Monday, 26 August 2013

Running diary

It was a year ago today that I spoke with a friend about my running as I had been recording my runs on an iPhone app and measuring my average pace. As a result of that conversation, I decided to follow his example and enter a timed road race. My first event is my memory tag for 2 September 2012.

As I went through the review of the images pinned to the 26th day of each month today, two things struck me. Firstly, the pleasure of knowing where I was a year ago and what I was doing. This ability is part of my reality now, but the second thing that struck me was that on 26 August 2012, I would have been hard pressed to say where I was the year before. This new reality is new.

On the subject of running, I am now regularly taking part in group runs on Saturday mornings. Although I keep a record of the road races I enter (and souvenirs such as my chest number, the flier and the results list), I haven't been noting these group runs down. I decided to start doing so as I am experimenting with running technique - last Saturday I tried increasing the number of paces per minute after reading in a magazine that the optimal rate is 180/minute, according to some. My breathing could not keep up!

I decided to go through my app history and write down all of the past runs in a little black book as well - in the same magazine a famous runner had mentioned her running diary. I devised a set of headings and pulled up the details from the app: date, distance, time, pace. I thought the pace information would be useful to see how I progressed over time.

Among the figures, the 15 July 2012 stood out as particularly slow. In an instant I knew why - that was the day I pulled a muscle in my leg. It is the memory tag for the day.

It wasn't often the case that a run was my memory tag, but as I wrote the entries, I often checked my mental calendar to recall what I had been doing on that day to place the run within it.

Thursday, 22 August 2013


Remembering names is one of my challenges.

And so this is information I make a point of including in some of my memory tags.

Sometimes the repetition is enough to fix a name in my mind so when I see the person again, I can use their name.

But I have had some problems with confusing certain names, such as Monica and Maura, so something more is needed.

Now, I've joined a running club. Having started entering road races nearly a year ago (my first race is the image pinned to 2 September 2012), I've grown to love running with other people. The beauty of a club run is it is not a race so it is possible to chat.

Before I began this process, it would have been a challenge to remember people's names and I would have faced many awkward moments of meeting someone I had spoken to at length some days before and being unable to remember their name.

So I've decided to remember the names of everyone I speak with by including them in my image tags, reinforcing the recall through subsequent reviews.

Other associations are helping. I ran alongside Kimberley during my first run out with the club. She was friendly - and petite. Her name made me think of Kimberley diamond mine: she is a little diamond.

I find associations with other people with the same name also helps. On another session, I chatted with Martin, the name of a family friend. The friend, now deceased, was married to Pauline. There was a Pauline at the meeting I had the day before the run, whose name I also want to remember. This link between the days also helps me to remember the tags.

Using people's names when I meet them is also key to reinforcement. It often impresses them.

Though I do have to try hard to remember their faces as well.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Children and whisky

A long time ago I read a few books by Robert Ludlum and more than once he describes his heroes meeting colleagues and impressing them by not only recalling the names of their children, but offering them their favourite brand of whisky.

I found this intimidating as it suggested that a) I should choose a particular brand of whisky to favour over all others and b) I should then stick with it so that it somehow labels me amongst my circle of business acquaintances.

Perhaps it is fiction and people don't really do this.

Whatever. I am at least including the names of people's children in this process of remembering every day that passes. I visited an old friend recently and included his three children and their names in the image that is my memory tag for the day. Every time I review it, I remember their names, so next time I see the family, I will know the children's name without having to wait for my friend to use them.

Then I met my cousin for the first time in a couple of years the other day. I remember his son's name well, but I've added the university and course he is studying as words I say when I picture the image of meeting my cousin for lunch.

I suppose if any of my friends were sophisticated enough to favour a particular choice in whisky, I could choose to remember that as well.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Lost images - 13 and 14 October 2012

Yesterday was 13 August 2013, so in my recently adopted review procedure, I ran through the 13th of each month starting with January 2011 (before I began this process of remembering every day that passes, so I don't always have images for the early months).

