Hi there, in case you’re wondering, I’m Ken and I Iive in Liverpool, England, and I’ve had a lifelong interest in the brain and the way it works (as a matter of fact I’ve even got one of my own, and I’m very attached to it!).
It used to work very well – dramatically well, you could say – but things happened and it started to fail in some quite drastic ways, and for no apparent reason (although I did eventually find out why – more on this in a moment). Consequently, since my memory had obviously been damaged, I revisited my old fascination with the brain and started to study and relearn things I’d more or less forgotten.
Hopefully, my insights and investigations into my own memory problems have equipped me to help you experience some real memory improvement of your own.
What do you see in your mind?
I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that when you think, you ‘see’ things in your mind. I mean literally see them – it’s sometimes as clear as seeing with your eyes, or, on occasion, even sharper that that. I always wondered if other people saw things the same way. I used to ask people I worked with all kinds of questions about the workings of the brain and the mind, a sort of ongoing survey that I conducted.
A recurring question of mine was about time – I always wondered how people viewed it. Did they see things and events in a linear way, for example, scattered along a timeline that receded into the distance, like a country pathway, and if so, was that increasingly dim and distant end of the timeline the future … or the past? Did they see time as passing from left to right, or vice versa? Or maybe from behind and approaching them, and then on into the future, in front of them? Or was it the other way around?
Did things in the past appear smaller than more recent things, and dimmer? Were things connected in a sort of web-like structure, or were they all separate and distinct from one another? Did they see dates as actual words and numbers, or just marks on a background or on signposts, or in some other way? Did different colours play a part in all this, or was everthing uniformly black-and-white?
Actually, I used to drive people mad asking all these questions (as I’m sure you can imagine), but on the plus side it actually got some of them really thinking for the first time about some of these things. And that in itself surprised me – that some people had never actually stopped to think about how they thought! I always found that amazing!
I found that there was no one simple answer to how people view time, by the way. There seemed to be lots of different ways, although most of them shared certain aspects. And a surprisingly large number of people just had no answer at all – they didn’t seem aware of just how they viewed time, if at all. Or they just didn’t care.
It all happens on your mental screen
Of course, the truth is, we can never know just how others see time, or memories for that matter, because we don’t have access to their mental screens, and we never will (well, not unless science fiction becomes fact, which is starting to look surprisingly likely).
How we each mentally see things … another fascinating aspect of the mind that I never tired of wondering about, and asking about. I would ask people what they actually saw in their mind if I said something, maybe a word or phrase, or a mention of some event that that we had both witnessed, or experienced. Did they see it in the same way I did, or completely differently (I don’t mean the details – I know people will see things uniquely differently, since we all have our own unique viewpoint – what I was interested in was the mechanics of it)?
Yeah … I’m sure people wondered sometimes if I was a covert psychologist sent in to uncover some personal and incriminating evidence about them or their mental health!
Books held the answers
I used to read a whole lot about the subject of the brain, and the nature of learning. Actually, I was a big reader generally, and I read quite a bit on subjects that we studied in school, specially before important exams (because I never got much out of what they were teaching us). I probably taught myself more than the teachers ever managed to! But then, I was always more interested in studying something if I chose the book, and I chose when and where to read it. I guess that’s another interesting aspect of learning – it’s always much more productive if you do it because you want to, and if you do it the way that suits you.
Anyway, I realised about this time that memory was a cornerstone of learning. As I said, I basically started to teach myself stuff, and quite successfully too, after being bored out of my mind and learning practically nothing for a few years.
A lot of my memory work at the time consisted of repetition and regular reviewing of the subject matter. Not that that wasn’t effective, but there are better and more effective methods, which I wasn’t really aware of at the time. Regardless, one of the main things I learned was that memory was of the utmost importance – even if you understood a subject in some detail, it would be of very limited use if you couldn’t actually remember it, or the important aspects of it. I know this is blatantly obvious, but we do tend to think of learning as being of the greatest importance, whereas in fact memory is probably equally important.
This was the first time I realised how crazy it was that they wanted us to learn all kinds of things, but they never once, not once, spent even a half hour explaining how the memory worked, or how you could make it work better. I still don’t understand why memory improvement isn’t taught in schools! It’s like teaching trainee mechanics to fix engines without ever once going over how an internal combustion engine actually works.
