Before I head to the gym I need to remember five items: my wallet, phone, car key, iPod, and lifting gloves. Historically, my success rate in remembering all five items on the first try was approximately zero. I always ended up going back into the house to grab a forgotten item or two.  Often I would get all the way to the gym before realizing I didn't have my iPod or gloves. It was exasperating.

Apparently, remembering five items is too much for my tiny, overextended brain. I spend much of my day in a thick creative fog, watching idea fragments float past my consciousness while I try to assemble them like a puzzle. I can go so deeply into my imagination that I sometimes snap out of it in a public place, such as the mall, and literally check to see if I'm wearing pants. So remembering five different items for the gym is far beyond my practical abilities.

I considered making a list of my five necessary gym items, but I knew a list wouldn't work for me. I find that lists only work when I first make them. After a week, I stop seeing the list. It's as if I need a second list that reminds me to look at my first list. But I did come up with a solution that has worked for the past six months.

My solution is the number five itself. I simply remember that for a trip to the gym I must bring five items. If I only count four items, I know I'm missing one. At that point I just run through the list in my head and I know what else I need. It works like a charm.

The other day I was considering blogging about this little memory trick when I got an email from my brother. We're not twins, but we think so similarly that it is freaky. My brother's email asked what method I use to remember the items I need to buy at the grocery store. My brother's solution is to remember the number of items. That's enough to ensure he comes home with everything he intended to buy. He and I designed the same memory trick at about the same time. Weird.

I'm considering assigning a number to my other standard trips as well. For example, any outdoorsy trips that involve sun also require my hat, sunscreen, and sun glasses. That's three items on top of my wallet, phone, and car keys. Outdoor trips are a six.

I'm assuming your lives are equally complicated. It's a challenge to get your spouse and your kids in the car without one of you making a go-back trip to the house for a forgotten item. As a fix, what if you assigned each family member a number before everyone heads to the car? For example, maybe one kid always needs an iPod, charger, and headphones. That's three items. Your spouse might need sunglasses, phone, purse, and digital camera. That's four. As everyone is getting ready to leave, you make sure everyone knows their number: "Timmy, you're a three. Sally, you're a four."

Try it. You'll be amazed how well it works.

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Nov 20, 2012
Along the same lines, awareness/focus.

I can go so deeply into an abstraction that my sight begins to deteriorate.

I had an occular embolism once. it scrambled my sight. i knew i was seeing, but i could not interpret the signal in any meaningful way. its experienced as a sort of visual haze.

This is how my sight goes when i go deeply into a thought.

Since Im very visually centered it strikes me as amazing. ive never lost sight completely from thinking but i think im about 1/2 way there.

this reminds me of a King of the Hill episode where the main character went blind for psychological reasons (seeing his golden years parent having sex).

getting sidetracked and forgetting (1 of) 5 things is only impressive if you are intelligent and really putting effort into remembering and you dont have any distractions. otherwise its typical.

the most challenging mental function for me is preprogramming interupts. when i get started on a task, and want to tackle the problem from a new angle, its very hard to interupt old pathways. the more i concentrate, the less free floating consciousness i have available to break the cycle and even be aware when the decision branch presents itself.

I wanted to practice some assorted "ppl skills" but i get into a conversation and its very hard not to follow the same old paths, carrying the same motives, same objectives, same tactics while ignoring(not recognizing) lost opportunities.

I wish i was ADHD sometimes. my focus narrowing is too strong.
Nov 20, 2012
Off topic, but anyone else notice how today's Dilbert:


is very similar to a recent one:


Deliberate, Scott?

[Semi-deliberate. I sometimes address a specific topic and later come up with an improved angle on it. In this case the improvement is the third panel in which flexibility is yet another contradictory and ridiculous goal. But honestly, I didn't realize the first two panels were identical in language to the first version until you pointed it out. I knew they were similar, because that much was intentional, but I'm surprised they are identical. That's probably less about memory than it is an example of how I'm wired to write a certain way. -- Scott]
Nov 20, 2012
This is a list of things I carry everyday to work.
Handkerchief, wallet, keys, loose change, pen, cell phone, pen drive.
The first four go into four trouser pockets. The last three into the shirt pocket.
Since everything goes in a particular pocket, I just have to pat the pockets and see if one has remianed empty as I walk out the door.

For other short lists, I take the first letter of every item, arrange them alphabetically and memorise the string. Sometimes, I remember the letter but still can't recollect the item it refers to.
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Nov 20, 2012
before I leave I recite the mantra: wallet, keys, gromits, ... you got your boots on, OK at least you can march into battle.
Nov 20, 2012
I don't remember a count of items, I simply remember a location. Everything that involves walking out of the house (mp3 player, cell phone, keys, wallet, ... ) for whatever reason is stored just inside the door to the garage (and yes I do sometimes miss calls (but I count that a bonus)). With this system I only have to remember to check one location, and empty everything when I come back in.
Nov 20, 2012
I've always used the number trick. I find it works great for this I do regularly. But for shopping trips, I sometimes end up short. For example, I'll be at the grocery store, holding garlic, cereal, and milk in my hands and thinking "darn, I needed 4 things, but I can't remember for the life of me the fourth thing". This happens to me all the time, so I usually write it down anyway.
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Nov 19, 2012
I am nearly sure this joke was once featured on the Wikipedia page on Russian jokes http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_joke . If this was the case it surely belonged to the "Jokes about disabilities" section so if you are easily offended by those don't read on. For the rest I will try to relate it in my own words. Any coincidences are purely unintended of course.