When I reached 13 October 2012, I drew a blank. Checking out surrounding days, 14 October was also blank. I had all the days for the rest of the month and all the other 13ths in the review.

It teased at me all day. I tried running through all Fridays and Saturdays, hoping returning to this previous review method would invoke brain muscle memory and the image for Friday would trigger recall of the Saturday 13 October image. It did not.

I explored the surrounding images in depth and they brought up other memories, including for the 13th and 14th, but these did not feel like the images I had chosen to pin to my mental calendar.

I was a little frustrated to go to sleep without resolving the issue. It was the first time this has happened. But as I would be faced with recalling 14 October in my review today, I was at least assured that I would not forget the problem and move on.

I went for a long run this morning. Partly because one was due and partly because I notice there are some days when the review process is easier and I hoped the increased flow of oxygenated blood might help. It didn't.

Memory of the days had come back to me in quite a lot of detail. I was half sure that one of these events - going into town with my sister-in-law for the first time since returning to my wife's country a week before - was my image for 13 October. I decided to select one of the key images for 14 October and turn it into my memory tag.

My blog today was to be about this story - selecting a new image because I had forgotten the original one. But travelling into work the image suddenly popped into my mind with total certainty: we had met my brother-in-law (another part of the family) for lunch.

I'm not sure why it had not come to me before. I made a point of remembering the first meeting with different relatives since returning to my wife's country and had explored whether this had been the case for 14 October without it triggering the recall.

Although I have a slight niggle about whether the image for 13 October is the one I first selected, I am back to a full set. I'm not ready to retreat to a more substantial review to refresh the images more frequently, but I am conscious that strengthening associations between successive images would be beneficial.

At the same time, being able to remember the events of a day, if not the image I had selected as a memory tag, is not a failure. I still rememered the day that passed.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Muscle memory

Recently I've only been including one day per month in my reviews for periods longer than six months ago.

This had been progressing fairly well, despite having a few days where I struggled to recall one of the images pinned to my mental calendar as a memory tag.

The same happened again when I tried to recall 12 March 2012 - I was recalling the 12th day of each month, it being 12 August 2013 today. The image for 12 March was really eluding me, despite my being able to recall the images for days either side.

I've not yet let a day pass without finally remembering every elusive image. I decided to restart the review the process, this time recalling the 10, 11 and 12 day of each month.

The missing image for 12 March 2012 came back in a flash as soon as I pulled up the image for 10 March: visiting a nearby town. The image for 12 March was finding my wife's mobile phone, which she feared she might have left in the café when we visited that town. In fact, it had fallen out of her bag in the car.

I had remembered the image for 10 March in my earlier failed attempts to trigger my memory. There was something about the quick succession of images that was important. My brain seems to have developed muscle memory of stepping from day to day on my calendar when I review every day of the past month. This is not invoked if I try to recall a day in isolation.

It may be that I should make this three-day-per-month approach the norm so the muscle memory does not fade, but at present I'll hold it in reserve as an emergency technique. I would still like to become adept at one day per month reviews. They will be far quicker.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Diary catch up

I was travelling on a train last Friday and had time to spare - not least because my reviews of images pinned to my mental calendar take so much less time.

I had brought my diary along to continue bringing it up to date. I decided at the start of this experiment that I would not write down my memory tags; I would give myself no option but to remember them.

However, my current method for refreshing the images is to review those for one day per month of the period longer than six months and I fear this may not be above and gaps may start to appear. So I decided to update my diary, not as a crutch to remembering, but as a record of my life for my future self.

My diary involves far more than the events encapsulated in the memory tags. The tags were only ever intended as a trigger for remembering the day.

That said, for some days there is nothing much of note that happened, orther than something like, "Today I ran along the canal after work and stopped half way to enjoy the sun and eat some biscuits on a bench".

Other days fill page after page with details and refelections, just as if I was writing the entry that evening.

Yet the entries I am currently writing are for August 2012, a year ago.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Head space

Now that I have drastically cut back on the number of days included in my daily reviews of the images pinned to my mental calendar, I have more time to think.

For dates older than 6 months, I've gone from recalling two days per week, to one day per month.

