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Past depression research indicates that recalling vivid self-affirming, positive memories gives our mood a boost. However, if an individual is depressed, those types of memories are gray, fuzzy, and not very mood-boosting.
One way to utilize detailed positive memories to help yourself feel better is a strategy called method of loci.
Method of loci (location) was the brain child of a Roman poet named Simonides of Ceos. He was attending a dinner when the building collapsed; he was the only survivor. That he survived is amazing since many other guests were crushed beyond recognition.
Simonides could help identify the bodies because he had a mental picture (memory) of where people were sitting during the meal. This made him realize that a person could remember anything by attaching it to the mental image of a place.
Using location became a very popular memory or mnemonic technique through the mid-17th century. Then other memory systems were introduced, giving method of loci some competition.
Think of walking through a familiar place such as your home or office, or picture a familiar route such as your drive or ride to work. It is important to think of moving through the place logically, as you do in everyday life.
You attach what you want to remember, using mental imagery, to different areas or items throughout your location or commute.
To recall your memories, visualize your path through the home, office, or ride to work. As you mentally walk room-to-room or drive by the usual landmarks, the memories you have attached to certain items will pop into your mind.
Aaron, who has a diagnosis of depression, drives to work past Sam’s Corner Hardware. A few blocks down is Martha’s Marathon where Aaron fills his tank, and just before getting to the office Aaron passes (and occasionally stops at) Dave’s Donut Shop.
Aaron remembers himself as a boy shopping with his grandfather at a local hardware store like Sam's. They are building a birdhouse together and getting supplies.
Aaron attaches the memory of his first business venture to the gas pumps at Martha’s. He recalled happy and proud days mowing a half dozen neighborhood lawns and being able to buy the bike he wanted.
Aaron associates Dave’s Donuts and the memory of Saturday mornings with his college friends. They had coffee and pastries while lounging around, laughing it up, and occasionally studying.
Now, when Aaron is depressed and needs to recall life-affirming positive times, he can visualize the commute to work and let the landmarks along the way jog his good memories. He is frequently reminded of his favorite times as he drives to work as well.
When Tim Dalgleish, Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, did a research study using method of loci to aid people with depression, the subjects were asked to come up with 15 positive memories and attach each to a location. Using method of loci helped the subjects recall the positive memories over the long term.
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