Wednesday, 16 December 2020

Back to the old ways

I was close to giving up on this process of remembering every day that passes as the images pinned to my mental calendar as memory tags became increasingly elusive. Then ditching my smartphone from my bedroom and spending my initial waking time meditating and on a review, I found the images coming back to me. 

This has continued as I have reverted to some of the review techniques I used in the past. So, for the review of the past year, I am passing a two-day window over each week since January. Today being Tuesday, I’ve reviewed each Tuesday and Wednesday. It has proved to be refreshingly quick, though around October I have to switch to a review of sequential days as the images are not yet well enough entrenched. 

For the review of the 9 years since I began this process, I’ve been aiming to cover the same months of consecutive years, covering a month in two days. This is proving illuminating in a way I had forgotten.

For example, running through April from 2012 to 2020 includes my wedding anniversary. Recalling where we were in consecutive years gives me a flavour of that year in a way I was missing with the reviews of consecutive days I had been using prior to this, when it took days or weeks to cover one year as I became increasingly lost and demotivated. 

Now, I can manage four or five years of the same month before I’ve had enough. Some months have had blanks on the first run through, but subsequent years have often reminded me of events and images. My meditation process also seems to help in unlocking he images.

I'm hopeful that I can complete the review of the whole 9 years in a month of these early morning reviews.

Monday, 30 November 2020

It has all come back to me

I have ditched my smartphone from my wake-up routine and reverted to doing a morning run through of the images pinned to my mental calendar as memory tags. This review had become increasingly perfunctory as I became distracted by doing a quick check for messages, news and, sad to say, bank balances. The more perfunctory, the harder to recall the images and less motivated I was to keep trying. It seemed it was slipping away from me and the memory tags were vanishing forever.

Somewhat amazingly they have all - just about - come back to me.

My life is so much better leaving checking my smartphone for later in the day. Well, later in the morning, after I've completed the run through.

I don't just do the run through now, I spend a few minutes after waking getting into a meditative state. This is something I've done on and off for years. I'll explain it on the next post.

From that state, I've resumed the run through my mental calendar. Since reverting to this process at the beginning of the month, I've gone through each year in reverse order, so 2019, 2018 and so on to 2011/2012 (I began this process on 17 December 2011).

I've aimed to cover at least two months per session of about 20 minutes. This is slower than it used to take me when things were more manageable years ago, but now I have to do a certain amount of fishing around. 

What has generally happened is I've found an image and then had a good run of remembering other images, but then hit blanks. 

I am definitely remembering the images, rather than having a memory of the specific days (which was a trap I'd fallen into: trying to recall the images by working out where I was and what I was doing). The images do unlock other memories, but the images are key.

If there's a blank, I'll jump over it. As I come to the end of the session, having covered two or three months, my mental calendar has been speckled with more and more blanks. However, the next day I've started with any month with blanks and my subconscious has the images ready to serve up. It has been quite startling sometimes to suddenly find one image and then the others cascade across the days, sometimes triggering memories that fill in isolated blanks in earlier months.

So, in the end, I have very few days where the images have not come back to me and I feel confident that continuing with this more disciplined morning routine will bring those images back to me too.

I will be remembering every day that passes.

I also have to fit in the reviews of the past month and year, to keep my calendar updated. 

As was often the case, it is the more recent past which often presents difficulties, because the images are not yet entrenched on my mental calendar, particularly for the most recent days and weeks. I tend to do the previous month or two-month review once I'm up, perhaps on a run, and again before going to sleep. Then at odd moments during the day, I'll do the 6 month review I've written about previously, generally half a week at a time, so Monday to Thursday, say, then once I've covered the 6 months, Thursday to Sunday.

Having completed the review back to 2011, rather than just cycling round again, I've embarked on monthly windows across all years. I started this today by recalling the images for every day of the months of January 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. Tomorrow I aim to cover January for the remaining years.

Clearly, this is a time investment, but it is time that was eaten up by my mobile phone (which still grabs me after I've finished this process, but I'm already ahead).

Most positively, from a mental health and general balance perspective, I am viewing a wide range of aspects of my life and reflecting on the many people and events that feature in these memory tags, rather than just specific memories I would otherwise obsess about. I've written before about how enriching this is. It's good to have it back.

This doesn't cover my how life, though I will sometimes be distracted by earlier memories triggered by the review process. All the same, it is now nearly 9 years. So much has happened in that time. I am so glad to be able to remember at least one thing for every day of it.

Monday, 2 November 2020

Smartphones can be bad for your memory

Two news reports caught my attention recently and have indirectly put new life into this process of remembering every day that passes.

One said that giving attention to screens, particularly multiple screens – or "media multi-tasking" (such as scrolling through your phone while watching television) – is bad for the memory.

Another said that a large percentage of people check their smartphones within 5 minutes of waking up and the majority within the first hour.

