If what you see and hear as you casually go through your day no longer sticks with you, don’t be casual. Be intentional.
Tell your brain you are giving it information. Talk to yourself. Tell your memory to pay attention. Let your mind know what you’re up to. Intentionality is the single most important way to maintain and improve your recall.
Pick out five or ten of the most important things worth noting. Where you parked the car. Why you are going to the store or to the kitchen.
“I am placing my glasses on the dining room table.”
Think it with intent. Reinforce what you’ve said a minute or two later. “My glasses are on the dining room table.”
Sounds silly, talking to yourself. But it’s effective. Very effective. It puts your brain on notice.
Use the association technique
What does that mean? Link new information to what you already know. Perhaps the best way to explain is to provide a few examples.
You’re at a party. The hostess introduces you to Linda. You decide you want to remember her name.
You’ve listened carefully. You can only remember what you actually grasp.
Repeat the name. “Hi Linda, nice to meet you.”
Use association techniques so you’ll be able to recall who she is the next time you meet.
You happen to have an old friend named Linda. Picture the new Linda and your old friend engaged in some exaggerated activity. Putting up silly decorations before the party begins. Or working in the kitchen cooking food for a party (and making a giant mess), or having an argument right in the middle of the living room as the guests observe them. Linda vs. Linda.
Make the scene hilarious, or crazy wild. You can be as indiscreet as you’d like. No one gets to know the details that you’ve created. Links are mini-stories that can be pictured. You remember them because they are unusual, fanciful, exaggerated—memorable. It is their very excess that make them easy to recall.
Suppose you don’t have an old friend named Linda? Associate your new acquaintance with a TV star, author, or politician who goes by that name.
Coming up with a little story when you want to plant something into your memory sounds like a great deal of work, but without much practice, you can learn to manufacture scenarios quickly. Be creative. Let yourself go!
There are numerous easily mastered association tricks you can use to keep track of your daily schedule, your shopping list, the names of movies you want to see—of any information you want to access once it’s been placed in your memory. The library is filled with titles and websites that teach you how to do this. Ask your librarian for books about mnemonics. (That’s a fancy term for association.)
Relearn what you’ve forgotten
You can no longer remember the name of a certain movie, or song, or historical figure. Gone. You used to know, but if such details are still embedded in your mind, you can’t get to them. There are ways to jar such facts back into consciousness. But if we are talking about general, researchable knowledge—the name of the lake you used to visit when you were a kid, the actress who starred in the 1950s version of a particular movie, the auto manufacturer that ceased production when you were learning to drive, why pound on your head trying to get the details to pop out?
Start by doing what everyone does: Google it. You can Google-research just about any topic.
Got the name? OK. Don’t simply read the name on the computer screen. Reenter the information into the active section of your memory using techniques of association. Relearn it.
Were you trying to recall the name Lake George? OK, picture George Clooney swimming in that lake. You can put a young version of yourself on the beach. George forgot his trunks. That could be in the mental picture. Or, maybe he’s being pursued by an alligator. Perhaps the alligator is wearing swimming trunks. Make it goofy. Make it memorable.
You are switching from casual (natural) memory to intentional memory. Doing so is not effort free. But it’s a whole lot easier than you’d imagine. Imagine. Imagination. Use your imagination. This technique will help you gain access to whatever you wish to recall—and stir the creative juices in your mind.
Charles E. Kraus lives, writes, and remembers in Seattle. The author of five books, he has been published by leading newspapers, appeared on 75 radio and TV shows, and written and performed on numerous audios and videos. He has worked with major sports and entertainment figures, and he is the recipient of a Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award and the Bronze Star. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org