Harry Lorayne showed me the way!
So, anyway, amongst all the other subjects I was devouring, I started reading up on memory. Amongst others, I read a few books by the great Harry Lorayne, and his books introduced me to one of the key elements in effective memory techniques – imagination.
I guess I was amazed also that someone with such an astonishing memory was actually making use of what appeared to be silly little mind games. I started to see that the imagination was of supreme importance in memory work. Being able to create vivid and interesting images, and scenes, was absolutely essential. Effective memory techniques didn’t just happen, they had to be studied and learned, and then put into action.
I haven’t always kept up with my memory studies (and oh, how I wish I had!). Even now, I have an amazing natural memory for certain things. If I read or hear something about someone or something important or interesting (in my view), I tend to remember it without too much trouble, or even without really trying. On the other hand, if it’s something I’m not really interested in, I have tremendous trouble remembering it. Which underlines the importance of being interested in the thing you want to remember.
Now, you may not be naturally interested in a particular subject, but if you can find a way of generating an interest (even if only artificially) then you’re in with a shout. Once again, we’re in the region of mind games. If you need to remember something about a vague or uninspiring subject, why not just make it interesting, even if it means creating some sort of fanciful back-story, or populating your inner world with interesting characters and associating them in some way with the thing you’re working on. It’s all about being imaginative and creative!
Due to my good natural memory (at least, where I’m actually interested in a thing), my general knowledge is very good (it’s probably fair to say it’s exceptionally good, in fact). My memory for things is very retentive and wide ranging. However, there are huge gaps in it. With subjects that I’m not particularly interested in (particular sports, for example), I have no memory to speak of. Once again, this underlines the importance of having an interest in the subject matter.
A good memory gone bad
Anyway, several years ago, my memory started to play tricks on me. Which was a very unwelcome development, I can tell you. In fact, my memory and my ability to focus and concentrate both failed to a great extent, and in some strange and worrying ways, from time to time. These things were among many others that started to happen around the same time (although not obviously connected), and it eventually turned out that they were symptoms of a medical condition that was developing.
The ‘dead zone’ in my head
My memory is still flaky, no question about that. No matter what I do, it’s undependable. I think of it a bit like my brain has been ‘swiss cheesed’, like Sam Beckett’s (he was the guy in Quantum Leap, although I don’t recall being part of a time travel experiment, but then, you know, my brain’s been kinda swiss-cheesed, so what do you expect, right?!).
Or like the guy in Stephen King’s The Dead Zone. It’s like there are literally blank areas in my brain, areas I wander into occasionally where the only action is the silently drifting tumbleweeds rolling along in a dull, monochrome landscape, and the only indication of memory is a few paint-peeling and broken down signposts lying on the ground, feebly pointing … well, nowhere really. It’s almost like walking around in a fog at times, lost for words that won’t quite come, and grasping at memories that teasingly slip away the closer you approach them.
I generally don’t wear a watch anymore because half the time I can’t even read the time on it. It was very strange and unnerving the first time that happened – I found myself staring at a clock and thinking, “I know that’s for telling the time, but I just can’t for the life of me remember how it works!” Hmm … a very strange thing to forget. Doesn’t seem to make any sense at all. But it comes back sometimes, and sticks around for quite a while too. I just can’t depend on it though, that’s the thing.
And as for people’s names – I used to have a pretty good memory for names, now it’s gone, almost completely. Actually, I don’t ever recall having any trouble remembering names, so it was probably above average, since everybody I mention it to now seems to think they too have a lousy memory for names. Nowadays I just can’t seem to cope with the whole concept of names at all well (apart from celebrities’ names, and the names of characters in books and films, but they’re things I’ve learned long ago so maybe that’s the reason). The whole names thing is like a foreign language to me, and it’s as though it’s one I’ve never even encountered before. Worst of all, I can’t even find a phrase book! I make use of memory techniques, but, effective as they are, they fail me in this area.
I hope you benefit from what you read on this site. And I hope you really appreciate the wonderful faculty of memory. Sadly we tend to only really appreciate things once we start to lose them. Memory is unquestionably one of our greatest gifts and we’re too often quick to complain that it’s not perfect. Believe me, it’s close enough!