Memory is an elusive thing. Tennessee Williams described his play, The Glass Menagerie, as a memory play and his narrator, Tom, says of it:
‘Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental,
it is not realistic.’
Forgetting is inevitable
And that sums up the problem of memory: what we remember is only a representation of reality. In her new Pocketbook, Vicki Culpin exposes some of the myths of memory and points out that forgetting is inevitable.
If we know something happened, yet we cannot recall what, our brains strive to fill in the gaps. And they do this with newly created memories based on suggestion and fantasy. These are often known as false memories and are strongly associated with trauma.
Does this mean that all attempts to improve your memory are doomed? Vicki exposes another myth here: memory is not like a muscle, so simply exercising it will not help.
There is hope
But the answer is a resounding no. By using the right strategies and practising them until they become second nature, remembering facts and figures, names and faces can become easy and efficient.
Many of the masters of memory have always been magicians, illusionists and mentalists, whose ability to remember card sequences, for example, allows them to perform tricks that seem inexplicable. When most people are challenged with the assertion that the performer ‘simply’ remembered a sequence of 52 cards, they find that even more incredible.
The truth is that these feats of memory are relatively modest to those who know the right method and, more important, are prepared to put in the many, many hours of practice to perfect its use. For a great description of these methods and how they are used, take a look at Derren Brown’s excellent ‘Tricks of the Mind ’.
Practical Tips and Techniques
The Memory Pocketbook is a simple guide to how to improve your memory, filled with useful techniques and tips.
Improve your Short Term Memory
How often have you been told a phone number and, before you could write it down, it’s . . .
One way we try to hold the number in our short term memory (STM) is by repeating it. Vicki relates research showing that the faster you repeat the number, the longer it will last. So not:
0 – 1 – 9 – 6 – 2 – 7 – 3 – 5 – 5 – 7 – 3
0–1–9–6–2–7–3–5–5–7–3 . . . 0–1–9–6–2–7–3–5–5–7–3
and better still:
01962735573 . . . 01962735573 . . . 01962735573
Another Memory Tip
Grouping numbers really helps too. Groups of three are particularly easy:
01 962 735 573 . . . 01 962 735 573 . . . 01 962 735 573 . . .
You probably felt yourself doing that automatically anyway. If these two tips seem obvious, then there are 120 pages of other great tips.
So here’s the deal
Don’t just say ‘I have a terrible memory for names.’
If it’s important, do something about it.
Don’t think ‘I’ll never be able to memorise my presentation.’
If it will give more impact, learn how to remember it.
Don’t find yourself forgetting something on your shopping list: memorise it.
Don’t write your PIN in some weird and wonderful place: commit it to memory.