Memory and self-discipline


A key aspect of self-discipline is using everything you already know. So an active organized ‘memory’ is actually an aspect of self-discipline. (Database management systems, project spreadsheets, etc. are obvious examples of the connection between memory and discipline.) After-action reports, blogging like I’m doing here, learning from other people’s advice and biographies, researching the existing literature, keeping previously decided priorities in front of your face, cherishing your golden habits, etc. There are many self-discipline/effectiveness ideas that fit into this principle!

On a broader scale, it’s probably true that some cultures and time periods are more self-disciplined than others, and that it’s related to a better memory. I would think that it’s not a coincidence that Europe started using movable type printing during the Renaissance, which was originally largely an exercise in recovering memories from the Classical age.

Is there any tradeoff with creativity and spontaneity? Could carrying around the accumulated treasure of memory weigh you down? It seems possible that it would add some inertia to the system, but the Renaissance example above would be an argument against the inevitability of that. There was huge innovation in that period. But, on the other hand, maybe working on a problem fresh for a while, might allow you to leapfrog over old thinking. Sometimes memory is not treasure, and the received wisdom is not wise.

This “wisdom” may have been received from a previous you. Many times we carry around with us stupid conclusions we came to when we were very young and ignorant. So this shows the importance of the saliency of memory, making it explicit instead of subterranean and implicit. If you bring those conclusions and their provenance to the surface, that’s a good use of memory! It’s hard to erase an unwritten rule.

2 responses »

  1. Something suddenly reminded me of a good book by Merlin Donald I read a long time ago, called Origins of the Modern Mind. I could remember the theory, but not the name of the book or the last name of the author. Because of the memory of the Internet, and the power of search, I could instantly find both by looking for “merlin brain theory“.

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