Memory Exercises - how to recall hidden memories

Memory Exercises - how to recall hidden memories

8 July 2016 Life Writing Autiobiography Memoir

Five senses

We discover the world through our five senses; sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. Our sensory perception is primal and powerful and can be used to stimulate our thoughts and memories.

Sight exercise:

Look at a photograph. Start jotting down points about what you see; name the people, what are they doing, what is the occasion, what are they wearing. Use these points to start generating your memories of that time.

Sound exercise:

Listen to some music relevant to a time or era you want to remember. Jot down bullet points as memories come back.

Smell exercise:

Smell some clothing of someone you want to remember, or their aftershave or perfume. Even sun lotion or cooking smells can help to trigger long forgotten memories.

Taste exercise:

Usually associated with food, but some smells can create a ‘taste’ in your throat as well. Eat some foods that you used to eat in your childhood, or cook a loved one’s favourite recipe.

Touch exercise:

Hold an ornament or trinket from a time you want to remember. Perhaps a cherished possession of someone you are trying to remember. Sit in their chair or put on their shoes. Close your eyes and concentrate on the feel of the item.

Combination exercises:

Combining senses will make the memory triggers even stronger. Look at a photo, listening to the right music, wearing their perfumed scarf, while sitting in their chair.

Imagine your life as a landscape scene

Snowcapped mountains in the background, a large river weaving through dense forests, desert plains, fields with flowers, maybe some rapids on the river, a waterfall, a swimming-hole. Can you relate these scenes to periods in your life? Can you see an overall reoccurring theme in your life? This theme can drive your writing and create the structure of your story.

Situation stimulation

If possible, go back to the place where you grew up, or first worked, or lived when you were first married. Seeing how a place is now can stimulate your memories of how it used to be.


Create your life’s timeline. List all the major events of your life. Start with the year you were born, the year you went to school, the year you moved house, the year your pet died etc.

World events

List some major world events and think about what you were doing then. Where did you live, or work? Did this major event affect your life or your family?

Painful memories

Some memories can create strong emotional reactions. Take a breath, even a break, or talk it through with someone.

Write in stages - start with bullet points, keywords or expressions, then come back when you feel stronger, and piece-by-piece you can build on your words.

Faulty memories

The brain is an amazing thing, but it is not perfect all of the time. Memories can be fragmented, or a mix of first and second-hand information. The brain is very sensitive to suggestion, and sometimes you may feel you remember something, but it might not be completely accurate.

Your memories are also your perspective, perhaps you did not have the situation in context, or you were looking through a child’s eyes. This story is your story, and it is your perspective, whether right or wrong, just be aware of the repercussions of vengeful words. 

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