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Lesson Eight — Improving Your Memory

Like most people, I often make the mistake of believing that people with good memories must be very intelligent people.People that remember dates and times and statistics and batting averages and all sorts of other meaningless facts are thought to be highly intelligent.Actually, intelligence has more to do with reasoning skills, like finding a solution from a scrambled mess of clues than it does remembering tiny details about many different things.But here is a news flash.(1) You do not have to be super-smart to remember meaningless details, and (2) to get ahead in this world; you do not have to be super-smart.You just have to make people think that you are smart.Improving your memory is one of the best and easiest ways to do this.I am going to teach you how.

Take school for example.Do the smartest kids get the best grades?Not necessarily.For the most part, schools give out good grades to the students that remember the most stuff and are able to cough it up during a test.If you pay attention in class, read the materials, and regurgitate it at exam time, you will do great.Your reward will be a good grade, probably a great grade.Of course, if you don’t pay attention in class and don’t read the materials, you will have nothing to remember.Does that necessarily mean you are stupid?Yes, I believe it does.Not because you can’t remember, but because you weren’t smart enough to pay attention in class and read the materials in the first place.Now, that’s stupid.

This chapter, and the ones that follow can only help you remember things that you have been exposed to.If I could figure out how to remember things without first being exposed to them, I would be a very, very wealthy man.

Do you have a good memory?Maybe?Most likely you have a good memory for certain things, but not so good for other things.For example, you might be able to remember all of the words to every Metallica song that was ever written, but cannot remember where you left your shoes.Does that mean you have a good memory or a bad memory?Does it mean you have a good memory for some things and not so good for other things?Not really.What it means is that you can remember anything you truly want to remember.Likewise, you will not remember, or forget, the things that you don’t want to remember.If it is important to you, you will remember it.Obviously, if it is not important to you, you won’t remember it.Does this sound familiar?

This chapter is not about helping you remember things that are important to you.I don’t think you need any help with that.This chapter is about helping you remember things that are not so important.Rather, things that are not so important to you.I make this distinction because as important as the Metallica lyrics might be, finding your shoes or remembering your vocabulary words are actually more important.

So, how do we remember things?The most common way is through repetition.Although this is the most common, and most traditional way, it is also the least effective.Repetition is the method used to teach us our multiplication tables, state capitals, presidents, and many, many other things that we have difficulty remembering.On the other hand, one of the very first things we learn in school, and most often before we even start school, is the alphabet, which we learn in a singsong form of verse.How about “I before e except after c”, or “30 days has September, April, June and November?”How about the spelling of the state of Mississippi?These things we learn as a verse or a rhyme.If only we could convert our history lessons or vocabulary words into a song or rhyme.Instead, we attend class, take notes, read the book, read and re-read the notes, rehearse the important parts, then take the test.This is pure repetition. We go over the same thing several times in a variety of ways.Then, we soon forget the stuff and move on to the next lesson.But, we never forget the singsong stuff, do we?

How did you learn your left from your right as a child?Some learned by having a red piece of yarn tied to their right hand.Red starts with an “r” sound and so does right.Others would learn that the right hand was the one they placed over their heart while saying the pledge of allegiance.Thus, the link between the heart and the right hand became the tool for remembering right from left.This method is called the “Association Method” and is by far, the most useful tool to improve your memory.

Suppose you are having trouble remembering the days of the week for Spanish class.The word for Sunday is Domingo*.Most religions hold religious services on Sunday and if you envisioned a church made out of dominoes, then you would have a mental image that would help you remember.Monday is Lunes in Spanish.Not coincidentally, Monday in English is related to the moon day just as Lunar relates to the moon for Spanish speaking people.Tuesday is Martes in Spanish and happens to be the only Spanish day of the week that has a “t” in it.Wednesday is the middle day of the week, and the Spanish word is Miercoles.The association would be between the middle of the week and the first few letters of the Spanish word.Thursday is Jueves (pronounced wave-ace).I think most people would connect Thursday with Thanksgiving, which could lead you to think of college football bowl games and the crowd doing the wave.Of course, you would also have to know that the “ju” sound in Spanish sounds like the w in English.Friday is Viernes.To most of us, Friday is the last day of the week for work and school and reaching it is somewhat of a victory for some of us.The traditional hand signal for victory is shaping a V with your fingers held in the air.Saturday in Spanish is Sabado.Simply relating the first two letters in each word should do the job.Personally, I think of Sabado as the Sabbath, which is sometimes jokingly referred to as the day to take a bath.The idea is to use anything that works for you.It takes some work Plus, once you have the associations down, you won’t forget them.

