoon berries that I ate as a child before the age of 5 in a place that I haven’t been to again since is I was 5 years old. They were darn good. :slight_smile: Now if only I could link that memory to 37^2. My long term memory has significant gaps and lacks precision. The more recent my memories are the more precise they seem to be able to be. In most of my life, general understanding and the ability to figure it out has provided me more immediate value than the ability to respond by rote and I have tended to rely on reasoning over memory.

I suspect some of this is innate and some of this is convenience. Pegs and PAO type systems are incredibly efficient in the short/medium’ish term but they do not peg on elements that are important in your life. I suspect that truly effective memory systems would actively integrate the facts with memories that are deeply rooted in your brain.

My innate laziness keeps me from exercising this premise but deeply meaningful journeys or pegs might significantly increase duration and specificity of retention.

In terms of note taking, I have looked at a few methods. I love mind-maps for organizing hierarchical data. I used them consistently for several years at work to manage information, create plans, and generally keep a grasp on more people and activities than I could otherwise. I always relied on MindManager, I tried “Personal Brain” a few times and it felt very cool but didn’t work as well for me in my Microsoft type world. MindMaps are a practical simplification of something called “Concept Maps”. IHMC CmapTools always seemed to be one of the more robust tools for organizing knowledge to me. Concept Maps provide the ability to create networks and better define associations with appropriate grammars. And finally, there’s seems to be a minor movement to keep executable notebooks like Jupyter Notebook where you can integrate notes, data, executable functions which seems like a nice way of doing things.

The trick with tools is having them provide benefit rather than simply just sucking up time from the topics that you actually want to think about. Emacs is one of those that I have consistently failed to get value out of. Every couple of years I give it another go but the learning curve and the lack of early wins always overcome my interest.

Tools like Anki, to me, can be compared to the peg system. It is a wonderful tool for memorizing things that you will be tested on but it is not a system for managing or keeping knowledge long term. I have played with the idea of creating virtual machines and organizing working environments and tool sets for my interests, hobbies, work, life but I always find that I abandon them or that I am unable to keep things from mixing in. This is probably just bad habits and multiple clear desktops seem to me to be a productive thought.

Publishing tools probably play a part in this. I put my random thoughts in this forum so google search is my friend but the ability to integrate your papers, working notes, random scraps into a workable pile is possible with a little effort. I produce so little these days that knowledge management is not something I do a lot of but there were about 10 years of my career where I was remarkably productive using these various tools to keep my head above water. It has been quite a while since I tried publishing to blog, web site, etc so I’m out of date on what can work best in a personal knowledge management system. I’m sure you can do it all in Emacs but I suspect that chaining best in class individual tools will give easier results.

Just a few thoughts. Maybe a couple will resonate.


This is exactly what I do with such material. I teach it to a group of students, I am also among the students and I ask and challenge the material forcing the instructor to explain further or defend, and he may not always succeed.

In the end the concept is bound by a web of relationships and constraints that holds it in place. It cannot be otherwise. IMO that is understanding. There’s no more to understanding something than knowing how it relates to other things that you know.

I play this game while I am learning the material too. Even when I’m just starting on new material which I have no right to be ‘teaching’, to test to see if I’ve understood the material. If I can convince my students, I feel I have a grasp on it. They are a skeptical bunch. They won’t take my word on anything.

But, I find over time, I lose track of some of these ‘discussions’ unless they have some physical root. For me that’s a note of my own or a page in a book.