Thought “Triggers”, “Streams”, and “Deltas”

As I mentioned in another post, when I don’t know the name for something, I make up a temporary name for it. Language makes ideas easier to remember and manipulate.

The purpose of this post is just to share how I visualize the process of creating mnemonic images.

I’m sure all of these concepts have real names, so If someone has a background in psychology and knows a better way to describe these ideas, please post a comment.

Thought Triggers and Streams

The first thing that happens when choosing a mnemonic image is finding an association. I think of the item to be encoded as “the trigger”, and the thoughts that the mind travels down as “streams” . For example, the name, Taft, might pull up four immediate associations. Some will be deeper than others. The most obvious association (the one embedded most deeply in this brain) is “Daffy Duck”. I’ve marked it with a stronger color in the image below:

Thought trigger and stream

Thought trigger and stream

Since I believe that mnemonic associations shape future thinking (by “deepening” a stream associated with a specific trigger), sometimes the first association isn’t the one I want to reinforce.

Choosing an Alternate Image

It’s possible to quickly reinforce an alternate thought stream, especially with an exaggerated image. Even though Daffy Duck might naturally be stronger, it’s easy enough to choose “taffy” instead and reinforce that:

Thought trigger - stream 2

Reinforcing an alternate thought stream

“Deltas”

The thought streams can be followed, where they branch out into many other choices. I think of the branches as “Deltas”–like a river delta:

Ganges River Delta, Bangladesh, India

Ganges River Delta

“Daffy Duck” may lead to several different possible associations about Daffy Duck that might not have any apparent association with “Taft” to someone who isn’t familiar with your own personal stream of associations. Maybe “taffy” leads to an image of the girl who works at the candy store.

Thought trigger - delta

Further down the "delta"

“Taft” can then be linked directly with the girl from the candy store and reinforced:

Thought trigger - moving streams

Moving streams

This post might be saying what is obvious to most people who practice memory techniques. I’m just sharing how I internally think about the process. I’m also going to post something else based in this idea soon, so this post will lead into the next one…

UPDATE: part 2 is here.

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    2 comments

    • Hi Josh,
      I really enjoyed this post (and the one that follows). I especially like the “stream capture” and “delta” analogies.

      As for some psychological terminology that is related, cognitive behavioral therapy uses “cognitive restructuring”, which attempts to identify thoughts and events that trigger faulty thought patterns (like “I’m worthless”, or “I have to be perfect”, etc) and then gradually replace them with more realistic and positive thoughts. Very similar to the idea you mention above of focusing on a thought pattern that you want to strengthen to gradually replace existing patterns.

      Another related term is “long-term potentiation”, which refers to the strengthening of chemical connections between two neurons. It is often simplified with the expression “Neurons that fire together wire together”; repeated use of particular connections causes changes in the synapses, which make it more like that those neurons will be activated together in the future.

    • Thanks for the feedback. Someone else in the forum also recommended checking out Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I’ll try to find a book on it when I get back to the US.

      I made some of my chronic negative thoughts ridiculous by adding a visual aspect that disrupted the meaning of the first image. Now, if the thought is triggered it usually goes down the new, alternate route, or just doesn’t happen at all anymore. I didn’t replace them with new happy thoughts, but maybe I should do that.

      I bookmarked the Wikipedia page on long-term potentiation to read later. Someday I’ll find a neuroscience textbook and try to learn more…

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