Let’s say I give you a solved Rubik’s cube. Each side shows one color. The goal is to get the cube to show a distinct pattern. You and I both know you’ve seen this pattern before, but it’s buried deep inside your memory. At one point, you knew this pattern well, but right now you can’t recall it at will. What do you do?
You’d probably start by trying to remember one aspect, any aspect at all, of the pattern. Maybe it’s that one side was both red and blue. Maybe it’s that the pattern was random. Whatever it is, you start fiddling with the cube based on that aspect. This is where the magic begins.
As soon as you see red and blue together again, your mind will tell you: No, that’s not it. So you keep fiddling. Each next turn, however, unlocks new information. New material gets dislodged. More faint images bubble to the surface. Every idea links to the next, every element connects to another.
If you keep playing with the cube, eventually, it’ll hit you: Crosses! The pattern was crosses! This was the breakthrough you needed. You’ll still need more time, but now that you’ve got the pattern’s main feature, the rest is only a matter of trial and error.
The point is that your memory works somewhat like a Rubik’s cube: Even when you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, each next turn still matters. Keep trying!
The more you squeeze your mind, the more memories it activates. You might not find what you want on the first, or second, or even the tenth attempt, but on the 50th, you will. Very little gets lost.
Earlier today, that’s exactly how I remembered a song I hadn’t heard in years. All I had was one line of the lyrics and a melody, neither of which uncle Google could help with.
Eventually, I remembered the band name had something to do with music. I started with “radio,” which turned out to be “audio,” which got me back to Audioslave and Audiomachine – two bands I’m familiar with, but that both turned out to be wrong ends.
The lyric, meanwhile, “going out tonight,” sent me down the rabbit hole of “Friday,” and “Weekend.” Michael Gray’s The Weekend wasn’t it, but later in the day, stimulated by a walk in the sun, my mind put two and two together: The song was called Living For The Weekend, and the band’s name was Hard-Fi – something sort of audio-related.
Your mind is bigger than you think. Keep turning the cube, and you can rediscover almost anything.