Un-Stupiding Myself - a Memory Training Journal

So, I was very inspired by reading Lynne Kelly’s “Memory Craft”. It got me thinking: what must it be like to keep an encyclopedia’s worth of information inside your head? What kind of connections can a well-filled memory make? What am I missing out on?

The head is especially empty, alas, due to some mental trauma and depression I’d experienced immediately postpartum. I was severely sleep deprived for two years, and my brain does not feel the same anymore. The depression also led me to a phone addiction, which fried my attention circuitry and my focus.

I used to be able to do mental math relatively quickly (I used to tutor kids in math and would always impress them with being able to do arithmetic faster in my head than they could on their calculators). I can’t anymore. I used to be able to memorize poetry easily. Not anymore. I used to be able to read a book without losing concentration. I can’t anymore.

I turn 45 next week. My mid-life crisis is going to be to un-stupid myself.

Here’s the un-stupiding regimen I’m experimenting with:

  • Dual N-back exercises for the attention span and focus issue
  • Mental math practice as additional attention/focus rehab
  • Memorizing a poem a week, using the loci method to help with that
  • Working on a History Journey
  • Putting together a Dominic system for numbers for future use in memorizing useful things (bank account numbers, passwords, stuff like that)

As I get further in, I also want to memorize some classic books. I’m currently trying out an alphabet peg method for memorizing a book (Lynne Kelly’s Memory Craft), which is working quite well in at least getting the ideas into my head (I’m not memorizing it verbatim). Once I get better at it, I’d like to get into memorizing the classics, either with the same peg method or with the method of loci.

I started the Dual N-Back experiment a month ago, and I’m very happy with the way that’s worked out for me, so that’s definitely staying as part of the routine. The mental math, I started a couple of days ago, and I’m still pitifully slow and it’s embarrassing. I’ve memorized one poem so far and getting into the second one. For some reason, the loci for memorizing poetry appear to be in my old apartment that I lived in before moving to my current house.

The book-memorizing project is going very well. I’m using a simple visual alphabet with different animals and characters as pegs. I’ve got no visualization abilities (I have aphantasia), but I find that it doesn’t prevent me from remembering ridiculous things.

To get a bit more practice with the loci method, I’ve been using it for to-do lists and grocery lists. It works amazingly well and I no longer use my shopping list app.

Pondering where to put my History Journey. I want it to be a route I know well, and unfortunately, I just moved to a new place, so I don’t know my new neighborhood all that well yet, and I don’t really have the time to walk around and explore all that much. The only route I know well here is a driving route, not a walking one (though I could walk it, and sometimes do).

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Working on my list of Dominic Numbers, though my number-to-letter correspondence is different since I’d apparently developed some sort of “Major System” like thing as a child, in Russian (which is my native language). I can’t bring myself to regard 3 as a C - it is clearly a Z to me. And so on. I also have a lot of outliers (for example, 45 is very obviously Donald Trump and I’m not going to change it). I’m up to 19 Dominic Numbers; 81 more to go. My memory of the ones I do have is pretty solid and I practice identifying them on license plates.

Poem of the week is the chorus from Swinburne’s “Atalanta in Calydon”. I tried using one locus per stanza, which is probably not enough - I still have to rely on rote memory more than I probably should. Still, I’m about 80% of the way there. Reviewing last week’s poem and finding it to be pretty solid.

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I hear you… Michael Jordan is my 23.

Don’t force things based on a system when you have other more obvious associations. It’s a good thing that you treat what is given as a guideline rather than a doctrine. After all, in the end the system has to work for you and nobody else.

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Went for a walk today and pondered memory-related things for an hour or so. Last night I had a dream that I really liked and wanted to remember. Also, yesterday an incident happened with my kid that I wanted to put into my long-term memory. Poor autobiographical memory has been a lifelong issue for me. I have always thought of myself as having a “bad long-term memory”, and my father would regularly harangue me for not remembering the books I read and for how bad my memory was.

