Can you improve your memory? Are there specific techniques to improve your memory?
Have you heard yourself saying: I'm not good with names!
Almost everyone you run into is likely to say something similar. Is it because we're bad with names and have terrible memories? Or is it a myth that we've been perpetuating?
Let's find out in this slightly odd view of memory.
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Imagine you entered a memory championship and you “accidentally” became the national champion.
In the book, “Walking with Einstein”, author Joshua Foer takes on a roller coaster of a journey. He's keen to know more about the memory championships as he's writing a book on the topic.
He doesn't see himself as being good with memory. He is the first to admit that he forgets many things, including where he keeps his keys (not skis) and his sister's birthday.
However, during the course of his research, he gets access to many of the top champions. He learns memory techniques, and much to his surprise, he gets the top prize.
When we relate this kind of story, we encounter two kinds of people.
The first kind of person says, “I don't want to become a memory champion, but I will become a champion of memory in my personal life. Hence when I meet somebody new today, I will remember their name.
It's not “try to remember the name “. They decide that they are going to remember the names.
Once you decide that you'll have a better memory, your brain decides to play along. If you tell your brain all day long that you cannot remember names, your brain agrees and says, “You cannot remember names.”
It doesn't even try.
What about the situation when it does try?
Most of us grew up remembering phone numbers. I knew dozens of phone numbers when I was a kid. My home number, my father's office number but also Renuka's number, because I had to call her a lot.
However, today I can't remember a single number.
I can give you my mobile number, but that's it. However, even if you held me over the Victoria Falls and threatened to drop me, I couldn't tell you Renuka's number. On the other hand, she has been giving my number to every hairdresser, vendor, etc., so she sure knows my number.
Though for a while, she didn't know her own number (she does now).
When we look around us, we notice that memory has nothing to do with being young. All the young people in your life may know their own number, but have no recollection of any other number. With no need to remember any details, the brain just chooses to never pay attention in the first place.
But if you do want to remember, then there's a way.
Memory is merely a function of relating something to another thing.
Hence, I went to a curtain company the other day, to take photographs. And you don't know this to be accurate, but the first two people I met were Aaron and Sergei (from Ukraine).
Then Hilda came downstairs, and I knew because I asked her her name. The person who introduced us to the team is the company owner, and his name is John. I then met with the guy who was going to put the curtains in our house, and his name was Simon.
I had earlier met with Riley and Beau. As I went through the company, I was also introduced to Michelle (who has been working for 30 years), and then when I went upstairs, there were Olivia, Rani, and Rekha.
That was not a feat of memory.
That is just me telling myself that I have to remember; therefore, I have to work out some system to remember things. The people who don't remember something either have some sort of brain defect or choose not to remember. There's also a good chance that they don't have any system for retention.
They choose to let the information pass by.
I know “letting the information pass by” sounds blasé, but that's how it is.
We know this to be true because you can remember the names of your cousins, friends, parents, relatives, teachers, presidents, dictators and anybody you choose to remember. Someone like Putin may have zero relevance in your life, but you know his first and last name.
The ones that you choose not to remember slip away almost immediately.
The same concept applies to any learning you do, but there's a big difference.
Usually, when you're learning, you have too much to cope with all at once. Depending on the complexity, you could take weeks or months to get the information into permanent memory. If there is too much information, your brain skips over the details, and you wonder how you forgot it.
You then place yourself in a box: it's called: “people with a bad memory”.
The reality is that your brain did not assimilate that information in the first place. That's not a memory problem but an assimilation problem.
It's because we get several waves of information in any presentation or even in a tiny article. Not remembering all the information is not a memory issue at all. All audio, video and text are designed to give you information, and there's no way of knowing how much of that information will drop out.
Let's take an example.
I was watching a TED Talk about how to get rid of pain. I don't remember all the details, even though she was a wonderful communicator.
I can remember all the names of the people at the curtain company but I don't know the name of the presenter. I don't even remember any of the graphics, though I do remember her story of being on a plane and having a beer and a vibrator 🙂
But her main goal was to get “one point” across—which is what she did.
That “one point” was that there is a way to get rid of pain without medication. That's the part of the information I recall. Somewhere down the line, if I need the details, I can search for the TED talk and then assimilate the information. It then becomes part of my permanent memory.
And that—that's memory in a nutshell.
P.S. You may not remember it, but I said there were two kinds of people. The first is the one who says they were “not born with a good memory”. Those people cannot be helped. There's nothing wrong with them, but they choose to believe what they believe. The second kind is someone who relishes a challenge and makes tiny steps to overcome their “so-called memory problem”.
I know who I'd rather be.