A Process for Remembering

For whatever reason, in the last year and half I’ve observed myself forgetting things. Not important things, but just small things that perhaps my younger self would have remembered. Like the names of bands or actors or the names of places. Just little pieces of trivia. The sorts of things that make casual conversations easier and more fulfilling.

I’ve started playing this game with myself, where I embrace the “it’s on the tip of my tongue” feeling. I’ll sit with that feeling and write down all the things that “feel like a lead”. Or I’ll just think through them in my mind. They’re thoughts that are not the memory, but are possibly like the memory. Or maybe they’re partial facts that may be true about the memory. There is some association between the thoughts and the memory. Although sometimes the thoughts are a dead end. But the big idea is that you’re following a mental set of clues and seeing where it goes.

For example, I was trying to remember the name of this band I like. And I sat with the feeling of not knowing and I got this stream of associations…

  • wild
  • animal
  • tree
  • 2 syllables
  • “W” something
  • War
  • warpath
  • war machine
  • pink

And in this case, I couldn’t quite remember and I got inpatient so I looked it up. The name was actually Warpaint. But you can see how oddly, I knew it started with a W. I knew it was two syllables. And I had some associated concepts connected with the memory - the color pink, animal, tree, and wild.

If I hadn’t looked up the answer, chances are, I think I would have remembered. That’s the other interesting thing about this exercise - eventually the answer comes to me when I’m not expecting or anticipating it. It’s like this exercise queries my brain and starts a lookup process. But the process takes a while to come back with the answer. Sometimes the answers come faster than others.

Some other examples…


  • Peak
  • Mia
  • Remembered => Rosemond Pike

  • Lin Lory
  • Lory Lin
  • Looked Up => Laura Linney

Over an approximate 30 minute period…

  • 0m - Thinking of the actor but not knowing the name
  • 1m - 2 words
  • 5m - Iterating through stereotypical irish names
  • 6m - Mc-something, O’something
  • 7m - Henry, George, Robert… something classical
  • 10m - Possibly a unisex name
  • 11m - Iterate through gender neutral names
  • 20m - Imagining him in Batman, White Squall, and Peaky Blinders
  • 21m - Imagining me and my friend talking about him
  • 25m - Turning off the thought process and clearing my mind
  • 26m - Cillian (like “Kill”) comes to me and I’m shocked
  • 30m - Murphy comes to me and I’m equally shocked
  • Remembered => Cillian Murphy

There’s something mystical about remembering something after you go through this sort of process. It’s amazing to me that there is information encoded inside my head and that I can’t get to it. But if I go through this process and follow the mental breadcrumbs, for some reason I’m able to get the answer. It’s almost like a ritual or an incantation that summons the names of my memories.