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Ideas for improving autobiographical/episodic memory.


I've started questioning the quality of my memory after hearing about People who remember every second of their life. This hyper autobiographical memory symptom is now called Hyperthymesia or HSAM.
The second reason is noticing how much my Wife remembers.

It turns out people have all kinds of memory systems memory and autobiographical memory is only one category of explicit memory, but it's still something that's bothering me.

Spectrum #

The current understanding is that our autobiographical memory is some kind of spectrum, like height. Some people remember almost everything (HSAM), some remember very little, and even have a hard time relieving memories (it's called severely deficient autobiographical memory or SDAM). But most people are somewhere in between.
In my case, I can still relieve memories, so I won't qualify for SDAM, but I have a worse memory than most people I know. You can read more about it in Autobiographical memory.

Why is this bothering me? #

While annoying, it's not something I would want to put a lot of time (especially every day) into solving. I'm looking for ideas for improving things by roughly 10%.

Toward better memory #

If you read my review of Storyworthy then you can notice that I noticed this problem in myself and had some hope for Homework for Life exercise of writing a sentence or two about a story from each day into a spreadsheet.
Unfortunately, I didn't follow his exact formula, and even while doing it, I wasn't writing those small prompts in one place, and after some time, not seeing any benefits stopped writing them entirely. It may have worked better if I had a spreadsheet, but I was so busy then that it is hard to tell.

More resources #

As I noticed this problem a long time ago, I'm susceptible to watching/reading about ways to improve memory. Some of the resources I can recommend:

This is in some way related to Zettelkasten and The PARA Method: The Simple System for Organizing Your Digital Life in Seconds, but those are more for general information. While useful, I'm unsure how those would help with autobiographical memory.

And those will move you into physical note-taking:

The important lesson here is that taking physical notes (writing or drawing) improves memory. So if possible it's good to write things down.

  1. Repetition
  2. Somehow, try to raise your adrenaline and epinephrine levels after you do something you want to remember.
  3. Cardiovascular training.
  4. Taking "mental snapshots".
  5. Powernaps
  6. Daily meditation (13 minutes for 8 weeks)

New ideas #

But, recently, I've stumbled upon the following:

It reminded me of the book Insigth by Dr. Tasha Eurich. More specifically, the idea of a "The Daily Check-In":

One of the most highly consistent data points Tasha discovered that was common to people who were highly self-aware but weren't previously was a daily habit of checking in with themselves about how they relate to others. The daily check-in she recommends consists of 3 questions:

  1. What went well today?
  2. What didn't go so well today?
  3. How can I be smarter tomorrow?
    MASTERS OF LEADERSHIP Tasha Eurich: Increase Self Awareness To Maximize Your Leadership

Summary #

To sum up my current thinking:

  1. I need to pick a Medium
    1. Go digital and like "Homework for Life": note memorable daily moments. Maybe take more pictures as well.
    2. Go physical: journal in the evening, maybe draw something.
    3. Just recall things before going to sleep.
  2. It's probably helpful to have Prompts:
    1. "Homework for Life": Each day, write a sentence or two about a story from that day.
    2. "The Daily Check-In":
      1. What went well today?
      2. What didn't go so well today?
      3. How can I be smarter tomorrow?
  3. Recall everything throughout your day.

For digital, the best I can think of is creating a form that I would fill out daily to create a log of memories in the style of Homework for Life.

But the idea I like the most is creating a physical journal dedicated to it. It would make it easier for me to take notes, draw and avoid screens in the evening.

And in bed to recall the last day. Try to remember a story and think about how I can be smarter tomorrow. This probably won't happen every day, but it would be great to have it as a fallback in case I miss the previous ones.
I'll also add a monthly reminder to review images and notes.

Challenges #

(this section is more for me, but feel free to read it if you're interested)

  1. Writing in the evening is possible, but I'm often tired and lazy by the time my kid finally goes to sleep. If I'm building a new ritual, it's probably best to limit the screens I plan to use. So it's either this needs to happen in a notebook or at least on a smaller screen like a phone.
  2. I need some trigger in the evening to actually do it.
  3. It better be something I can do quickly.
  4. How would I build spaced repetition into it? I've set up monthly reminders, but I'm not sure if that's a good or bad idea.

Update 2022-03-13 #

I've been re-reading memory article on wikipedia and noticed more information about episodic memory in Long-term memory section.

Another part of long-term memory is episodic memory, "which attempts to capture information such as 'what', 'when' and 'where'"

It made me interested in ways of improving episodic memory. Unfortunately, I had a hard time finding any science-based protocols.

RAPIDLY Improve Episodic Memory: 4 Fun Memory Exercises! | Anthony Metivier
I don't want to be summarising movies, but I found it reassuring to hear about journaling and recollection of my day as a useful practice.

New Neuroscience Reveals 8 Secrets That Will Make Your Memory Stronger by Eric Barker

Here's how to make your memory stronger:

This one made me think.

  1. Sleep, stress, and being overly busy will hinder memory.
  2. I need to keep attention to remember something, so doing multiple things at once is not helping.
  3. I Need to practice recall of whatever I want to remember.

Update 2024-05-31 #

  1. I got a link to an independent app that tries to address it: LifeMemo. It has some interesting features like a timeline, so I think it might be a great help. But, I don't want to disturb by existing process even if it's worse than a dedicated app. At least for now.
  2. Currently, I have a reminder with a link to a form where I put some notes from each day in the evening and try to go through those notes monthly. I'm sometimes more and sometimes less motivated to actually fill that in, but it kind of works most of the time.

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