Our need to remember more in today’s society is crucial. Staying up-to-date in a world where information travels so fast is a demanding process. Too many of us have mastered getting all the latest information without mastering keeping it.
Another aspect is choosing what information to remember — that’s an entirely different matter. It’s up to you to distinguish the real news from the fake news, the useful from the useless, and the fads from the facts. But’s since science has now discovered so much about how to remember more easily, let’s get up-to-date on how to stay up-to-date!
The key to remembering more is not in the number of hours spent doing it, but in the very quality and effectiveness of that time spent. Let’s look at how the mind’s process works, how a few notable people do it astoundingly well, and how each of us can do it better — maybe a lot better!
1. The “Bucket and Water” Theory.
First, let’s shed some light on one quite debatable yet interesting analogy, “The Bucket and Water.” If we fill a bucket with water, eventually the bucket will overflow.
So basically, we can’t fully trust our memory. We can’t remember everything perfectly since we add new memories to the bucket as we go along, spilling out others.
2. The world’s maestros of memory!
Although there actually are cases of people with so-called “photographic memory” (eidetic memory), the vast majority of us don’t possess it.
Even rarer are people with “super-autobiographical memory” (hyperthymesia). American actress Marilu Henner is the most famous of these people. As ABC News reported, she remembers a lot about almost every day of her life, literally! She can tell us what day of the week each day was, where she was that day, what she wore, what she ate, which people she encountered, what activities she did, etc. But only a few dozen of Earth’s seven billion people have her ability.
Savants like Dustin Hoffman’s character in the movie Rain Man can perform amazing mental feats using memory and mental gymnastics. Hoffman’s character was based on real-life savant Kim Peek, an autistic American man.
And just as international competitive chess has grandmasters, international memory competitions have grand masters. There are now 22 in the world. One of them, Alex Mullen, a medical student from Mississippi, stunned the world in 2015 by memorizing a shuffled deck of cards in under 20 seconds and over 3,000 numerical digits in one hour. He holds many world records for memory. At the World Memory Championships and other international memory competitions, contestants perform astonishing feats like quickly memorizing multiple decks of shuffled cards, long sequences of random numbers, people’s names and faces, etc.
Those lucky few like Marilu Henner were born with it, and the memory championships’ grand masters have practiced for years. But for us average Joes, pretty much our only option is trying hard to remember more of everything we learn. Wait — it doesn’t have to be so hard. Let’s look at some science about that and then some ways to do it ourselves, easily!
3. The science of remembering.
Consider how we retain information. In researching that for this article, we came across many different opinions, but what captured our attention most was Valerie Strauss’s article on the controversial “learning pyramid.”
So what’s the learning pyramid?
There is research from the National Training Laboratory (NTL) Institute dating from the 1960s that elaborates on the methods of active learning. In a nutshell, that research found that we remember the following:
– 10% of what we read;
– 20% of what we hear;
– 30% of what we see;
– 50% of what we see and hear;
– 70% of what we say;
– 90% of what we say and do (often perceived as the “teaching method,” meaning that as we reflect and discuss, we are most likely to memorize an individual issue).
So the answer to the question of how to remember more of everything we learn is pretty clear: Everything we hear, we can put into practice. If we can teach something to others, we know for sure that we’ve learned it ourselves.
What we are focusing on here is figuring out how to gather knowledge, remember more of it, and “keep it in the bucket.” Indeed, that’s the most powerful tool, the ultimate skill, practically a superpower!
What we can make of those points is that we can always debate about the methods of learning. So we must understand that it does depend on the individual, and some are better at it than others. That means that interaction, teamwork, and discussion can help us succeed in the future.
4. How to remember more.
But there are some individual things we each can do to help us remember more. Here are the easiest ways that science has discovered to remember more things, to remember them more easily, and to avoid embarrassment when we do forget.
A. Mnemonic word association.
Mnemonics, other than being the only word we’ll see starting with mn-, are ways to help remember things, although they won’t help us remember how to spell it! Pronouncing it is easy, though. The first m is silent, and the rest is pronounced normally.
Word association is the most common mnemonic technique. A typical example is to remember a word instead of a list of things, where each letter stands for one thing in the list. The principle here is the same as that of an acronym (ASAP stands for As Soon As Possible). But while an acronym means what its individual words mean, a mnemonic word isn’t related to the individual words at all. So we can think up any real or coined word that will work for our memory task. Examples in common use for decades are:
H O M E S for the Great Lakes of North America:
Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior
F A C E for the four notes on the spaces of the treble clef in music: F, A, C, E
W A S P – L E G for the seven deadly sins:
Wrath, Avarice, Sloth, Pride, Lust, Envy, Gluttony
B. Mnemonic sentence association.
Mnemonic words help us remember both the list and its order (if needed). Much more common than a single word for this purpose is a sentence whose words each start with the same letter as the corresponding thing to remember. E.g., the planets of the solar system, in order, are:
Mercury Venus Earth Mars Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune
and we can use any of these mnemonic sentences to remember them in that order:
My Very Earnest Mother Just Served Us Nachos.
Mary’s “Virgin” Explanation Made Joseph Suspect Upstairs Neighbor!