I had fallen into this habit, partly because time differences might mean a request for me to take freelance work arrives in the early morning and waiting until usual working hours would be too late to secure the contract.

But I've gone beyond checking for such emails to routinely checking through social media and news websites, bank account apps, etc. and then starting the cycle again.

At the same time, my ability to recall the images pinned to my mental calendar as memory tags for each day has been failing me. I keep running through the current year, not least so I have some sense of the passage of time during the coronavirus lockdown and restrictions. 

I have also been refreshing past years, but this now takes so long it can be months before I revisit images to refresh them. And I know that I can run into difficulties if I delay for a month. The harder it is, the longer it takes and the more demotivated I've been to return to the process.

More distant years, such as 2012 and 2013 have been easier to review, but more recent years have been refreshed over a shorter time period and I could scan through several weeks with little clue of the images I had selected for each day. 

When I did find something to orientate me, I'd use that to try to guess at surrounding images to trigger a memory, with little success.

Then a few days ago it struck me that this was not how it used to work. I remembered the tags and they opened up the day to me and reminded me of the surrounding tags. When I had fewer days to remember and called up the images more frequently, I could often remember remembering them the last time around. Sometimes I'd have introduced a stronger connection between consecutive days to help me with the recall.

So, I decided to go back to a meditation routine I used to do morning and night, descending a mental staircase to a special place where I was totally relaxed and could then let my thoughts wander. I got into this meditative state and then returned to my mental calendar - hosting it in a particular place in this special place I was visualising. Where there were blanks, I visualised polishing the square on my mental calendar to reveal the image.

And it has been working.

I've coupled this with ditching the smartphone scanning in the morning - other than a quick check for work requests - and using my first half hour in bed after waking to engage in this review. I have the target of completing at least two months of historic images per morning (in addition to refreshing the current year during the day and when I am going to sleep).

Images are not only coming back to me, I'm suddenly remembering images that I had lost for other years and am jumping across the calendar pages to run over those days.

So I'm optimistic that I can get back into this routine and it will hopefully become easier as the images are reinforced once more.

Keeping away from my phone for this half hour and filling my mind with the richness that comes from recalling past days, with all the thoughts and reflections they trigger, can only be for the good.

Sunday, 7 June 2020

Now I know what this is all about

I began this process of remembering every day that passes over 3000 days ago.

I continue to pin an image to my mental calendar at the end of every day as a memory tag.

But as I've been recording here, it has become increasingly harder to refresh the images.

Several times I've thought of giving it up as an experiment that has reached its natural end.

But I haven't. During the current coronavirus pandemic lockdown, the memory tags mean I can distinguish between days with few distinguishing features and mark the passage of time. Otherwise they would just be a blur.

More importantly, I've now realised what this process is all about.

I had hoped it would induce hyperthymesia, a rare ability to access all memories as if they are fresh. That hasn't happened. It seems that I need to review the images pinned to my mental calendar once per month to be able to remember them easily next time around. It's a memory exercise. It hasn't rewired my brain to make recall effortless.

Now there are too many days to run through all the images on that timescale, even though the process I use has evolved over time. My current method is to run through a year of memories over the course of a week or more. There are now approaching 9 years to cover.

I was becoming frustrated because sometimes I'd hit blanks and either take a break for a few days or jump ahead and hope I could come back and fill in the blanks - which generally does work.

Yet, as the reviews have taken longer, the monthly target of reviewing each image has become a forlorn hope and I face the prospect of each review being harder every time and blank days appearing and joining up into voids in my memory.

Just like the years before I began this process, where the reference points are few and far between.

But it struck me as I was recalling images of my mother, now in the later stage of Alzheimer's where she no longer remember me or her husband of 62 years, that this experiment was always about remembering.

Remembering the days I have lived. The people I love. The experiences we have shared. The places we have been.

I've currently been progressing through 2016. Before my mother's illness was bad, but when there were signs of it. Those signs are more poignant now. The times of normality and happiness more precious. Revisiting the past continues to be enriching as I see it differently as my vantage point changes and its impact on the present also changes.

Going through these memory tags in the past few days, it struck me that this is no longer principally to refresh the images for my memory trick. I am going to stop worrying that it's taking far longer than a month to complete the cycle. That pressure is off.

I'll finish this year in the time it takes. Then move onto the next in the same way. But without pressure to hit some target of weeks or months covered in each period.

It is only the recent days where discipline is required to establish the images.

I am savouring remembering. Filling in most of the blanks. Sometimes resorting to looking back at pictures on my phone - which is not cheating, as I set the rule. A photograph can orientate me and suddenly unlock a whole sequence of memories.

Even as some images slip away from me, the memories of these years are far richer than the previous decades of my life. And I will continue to add my memory tag for each day.

This was always about remembering.

Monday, 20 April 2020

The Lockdown Challenge

Like half the planet I am currently on lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

As I am living with someone who is in an at-risk group, I am not going out at all, other than for a walk around the grounds of our apartment block.

