Month: April 2011

Visual Or Verbal Memory… How Do You Remember?

When you remember something, what is it that you remember?

Do you remember the actual way things looked, like a photograph or video?  Or do you remember a description of what happened, like a journal entry?

Memories form a huge part of who we are.  They are, after all, your history… all of the events that have led you to where you are today (all of the ones that you can consciously remember, at least).

The way that you remember your past has a huge impact on how you act and react to other people and the world in general.  It is often easier to attach emotion to already existing images, whether photographs, a movie, or visual memories, for instance.  At the same time, however, the depth of emotion attached is often greater with images generated from words.

It is easy to come up with examples.  You are far more likely to feel an emotional reaction to a story about a natural disaster when there is a picture or video of the aftermath.  Your connection with a character, or a story in general, however, is likely much greater when you read the book than when you watch the movie.

These are not universally true… the depth of emotion from a picture of your wedding night, or your baby’s first steps, or something similar may be as great or greater than the picture formed from a description of that.  You can also easily attach emotion to a story about a parent who lost their child without needing a picture.

These exceptions do more to show the general truth of the rule than they do to contradict it, however.

The two ways of remembering have an impact on the way we think, as well.  A person with a visual memory is, in general, considerably more likely to be able to deal with small details well.  The person with the verbal memory, on the other hand, likely finds it easier to do a quick analysis of large amounts of information.

Even more than ability, though, the two ways of remembering have a great impact on our preferences.  A person with a verbal memory may have plenty of ability to deal with small details… but is highly unlikely to enjoy it.  A person with a visual memory may be able to analyze large amounts of information, but not want a job that requires them to do so regularly.

The two forms of memory are not completely exclusive, either.  A person with a visual memory can still remember words and descriptions, and a person with a verbal memory can still remember pictures, and even more so, generate pictures from the words they remember to describe whatever it is.

Those of you with a visual memory may want to look closer at the second image in this article to better understand… that is a picture formed entirely from letters.  While this is not literally what people with a verbal memory do, it can make the idea a more concrete concept for people who do not remember in words.

The way you tend to remember things is not something that can be changed, though you can explicitly remember specific things in the other manner, if it is important.  I have a verbal memory, but I’ll never forget the way my wife’s eyes looked at our wedding, or the sight of my baby a few days old at home, or a few other of the most important moments in my life.  I’m certain my wife, who has a visual memory, could name a few things that she will never forget, verbally (though she may have a mental image of the words… I’m not entirely certain).

If you were to attempt to constantly remember things in whichever way is not natural to you, however, it would take so much ongoing mental effort that you would basically be unable to function at a normal level.  You would find yourself constantly mentally exhausted.

It is difficult, even when you know that someone thinks and remembers the other way, to truly understand.  It is somewhat like a blind person and a deaf person trying to communicate to each other the things around them.  The deaf person can try to imagine what sound would, well, sound like, and the blind person can try to guess what things would look like, but the concepts are so foreign that they are likely to be wrong more often than right.

That doesn’t mean that they can’t find a way to communicate, though.  It’s just that a large part of the way that one perceives things is missing from the way the other experiences them.  That means that things that are perfectly clear to one person may be confusing or completely misinterpreted by the other.

If you understand that the other person thinks and remembers in a way that is actually foreign to you, it can help you to figure out better ways to communicate with them.  It can help you to better understand and connect with them.  It can even help you to forgive them if you understand that what they did simply didn’t have the same meaning to them that it did to you.

PS – I have not conducted a scientific study, but based on the people I have known, visual memory is more common than verbal memory.  This seems, again from the people that I know, to be even more true for women than for men, though men still seem to more commonly have visual memory than verbal.

All of which makes me curious… which way do you remember?

Bleeding A Few Drops At A Time

We all have different sets of rules for blaming different people… one set of rules for those we love, one for strangers, one for those we actively dislike, etc.  There is another set of rules we all have, though, that is much harder to reconsider and change… the rules for blaming our selves.

When I say blame, I mean whether you truly believe something is the person’s fault or not.  You might say, for instance, that little Suzie shouldn’t have pushed the other child in her class… but if you are truly thinking “He must have done something to deserve it.”, you don’t truly blame her.

