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How to Improve Your Memory (4 Quick Techniques)

9 February 2011 No Comment

black woman looking in mirror

(This is an abbreviated excerpt from a book I’m currently reading, “The Productivity Handbook,” by Donald E. Wetmore.)

The Memory of an Elephant

One evening back in college I remember sharing some beer with a friend inmy dorm room. He declared:

“I don’t have a good memory. I can’t remember important things…
even when I study, when it comes to exam time, I come up empty.”

Believing that you can have un-trained memories but not bad ones, I replied, “If you have a bad memory, if you can’t retain important information, then I want you to forget the word elephant…”

“What??? Forget the word ‘elephant’? How can I do that?.”

“Don’t remember it. Forget it. Don’t memorize it. Elephant. You know, that huge gray animal with the long trunk with an affinity for peanuts and a healthy fear of mice. Rammph, rammmmph, rammmph,” I screamed with my nose to my shoulder and my arm waving from left to right, like the trunk of an elephant.

“Now, what animal are you going to forget that we talked about?”

“Elephant,” my friend replied.

“Now forget it, please,” I said.

elephant drawing

Throughout the rest of that semester, whenever I would see my friend he would shout, “Elephant!” He never forgot it because we repeated it so often. It was reinforced with repetition and his memory of it was secured. (Many years have passed since I’ve last seen him, but I bet you if I ran into him today, his first word to me would be elephant!)

Many people believe that the don’t have a good memory, but I disagree. As the elephant story suggests, memories can be made by applying significance to a fact or event and then repeating it over and over again. Assuming there’e no physical limitation that would impair memory (amnesia, etc.), there’s no such thing as a bad memory. But there is an untrained, underutilized or lazy one, which is nothing you can’t fix…” ~ Donald E. Wetmore

Here’s some practical steps:

Memory by Repetition

African American firefighter...Repetition is the primary way to embed things in your mind. Compare what heard on the news last week vs. what you heard on the news about September 11th.

No comparison, right? That’s because you’ve heard the 9-11 story so many times.

This is also why we remember commercial jingles and slogans so well, so treat important information the same way: repeat a person’s name after you meet them multiple times, re-read important material and go over notes as often as possible. You’ll always find yourself catching new stuff with each take.

Memory by Visualization

I have a memory technique I created called “visual mnemonics,” where essentially, I create imaginary logos to represent everything involved.

So, if I wanted to remember to check my email and send a Western Union before I go to work in the morning, I’d imagine an envelope (email) with a big W on it (Western Union) sitting on top of my alarm clock (when I wake up). When I reach for my alarm clock, something about my subconscious will make me visualize the funny envelope when I reach to turn the ringer off.

It’s sort of like imaginary graphic design applied to real life, and it’s pretty hot.

Memory by Association

'The Productivity Handbook' by Donald E. Wetmore“Your chances of remembering something are much better if you can relate the new information to something you already know.

Say you want to memorize the names of the Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior. As names of lakes alone, it may be difficult for you to reatin and recite all five. However, take the first letter of each lake, H-O-M-E-S and you get homes, and remembering homes will trigger you to recall the actual names…”

Memory by Rhymes & Phrases

“Thirty days has September/ April, June and November” for the amount of days each month.

“Fall back and spring forward” for daylight savings time, etc. etc.

This one is fun, so be sure to make up your own. For instance, when I was growing up, there were to “Roberts” on my block that we used to chill with (and reference all the time). One of them was addicted to marijuana, and the other was Blood (part of the gang), so we called them “Bud Rob,” and “Blood Rob,” respectively…

While we did that just so we could identify who we were talking about, to this day out of all the friends I had growing up, they’re two names I’m definitely never forget: not just because we kicked it all the time, but because the phrase and rhyme we associated to them will always stick.

So remember, memories can be improved by using repetition, visualization, association or rhymes and phrases. Hope this helps…

Also, a good friend of mine joined an online art competition for Black History Month, and can use all the votes he can get. Show your support here.


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