Updated: Feb 7, 2020
Flame, Fuse, Fire! can be a very useful technique for prospective memory. It helps you to remember to do things in the future. We have used it both for one-off things and to help remind our daughter about the start of a task or routine that we want to become a good habit. To date, we have found that its effectiveness is much more noticeable in the former type of use and so we want to talk a little more here about using it to establish habits.
However you choose to use it, you must remember it is only an aid. It doesn’t get you the whole way there. For instance, if we look at the CHUM example we looked at in Explode into Action, what we found was that it was a good starting point and initially our daughter would remember her “into school” and “out of school” routine. Unfortunately, this degraded over time. There are a couple of possible reasons for this.
Firstly, this is actually very similar to what happens in other peg or registry memory techniques where you can reuse the same memory palace again and again for different lists. After a day or so, the link image fades so you can re-use the peg with another image. If you want the link to stay clear, then you have to reinforce it regularly.
Secondly, the Fire! action can get boring. Habits such as this one, are, in reality, regular, necessary chores. Few people like doing chores, particularly our daughter. So it might be she is just deciding that she would rather chat to her chum, rather than do the chore we have linked to her chum.
To try and overcome these problems it's possible to couple Flame, Fuse, Fire! with other techniques. One that we tried was having a laminated piece of paper with the word CHUM printed on it in large letters, which we leave on her car seat. She has to take the piece of paper off her car seat each time we leave for or return from school.
So, could we have used picking up this piece of paper as our Flame? No, because getting in or out of the car, does not occur immediately before she goes into or leaves the classroom, which is when she needs to do her CHUM tasks. She might play with some of her pals before the bell, or go to orchestra practice, between getting out of the car and arriving at her peg, which gives plenty of time for the Flame to go out or get forgotten. Our original Flame is a much better one.
What we need to do is simply refresh her original Fuse link, which the piece of paper does, particularly given the visual element as the laminated sheet also has a photo of our daughter with the 'chum' she had selected for her mental image. As we have mentioned in a previous blog, we found the acronym was working fine, it was the prompt that needed a bit more work. Maybe we should have a photo of her school peg as a reminder of her Flame rather than reinforcing the CHUM, which is already established.
With all of these techniques, there are individual differences - what works for one person is less successful with another. The trick is to adapt each technique to suit you (and/or your personal preferences) and then practise them regularly.
We also wanted to stress that it's important not to do your child's thinking for them. Instead of asking her "Have you remembered your clarinet and your homework?” when we pick our daughter up at the end of the day, we'll ask her if she has done her CHUM today, or ask whether there was anything she needed to remember.
We'd encourage you to take that approach with other things, too, not just with Flame, Fuse, Fire! Wherever possible, don’t tell your children to do a particular task. Rather, ask them to think about what they should be doing. We are trying to make the child think for themselves, not just follow orders. Eventually, they can use the same technique for themselves, rather than as a result of parental prompting, when they decide they want to get into a good habit.