An Unforgettable Life: Part 2

(If you haven’t already, please read “An Unforgettable Life: Part 1” before continuing…)

So, you’ve learned all about Marilu Henner and her highly superior autobiographical memory, but what are the implications of that for us average folk? Why is our autobiographical memory important?

It’s important because it informs our decision making and ultimately how we choose to live life. To quote Marilu, “It’s easy to repeat negative behavior when we don’t clearly remember the consequences of that behavior.” In her book, she gives the example of suffering from a hangover. Some may not learn from the bad experience and will choose to get drunk again but hopefully, their memory will serve them well the next time they start drinking and they will choose to monitor their intake of alcohol. “My decision making process has more information to draw from and therefore I am better able to make sound decisions than if I didn’t have that information at my fingertips,” she says. Learning from mistakes, she can look back on her “bad” memories with a newly gained perspective and understanding.

Before going into specific tips for improving memory, I would like to give an overview on the different types of memory retrieval. These include horizontal, vertical, mushrooming, and sporadic. The more familiar you are with the different patterns, the easier it will be for you to utilize them for recalling specific memories and you will also learn which one comes most naturally for you.

The Key to Keeping Working Memory Working | Technology Networks

horizontal – linear, chronological memory which overlooks specific details, only answering the what

vertical – detailed memory of a specific experience, going deeper and deeper and exploring the why

mushrooming – a single memory that branches out, making connections reaching further and further from the original event

sporadic – seemingly random memories triggered by association with current events


In looking to improve autobiographical memory, it’s important to keep in mind that the brain must be exercised. Results will take effort, but the more we practice, the more connections we will make, and the easier it will become. In her book, Marilu explains three main methods of improving autobiographical memory. These include APR, Primary Track, and Sense Memory, which are described in further detail below.

  1. APR

APR stands for Anticipation, Participation, and Recollection. This is what Marilu defines as the three step process of autobiographical memory. When we are conscious of this process, we can take steps to develop each individual phase. For example, in the anticipation phase, we can prepare for an event by writing it down on a calendar, talking about what we look forward to, deciding beforehand what we will wear, etc. In the participation phase, we can consciously choose to pay more attention to detail, be involved, and take photos to capture the memory. And finally, in the recollection phase, we can keep a timeline or journal to catalog events we want to remember, we can talk about the event with those who attended, and we can look back at the photos we took.

2. Primary Track

According to her book, everyone has a “primary track” of memories which they remember more than other. This can be career, travel, food, entertainment, etc. A primary track tailors your memory to what is most important. Once you discover your primary track you can use it as a springboard for recollection, filling in the blanks between events that are more vivid in your memory.

3. Sense Memory

Another topic Marilu discusses in her book is the powerful relationship between memory and the senses. Like the primary track, everyone has a dominant sense with which they recall memories. Knowing this information, I have found myself paying more attention to my surroundings and the sensations of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. These senses reinforce memory, giving you multiple avenues with which to revive past experiences. At the end of this post, I have included the dominant sense questionnaire. (If you are curious, my dominant sense is taste.)

In keeping a blog, I have noticed an improved memory of what I am reading and learning because I am forced to practice recall and rephrase what I have read and/or heard into my own words. I am also improving my writing by learning how to clearly articulate what I am trying to communicate in a way that is both informative and engaging. I think it will also be interesting to look back on my blog years from now as a record of what I was thinking about during this time in my life.


{Questions taken directly from Marilu Henner’s book, “Total Memory Makeover: Uncover Your Past, Take Charge of Your Future.”}

Dominant Sense Questionnaire: write down your answers to all 10 questions and then look at which letter you answered most frequently to discover your dominant sense

1) Which appeals to you most?

a – corn

b – lilac

c – calla lily

d – cactus

e – mango

2) Which is your favorite thing to do on a day off?

a – go to a movie

b -spend the day at the beach

c – visit a museum

d – participate in sports

e – dine at your favorite restaurant

3) Which of these are you most likely to collect?

a – records/CDs

b – antique books

c – art and design books

d – travel or nature books

e – cookbooks

4) Which is your favorite part of a wedding?

a – dancing

b – open bar

c – the ceremony

d – visiting with friends

e – the food

5) What do you / did you enjoy most about school?

a – socializing with friends

b – the feeling of fall in the air

c – learning new information

d – buying nee pencils and supplies

e – the cafeteria

6) Which of the following frightens you most?

a – violence

b – fire

c – loneliness

d – floods

e – famine

7) Which one of these colors appeals to you most?

a – black

b – orange

c – red

d – rust

e – yellow

8) Which of these guides you most?

a – a higher power

b – passion

c – logic

d – the advice of others

e – instinct

9) Which of these is your favorite part of a romantic evening?

a – the right music

b – foreplay

c – the way your partner looks

d -holding hands

e – an intimate dinner

10) Which among these is your favorite holiday?

a – Independence Day

b – Christmas

c – Halloween

d – Valentine’s Day

e – Thanksgiving


a – sound

b – smell

c – sight

d – touch

e – taste

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