Friday, 23 October 2015

Navigating the landscape

I’m approaching four years remembering every day that passes and to my own amazement have still not lost a day.

I have recently made a philosophical change to the way I range over my mental calendar to refresh the images pinned as memory tags to each day (for details of the practicalities of the method, see the ‘refresh technique’ post - link under ‘about me’).

Looking back more than six months ago, I recall the images for two days per month. Today is the 23rd, so yesterday I recalled the images for the 22nd and 23rd of each month from 2011 to end of 2013. Today, I recall the images for the 22nd and 23rd of each month from 2014 to the present.

This moving two day window brings the same days up each month, which is enough to stop them fading. Generally, I orientate myself if the images do not come immediately to mind by looking back to the preceding days, which will have been refreshed recently.

This linear approach sometimes left me a little panicked when the associations were difficult to find, as I could only see it would get harder as the days pile up.

The philosophical change is to look at my mental calendar as a landscape. From the beginning, I have visualised the dates on a month-per-page calendar, with the months stretched out from the numbers of the year. I have travelled these pages so many times. I realised the landscape as a whole should be familiar. The year as a whole has its story. A month, its place. Any particular day should locate me in the familiar landscape, even before I try to recall the specific memory tag. Instead of scrabbling around for the image and connections, I now try to feel the reassurance of familiarity first.

It is working. I am moving from this being a feat of memory linking consecutive images, to viewing a picture I have seen many times before.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Visualisation and memory

I ran a half marathon on 30 August 2015.

In preparation, I watched a video clip someone had posted of the route. This enabled me to think about how I would approach the run to pace myself, particularly with there being a long uphill section at the outset and the prospect of slower runners to overtake.

On the day of the race, I told myself to enjoy it. This was the race for real, not the visualisation.

It struck me that the memory I would be left with would be very similar to the visualisation, if everything went to plan.

Of course, the memory has real moments that I could not have imagined: the runner dressed as spiderman, the spectator who thought it hilarious to shout 'take your feet of the brakes' as the runners streamed past, the extreme weather during the last 5 km.

But much of what I recall of the race could just as well be from the visualisation. My memory tag is stopping at a prearranged point along the route for a photo with my wife. That image was already in my visualisation.

Visualisation and memory are both proxies.

The reality was the experience.

I have my next race already booked.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Perfect days

One of the pleasures of periodically reviewing the images pinned to my mental calendar as memory tags is remembering those particularly special days I have lived.

The weekend of 18-19 July 2015 is a recent example. My wife and I took a coach to town an hour away and stayed at a hotel I had booked on the internet. It turned out to be better than the description led me to believe. And the nearby square had a great little restaurant.

I was up early for a 10 km race that was a short warm-up run away. That went well and I made it back to the hotel in time to grab breakfast at the hotel then take a taxi to the coach station with a few minutes to spare to buy a ticket to another town, arriving in time for a free open air concert.

Everything combined perfectly. Which happens sometimes. But my philosophy is not to expect perfection and to make the most of what life throws at me. If we'd missed the coach and the concert, we'd have come up with something else to do.

Part of the reason I gave up praying for things to work in my favour was I found it counterproductive. When things go wrong, is it because I did not pray sincerely enough? Is it because I have a lesson to learn? Is it because the alternative was what I really needed (often difficult to believe)? I realised it was better for me to pray for the strength and good humour to face whatever I have to face and not read too much into random effects as I am carried on the breeze of life.

The following week began well with the offer of a contract that would have doubled my income for the month. But rather than being confirmed the following day, the job was cancelled. It was a big disappointment.

I didn't view it as karma for my perfect weekend, but I felt better telling myself that in life: "you win some, you lose some".

Fortunately, the memory of my perfect weekend will be something I carry with me for years to come.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Taking a break

Refreshing the images pinned to my mental calendar as memory tags to remember every day that passes is part of my daily routine.

But sometimes I am too busy to fit in the reviews, particularly the long-term review of selected days stretching back to 2011. When I become overwhelmed I now have a break and when things calm down use the memory reboot method I have described here previously.

Sometimes now I also have a break from the short-term review covering the past 6 months in more detail. Generally I pass a two-day window per week over my mental calendar and recall the images for every day of the past month. This provides an overlap from day to day. But if I miss a day, I can catch up.

As an example, in case that is not clear. On Thursday, I recall images for every Wednesday and Thursday of the past 6 months. In the normal scheme of things, I will have already called up the Wednesday images the day before. If I didn't do or complete the review, then, no worries, I can cover the two days fresh.

