Of course, the memory can be improved. It can be improved vastly. It can be improved by anyone with normal intelligence. Moreover, the methods by which it can be cultivated are all founded on practical common sense. Every experience in life makes an impression through one or more of the senses on some of the cells of the brain, or other nerve centres. The problem of memory improvement is to emphasize these impressions and to file them away in such an orderly manner that many will remain intact. The clearer the impressions, and the neater your mental storehouse, the easier it will be to remember.
1. Repetition is the most elemental – and least interesting – method of memorizing. You can learn and remember almost anything if you have the patience to repeat it often enough.
2. Bring as many of your senses as possible to bear on what you want to remember. Suppose you were exhibiting an apple to a person who had never seen one before. If he looked at the apple he would carry away a certain impression of it. But if he lifted it, smelled it, tasted it, he would carry away a clearer and more lasting memory. The scientific reason for this is that the impression you receive through the sense of sight is recorded on an entirely different cell from that transmitted through touch or any other sense. All cells of the nervous system are connected, however, so that the more impressions you get of a thing, the more strings you have with which to pull it out of the subconscious mind at will.
The principle is very important in remembering names and faces. People who do not remember names are usually those who do not hear the name distinctly in the first place or who pay little attention to it. Perhaps they are more concerned with the stranger’s appearance, or with what kind of impression they are going to make on him, or with what they will say to him. An employment manager with a poor memory set out to improve this faculty. When any person came to him, he would ask for the spelling of it. Then he would write the name down and look carefully at it. Thus a definite impression was made on his visual and muscular senses. In his conversation he would repeat the name again and again. Meanwhile he was studying the man’s face and expression and mannerisms. Today that manager can meet and call by name ten thousand persons.
3. Cultivate the power of attention. People do not focus sharply and clearly on one thing at a time. In conversation they do not think so much of what the other person is saying as of what they are going to say next. They look at scenery but do not drink in details.
Men of fruitful intellects and first-rate memories invariably have excellent powers of observation, concentration and attention. Attention means sidetracking everything except the thought or experience you want to remember. Beware of mental hazes as a mariner avoids a treacherous shoal. Note the details of what you want to remember. A bank cashier who had difficulty in remembering people started to study the details of each face. He found that pictures built up thus, with attention to detail, did not fade from his memory.
4. Association, when not fantastically overdone, is one of the shortest and surest ways to remembering. Not long ago I met a Mr. White who told me that he lived at 25 St. Nicholas Avenue. An obvious association struck me: “White – Christmas; Christmas – the twenty-fifth of December – St. Nicholas.” Everyone has in his mind many facts to which he can anchor new facts by associations. But remember, the simpler our associations, the less they will burden the memory.
5. If you are deeply and genuinely interested, your attention focuses more or less as a matter of course. Some men are so interested in baseball that they know the names of all the big-league players, their batting averages and so on. Many extraordinary memories can be explained by the element of intense interest. The moral is: Try to develop a genuine, vital interest in the subject you want to remember.
6. Gain understanding. If you do not understand a subject or situation, you cannot be expected to remember it. You must know the logical relations between all the given facts.
7. Make a careful and thoughtful selection of the things that it is necessary for you to remember, and turn your mental searchlights on these alone. No one can remember everything. Many people use a thousand-dollar tool for ten-cent jobs. It would be much wiser to save your precious mental machinery for more important work. Many things belong in your notebook rather than in your mind. Focus your memory and attention wisely. Do not attempt the impossible at the start. Take notes of things you need to remember, and make a deliberate, determined effort to fix them firmly in your memory using the aforesaid methods. Look your notes over later and re-create in your memory an exact impression of your new acquaintances. Keep up this practice, and you will soon be astonished at the results.