The Association Method can be used for many, many things.It is great for remembering things like the capitals of the states.How many people can remember the capital of Montana?(Hang in there with me.I’ll make the connection.)I had a very frail, elderly aunt whose name was Helen.And I amusingly pictured Joe Montana throwing my Aunt Helen a game winning touchdown pass.

Grandma montana

Obviously, this will not work for you unless you also have an Aunt Helen, but hopefully makes the point.Often, the more ridiculous the association, the easier it is to remember.

In college, I struggled for a while in most of my subjects until I discovered this system.Thereafter, I would study for an exam by drawing an elaborate maze of pictures on one sheet of paper, often without the time to go over it again before the test.Yet, I’d be perfectly ready for the exam.Let’s try an example.

I want you to create a little video in your head.Picture this:The Virgin Mary is wearing a football jersey.She is playing with a toy choo-choo train that is powered by a hamster running around on his little hamster wheel.The hamster wheel has a pencil for an axle and the pencil is spinning at an amazing speed, when it suddenly shoots out like a rocket and crashes into the twin towers in New York.But, instead of collapsing, the towers turn into a bride and groom getting married.Their lips are extended out to connect them across the expanse of the towers.When they stop kissing, they are standing together on a deserted island.They strip down to their underwear and approach a long line of cars, half of which are heading north, and half of which are heading south.The bride gets into the lead car heading south and crashes into a Georgia peach.

Now, close this book without loosing your place, and re-run the video in your head.Virgin Mary, football jersey, choo-choo train, hamster, pencil, towers in New York, bride and groom getting married, lips connecting, desert island, underwear, line of cars heading north and a line of cars heading south, the Georgia peach.If you can picture it, you now know the thirteen U.S. colonies in the order in which they became colonies.Virginia, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia.Try it again.It works great, doesn’t it?

13 Colonies jpg

Obviously, this Association Method of improving your memory can be extremely valuable for school.It also works extremely well in other aspects of life.Say for example, you have to make a public speech.You realize, of course, that your presentation would be much more professional if you did not read from notes, but you don’t want to leave anything out either.Just like my example on the college exam study sheet, you can prepare for a speech in the same way.

Suppose you had to give a talk on honeybees, and wanted to look like a real expert by giving the talk without having any notes.In preparation for the talk, you would write down the points that you wanted to cover.Then, you would make a picture outline linking one item or topic to another.When giving your talk, you would be able to visualize your drawing and move effortlessly from one topic to the next without missing anything.Below is a sample drawing for a short talk on honeybees.See if you can follow it.

Honey bees

Honeybees are insects (as depicted by the drawing of the intersection.)They are found virtually everywhere in the world.There are several species (spectacles) of honeybees.The Latin name is apis malifera (ape + mail + ferris wheel stamp).Honey has been a source of food (apple) for man since the beginning of time (clock).The worker bees (with the pick-axe) travel from flower to flower and gather nectar to take back to the hive.(In case you couldn’t tell, that is my crude drawing of a person’s neck for “nectar.”)While going from flower to flower, the pollen (telephone pole) from the flowers sticks to their legs and is transported (train) to the next flower, and so on.Honeybees live in colonies (colonial flag).The queen honeybee is the head of the colony.She is much larger and lays the eggs.The drones (drum + phone) sole purpose is to fertilize (R rated) the queen to keep the colony going.

As you can see by my crude drawing, it is easy to make one link to the next in order to memorize the entire outline.When you create your own outline it is much easier to follow and remember than mine would be.

This technique to improve your memory will take some time and effort to perfect, but it will be time very well spent.Not only will you do better in your academic studies, but it will improve your confidence and help you gain the respect of others.

In the next chapter I will show you how to use a similar system to remember numbers.

Now, back to the days of the week in Spanish.  My apologies to the Spanish teachers and students of the world, including my wife, Susan.  The days of the week are not capitalized in Spanish.  I capitalized them because I did not want you to be distracted and wonder why I didn’t capitalize them.