So recently I had a day off, putting my long-term review aside with plans for a reboot and leaving the short-term review for the next day.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Remembering too well

An unexpected problem has arisen now that I am well into the fourth year of remembering every day that passes.

When a memory of a past event in this period comes to mind it is sometimes difficult to know how long ago it was. It's not the old problem of having no idea of how much time has passed with no anchor to orientate me. It is because events from two or three years ago still seem fresh.

As an example, my wife and I have visited the coast around Christmas time for the past few years. My memory tag for one year is arriving at my sister-in-law's apartment in a taxi. Remembering it recently, it took me a moment to accept it was in 2013 as it was so clear.

I had to walk over my mental calendar to be sure.

A long time ago I introduced full date tagging for images. So the image has the date 27 December 2013. The trouble is that in running through my refresh technique (see link under 'about me'), I become lazy and miss off the year.

So I've changed the technique now to give the year first when I pull up an image during my regular run throughs.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Relaxed remembering

The memory reboot method I developed last year is becoming an occasional technique I use to make the process of remembering each day that passes much more relaxed.

As the end of March drew near, I switched to the reboot instead of the two-day window I usually pass over each month. I am tempted to do this when I hit the 28th of the month, because when I try to recall the images for the 28th and 29th day of each month, February presents a problem. Then in the following days months with only 30 days trip things up.

So I went back to the beginning, running through every day sequentially from when I began this process on 17 December 2011. I try to cover several months a day, but sometimes did not manage any. It took me until 10th April to catch up. Since then I've gone back to the two-day window, picking up recalling the 10th and 11th of each month.

Even taking over ten days for the sequential run through is no problem as usually images are only refreshed about every 30 days with the moving window.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Lost image - 23 May 2014

I should not have lost this image. It never gave me trouble before when I ran through the images pinned to my mental calendar as memory tags to remember every day that passes.

But when it came up in my review of 23 February 2015, I could not find it. The new review procedure I introduced recently had been going so well. It felt sustainable. It wasn't taking too much time to do.

Then I hit a wall with 23 May. I know it was the following day that usually pulled me up, but I remembered the image for 24 May with no problem. It was the day before my wife took a flight to her country to visit family and we had visited a botanical garden.

The 23rd eluded me and I tried all the tricks I have developed to find it to no avail. I moved on, making a note to find it later.

It still did not come. I spent time the following day trying to recall it, running through the months of April and May day by day until I struck the wall again. The images for surrounding days enabled me to delve deeper into the memories for them. The botanical garden came into vivid colour as I retraced our steps.

But the day before was a complete white out. It unsettled me when I came to do my run through for the 24th and 25th days of each month. I struggled with far more days than is usual.

It felt like the process was falling apart. I had lost my first day and now the rest were slipping away.

I tried to work out whether losing day had knocked my confidence or if  there was an underlying problem affecting my recall, such as my level of tiredness or stress. Could it be something I ate? Had I drunk too much wine recently?

It would not come back. I tried guessing what it might be, seizing on the vague recollection it involved a journey of some kind. The familiar places we visit did not fit. I wondered if I had confused the botanical garden trip and allocated it to the wrong day, but felt sure I was right.

I looked for evidence. In bank transactions. In my running log. I remembered I had sent a text to a friend from the botanical gardens and found it still on my phone on the expected date.

But there were no traces for the lost image. No clues.

I wondered friends were associated with the day and pictured their faces to see if they triggered something.

I told myself yesterday to let it go. It would come back today and I would kick myself.

It struck me while I was shopping. Out of the blue. I turned my thoughts to 23 May 2014 again and there was the image once more, like a puppy I had been desparately hunting sitting at my feet, wagging its tail with no conception of my concern.

I knew why it had returned.

The image was of a picnic with friends and their young daughter. Although I had pictured them as candidates for the image before, it was in a different context. It hadn't triggered the recall.

But five minutes earlier I had called them to discuss meeting up.

Without any conscious effort the image was clear on my mental calendar when I next looked.

I checked through my texts to my friend and there was the exchange on where we were meeting. Confirmation.

Now the image has returned, I've tried to connect it more strongly to the surrounding days. Adding the word 'plants' when I think of the picnic and the botanical garden provides a bridge.

I have found when I struggle to find a lost day, it is unlikely to be lost again.