Days are pretty repetitive. But there's always something to single out as a memory tag.

I've been using the opportunity of knowing people will most likely be at home to call friends I haven't spoken with for years.

I've been recording some of my (bad) piano playing to share with family.

I've had Skype Sunday lunches with family in different houses.

I've been doing virtual runs - running in place/on the spot while watching a treadmill video on youtube and measuring my progress with my running watch in treadmill mode and a heart rate meter measuring my effort (so, for example, descending the Grand Canyon is a stand out day - yesterday, I started a virtual run of the New York City Marathon)

I've ordered shopping from a nearby store (not so significant, but still a landmark).

So, I can still run through the past month of lockdown and differentiate the days.

Without this process of measuring every day that passes, it would all be a blur. In fact, it would be difficult to even remember how long this has been going on.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Forgetting remembering

I'm approaching the 3000 day milestone in this process of remembering every day that passes.

It continues, but has changed significantly from the early months and years, when I could review the images pinned to my mental calendar in a short period of time. My early techniques of a moving windows, pulling up a few days from past weeks or months to refresh them have long gone.

Now I generally work my way through a whole year at a time, but it takes longer and longer to do so.

There are two reasons for this. Firstly, I am recalling periods that took place up to 8 years ago now, running through them day by day. To be honest, I've moved on from a lot of these times. There is no longer the same attraction of delving into those memories. Revisiting places I once lived and activities of previous employment does not interest me to the same extent.

So, I'm less motivated to review these times. All the same they throw up surprises and insights and I would like the option of being able to remember these days when I choose.

But it is also getting harder. The time between reviewing the same images is now over a month. It might take me a couple of weeks to run through a year of images, several months to cover the 8 years. Some days, I might not give any time to the process of the more distant review. The recent past is of more interest and I continue to use my refresh techniques for recent weeks and months. That may take all the time I have free for reviews in a given day.

Now I find I no longer remember the last time I recalled the images. When reviews were less than a month apart I could remember remembering. There was a familiarity to the sequence of images or their places on my mental calendar. Now I'm forgetting remembering. If I come across blanks, it is harder to recover them.

All the same, there are long periods where I whizz through the images rapidly, covering a week in a matter of seconds. After struggling with 2018 and thinking this process may be reaching its natural end, I've found I've rattled through 2017.

I'm trying to cultivate the feeling of relaxing into the reviews again. They have started to become frustrating when I've hit blanks and the images have eluded me, which has put me off the whole review process. Accepting an image and expanding my memory of what happened on that particular day helps fill the other days, even some separated my months or years.

So I'm not done yet.

Monday, 14 October 2019

Brain chemicals

Remembering every day that passes continues to be part of my routine.

To stop the days for nearly eight years I've been doing this now from fading, I call up the images pinned to my mental calendar as memory tags. The techniques I used in the early months and years, as described in the "how I remember" posts can no longer cope with the volume. Instead of moving windows recalling images from a few days each week or month, I now run sequentially through the days.

Sometimes I start with 17 December 2011 and work forwards. Sometimes I'll complete the current year and then each previous year. Sometimes a year here, and a year there.

Generally at some point of the month, I'll recall the images for the same month of each year, for the perspective on my life it brings me. It's now October. It's interesting to know what I was doing for every day of each October from 2012 to the present year.

Sometimes I can rattle through a period of days or weeks in seconds. Other times, I'm stuck and may have to range ahead until I find an image to anchor me and then can try to fill in the blanks.

There are two realisations this ever growing challenge to refresh the memory tags have brought.

Firstly, it seems recalling the images about once per month is about right to maintain easy recall. I know when a retrospective of the current month in past years strikes images I've recently remembered because they come so easily to mind. However, covering the whole eight-year period takes more than a month now and I fear it will become progressively more difficult.

And the longer it takes to find the images, the less I get done in the short snatches of time when I do this, and so the longer between recalls. It's a vicious circle. Previously such challenges have led me to find new refresh techniques. But I don't seem to have anywhere else to go now. It seems inevitable blanks will appear or I'll simply give up on the recall procedure.

The second realisation is that there is something going on in my brain that determines how easy it is to recall images.

I sometimes find I am struggling to fill the blanks in a month and so put it aside and get on with something else or move on to the next period. But then I'll come back again and suddenly the images all pop into place (I can remember the point I had reached in the refresh process from the wave front of clear images).

It may be that a specific memory tag orientates me and triggers other recalls.

But other times it seems there is something else going on, as if the presence or lack of some brain chemicals makes all the difference.

It is worrying in a way that my ability to recall varies like this. My mother has Alzheimer's and I see how her ability to connect varies throughout the day and from day to day. Might there be a link? Could this be an early symptom in me?

On the other hand, it could be down to my level of tiredness or blood sugar.

It's something I will continue to explore.