Remembering with Roam Research

Use cases and Explanations of Δ

I’ve used Roam Research for over a year to capture ideas, memories, and book notes. Now, I also use Roam Research to remember.

Note-taking methods (like the Zettelkasten method) help you build a repository of ideas from the information you’ve consumed. But how do you remember the ideas you’ve generated and captured? How do you remember to remember these ideas?

Roam Research’s Δ feature provides an easy, scalable solution for remembering ideas you’ve stored in your graph.

This post describes how you can use Roam Research’s Δ feature to:

  1. Remember and retain information
  2. Set reminders for yourself
  3. Track the evolution of your thoughts

This post assumes that you have a basic understanding of Roam Research’s components including blocks.

Δ Use Cases

If there’s a block you’d like to see again or remember, enable Δ on it. The block will promptly show up on your daily page the next day. You can modify the formula of Δ to resurface a block in any number of days, and have it repeat at regular or increasing intervals.

Memorizing with Δ

Roam Research’s Δ is its spaced-repetition feature. Spaced-repetition is a tried and verified memorization technique, which you can read more about here.

If you use Δ on a block without modifying its formula, the block will resurface at increasing intervals thus executing the spaced-repetition algorithm on your block. After several iterations of seeing the block, you’ll realize you already have its contents memorized.

Set Reminders with Δ

I use Δ to remind myself of positive experiences. Our minds have a natural negativity bias, so we tend to elevate the importance of negative events over positive ones. Δ helps me counteract this bias.

While recording the day’s events on my daily page, if I capture an inspiring, enriching, or heart-warming event, I’ll enable Δ on that block to resurface it in 10–20 days. Who knows? Maybe it’ll pop up when I really need it.

Track Your Thoughts with Δ

When a block is re-surfaced on your daily page, you can add comments underneath it in child blocks.

If you want to view all your comments for a certain block, you can click on the references button and expand an old reference to view your old comments. I recently started experimenting with this use case, and am looking forward to seeing my thoughts change over time.

Using Δ in Roam

Enabling Δ on a Block

There are three ways to enable Δ on a block:

  1. Right-click on the block and select Δ from the drop-down
  2. Enter Option/Alt + Enter on your keyboard.
  3. Manually type “{{[[∆]]}}” at the end of the block.

When you enable Δ through the dropdown or keyboard shortcut, you’ll notice an asterisk at the end of the block. The asterisk expands to this: [*](((mWkeDq7Q3))){{[[r/moved]]}}.

[[r/moved]] means the spaced repetition feature was activated on that block successfully. You will now see the block on a future daily page. Clicking on the asterisk will take you to the new location of the block.

Forward Propagation with Δ

The next time you see the block, it will appear with a Δ button.

Because this new block is now the source block, you’ll be able to access all references to it easily.

When you see a block with Δ, you can choose to either continue or stop its propagation.

To see it again in the future, click the Δ button. This will replace the button with an asterisk and the same [[r/moved]] formula that we talked about earlier.

To end its propagation, you either leave the button there or delete the button formula.

Understanding the Δ Formula

The underlying ∆ formula looks something like this: {{[[∆]]:1+2}}. By changing this formula, you’re changing the parameters of the spaced-repetition algorithm. You can make the same block appear every day, every week, at regularly increasing intervals, etc.

The ∆ formula encapsulates two pieces of information:

  1. When you will see the block again. (1st operand)
  2. What the new interval will be if you choose to continue propagating the block to the future. (1st operand + 2nd operand)

The “+” in the formula may seem very confusing at first. When you see “1+2,” you think “3.” What does 3 mean? This drove me crazy for a while. 3 means something, but for now, view each operand as representing different values in the algorithm.

The first operand is the current interval in days. The “1” in the above formula means if you click on the ∆ button, you will see the block again in 1 day (tomorrow).

The second operand is the amount (in days) by which the interval will increase for the next repetition. I’m calling it the interval modification factor. The 2nd operand, “2,” in the above formula means if you click on the ∆ button, the new interval will be 1+2=3.

With the formula above, when you click on ∆, you will see the block again tomorrow with the formula below:

If you click on the ∆ again, you will see the block in 3 days, and the new interval will be set to 3+2=5.

The current interval automatically gets updated with each new propagation, but the interval modification factor will remain the same unless you manually change it. The default modification factor is 2.

If I want to see a block every week, I’ll add the formula: {{[[∆]]:7+0}} at the end. If I click ∆, I will see the block again in 7 days. Because the interval modification factor is 0, the interval will remain at 7, which will keep the weekly cadence fixed.

Note that the Δ formula will tell you exactly when you’ll see a block next. Here are some more examples:

Conclusion

A beautiful result of Roam Research’s Δ feature is that it can bring up quotes, prompts, memories, and reminders just as you’re starting to forget about them. It combines the engine of spaced repetition with any data you’ve collected in your Roam Research graph. You can trace the evolution of your thoughts by capturing your comments every time a block appears on your daily page.

I hope you found this guide helpful, and please reach out if there’s any part that’s unclear.

I’m also looking for inspiration to continue writing. If you’ve found my Roam Research posts helpful or if you’re a subscriber of my newsletter, please let me know what you’d like to read more about.

Thank you Abu Amin and David Burt for your help in reviewing this post!

Engineering Management 👩🏾‍💻. Ex-Uber, Ex-Sonder, Ex-Zynga. Follow my writing on smallbigideas.substack.com

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