The distinction between memory and recall

From Charlie’s SuperCamp newsletter. I don’t think that becoming “set in my ways” is a significant issue – at least not this year.

When people say they don’t have a very good memory, they’re actually talking about recall. They have difficulty recalling events or information from the past. There are several factors that affect recall.

Dan Mikels believes that many people lose their ability to remember as they grow older because they stop “landmarking.” Landmarks, say Mikels, are events in our lives that are new, interesting, and exciting and that serve as links to other bits of information in our memory chain.

Take, for example, your very first day on your first job. Chances are, you remember that day vividly. You may well recall the people you met, where you had lunch, how the neighborhood looked, and what the weather was like. Although your chances of remembering the weather on any other random day are slim, you can remember it on that particular day because the day itself was a landmark, and it is linked to many other details and bits of information in your mind.

For most of us, our early lives are filled with many such landmarks. As we get older, the landmarks tend to come farther and farther apart, partly because we tend to become set in our ways and do things the same way time after time, and partly because we have already done so much that most experiences are repeats of previous experiences.

Your life doesn’t have to be that way, however. To nudge your memory into high gear, Mikels suggests you do new things, eat new foods, and go to new places. When you decide to dine out, go to a restaurant you’ve never been to before and order something you’ve never tasted. Take every opportunity to create new experiences—new landmarks. By living life to the fullest this way, you are creating new memory links and increasing your ability to remember all kinds of facts, events, and information.

Forging new memory links also increases your personal creativity. As Peter Kline says in his book The Everyday Genius(Great Publishers, 1988), to be creative problem solvers and constructive thinkers, “we must be able to draw freely and widely on the full range of our experience, which is the context of our memory.” As you can imagine, a person with a large and varying bank of personal experiences—and the skills to remember details from experiences and plug them into new circumstances—will be vastly more creative than a person who has few life experiences.