In the past in odd moments, I'd try to pick up where I had reached in my run through.

Now in these moments, it has struck me I completed the run through early in my day and can think about other things.

The process dominates my day less and I am able to enjoy its benefits more.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Patience is a virtue

I recently wrote about being unable to place my experience of the transit of Venus across the face of the Sun on my mental calendar. I hadn't made a point of including it as a memory tag at the time. In the end I checked the date on the internet.

The event was associated in my memory with a visit by friends - but I couldn't remember which friends. If I had waited, the half remembered clue to the date might well have materialised.

I've just had a similar experience. Yesterday I ran through the images pinned to the 8th day of each month on my mental calendar. When I do this, I generally have a sense of surrounding days, even if I don't make a point of recalling them. When I came to 8 November 2012, I felt a black hole looming for 9 November, so tried to call up the image and found none.

I continued with my run through the 8th days, thinking I didn't really need to worry about the 9th until the run through due today.

Hours later - about 6 hours, in fact - the image for 9 November 2012 popped into my head while I was doing something else. It was actually linked to the image of 8 November, the day I fixed my laptop when a spare part finally arrived. On 9 November, the image is setting up a dataprojector for my wife to watch a film with our nephew.

My mind had this pointer and others; there were images for all the other days on the calendar.

I need to trust the strength of waiting a little more.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Pit stop

I have travelled to my brother's house many times, driving the same route.

We need at least one break along the way and have several options for a pit stop.

They are much the same: service stations by the highway with a place to park up and eat and somewhere to fuel the car.

Pulling off the road, I was never quite sure which of the places I was visiting. They are so similar they tend to merge into one.

So I decided to remember them all.

Now when I make this or another journey, I include an image of the place where we stopped on my mental calendar, with the little features that distinguish one from another.

The images are included in my reviews.

Now I can put the places to their names. When the time is coming up for a stop on the journey, I can say: "This is the one with the comfy chairs, the next one in 20 minutes has the nice views."

 It's not much of a party trick, I know, but it is one of the small things I have gained from this process of remembering.

Of course, I could have just put effort into memorising all the stops along the route, but dropping information I want to remember into my memory tags is much easier.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Transit of Venus

Last year I ventured out to watch Venus transit the face of the Sun.

Recently this came to mind and I tried to place the event in time. I struggled as I had not used it in a memory tag.

But I've been able to place other events by exploring them until I find a link to something that is pinned to my mental calendar.

I remembered passing a school as I walked to the location where I could see the Sun. The school had banners outside for a fete taking place that weekend. Though the walk is vivid in my mind's eye, I cannot picture what is written on the banners. I cannot read the date off them.

However, I remember driving past that school with friends who visited shortly afterwards. I saw the banners again and people entering the fete.

But I could not remember which friends. If I could, then I would remember the weekend and so would be able to place the transit of Venus as being a few days before.

There were three pairs of friends it could have been: in May, June and July.

I talked about the transit of Venus with whoever it was as we drove down that road, but I could not remember which ones were with us, no matter how hard I tried. I had driven that road with them all.

Perhaps if I had waited, my memory would have eventually alighted on some key fact and everything would fall into place. It often does.

That would be a better end to this story.

Instead I gave up and searched the internet for the date. The transit of Venus was visible in part of the world at sunset on 5 June and elsewhere at sunrise on 6 June.

One pair of friends arrived on Friday 8 June and we drove past the school that Sunday.

I have now placed the memory of my walk to see the transit of Venus as an image on my mental calendar, pinned to the correct date.

I could add an image of discussing this with our friends. But that would feel like a created memory, not one remembered.

The lakes

In remembering the images pinned to my mental calendar as memory tags for every day that passes, I find it is helpful when they are related.

This is often because of life's natural progression. So on 15 June I visited the town where my bike was in storage. On 16 June I brought it back home and went for a ride (getting back in time to watch my niece play in a band - an image tied to my bike ride so I can remember this key event). On 17 June I took a long bike ride and ate lunch at a favourite restaurant.

