For 5 weeks we look at 5 practical skills that will help you learn faster, and supercharge your personal and work life. Week 4 continues with memory.
Growing up, my mom would call me once a week by my brother’s name. My brother got the same treatment. Once, she even called me by the dog’s name. In 100% of cases she would call broccoli cauliflower and vice versa, before correcting herself. In good fun we would tease her about it, and she would say,
“Just wait until you get old, you’ll start forgetting things too!”
She was right. Now that I’m in my mid-30s I cannot for the life of me remember the word for fennel. I seriously just had to Google “vegetable that tastes like licorice.”
Yet I have great recall for people’s names, a skill I absolutely had to have working in politics. The trick I learned was to “link” the name to some other memorable thing. If I meet someone named Jack, I’ll imagine this dude in front of me climbing a beanstalk.
Based on this evidence I started to wonder years ago if the decline of our mental faculties with old age was as inevitable as me picturing a Japanese game show host when I meet a Ken.
According to science, the answer is no. Our brains have an incredible capacity for memory that can be cultivated well into our senior years. Simply learn a few tricks to take advantage of this power.
This series of articles is all about developing skills that will launch you forward in many other areas. Having a great memory will help you:
Even ignoring all the arguments above, there’s a compelling one for improving your memory: you will be more in control of your life, more confident, and free up an acre of mental space to populate with other worthwhile pursuits.
We interpret the world largely through our mind. What if you could fill it with better information you could access at any time – would that make you feel in control of your destiny?
If you could train your mind to be more reliable – would that make you feel more sure of yourself?
If you could stop worrying about every little detail, and trade that feeling for knowing the answers to the questions you ask yourself, would you find value in that?
It’s not hard. You may think it takes years of practice but here’s a technique you can learn and apply in 5 minutes:
Definitely the easiest method, you take what you want to remember (the object) and link it in your mind with another item or action (the anchor). This is exactly what I’ve done with Jack and the beanstalk.
You can use this method to remember a list of items by linking them with a story you visualize in your head. Let’s say you want to memorize a list of items to pack for camping: tent, underwear, flashlight, compass, and raincoat.
I would first picture something that I already associate with camping as a starting point: a campfire. To remember the tent, I’d place the raging campfire inside the tent and watch it burn. I pick something catastrophic because we remember images of the ridiculous and unusual better than the ordinary.
Next, I’d picture myself waking up inside the tent and having to escape real quick in just my underwear, running into the night. Next, I’d have run so far into the woods that it’s completely dark around me, but by a happy coincidence I’d bump into a 4 foot long flashlight to help me see. Comically big things are also easy to remember.
After this it would start raining and I’d decide that the whole camping experience is a bust and I’d need to hike my way back to town using the compass that of course I tucked into my underwear before I went to sleep. Over the next rise I’d conveniently come across a Gap where I can buy a rain jacket, but of course the only ones they have are XXXL and pink. The story doesn’t need to make sense or have a plot, in fact, the weirder it is, the better.
You’d better believe that I would remember this list of items, probably for the next few weeks.
Also called the journey method, method of loci, and Roman room technique. This is a brilliant memorization technique that’s been tried and true over thousands of years. It’s most effective when you want to remember a long list of information and recall it in a certain sequence, let’s say a 20-minute speech.
Your memory palace is a physical space, imagined or real: your house, bedroom, a route through town, a trip across the country. The key is to pick a place or route that you know well (or imagine one in great detail).
I want to give a speech, so I define a route through my house. At the screen door I check the mailbox and find letters from 3 friends: the people I want to acknowledge at the outset of that speech. Then I go into the sunroom and find a turkey running around in a panic, which reminds me to start with a story from my recent trip to Turkey.
At the front door I fumble with my keys, and have trouble finding the right one. This leads me to lay out a list of 3 key principles for approaching challenges.
Practice walking the route in your mind a few times, seeing the unusual images and events and you’ll be amazed what you can remember. I could remember a speech that could go on for days, if I can hold these images in my imagination and make them vivid enough, because I already know my house well, and I’m using this strength as an anchor for all of the points of my speech.
There are loads of techniques you can use to remember anything under the sun, but these are the ones I find most helpful. Decide right now that developing a great memory is within your power: it’s easy if you decide it will be.
You can start applying these tricks in minutes, and you’ll get better with time. After a while you’ll start seeing the benefits of this fundamental skill spill over into other areas of your life.
Congrats, you just leveled up.
Have an experience with memorization techniques? Let us know in the comments below.
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