Celebrity advice: DO the laundry and improve your memory? Yes, I’m confused too.

Rare Mental Condition Gives Actress Henner Super-Human Memory

Most people are able to recall big moments in their lives, but a select few are able to recall minute details of almost every day.

Marilu Henner recently explained to CBS 2′s Katie McGee how her Highly Superior Auto-Biographical Memory, or H-SAM, has allowed her to hold onto even the most minor of moments.

“Every single thing that you have ever done is on your hard drive,” she explained.

Henner’s skill came naturally, but she told CBS 2 that there are ways that everybody can drastically improve their memory. By revisiting experiences and events in your life, you can train your brain, she said.

Henner also suggested adding what she calls “juice” to your day, because memory is tied to adrenaline.

“You can like, do the laundry, do the kitty litter, go to the dentist. Or, you could DO THE LAUNDRY! Take pride in it,” she said.

Henner said she believes that by improving your memory you can live a more conscious life.

Tip: Fark.com

Um. What?

People’s memory abilities are all a little bit different, for sure. But there are several things here that made me squish up my face and wonder why anyone would consider an actress a reliable source for telling us how our brains work. Perhaps she does have this condition. But not many people do. So, I don’t think it’s sharable. Instead, her advice for better memory sounds like a self-help pitch. New book maybe? I’ll stick to memory explanations from professional researchers, thanks.

Also, she is confusing memory with mindfulness – a state of being aware of things happening around you, not just on auto-pilot.

Memory isn’t a hard drive. That’s oversimplifying it by a lot. Our memory is incredibly prone to distortion and you can’t rely on it to be an accurate representation of your life events. Sure, some people are more observant. But even if you try, most of us are pretty bad at taking in details about our surroundings. There’s a reason for that. We would be overwhelmed with information. Wonder how Marilu gets through the day with all that remembering going on. It turns out that it IS hard.

Hyperthymestic” abilities do have downsides. The constant thinking about memories can cause disruption in your daily life. It can be a burden and exhausting to always be remembering. It was noted by a person with this ability that it can make it difficult to concentrate on the present or future if you are always thinking about your life in the past.

See more here in a piece on Sci Am.

  1 comment for “Celebrity advice: DO the laundry and improve your memory? Yes, I’m confused too.

  1. Massachusetts
    May 3, 2012 at 6:02 PM

    1. She definitely does have the condition. The 60 minutes segment they shot was very informative. They interviewed neuroscientists who tested her and the handful of other people who have been identified to date. They did MRI’s and there were some significant size differences in the parts of the brain that deal with memory compared to controls. However, it’s not clear whether it’s a cause or an effect situation.

    2. By DOING THE LAUNDRY (note all in caps) she is advocating mindfulness and approaching your daily life with good focus and concentration–and enthusiasm. I think she could have spelled it out clearer but I think she has a point. Mindfulness / concentration are important factors in remembering things. You can’t remember what you don’t notice after all. They aren’t the only factors, of course, but she has a point that this area is the one we can control the most readily and it does make an impact. I am speaking from personal, anecdotal experience though I believe there are some psychological experiments that support those statements.

    3. Yes, the condition she had is challenging. It can have uses but it can be a disability. One of the women interviewed said she has trouble with relationships because ever personal slight or argument she’s experience is fresh in her mind (it’s emotions that are retrieved, not just facts and images.) So it’s hard to get over stuff that happened years ago. When you think of the puppy or something that died 30 years ago you feel the same way you did when you were 12. That can make for a tough day and a hard time moving forward in life, for sure.

    4. Yes, she does have a book coming out soon, if it’s not out already. 🙂 Hey, it’s showBUSINESS!

    5. For us regular folks who want to improve our memories, I’d recommend, for starters, Harry Loraine’s Memory System. He has books, tapes, all sorts of stuff out over the last 50 years, reconfigured for each decade but basically they same. It works. It’s all about visual images and concentration. I’ve used it and have had great results. You won’t end up like this actress but it’s a useful system. His system is based on mnemonic techniques that go way back–some to the ancient Romans and Greeks. But he does a great job of presenting the stuff for modern audiences. He’s a character too–an old magician.

    6. There’s a psychologist who did a lot of memory related studies in Utah. I’ll dig up his info and post it. He wrote a pretty good book on the subject too, and he is definitely an credentialed expert in the field. He believes mnemonics are a useful tool. Of course, these techniques have their limitations, like any tool (including computers and other modern technology.) But it’s amazing, I have found, what you can do with your mind, unfettered by gadgets. Then bring in the gadgets, by all means, because they are so fun.

    7. Also, to further explore the power of the mind, The Trachtenberg method is fantastic for learning how to do mental math, I’ve read. But the book’s expensive. This is a guy who survived the horrors of a concentration camp in WWII by doing mental calculations and figuring out how to simplify the process. He wrote his tome after he was released and it’s a classic. I haven’t used it though (I’ve checked it out and I’ve definitely used the memory stuff) but it’s on my list for sure.

    Sorry if I’ve written too much. This is definitely an area of interest. I don’t think we should be too hard on the actress. I think she does have the abilities she professes. However, it’s not clear how subjective her memories are. I grant you that, she may definitely put her own spin on things. But I think the core memories she’s retrieving are basically real ones.

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