How to recollect your life.

Most people over the age of forty have sat down at one point in their life to write the story of their life. After all, there is an innate need to leave behind a legacy; almost a way to tell the world: I don’t want to be forgotten.

But, what happens when you write all those stories you’ve told over and over in your life and you only have ten or so pages? Well, that means it’s time to dig in and try to recollect all those memories that exist deep down. Trust me, there is a lot more valuable information than you think you’d have ever had.

To give you a little jump-start, here are a few tips to help you recollect all those hidden memories.


Dates may not seem important at first, but they carry a lot more value than a day, month, and year. So, if possible try to collect as many dates as you can. While a date seems like something that can be collected later, the value is both in their chronology as well as their ability to provoke recollection. For most people their lives are not as simple as I had four kids to raise and that’s all that happened in my life. No! Most people had careers, hobbies, passions, dating experiences, vacations, and other significant events that surrounded what you may consider your life’s path. Utilizing dates is a great way to recollect what else was happening when little Jimmy was born or when you took that trip to Hawaii to get away – away from what? I’m not sure, use the dates of your trip to try and figure out what else was going on.

Key Events in Your Personal Life

A key event isn’t usually something that occurs each year such as a birthday. However, the day your children were born is a key event. Other key events are your first job, or career job, going to college, being terminated, starting your own business, a severe car accident, vacations, and the loss of someone you love.

Key events help to provide an emotional response which triggers memory recollection. It is helpful to make a list of these key events and if anything you can simply begin writing about what you remember about that event – emotions, actions, etc.

Key Events Outside of Your Life

There is often a lack of separation between events in your personal life compared to events outside your personal life. For me, there are three events that had little to do with me personally, but have created a distinct memory of every tiny detail which occurred at the moment.

Those three events are the Challenger explosion on January 28, 1986 when I was 10-years-old. The day Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990 when I was 14-years old, and September 11, 2001 when the World Trade Centers and other areas of the country were attacked. I was 25-years-old.

For each of those days I remember every detail leading up to and following the events for hours and even days. These events, while they did not specifically involve me, they had a big impact. Sitting down to write these days out the same as you do your personal life events can be just as important, if not more important than your personal life experiences.


I remember an exercise that I used to help someone recollect their life. The person had said that they never really had any friends. So, we tried to start back as early as they could remember and list out each person from family members, to classmates, coworkers, etc. Once this list – a huge one – had been completed I had the person write as much as they could remember for the people who were not intimately connected. For example, “That red-headed guy Sam use to poke his eraser into my back every day in Freshman English. It annoyed me so much. But, he smelled good, so I never said anything. I found out later he had a huge crush on me and spent most of high school trying to get my attention. Which I never gave him because of the eraser deal.”

Not only was this person surprised by the number of people she could recollect, but she also realized she’d had some amazing friendships she completely forgot about. One thing that often comes up are the people in your life whom you met only once or twice such as a barista at a coffee shop. You may have never talked to the person beyond a “hello” or placing an order, but for some reason they stuck.

I remember one time I had gone to a coffee shop and ordered a White mocha with an extra shot of espresso. I didn’t go back there for two years, but when I walked up to the counter the woman smiled and said, “White mocha with an extra shot of espresso.” We both laughed and she said she had no idea why she remembered that or why she still remembered me. Of course, that’s not the drink I wanted, but how could I ask for anything else at that point?

Dates, key events, and people. It may seem like a simple formula, but you’d be surprised how difficult it is to recollect your life when you are only trying to think of stories rather than the triggers to remember those stories.

If you are looking for a writer to help with your book or other writing/editing project please contact me to discuss. You can find my rates and types of projects I work on here.


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