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We remember the unique not the ordinary – memory is about choices

Posted Mar 17 2013 5:00am

The tale of an alligator dinner

Alligator dinner

Unique events make a deep impression and are stored more deeply, more thoroughly in our brains. Common everyday events pass us by with barely a second glance. Humans are “cognitive misers.” Our brains don’t waste storage space on things unless the brain considers it important to pay attention to this item or event.   

Want to remember something for a long time, make sure that person or event makes a unique impression on you. This impression is not just about the person or event, it is also about the choices you make and the attention you pay to the things you do.

In my younger days, so the story goes, I did a good bit of traveling. In those travels I have been to my fair share of festivals and then some. More than one city holds an annual strawberry festival.

There are countless “vegetation festivals” all complete with their respective vegetation Queens. Broccoli festivals, Asparagus festivals, Onion festivals and Artichoke festivals, the list is almost endless. After a while one vegetation festival looks a lot like the next.

Each and every festival has its share of festival food. The Garlic festival featured garlic ice cream which I decided to pass on. I can’t recall how the vanilla ice cream I bought that day tasted. I may have missed a bet by passing on the Garlic ice cream.

Most of the time at these festivals I get hungry. So do those I was with. Guess what we ate? Most days it was hamburgers and the like. Do I have any idea which was better, the burger at the Broccoli festival or the burger at the Artichoke festival? Not a chance!

What I do remember was the Alligator at the seafood festival. I assume it was real alligator, though it was in a heavy garlic sauce so who can be sure. That same food vendor may well have sold that same menu at the garlic festival also.

Frankly my particular alligator was not only heavy in garlic but also a bit over cooked and rubbery. Now if you eat alligator on a regular basis you can comment and tell me if good alligator should taste rubbery like B.F. Goodrich or not.

My point is that while I could not tell you about a whole lot of festival food, I will never forget that Alligator meal. The reason it was unforgettable was that it was, to me, so very unusual.

Common place items do not make much of an impression on us no matter how good. But the unusual, that impression good or bad, will last and last.

Not everyone can chase down some alligator for dinner tonight, I give you that, and those who do find it on the menu where they eat may be quite tired of it at this point.

My point here is that given the choice, go of the unusual, the thing you have never tried before because you will remember the unique item long after the ordinary is forgotten.

Looking for the unique can really help you remember. That is not restricted to totally unique things or events. Find one unique quality and that will anchor the memory and help you hold onto it a whole lot longer.

Trouble for many of us is that if you do not know what you are looking at you may not be able to see the unique when it slides off your plate, so to speak.

In the next few posts, we are still talking memory improvement and mental efficacy here, I want to tell you about how to find the unusual when you don’t know what you are looking at. We also want to find out how to find the unusual in what at first look appears to be an ordinary person or place. With those skills, things that you used to pass by and forget in an instant can stay in your memory for as long as you chose.

Memory improvement skills do not come instantly, so you will need to practice the skill a bit. It is a whole lot more fun to practice memory skills than to keep forgetting who you are and where you live.

Practice you memory skills and remember to check back the rest of the month for more on memory improvement and self-help skills.

Photo courtesy of Flickr

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page . For information about my other writing work beyond this blog there is also a Facebook authors page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at

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