“Where in the world did I put my credit card? I know I took it out of my wallet because I wanted to minimize the number of things I’d need to disinfect after going to the grocery store. I think I put it in my pocket. Did it end up going through the laundry? Ugh, where is it?”
While Covid certainly changed my shopping practices, my habit of losing and forgetting things was not new. People have excused me for years, calling it, “baby brain” or blaming it on having too much to juggle or lack of sleep. While those things are true, this summer I became utterly sick of forgetting things.
While Saint Anthony certainly helps me many times in a week, I decided to turn to Saint Ignatius for a different kind of help – imagination. After spending time on the baseball sideline googling about memory, listening to audio books and reading brain charts, I’ve come to see how important visualization is in the process of remembering. Turns out that than antidote to my everyday forgetfulness was right in the hands of one of my favorite saints. Ignatius was a master of visualization. He discovered God’s call for him to become a mendicant priest rather than a knight in shining armor by visualizing the two scenarios, paying attention to sensory details and noticing feelings and desire. Jesuits have long taught people to read scripture and pray with this kind of heightened sense in the mind. Now, I’ve followed the Holy Spirit to use this memory/ awareness/ imagination gift to remember things that are important in day to day activities.
I read Ron White’s fantastic book, How to Improve Your Memory in Just 30 Day. Actually, I listened to it. As a mom of four, I’m always trying to squeeze in learning here and there but rarely do I sit down and read for long. Ron says that it takes five things to bring something into memory:
- Focus – actually pay attention to what you want to learn and remember. This has been my biggest challenge. Often times, I do thing on auto pilot – with my mind a million miles away. While I still day dream quite a bit, I have learned to trigger quick focus on the things that will be important later if I forget them.
- Location – we need places in our brains to store our memories. Attaching your memory to something that is already familiar by using techniques like association, memory palaces or loci is helpful in being able to recall the memory. It gives order and ease in “finding” the memory. Antony Metivier (youtuber, blogger) has substantial free web help on constructing mental “palaces” to house your memories. This is a technique that dates back to the Classical Roman Era. This is a very popular technique for memory wizzes and graduate students.
- Code – We actually think and remember in pictures. Putting a picture to the thing you want to remember “codes” it in your mind. Even numbers or abstract concepts can be a million times easier to remember if we put pictures to them. The more vivid, bizarre and fantastic the image, the easier it is to remember. However, if visualization is hard for you, even a weak image is way better than no image. Your mind will grow in this ability as you use it.
- Action – Getting that picture to stick in our minds takes some action. This action is some kind of movement of the picture in your mind. It can also be emotion, recollection of smell. The more exaggerated the action, the easier something is to remember.
- Review – initially, we need to go back over the location, code and actions in our minds so that a memory will keep from fading away. This review does not need to be done over and over again once it is firmly in your mind.
I mentioned earlier that I became utterly sick of forgetting things. That is because, you see, I feel a range of awful emotions when I forget. You too? Do you ever feel like a cowering little kid who is in trouble? Or like a failure in meeting responsibilities? Or, feel like you have to re-convince someone you really love them?
Here are a couple real relational moments where memory tricks can help. I personally have had fantastic and quick success because it is just tapping into the powerful way that God has made our memories to work. You can do this too.
Keys, Wallet, Phone
Whenever you let go of your keys, imagine an explosion wherever they lay. A fire begins. It cracks and sizzles. Don’t worry. You can walk away. It will be burning until you come back to get them. Or, if you don’t like fire, imagine that your wallet starts leaking water all over. It spills onto the floor and saturates the furniture. Perhaps your phone is electric. It sends out blue lightening bolts when it is place down or in your pocket. It electrifies and makes glowing whatever it touches. Your kids will no longer think you are crazy for having lost your keys – because you won’t anymore (at least not as often and not for as long). They will, however, think you are crazy if they know your techniques. Share anyway.
This trick takes work but it pays off. When you meet someone, come up with an image for their name. For example, for Michael, my image is St. Michael the Archangel. You can use mnemonics too. Nicole could be an image of coal. Then you find the most interesting and distinct part of some’s face – perhaps the tilt of an eyebrow or the height of a cheek bone. You link the person’s face with the image you have of his/her name. Perhaps St. Michael’s armor covers the eyebrow and then turns and slashes his sword in protection of your new friend, Michael. Or maybe you imagine a piece of coal drawing big circles around Nichole’s cheeks – making her have a huge smiley face. You only have to come up with an image once – then you can use it for every Nicole you ever meet – but the action and placement on the particular face will be unique. Don’t worry, these images will not be “on” the person every time you interact but they will pop up in your mind to help you if you can’t remember the name at first.
I’ve also been playing around with how memory tricks can aid my conversation details, playing of music, remembering calendar events in time and perhaps even helping with finance details. What about you? How can an improved memory serve you as you seek to serve the Lord and your family?