How to Improve Your Memory
YOU have an excellent memory! Do you find that hard to believe? Well, consider for a moment the many things you readily remember: childhood scenes, the names of friends and relatives—even fictitious characters from books and television, the melodies and lyrics to your favorite songs, the alphabet, how to count, thousands of words. Yes, you have already demonstrated the ability to remember millions of things!
‘But if my memory is such a marvel,’ you may wonder, ‘why do I forget things? Why do I frequently misplace items? Why do I go to a store and forget what I came for? Worse yet, why do I have such a hard time recalling names—not to mention telephone numbers and appointments?’ These are common concerns. Nevertheless, your memory is far better than you might realize—and it can be improved.
Why We Forget
Why, then, do our memories seem to fail us at times? Often it is due to a lack of interest. The famous conductor Arturo Toscanini conducted entire symphonies from memory. Business tycoon Charles Schwab could remember the names of 8,000 employees. But were their memories equally extensive on subjects outside of their areas of personal interest? Not likely. No matter how good your memory may be, then, it will be extremely difficult for you to learn and remember things that do not interest you.
Another factor that can cause us to forget is a change in situation or location. Things are best remembered in the context in which they were learned. One man who was visiting the area in which he was raised was greeted by a strange woman. Naturally, he assumed that this must be someone he grew up with in his old neighborhood. Suddenly he realized, though, that she was someone he saw every day—a current workmate! By sheer coincidence she was visiting the same area. Seeing her in a different setting had momentarily made him forget who she was.
Fortunately, you do not need to remember the millions of bits of data that pour into your mind every day; much of it is trivia. However, when something is important, you can learn to retain it. How? By paying special attention to it.
How to Remember
Let’s say you need to make an important phone call tonight. If you do no more than simply make a quick mental note of this need, you are likely to forget. So stop and think about this phone call that you plan to make. The book Instant Recall—Tapping Your Hidden Memory Power, by Jeff Budworth, recommends taking “minutes, not seconds,” to etch important information into the memory. Tell yourself that you are really intent on remembering to make this call. Having paid special attention to this matter, you are not likely to forget it.
What are some other ways, though, in which you can pay special attention to things you do not want to forget? The following suggestions, if applied, can soon become second nature to you.
Get your information straight: A computer cannot retrieve data accurately unless it was entered properly to start with. To a large extent, the same is true of our memories. Consider, for example, the matter of learning names. Dr. Bruno Furst notes in his book Stop Forgetting: “If we don’t get the name clearly and accurately, we cannot even speak of remembering or forgetting. We can neither remember nor forget something we never knew. Therefore our first step must be to get the name in such a way as to leave no doubt as to its pronunciation or spelling.” If someone mumbles his name upon being introduced to you, do not hesitate to ask the person to repeat it. Ask how it is spelled.
Visualize: Try to picture what you are trying to remember. Is there a certain chore you must not forget? Then picture yourself doing it. The more detail you add to this mental image, the more easily you will remember it.
Visualization can also help you form associations between seemingly unrelated things. Imagine, for example, that you have to remember to buy milk and toothpaste. You might try creating a mental picture of a cow brushing her teeth. This is not an image you are likely to forget, try as you may!
Verbalize: Saying to yourself out loud, ‘I must call John tonight,’ is another way to help you remember to do it. On the other hand, do you often forget whether you have locked the door or turned off the oven? The book How to Improve Your Memory, by Dr. James D. Weinland, says: “The problem can usually be solved by verbalizing the tasks as we do them . . . When you wind the clock and set the alarm, say, ‘I have wound the clock and set the alarm.’ When you lock the door, say to yourself, ‘I have locked the door.’” You may feel silly doing this, but it may help you remember.
Develop an interest in your subject: You may not be naturally drawn to a subject, but if you remind yourself of the reasons you need to learn the information and of the consequences of failing to remember it, learning will come easier. Besides, the more you learn about any subject, the more impressive it becomes to you.
Count: Suppose you need to take several items to work tomorrow morning. By noting the exact number of items to take, you will be less likely to leave any behind.
Organize: If you need to buy several items in a food store, try putting them in categories. You might, for example, decide you need to purchase three dairy products, two meat products, and two miscellaneous items. Organizing things in this way helps you to pay more attention.
Use it and review it: You will always remember your own name, the alphabet, or how to use a fork or a pencil. Why? Because you have made repeated use of this knowledge. Frequent use reinforces a memory, making it easier to recall. From time to time, then, mentally review or use the things you want to remember. After being introduced to someone, try using his name several times. Or having learned some new information, try working it into your conversations, taking care not to sound as if you are showing off.
The Value of Remembering
‘But why go to all this trouble?’ you might ask. ‘Wouldn’t it be easier just to write things down?’ Calendars, lists, alarm clocks, notes written to yourself—all these serve a useful purpose. However, at times it simply is not practical to write things down, such as when you are meeting people in a social setting. And when your well-thought-out shopping list needs revision, a pencil is often not handy. Besides, lists can easily be lost. And what if you forget to consult your calendar? Training your memory is thus a worthwhile endeavor.
The more you practice, the less effort memorizing will require. Indeed, you may soon find that you prefer memorizing things to writing them down. Do not fear, though, that you will somehow clutter your mind and render it less effective or creative. The mind, like a muscle, becomes stronger and more effective with use. Says Dr. Joan Minninger: “Most people think of long-term memory as a large dresser drawer that has to be emptied periodically to make room for new things. Wrong. There are no known limits to the storage in your memory. You can learn and remember new things all your life.”
Dr. Furst similarly points out that “it would be a fallacy to think that in order to take proper care of our brain cells we should spare them every effort and preserve them unused. Just the contrary holds true.” Your memory will become stronger through use. Some, like Harry Lorayne, coauthor of The Memory Book, even believe that “memory can actually get better as you get older.”
g92 7/22 pp. 25-27 How to Improve Your Memory