In science, working memory is generally thought of as either:
- “…the sketchpad of your mind; it’s the contents of your conscious thoughts.” (Earl Miller, a professor of neuroscience at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory)
- Or “…a core component of higher cognitive functions like planning or language or intelligence.” (Christos Constantinidis, a professor of neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest School of Medicine) [Source for both]
Obviously, both versions are valuable and probably both are roughly true. Some “contents” of working memory are indeed sketchpad-like—a crack in the sidewalk or a passing bird—while others clearly are “core components of higher cognitive functions” and, I would add, long-term memory including all psychological factors.
Our psychology—be it “natured” or nurtured—functions in real-life in real-time because we remember it. It bears on us because it is in our minds, because it colors our minds, shades our thoughts and actions.
Working memory is key to understanding human psychology because it shows us how we really are functioning, thinking, acting, feeling in real-time.
Working memory is also fleeting. If you want to use working memory to understand your real-life psychology, you have to be able to analyze it in real-time. This means you have to capture its contents and examine them as near to their appearance in working memory as possible.
You can do this alone with good effect, but when you do it alone you are prone to self-referential bias and other mistakes. When you do it with another person, they can help you avoid self-referential mistakes as well as other less serious ones.
This is how FIML practice works and why it is done the way it is. FIML analyzes data discovered in the working memory.
So how do you do that? You do that by immediately noticing when something significant about the other person’s speech or behavior enters in your mind or arises in your working memory. Generally, that something will have psychological impact on you, though you might just be curious or notice it for other reasons.
Whether working memory is an independent sketchpad or a component of higher functions, analyzing whatever you feel like analyzing in it is valuable. Sometimes even very little things can have great psychological import.
Analyses of working memory through FIML practice are most productive when they entail what I have called “psychological morphemes.”
Psychological morphemes are the smallest units of human psychology. Metaphorically, they are a word or a letter as compared to a phrase, a paragraph, or even a book. They are the building blocks of larger psychological structures and also may occur as unique isolates.
Whenever a psychological morpheme appears in working memory, it is always interesting. Psychological morphemes almost always signal the onset of a larger psychological interpretation, one either stored in long-term memory or one arising just now.
By working with any and all psychological morphemes as they appear in your and your partner’s working memories and by working with them repeatedly, both partners will come to understand that some of these psychological morphemes have deep roots in their cognitive systems while others do not.
For example, a fleeting expression or tone you observe in your partner may cause you to feel jealous or disrespected. Do FIML immediately and find out what it was.
It’s either true or false or in-between. If you have a good and honest relationship with your partner, most of the time you will find a negative psychological morpheme that appeared in your working memory was false and that it is part of a psychological habit of yours that has deep roots in other cognitive functions.
A great benefit of FIML is repeated analyses of mistaken psychological morphemes leads to their extirpation, sometimes quickly sometimes more gradually. A second benefit of FIML is it makes all communications between partners much clearer and more satisfying. A third advantage is most of these gains lead to better understanding and competency with all people.