How do you remember the names of new business associates?Do you:
A) repeat their name five times in your head while shaking their hand?
B) try to cement the image of their face with their name by sheer mental power?
C) associate the name with a famous actress and picture her doing a headstand on a balance beam?
If you answered A or B, you are fighting an uphill battle, one that–if you’re over 40, especially–you’re probably losing.The best answer is C, according to journalist Joshua Foer, who has discovered and elucidated memory-enhancing strategies in his memorably-titled book, Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, a story of his journey from Joe Average Memory to winner of the U.S. Memory Championship.
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Foer stumbled into the world of memory athletics by chance, but was driven to delve into it because of what he and the rest of us are facing today in our hyper-technological world. On the one hand, we rely on our memory less as technology–cell phones, auto redial, Google searches, etc–provide us with a wealth of information at the tap of some keys. Yet we’re also bombarded with information (passwords anyone?), and it would be nice to be able to remember at least some of it.
Foer said he was sceptical when he first started researching memory enhancement techniques and the promises from authors trying to profit on our fears of losing our minds. But he learned that memorizing techniques date back to the Ancient Greek Simonides. But he also learned that that’s all they are, techniques. “You can’t improve an underlying memory ability,” he told WNYC radio host Leonard Lopate. “What you can do is, in certain limited ways, is learn techniques that help you remember more.”
According to Foer’s research, if you need an assist in remembering names at a conference, your credit card number, or to pick up milk on the way home, use these techniques and you’ll be able trust your memory to come through for you (plus it is bound to make your day-to-day inner life more exciting):
...according to 29-year-old Foer, and the centuries of mental athletes (mostly male) that came before him.
That's pretty much how our minds are wired, so go with it. You're bound to remember absurdly lurid images more than you'd remember the mundane.
Go back to that Sophia Loren example.
When you meet someone, quickly think of an association--an actor, a model, the president, your grandmother--and think of that person in an outrageous situation, the more lurid the better.
Chunking--grouping numbers or letters into chunks--helps make it easier for a long sequence to be remembered.
This is why credit card numbers are separated into groups of four and hyphens are inserted into phone numbers. Thus, the password Li34TH7 can be chunked as Li 34 Th7. And your memory will work even better if you put the chunks into a context. Long Island (Li), 34th street (34TH) and 7th avenue (7).
visualising images, and doing it in a matter of seconds, takes practice.
Your mental muscles get better at it the more you do it. One of the memory experts Foer interviewed told him that if he practiced one hour a day, six days a week, he could be in the top 3 of the U.S. Memory Championship. Which he did!
Have you used any techniques to improve your memory? What worked--and what didn't?
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