The change in the rules for whether or not you blame someone are pretty easy to predict when it comes to other people.  The closer you feel to them, the less likely you are to blame them for something.  If someone you love does something bad, you will look for circumstances and related evidence that shows, at least to you, that it is not their fault.  If someone you dislike does something good, you will look for circumstances and related evidence that shows, to you, that they had selfish motivations for doing so.

When it comes down to your own actions, the same sort of thing appears to apply, at least on the surface.  If you love yourself, you will look for excuses to not blame yourself for your own actions.  If you dislike yourself, you will find reasons to not even credit yourself for the good that you do.

In my experience far more people fall into the latter category.  They blame themselves for things where they would not blame anyone else for the exact same actions.

Part of this comes from the fact that we know, for certain, our own thoughts and motivations.  Few people truly have completely pure motivations when they do something, even something that seems completely selfless to others.  When you look at your own actions, then, you have all of that to associate with the action and take away the goodness of the action.  The same sort of thing holds true for bad deeds, as well… not only do you know what the action was, you also know all of the bad thoughts, feelings, etc., that went with it, making it even worse.

This is a vicious cycle, too… the more you blame yourself for everything you do, the less you like yourself, and the more you look for things you can blame on yourself.  You often even start blaming yourself for things that are outside your control… for the happiness of those around you, for instance, or your lack of talent in one area or another (you can gain skill, but not talent… to others skill may appear as talent, but talent is innate ability, without training).

Mostly this happens at the subconscious level.  You don’t even realize that you are blaming yourself for things that you would never even consider thinking was someone’s fault if the same thing happened to them.

This has a huge impact, but it comes slowly… it is an ongoing injury that only bleeds a few drops at a time.  There is no noticeable impact for weeks, months, sometimes even years.  It’s so gradual, in fact, that you often don’t notice it at all… you just get more tired, more easily overwhelmed, or angered, or other negative emotions and reactions.

Even if you only bleed a few drops at a time, you will eventually bleed dry.  Infusions from positive things happening in your life (finding your soul mate, having a baby, getting your dream job) can help out, but if you don’t stop the bleeding, even the strongest man will fall.

How do you stop the bleeding?  You can learn to focus on the positive things in your life, and that will generally slow and maybe even stop the bleeding.  If you really want to heal, though, you have to learn to take a step back from your life, mentally, and look at your self the way you would look at another person.

Would you blame your best friend for the fact that they had not fulfilled all of their dreams?  Would you blame your brother or sister if they occasionally fail?  If you wouldn’t blame someone else in the same situation, then you need to let go of the blame you are laying at your own feet.

It is hard to do this, and it is easy to slip back into blaming your self for everything.  It does become easier with time, though, and the peace that accompanies releasing the guilt and blame is nothing short of amazing when you first experience it.

Broken dreams, like broken toys, cannot be fixed while you cling to them.  You have to let go first… then you may find that they can be restored, sometimes better than they ever were.

Staring At A Blank Wall

Every once in a while, I find myself staring at a blank wall.

It’s just sitting there, giving no indication of direction, no hint of meaning, no hidden answers.  Often even the question isn’t there… or even the beginning of the question.

I solve problems.  I answer questions.  I fix things that are broken.  I see patterns in things, and seeing those patterns allows me to see what needs to be done.  A lot of my sense of who I am, of self, involves those things.

Sometimes, though, there’s just the blank wall to stare at.  There is no pattern to see.

This isn’t just that I haven’t figured out which thing to do next, but truly have no idea even where to look.  It all just looks blank.

I can solve nearly any computer related problem.  I can solve most relationship problems.  I can even figure out how to fix broken toys.  Even when I’m staring at that blank wall, I can solve all of these things for other people.

Sometimes, though, when it comes to me, I find myself staring at a blank wall.

In my own life I don’t always know what to do, or even who to ask or where to look.  It makes me want to look all the harder, but sometimes that is not the answer.

Sometimes you just have to admit the wall is blank… Sometimes you just have to accept that you don’t have the answer.

Sometimes now is a good time to start.

Oh, and if you recognize the feeling that I am talking about, here is one more thing for you… You are not alone.