Or, back when there were nine planets (before Pluto was downgraded to a minor planet):
My Very Educated Mother Just Showed Us Nine Planets.
C. Mnemonic music and visualization.
Other common mnemonics are music (Those TV jingles sure work well, don’t they?) and visualization. Children can visualize to help remember which hand is Left by forming L’s with each thumb and forefinger. The Left hand’s thumb and forefinger form a correct capital L. The right hand forms a backward L.
Now close all fingers into two fists. We can remember the longer vs. shorter months of the year by holding two fists together with the two forefingers touching and visualizing each consecutive month as either a knuckle or a dip between knuckles. The left-to-right knuckles, taller than the dips, are the longer months (with 31 days); the dips are the shorter months (30 or fewer days). The only two consecutive knuckles in the sequence are where the fists touch. They’re the only two consecutive long months, July and August.
D. Visual filing cabinet.
The “Method of Loci” (method of locations) lets us use familiar locations, like parts of our home, to visually associate with items we need to remember. Most memory champions started out with normal memories and now use this visual filing system. Since we all essentially have our homes visually memorized already, we can “mentally place” each item to remember in one specific place in our home. To remember the items, we mentally walk through the house and see each item in the location where we placed it.
The human mind has evolved to make this process easy since everyone must remember familiar places. The method even works for the order of the items, since we can place them in the typical order we use to walk through our home. Since the mind recalls oddity more readily than commonality, we visualize each item as unusual where we’re mentally placing it in the home, such as being upside-down or actually doing something silly there.
For example, to remember a shopping list of items we want to buy in the supermarket’s front-to-back order, with frozen things last, we could visualize the Cheerios teetering on the front door’s handle, the M&Ms bag just inside the door (don’t step on it!), then clockwise, as we usually walk around the house: the Wonder Bread in the kitchen sink (don’t turn on the water!), the oranges on the stove, the mustard in the oven, the bananas in the refrigerator, etc., and finally the ice cream in the bathtub! Once at the store, we remember each location at home in order and recall what item we had visualized there.
Most of us who haven’t tried this method will be surprised at how well it works, especially after some practice!
E. Remembering or — forgetting! — people’s names.
Now what’s her name again? And is that new guy who fixes my car named Al or Ed? We’ll remember more — and forget fewer — people’s names with this next method, and later we can apply it to more than just names. Even if we don’t perfect this method, we can avoid the typical embarrassment that comes with forgetting names by using a simple trick outlined at the end of this section.
Remember each new person by mentally noting similarities with other people we know. “Lana looks like my aunt.” And when being introduced to new people, let’s repeat their names back to them, asking whether we’re pronouncing their names correctly, and perhaps asking about the spelling. That technique triggers something in the mind that always seems to help us remember new people’s names.
OK, of course we’re going to forget some people’s names, and often it’s not an issue. We don’t need to address people by name all the time. We can always extend our hand to be shaken and introduce ourselves, hoping the person will reciprocate. But what happens when we must introduce two people, and we’ve forgotten one or both of their names? E.g., we need to have a new office staffer meet another whose name we should already know. Instead of admitting to that person that we don’t remember, simply back up several feet, motion for the two of them to come together, and say, “Please introduce yourselves!” Works like a charm!
Presumably, we know this already, but don’t forget (pun intended!) that repetition works for remembering almost anything! Reread an important note several times, listen to a song over and over, drive a route several times — if we need to remember something and can repeat our exposure to it, that does the trick almost every time.
G. Where did I leave my keys?!
“Darn it, where are those keys?” OK, it’s high time we stopped misplacing essential everyday items. No talent or memory tricks needed here. Just always put the item in the specific place we’ve decided it belongs! Yes, that’s all there is to it. Always put the most important everyday things in their designated place. Every — Single — Time. When the keys aren’t in the car’s ignition switch, they’re in our pockets or purse until we’re back home, when the very first thing we do is put them in that special place we’ve decided they’ll always be.
OK, let’s see how well you’ve followed all this. Where’s your wallet going to be? Correct! When it’s not in your pocket or purse, it’s always going to be in that certain place where you’ve now promised yourself you’ll keep it in the house. Excellent!
And why not use these places we’ve designated for our keys, wallet, etc., as stops along our Method of Loci virtual tour of the house? Since we’re already using part of our mind’s bucket to hold those places, and they’re obviously extremely familiar to us, why spill more water out of our memory bucket than we need to? See? All these memory methods can work together and be easier than we’d think!
5. Time or money?
The only thing we can be sure of in this world is time. We can slow everything down every way we can think of, but time itself won’t slow down. All of us have the same 24 hours each day, but it’s up to us how we spend them. No matter how hard we strive for financial success, time will pass, and we can’t get it back.
We need to learn a lot and remember more to achieve the knowledge we need to maximize effectiveness. It’s the most powerful skill to have for making the most out of our limited time. Let’s focus on solutions that can bring out the best of everything!
Let’s use the memory skills above to remember more things more easily and to avoid common problems. Soon, we’ll find ourselves becoming more successful when other people start remembering us! “Hey, that’s the guy with the great memory!”
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