Posting pictures to Instagram or Facebook could be making our vacation memories worse. That is what research from Princeton University, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, suggests. “It’s probably because people focus on getting the perfect photo, rather than on enjoying where they are,” says Dr. Charles Weaver, a professor and chair of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University. 

Memory doesn’t work the way we perceive it to, says Weaver, who has researched memory for three decades. While we think memory functions as a video camera, replaying every detail as it happened, he says memory is actually a reconstructive process. When we remember an event or a place, we include some real features, but our mind fills in details by including examples of things we have experienced in the past or things we have seen other people experience—even going as far as remembering it as something we actually did.

Weaver offers three tips to help you capture amazing holiday memories with your mind instead of your camera.

Write it out

We all know how rapidly our memories fade, says Weaver, especially if we’ve gone somewhere completely foreign to us. He says a written itinerary can help you preserve those memories against the ravages of time. Write out a schedule of what you did each day on paper or in a calendar app, so you can have something that will help you remember what you did.

Pay attention

Focus on the things that are meaningful to you and what you want to take away from an experience. Pay attention to what a place smells like, and how you felt when you were there. “Don’t worry so much about memorizing the experience, just embrace it. Memory doesn’t get more accurate, but if it starts out more vivid, it will persist longer,” says Weaver.

Describe it

After a moving experience, write three or four sentences to describe how you felt. “Look at professional wine-tasters. The specific language they use seems silly, but they know their memory is going to fade quickly,” says Weaver. “Once they say a wine was oaken, or silky, or whatever, it provides a way to remember how they felt.”

[This story appears in the February 2020 edition of WestJet Magazine.]

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