In a family with some mental history the father instructs his son:
- Here's the money, you go to the shop and buy two items, that is, bread and milk. Remember that! Two items, not one, not three, but two. Bread. And milk. Two items. Now you go!
After a while the son comes back with a new hockey stick. The father is enraged:
- You are a complete, absolutely retarded idiot! What did I tell you to remember? Two bloody items! Two, not one! Now, where is the puck?
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Nov 19, 2012
I see unintended consequences to this system. I've been fairly lax about working out these past few months. If I didn't have to run back into the house three times on every trip out the door, I'd get no exercise at all.
Nov 19, 2012
Kinda surprised no one's mentioned this yet, but you and your brother are hashing your lists.


Hashes are frequently used for error checking while transmitting data, which is kinda how you and your brother use it.
Nov 19, 2012
I have been doing this for years myself, although I never realized the exact mechanic of it until I read your post.

I suffer from the same sort of problem of habitual forgetfulness that you do, but have been amazed that I have never lost or had to replace my keys, wallet, or phone. Not once.

They make up what I call, "the big three", the three items I can't leave the house without.

How strange that are minds can recall a number easier than a more exact list of items.
Nov 19, 2012
I've been using this trick for decades! (Ha! Got ya beat, all of you who have only been using this trick for years!!)

I use it when getting dressed "Watch wallet keys," but I never check for them in that order, and even though I have a cell phone and no longer wear a watch, I still recite "watch wallet keys" as I make sure I have 3 things.

I also use it to make sure I have all 4 of my kids in those rare instances when I want to make sure I have all 4 of my kids.
Nov 19, 2012
I don't use the saying for it's original (i.e. religious) purpose anymore, but I always think of the phrase "spectacles, testicles, wallet, watch" when I leave the house. And even though I wear contacts and it has nothing to do with it, 'spectacles' reminds me to add my phone to the list.

Keys are a given since the car won't move without them. Public transit/walking isn't an option.
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Nov 19, 2012
The number memory trick is especially useful for traveling situations. Another technique that I find useful is to leverage your procedural (or motor) memory, and ritualize daily actions (which is probably one reason you rarely find yourself in the mall without pants, getting dressed tends to be consistent enough day-to-day to become ritualistic). One example is that whenever I'm about to go out the door, I have a 4-tap sequence against my pants pockets. All 4 taps should hit something hard, if they don't I'm missing something. Or when I'm coming back in, I always take my keys and my wallet out in each hand, and put them in the same place on my desk. I won't put either down unless I'm holding both, in the correct hand, and standing in the right place, since doing anything else will feel wrong when practiced.

A more complex example, starting up my lab bench setup everyday takes about 25 actions, some of which need to be done in sequence, and some of which have fixed delays between when I can complete the sequential steps. I've developed an exact sequence, not just of turning things on in a certain order, but also walking to the same other parts of the lab at the same time in the process, etc, so that if I'm missing a step it immediately feels like I'm in the wrong place (or turned the wrong way, etc) at any given point of the sequence. Over the past year and a half, it's worked 100% of the time, even after fairly long layoffs (say 1-week plus).
Nov 19, 2012
Dating myself with this, but when I go to the gym I use an acronym from the 70's: WKRP. W-allet. K-eys. [something to] R-ead. P-hone.
Nov 19, 2012
Seven items at the store huh?
One bag of chips
A 2-fer on ice cream
2 frozen pizzas
2 4-packs of micro brew root beer (yes even root beer can be micro brewed now)

That might not be what was on my list, but it adds up.
Nov 19, 2012
zomg, I have had this problem for so long. I came up with a different solution. I have a little thing I say to myself before I go out the door that goes like this:

keys,wallet,cash,phone,camera,gps, (for every trip of any sort)
laptop,backpack,pen,paper,book, (for going to work)
kleenex,qtips,earplugs,headphones... this list varies a lot and isn't well defined or used much though I feel it should be

I've gotten to where I say the kwcpcg thing instinctively before going out the door. It has a certain pleasant rhythm to it that makes it easy to run through. But the problem with this memorization trick is the GPS is long gone and not needed anymore and I never carry cash anymore either, but it's gotten stuck into the memory list by sheer burn in.

Nov 19, 2012
Yeah, I've done this for grocery trips that only need a handful of things and I'm too lazy to write a list out. If I remember the number then I can tell if I'm missing something, at which point I can think it through until I remember what thing I'm missing.
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Nov 19, 2012
I've long used the same system to get me out the door in the morning. In addition, I always put the things I need in the same pockets. At the moment I cross the threshold, if I don't have, for example, my keys in the correct pocket, a biological bell goes off somehow and saves me from locking myself out.
Nov 19, 2012
I've always remembered images better than words, and numbers better than names. So if I make a mental list before going to the store (particularly if a recipe calls for something I don't regularly buy), I'll remember that I need 5 items, and I may even remember that 2 items had short names, 2 long, and 1 medium, but odds are I'll blank on one of the items. I have to take the time to mentally picture picking up the actual items from the correct aisles. Even if I forget an item, I'll probably remember the aisle and find it.
Nov 19, 2012
My wife has drilled this into my psyche over the last 20 years of marital bliss - she'll call me at work and say, "Are you planning to stop at the store?" then read me a list of items and say, "So how many things are you bringing home?"... gotta say, it does work, at least when I pay attention and do it. Even still, the 3rd one often eludes me, but at least I can call her and tell her I've forgotten the third thing. ("Well, what *do* you have?")
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