If the image for one of those dates eludes me, the other dates not only orientate me, they remind me of my bike, which helps trigger the recall.

This is so useful, I'm investigating adding elements retrospectively to existing images in my regular reviews.

An example: my image for 27 July is joining a group run in a park. The following day, I visited my parents and we went out to a restaurant for lunch. There was no connection between these images.

Then I recalled that on the run through the park I caught a striking glimpse through a gap in the trees of a lake on which a couple of swans floated, one flapping its wings in the instant I passed.

The restaurant the following day was also by a lake.

By adding the lakes to the images for the consecutive days, I now have another aide memoire.

Another example: my tag for 20 July is another run - a five mile road race. It left my legs aching and that reminds me of pounding the road. This segues into my niece pounding on her drum kit in my memory tag for the following day, when her band was playing at a music festival.

This has great potential for helping me to remember and possibilities for fun.

Friday, 2 August 2013

A new association

A key part to this process of remembering every day that passes is the association between days.

Often when I am searching for an elusive image pinned to my mental calendar as a memory tag, it is the images pinned to surrounding days that remind me of it.

Early on in this experiment, I passed a three-day window over each week to strengthen the association between subsequent days. I reduced it to a two-day window to take less time and now I only pass it over the past 6 months of images.

For longer than 6 months ago, I recall just one day per month. So as today is 2nd August, I reviewed the 2nd of each month starting from January 2011 (before I began this process, but I have found some images for earlier months). I continued up to the present date.

It struck me that this one-day-per-month sequence is another pattern. Associations may form between the days a month apart and become another tool for remembering.

To try to strengthen the association, I run the day-per-month review to the present, through the 6 months that are reviewed in more depth.

I have struggled to recall some of the older images since I stopped reviewing them so regularly and I hope it will become easier as the new associations between days a month apart become familiar.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

This is how forgetting feels

For the time more distant than six months ago, I simply recall one day per month in my daily reviews.

Both yesterday and today I drew blanks when trying to remember certain dates.

Yesterday 31 August 2012 eluded me. Today, 1 October 2012.

In both cases, I had no problem recalling the memory tags leading up to those dates. I had reviewed them recently. There was similarly no problem looking forward, except 2 October was also a blank.

I used all the techniques I've developed over the past 18 months to find the images pinned to my internal mental calendar, finally settling on not to worry; not trying too hard, but confident that at some point in the day the lost image would return.

Having a blank day niggled at me, all the same.

I was faced with the fear that the blanks would spread to make my calendar the sparsely populated patchwork of earlier years.

In both cases I was saved. The images came to me eventually.

Thinking back at spare moments to 31 August, I was convinced that it was separate from the sequence that led to it: 28 August, I first watched a television program on intermittent fasting; 29 August, I told a friend about it while meeting for a farewell drink before he went on holiday; 30 August, I tried my first fasting day. Later, 1 September my brother came to visit; 2 September we visited some places I easily recall.

In the middle a blank, like the day had not been lived.

It felt like a significant date, not some image of another run or sitting in a café. Then it came to me: it was the day our landlady came to the flat with some prospective tenants. Knowing we moved out less than a month later helped me realise.

There was a similar disconnect with the images for the beginning of October. We moved to my parents' spare room at the end of September. On 3 October I bought my wife's plane ticket home and took her to the airport on 4 October. But what had happened at the start of the week? Blank. On the first review, I let it go and continued.

Several hours later it came to me: we had visited a mall on 1 October and my father fell over. The 2 October, we visited a computer store. Again, it was logic that helped me. I imagined that we had probably been shopping to find items for our trip to my wife's country, or gone out to eat with my parents. The images came back with the familiarity of old friends.

I have yet to complete a full month of this new review procedure. As it progresses, the length of time to when I last recalled the older images will stretch to 30 days. Until recently, every image was refreshed twice every seven days.

If I get through this month without definitively losing images, and start a new cycle, perhaps a new type of familiarity will emerge from the flow of images to make the process easier and self-reinforcing.

That is my hope, for I already experienced how forgetting feels and I don't like it.