This morning, I decided that my location for interesting dreams was going to be the bedroom of our old apartment (it appears to be a good memory palace for all sorts of things), and my location for interesting kid-related stories was going to be the playground we used to go to. I put a vivid image from the dream into the bedroom (picturing the characters jumping on the bed), and put a vivid image from the kid-related incident into the playground (picturing it on one of the playground fixtures).

I can still remember both things easily. Which makes me conclude that the lifelong problems I experienced were not due to any sort of mental problem, but due to a lack of training. Somehow, I’d missed out on learning the normal encoding step that most people probably do naturally, leading me to not tag the memory at all. When I tag the memory with a vivid image and a geo-location, I can remember it just fine. When I don’t, it disappears.

I just got Lynne Kelly’s other book, “The Memory Code”. I read it very quickly (and loved it!), but I have not yet encoded it or tagged it (I intend to do it in the future). I can’t remember it too well. I have only a very vague memory of what it was about, without too much detail. In contrast, I remember her other book, “Memory Craft” in a fair amount of detail, because I encoded it with visual alphabet pegs. I can deliver an exhaustive summary of what is in that book.

Which leads me to scream at the top of my voice : “HOW COME NO ONE EVER TOLD ME THIS???” How did I manage to go for almost 45 years without knowing this simple thing? Why was I allowed to go my entire childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood thinking that I was broken and that there was something wrong with my brain?

Anyway. I’m up to 28 Dominic Number characters, none of which follow the Dominic system, but all of which appear to be sticking in my head. My brain refuses to accept the standard Dominic encoding. I’m finding that it provides some quiet entertainment as I ponder house numbers or license plate numbers, to imagine the ridiculous characters doing silly things.

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Another thing I’ve been doing is to do a daily Autobiographical Memory review, where I pick a random year out of my life and ponder it for a while, trying to remember as much as I can from that year. Eventually, I want to do a Winter Count, but before I do it, I want to get the years straight in my own head. I’m finding this such a valuable exercise that I might not even do a Winter Count, but just have a “peg list” with the years as pegs in my head.

Two poems are now memorized. The Swinburne poem, the chorus from Atalanta in Calydon, resulted in a wild bacchanalia happening in my old apartment, with satyrs and maenads having a wild party all over the place. I’m finding it as fun to review the memory palace as to review the poem itself. Not sure what to pick for the next poem.

As for the book to memorize next, I want to do “Hamlet”. Not necessarily verbatim (though my rote memory is strong enough that I probably could), but at least the detailed outline. Though I’m still not fully done with “Memory Craft”, so I will finish that before moving on to anything else.

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I am pleased to see how people “take up their minds.” My respect.
I’m sure you will reap significant benefits from this.

Blesses

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Went grocery shopping today. I did write down the list, but I didn’t need the written list. It was all there, and effortlessly there.

I’m a musician and I will be playing a concert next week (online, due to COVID). I have always had a written set-list for such performances. This time, I will not. The title of each piece will be connected to a vivid image and geo-tagged to particular locations or objects on the piano.

Today, I helped my father write out all of his usernames and passwords for all the websites and services he uses regularly. Made me realize that (a) I need to do this myself, and (b) that this is a wonderful application for mnemonic techniques. I will probably wait until my Dominic system is all the way done before tackling that task. (30 characters now)

The next poem is also by Swinburne, “The Garden of Proserpine”. I’d tried memorizing it a long time ago, but I don’t think I ever got all the way there. I want it in my head.

I found a location for my History Walk - a rectangular park with lots of houses around it and lots of trees in it. I’m thinking that 4000BCE - 2000AD may be a good interval to use, with one side being 4000 BCE - 1000BCE, one side being 1000BCE - 0, one side being 0 - 1500AD, and one side being 1500AD - present. I may change this later.

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I’ve started encoding my History Walk. One of the trees in the park is now “Enheduanna’s Tree” (Enheduanna was the first known author in human history - a Sumerian princess and priestess who wrote some beautiful hymns and identified herself as the author). I’m reading a book about Enheduanna now, and I’m thinking that a lot of the information I’m learning will be encoded into the various features of Enheduanna’s Tree. I’ve also identified a few other trees and things with other historical figures, but one thing I’m learning is that I need to slow down and not try to do too much at once. So I’m letting this information sink in and settle in and arrange itself in the right way.

