October 19, 2012

Oh, I Remember it well ... or maybe not !

Last time we talked about the importance of remembering special times  but that is not as simple as it sounds.  New memory research reveals that many of our  favorite recollections are  mistaken.   Do you recall the charming duet between Hermione Gingold and Maurice Chevalier in the movie Gigi, "I Remember It Well" ?  The former lovers reminisce about past moments and although Maurice has one recollection, Hermione has a quite different one. Ironically, studies have demonstrated that their musical moment really reflects the way it is when we talk about the past.

One experiment in particular also showed that not only are our memories often wrong but we tend to develop strong feelings about their  accuracy, i.e. we can become argumentative when defending the erroneous details rather than admitting the possibility that we might be mistaken.  The reality of faulty memories suggests that humility is in order when remembering things past.

In light of these findings, today we're talking about why memories are so susceptible to error and how couples can use this information to deal with disagreements regarding the details of past events and  avoid marital moments. We'll also have some tips for preserving the important details of events you want to remember more accurately.

Some basic facts to help us understand the fragile nature of memory.                 Unfortunately many erroneous ideas about memory persist. Here are the facts:
1. Memories are not like photographs but more like a game of telephone.                            2. Each time we remember something we alter the memory.                                                 3. Our memory is like a DVR or Tivo that has too many programs recorded , i.e. it has a limit to the amount of data it can keep. Each time we remember an event, something else gets deleted.                                            

Tips for dealing with when you can't agree about what happened in the past.                           

1. Be humble and acknowledge the fragile nature of memory. No one has a perfect memory.                                                                  2.                                                              2. Fact check each recollection as much as possible. Look for hard data or historical verification.                                                                                                                                                   3. Agree to disagree and accept, the way historians do, that there are different versions of the story and that no one version can be definitively verified.

How to preserve treasured moments: Don't rely on your memory.                                   1. Take photos and videos and save memorabilia with names. places and dates.                 2. Write things down as soon as possible.  Keep a journal of what you did.                                                                                                                                                                                      3. Organize, label and store your keepsakes in accessible places.

Preserving the past is important but it doesn't happen naturally. It takes effort. In addition to keeping a record and tidbits from special events, you have to create a system to be retrieve it. None of this stuff is any good if you can't find it. On the other hand, efforts you make will pay huge dividends of enjoyment down the road when you revisit the joys of times gone by.                                                                                                                                   

The Reverend Michael Heath, LMHC Fellow A.A.P.C.  prepared these  remarks for Bridge Street,10/19/2012

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