Who we are and what we do is fundamentally a function of what we remember.
―Joshua Foer, Moonwalking with Einstein
Once upon a time, every literate person was versed in the art of memory. Indeed, memory was considered a centerpiece of classical education in the language arts, on par with grammar, logic, and rhetoric. In a world with few books, a good memory was quintessential to education and power.
The art of memory has been lost with advances in technology, which brought the ability to record and externalize information. These days, people can hardly remember their own phone numbers, and a few seconds after they are introduced to a person they usually forget that person’s name. If you think you have a “bad” memory, you are not alone.
I have good news for you, though. Harry Lorayne, best-selling author and memory-training specialist, says that “there is no such thing as a bad memory.” This may come as a shock to those of you who have used your supposedly “bad” memories as an excuse for years. But believe me, he is right, and I will, hopefully, be able to convince you with 12 simple tips that you’ll be able to use right from today to improve your memory exponentially, literally. As Lorayne says, “there are only trained or untrained memories.”
I have divided these 12 memory tips into 12 different posts, since some of the tips I’m giving here have rather lengthy explanations and examples. These tips are best read in order, but feel free to jump back and forth if you feel like doing so.
Memory Tip #1: Put in Your Emotions
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that memory is closely related to emotions and imagination. Do you remember a specific time in your life, whether it be 5, 10, or 15 years ago, when you felt extremely embarrassed, angry, or sad? Chances are you remember this particular event in your life with striking clarity, from the people present at that day and time, to the look of the surroundings, or even the smell of the air where you were.
Studies have repeatedly shown that emotions can double the amount of information you can remember, a psychological effect known as depth of processing. Scott Young has brought to my attention a study on memory, conducted in 1969 by James Jenkins and Thomas Hyde. They basically split a group of student in two, and told one half they would need to remember a list of words for a later test, while the other half was not told to memorize it. Out of this same group, one half was told to make a mental note of whether the word contained the letter ‘E’. The other was asked to decide whether the word was pleasant to them or not.
The results were fascinating. It turned out being warned about the upcoming test didn’t make any difference on the students’ results. Motivation, it turns out, didn’t have a large impact on memory.
Instead, the orienting task given made almost double the difference. Students told to reflect on the pleasantness of the word recalled almost twice as much as the students told to recognize if the word contained an ‘E’. This was true whether or not they were warned about an upcoming test.
So the moral of this story? Put in your emotions. Be interested in what you are learning. When learning new vocabulary, names, or concepts, reflect on the pleasantness of those. Be excited, motivated, and passionate. Does anything sound similar to another word or idea you’ve heard before, to which you already have emotions or experiences associated with? Doing boring stuff (such as going through grammar books) will ensure that information will escape your brain almost as soon as it enters it.
This is Memory Tip #1 out of 12. To access additional tips in this series, click on any of the following links: Tip #2, Tip #3, Tip# 4, Tip #5, Tip #6, Tip #7, Tip #8, Tip #9, Tip #10, Tip #11, Tip #12