I’m learning this with a lot of the memory work I’m doing. I’m taking my time with the Dominic system too, and waiting for the “right” character to come to me for each number instead of assigning everything at once, and just taking it slow and letting things settle.

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Thanks. It’s a fun thing to do, and I feel like I’m already reaping significant benefits, even though I’m just a beginner. I just wish I’d found all this stuff sooner.

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I’m up to 36 Dominic numbers, or rather, I guess I should call them PAO numbers, since none of them follow the Dominic system. The things that stick in my head better are personal or logical associations I already have with the numbers. I’ve had to change the few of them that did follow the Dominic system because they just didn’t make sense to me and felt “wrong”.

I spent some quality time at Enheduanna’s Tree today and encoded a few facts about her in the shape of the tree’s branches. We’ll see how that works.

I’m noticing that there are lots of interesting bird songs that I hear on my walks. I want one of my memorizing projects to be the bird calls for birds in my area, and there, I think I might actually do quite well. I have a very good auditory memory and auditory imagery, and even though I have aphantasia, it’s only visual.

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Still working on memorizing “Memory Craft”. I’d started out with the alphabet peg method (and went through it twice before even getting to Chapter 7), but now that I have a sizable part of a number system going, I tried doing letter and number tags for the next chapter’s peg list. That worked very well, so I may do this for future book-memorizing (i.e. doing A01, A02, A03, and so on). I had the animal character from the visual alphabet doing the actions from the PAO system.

Trying to get my house memory palace into better order. I’m doing 5 locations for each room and going counterclockwise. I’m using it to memorize my next poem.

Wondering how I can use tactile imagery for the memory palaces. I used a tactile “image” at one of the loci in the Swinburne poem, and it was really vivid. My internal world really does appear to be that of a blind person, with auditory and tactile imagery very well-developed, and visual imagery almost completely absent. I’m going to try to experiment with smell and taste imagery as well and see what happens.

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This “memory tree” thing really works. I walked by Enheduanna’s Tree again this morning. I remembered all the information I encoded into its branches. Admittedly, it was fairly basic stuff, but it was there in my memory and pretty easily accessible.

Today I showed my 5 year old daughter how to use the memory palace method to memorize a poem. She got it immediately and her recall was effortless and instant - I just had to point at the right location for her to remember what we encoded there. I’d always made her memorize poetry, but we did rote memorization and it was a lot harder for her. This was much easier.

I’m finding the same thing with regard to my own poetry memorization. I’m most of the way through the Garden of Proserpine. It’s not an entirely fair test, since I knew parts of this poem from way before I got into memory training, but it’s still amazing how easily the geo-tagged vivid imagery makes things stick.

I stumbled across Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda (a Norse medieval epic) the other day in my random wanderings through the e-library, and this might be a good test run for the technique of using small objects to “act out” mythological scenarios, as described in Memory Craft. I don’t know Norse mythology well at all, so this would be a fair test of the process. All of the names and genealogies of all the deities and demigods would also be a good memory workout.

I really do think that my journal title is accurate - I feel slightly more “un-stupid”. It feels like finding an app on my phone that I’d never used or played with, and playing around with it and finding out how it works. Except it’s not a phone but my brain. Which makes me wonder - how many other unused apps are there in the average human brain? Which ones of our capabilities are we ignoring and letting atrophy?

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Today is my 45th birthday. This morning, I effortlessly memorized a list of 28 items for a shopping list using the memory palace technique, after one read-through. I missed only one item on the first recall, and got them all right on the second try. I know it doesn’t mean much to the memory athletes here, but I’m kinda proud of myself anyway.

45 is probably the midpoint of my life, and I think that memory training is going to help set me up for a much healthier and less demented old age.

