Our understanding of time relies not only on the movement of our planet around our sun, but on our ability to remember and construct events.

Psychology has struggled to gain an understanding of the beauty and complexity of human memory-making. I am going to introduce experiments based on just one idea I will call matrix memory, more often called Associationism.

Matrix memory says information is stored in a complex web: there are pictures, of course, say, a visual recall of a holiday. There are sounds; of the sea, the wind and conversations in a cafe. More importantly, often, there are smells – of sea air and fish and chips, as well as touches and textures; bed linen in a hotel or guest house, a tight collar when you are dressed up to the nines ( remember Wesley if, like me, your are a fan of the UK sit-com Last of the Summer Wine).

EXPERIMENT: as you read my list in that last paragraph, did you notice your body actually responding;  recalling examples of past events? Pie and chips do it for me, especially wrapped in newspaper! What about your reaction to information that means nothing to you, e.g. if you’ve never seen Last of the Summer Wine I mentioned above? Do you blame me for introducing idiosyncratic and personal content? Do you kick yourself for not knowing about it!! Does that cast light on your view of the world?

What can be forgotten is the part played by emotions and sensations in strengthening or weakening our memories. The strength of a memory is often defined by the perfect storm that sees many elements building up; colour, contrast, brightness, sound, touch and smell. As each joins in, then the impact of a memory can become stronger. A memory may fade over time, but any one element can resurrect it in the right circumstances. Maybe that’s why so many of us are vulnerable to ‘Our Tunes’ played on the radio or at a live concert.

Your reaction to the sight of a photograph of a holiday romance partner is not depending only on what you are seeing. Am I right?

Stronger memories have more connections in the matrix that makes up our memory of things gone by.  Some exert such an influence that the impact on our sense of what is real becomes distorted. This can be the case when we are traumatised by the specific event. Sadly , there have been only too many in recent months and years. Remember the question we’ve all asked: “do you remember where were you when …. ” a major event happened. Most of know the answer in a flash. The memory is very well connected; even an old memory is close to the surface and easily extracted.

Matrix memory makes some experiences difficult to forget (those with many links on the matrix) and others are less accessible (those with fewer, or tightly defended).  Some unpleasant memories are difficult to reach as elements of the matrix can be tucked away in a proverbial safe deposit box. This helps us be insulated from that experience in the here-and-now. Some of us are so effective at this that we develop different personalities able to recall different aspects of our matrix on some occasions, and other aspects of it at other times. In small doses, this can be ‘normal’ behaviour for most of us. Indeed, entire psychological models – the ego state theories – have been built around it.

At the extreme, however, this behaviour can creates ‘multiple personalities’, now referred to as a dissociative identity disorder (DID). In the treatment of trauma, these separated elements most often need to be helped to relate one to another in a more integrated fashion.

EXPERIMENT: take a moment to be quiet and reflect. Consider a happy memory chosen carefully. Do not seek out something dramatic and unhappy; look for an everyday event.

How would you like to record this memory? Some people may write, others will draw or sculpt it and some will talk it out to a tape recorder or to a friend. Note how you prefer to do it. As you recall this memory, what does it tell you about yourself and who you are? If the memory could speak independently, what would it say to you?

This information may be helpful as you can identify your preferred CHANNELS OF COMMUNICATION. These include:

VISUAL: evidently, what we see, but it also impacts on what we imagine. Listen in to a conversation and notice the language used. Is it ‘I see ….’, ‘my vision ….’, ‘I picture this …’, ‘my view …’ etc.

AUDITORY: evidently, what we hear, but an ‘auditory’ individual may well be sensitive to the impact of sounds on them. People on the autistic spectrum tell me this is true for them sometimes. So, in your listening to conversation, look out for ‘sounds like …’, ‘I hear …’, ‘that grates on me ….’, ‘listen ….’ etc.

KINESTHETIC: what we feel or our experience of touch and being touched. This area can be overlooked and that is why the Body Scan asks you to notice sensations within the body, or around it.

Each of use tend to prefer one or another – usually Visual, often Auditory and seldom Kinesthetic. This has a large impact on how we see the world and convey our understanding to another.

There are others, such as smell, the olfactory system, but the human ability to use this channel appears to have faded over millenia of evolution.


If we do have reduced sensitivity to touch, there are still many opportunities to experiment with it. One set of strategies can be found in the work of Emotional Freedom Therapy (EFT), home of the idea of ‘tapping’ and one of the so-called Energy Therapies. I’m not sure how tapping works, but I’ve seen it help some people and my general philosophy is ‘if it works, don’t knock it’.

The manual says that ” Western medical science tends to focus on the chemical nature of the body and has not paid much attention to these subtle, but powerful, energy flows”
and  “by simply tapping near the end points of your energy meridians you can experience some profound changes in your emotional and physical health. These changes would not occur if there was no energy system“.

See if the ‘ingredients’ in the manual, available via the link, above, gives you more insight into the ‘energy systems’ and, more importantly, any inspiration for a safe experiment. The approach puts emphasis on repetitions and that makes a lot of sense to me. Most safe experiments need to be practised to have any impact on the processes of change.

Let’s move on now to consider how space and time to come can also shape our memories.

Like Scrooge in ‘A Christmas Carol’, we can be fearful for our future, as well as regretful about our past. In general terms, anxiety can be regarded as a product of forward-thinking.  Bob Monkhouse, the British comedian, once said that the problem with worrying is that it’s like “paying interest on something you might never buy“. Some of the things that worry us might well come to fruition, but many do not.

Have you ever noted down a worry as you try to get off to sleep at night. That is a good way to help put a troubling thought to one side – a useful experiment. However, next morning, how many of us look at the written note and have thought: oh well, I can leave that one for a while. It might have been important at the time, but it no longer seems so urgent.

EXPERIMENT:  take some time out and relax. Drift forward in time toward some event to come – it could be real or imagined, although something real and in the near future might serve best. You could return to your Road Map experiment and look out for information on the right side of your time line. The event merely has to be something about your future that troubles you to some small degree, now.

What is the time and place you have moved to?

Who are you with and what is being said and done?

What is the thing that is troubling you?

Make brief notes for future reference.

Consider, then, on a scale of 1-7, where one is least likely and seven is a dead certainty, how likely is it that this troubling thing will come about. This scale is call the Validity of Cognition (VOC), and it is a subjective measure of how much do you believe what you are thinking. You do not need to justify your measures, but do consider the implications of every single measure for your safe experiments and life planning.

Make a note of that value. Recall the experience a few times in the days to come. Notice if the value changes. More importantly, note down what actually happens when the time  comes. How close is your actual experience, from the event as you anticipated it?

The conclusions we draw about our memories can generate and ‘manage’ our worries, although this is usually done out of our awareness.  It is not easy to design a safe experiment when the information cannot be reached very easily!

Can you still use your curiosity to dig out an experiment to address some memories a little bit differently next time round? A little scepticism about ‘what is truth‘ might be worth considering.

Return to:


What is a nudge

How to design safe experiments

Safe experiments with Time