PROFILE OF A DISORGANIZED LIFEWhen I began my career some twenty years ago, I quickly found myself lost in a flood of information. There was just too much to remember — too many telephone calls to make, too many appointments, and far too many tasks to complete. I was in distress and didn’t know where to turn.After talking with a number of people I realized that I wasn’t alone; forgetting seemed to be a common problem. But that only gave me the comfort in knowing that I was normal; it didn’t help my situation at all. I was still forgetting and struggling to make it through the day.I could easily pick up on the fact that by forgetting I was quickly losing the trust of my co-workers. Failing to keep my promises and my commitments was branding my reputation; it was embarassing, and I needed to do something fast.I tried everything. I tried writing things down in little notebooks and on loose pieces of paper. I tried sticky-notes, to-do lists, and day-planners. But nothing seemed to work. Carrying a notebook was just too impractical, and I couldn’t keep up with the loose pieces of paper. Having to keep a fresh to-do list seemed like double work. And the sticky notes, well, they were just stuck everywhere and on everything! I needed something different — something that was portable, flexible and easy to use. I needed a system.
After considerable thought on how to get out of the quicksand, I had an idea and began working on the system that would eventually save me. My basic needs were simple: I needed something to help me catch the many fleeting thoughts and ideas, something on which I could make a quick note of a necessary phone calls, letters to write and tasks to complete. I needed something that would take the pressure off my trying to remember. I wanted my brain back!
For me, the entire basis for the design of my system was that it had to be simple and practical. Simply put, it needed to work — and primarily for me.I developed a prototype, made myself the guinea pig and found immediate success using my system. The change in my life was liberating, and professionally I was suddenly refreshed. For eighteen years now, I’ve been using en-gram POCKET CARDS, free of the anxiety of trying to remember.At times over the years I’ve told myself that I was going to make a concerted effort to better develop my system to share with others. But I guess that I was actually more interested in solving my own problems than in developing a solution to market. Since 1988 I’ve been a quiet user of my own system, having made very little effort to take it to others. But I think it’s time now.I want to pass along my experience and hope that you too might find some use in my system. That’s really what my website ThinkingInInk.com is all about – sharing experience.SO, WHAT IS AN ENGRAM?Prior to developing the system, my fascination with the brain’s capacity to retain information led me to read a number of books on the subject of human memory. Intuitively I knew that something must happen in the brain itself to underlie the existence of knowledge. And it seemed quite logical that in order to recall information at some later time, the brain must somehow file or store it.For centuries, scientists and philosophers had considered what must happen in the brain in order for the permanent store of memory to develop. Early pioneers in the fields of learning and memory thought that the brain was like a hot wax tablet and that memories would register on its surface like a stamp or a seal. That “stamp,” it was thought, was the permanent imprint on the brain that would underlie human memory. And it was this stamp that came to be known as the engram, a term coined by Richard Semon 1904.These early theories helped to explain the workings of memory and have long influenced the scientific community in its search for the biological basis of learning and memory. The term engram is, in fact, still commonly used to describe the biological changes in the brain that underlie learning and memory.In my reading I was often reminded of the brain’s physicality –that memories and bits of knowledge are actually laid down as physical traces on the landscape of the brain. And as I thought about it, I figured that this fact probably make the brain’s surface the most valuable real estate in the world! Just think about it: Einstein’s entire mental grasp of the subatomic was held on only two pounds of gray matter (the brain). Pretty awesome, isn’t it?MEMORY / FORGETFULNESSI think most would agree that it’s healthy to learn and to exercise the brain. But I’m also of the opinion that not everything is worth committing to memory. In fact, when you get right down to it, most things aren’t.I think it’s a terrible waste of time and brain-space to try and remember things like telephone calls to make, letters to write, a series of tasks to complete, or even the names of good books that others might recommend. I believe it’s important to reserve your thoughts for more important things like learning a skill, solving a problem, or acquiring meaningful knowledge.I further believe that subconsciously each one of us is well aware of our own brain’s tendency to lose (forget) information. Think about it. Haven’t you ever said this to yourself? “Oh, I’ll never remember that?” In a lifetime, there are literally thousands of bits of useful knowledge that we don’t even try to remember.Consider how much more meaningful your days might be if you could just remember. Suppose, for example, that you hear or read a word that you don’t recognize. Be honest now: do you remember to look it up when you’re near a dictionary? If you’re like most people the answer is no. Such words are quickly forgotten. Or what about the idea that landed on your brain like a butterfly and then was quickly lost in the chasm of the forgotten? How many of your ideas do you think that you’ve lost in that dark void? Do you ever hear a fact, a figure or a joke that you’d like to remember? Where does it usually end up? Probably where all good things go: into the black hole of the forgotten.STRESSThe deleterious effects of stress on the human body are well documented. I believe, in fact, that the brain is the most abused organ in the human body and that stress is the prime cause. Modern day living creates the perfect death trap for the brain’s cellular building blocks called neurons. We expect far too much from an organ that was never designed for perfect retention or for taking on the constant stressors associate with the busy lives. The irony is that forgetting is actually a normal and healthy physiological process. And it’s just as normal to forget as it is to remember. Imagine the sheer insanity of being unable to forget. Such was the case with a particular Russian in the 1920s who in the scientific literature was known simply as “S.”The psychologist Luria, described his patient, S, as a man who by some accident of nature, found it almost impossible to forget. He was constantly assailed by the recollection of all sorts of memories, and for him life was almost unbearable. Even such a simple act as walking down the street would arouse those sleeping demons of the mind, which would spring from the corners of nowhere and attack his consciousness.Memories of all sorts of trivial nothings were always on his mind, lying in wait for a simple cue or reminder to appear on the stage of his active thought. His freakish ability to recall information allowed him to perform unreal feats of memory for which he became rather famous. But no amount of fame would ever compensate for the mental anguish that he suffered.