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Happy Birthday! :slight_smile:

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Not feeling too well today, so the memory training is minimal (though I still did all the tasks, just not as intensively). I think I like the combination of the visual alphabet and numbers as an index to a memorizable book. I encoded the next chapter of the book I’m memorizing pretty quickly, and it stayed in my memory pretty well. I can’t wait to try this technique on my next book, from start to finish (though I really hope I don’t get to 17 in my index, since I don’t have a PAO character for 17 yet). I’m up to 45 Dominic characters now, all built from various intuitive associations rather than any sort of system. By now, the system is getting to the point that it can be useful. A couple of days ago, I was working and I had to fill out a legal form for a client, including the case number (two letters and 8 digits). I put that into Dominic numbers and it was pretty easy to remember and I still remember it. Normally, I would have used the copy and paste function and not exercised my brain at all.

I’m really getting into this whole PAO thing and really trying to build up my emotional association with the numbers, or rather, the characters they represent in my system. So, I really like 78 now, and absolutely hate 88, and 14 scares me, and so on and so forth. I figure the emotional associations will help it be more memorable.

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Went grocery shopping today and didn’t even bother taking a list with me. This is rapidly becoming second nature.

Tried memorizing the names of the 9 muses in Greek mythology using a memory journey. It was easy and now I know their names and what each one represents.

Almost done memorizing “The Garden of Proserpine”. Pondering what poem to do next.

One of the things I’m noticing is that since I started memory training, my phone use has decreased by about an hour a day, on average. I find that I no longer so eagerly reach for my phone when I’m bored. Meditating on my memory palaces and peg lists seems to be a good substitute.

Another thing I’m noticing is that I’m trusting my memory more. I’d gotten myself to the point where I behaved like a dementia patient - I basically didn’t trust myself to remember even a simple thing. Now that I know about loci, I am treating my memory as a reliable thing, possibly for the first time in my life.

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Picked the next book to memorize - I’m going for “Hamlet”. Not verbatim, but just a detailed outline of what happens, and maybe a few memorized speeches. I’ll use letter/number headings and subheadings to do this, the way I did for “Memory Craft”.

Next poem is “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop - seems somewhat applicable to this crazy pandemic time.

Tried to see if I still remembered the nine muses, and missed one. Apparently, Polyhymnia went missing in my memory journey, because I didn’t put the related image in a well-defined place. The issue is now fixed and she’s there. Lesson learned: the image has to be really weird, and the place has to be clearly defined.

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Today, I had to record part of my online concert, and a few of the recordings had to be of me talking - introducing the pieces, talking about myself, thanking the concert organizers, that sort of thing. After screwing up my introductory remarks at least 5 times, I used my five fingers to organize my talking points, put a vivid image on each finger, and said everything I wanted to say without looking at my notes.

The nine muses are staying put where I left them, and Polyhymnia is not hiding anymore.

I was reading the Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll to my daughter today, and the thought came up in my head that it may be fun to memorize it. It’s a very long poem and I think I’ll need a more detailed memory palace, and some more practice with memory training, before tackling that one. In the meantime, tonight, I begin my re-read and encoding of “Hamlet”.

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I have to share it with you guys because no one else in my life will understand. I just got a legal document from my boss that I needed to edit (I’m an attorney). As it happened, the legal document was for a case whose case number I’d encoded in the Dominic system earlier. I instantly noticed that the case number on the draft document had a typo in it, and fixed it from memory. If I hadn’t encoded it in my memory, I might never have noticed the error.

I definitely feel “un-stupid” now. I’m up to 50 Dominic numbers now, and I can’t wait till my system is complete.

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One other area in which I really want to get “unstupid” is in names and faces. I have aphantasia and a touch of prosopagnosia, so names and faces have always been hard for me. I’ve gotten through 45 years of life by various social workarounds and the occasional embarrassing moment, but maybe some sort of training could help with this as well. I just downloaded an app called NameShark to practice this skill.

I’m definitely not even contemplating competing with memory athletes in this event, but if I can reduce the likelihood of embarrassing myself in public, it’ll be a good thing.

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