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Easy Memory Techniques for Remembering Names
The world memory champion can memorize 170 names and faces in 15 minutes. Yet many people cannot recall a single name thirty seconds after hearing it. If we stay conservative for a moment and assume that remembering 170 names is the best people will ever be able to do, it should still be a piece of cake to remember one name of a person who just introduced herself to you three minutes ago. Right?
Wrong. All too often the name slips out of the mind, even after you ask for it the second time around. Then a week later you see her walking down the street and you want to call out and say hi. Except there is no name in your mind. I used to devise clever strategies for finding out the name second and third time around without asking for it directly:
- “Let me see the photo on your driver’s license.”
- “So, how do your close friends call you?”
- “You have an unusual name, how do you pronounce it?” (and hope she doesn’t say “Kate”)
- “What do they call you in this country?” (works well with foreigners)
- Hang around and wait until someone else pronounces her name. This strategy fails if the name is foreign and complicated - you hear it but cannot repeat it.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could easily and effortlessly memorize anyone’s name in just a few seconds? Better yet capture the names of a whole group of people as you are introduced to them and remember them once and for all. If the world champion can do it with 170 names, you can certainly do it with five or ten or even twenty.
Let us first examine what is involved in storing and recalling information in your mind, and then I will come back to the specific name remembering strategy. There are three phases to storing information:
- Attention. You have got to pay attention to the information by listening, watching, sensing. Have you ever had an experience of reading a book while preoccupied with other thoughts, like the parking ticket you got in the morning? How much of what you have read did you remember afterwards? Rampant self talk is the biggest obstacle to having a great memory. You need anywhere from 3 to 15 seconds of active (!) attention to form a strong memory in your mind. (If you have an outstanding power of concentration, you only need 2 seconds or 1 second or even less. Monks practicing a certain kind of meditation can do that or people in altered states of consciousness, e.g. in trance (like our world memory champion). The formula is memory_strength = intensity_of_concentration x attention_time.)
- Strategy. Use an effective memory strategy. There are many great ones that work really well, yet most people keep using truly awful strategies they picked up accidentally along the way when growing up. For example, if you want to remember a telephone number, mental tape loops when you keep saying the number to yourself over and over again are a particularly poor memory strategy. (Especially so if you remembered the number in one language, and someone
asks for it in another!) There is not a single memory strategy appropriate for everything. You need to learn a few to handle all sorts of situations. Some of them have been invented many millennia ago. For example, a very effective memory strategy for giving long speeches without the help of written notes was created by Greek orators. I will describe a great name remembering strategy in a second.
- Neurology. Neurologically record the memory in your brain. Occasionally, these neurological processes can be affected by certain physiological conditions (powerful drugs, physical brain damage, or some rare disorders), but this is usually the rarest cause when people complain of poor memory.
Recalling information has one phase:
- See, hear or sense the trigger and recall the information. It does you no good to remember just the names - you have a name, but no face. You must associate the two together, so that the face triggers the recall of the name. We automatically take care of this in the name remembering strategy below. But for other times, make sure you create a recall trigger that naturally occurs in your environment or that you have easy access to (e.g. do not connect all of your math learnings to the textbook or your notes - you will not have access to them during the test).
BULLETPROOF NAME REMEMBERING STRATEGY
I used to think that remembering names was hard. My strategy was to listen to the name and … that’s it. Not much of a strategy, but I did have a handful of how-to-get-the-name-a-second-time-around strategies. Then I learned how to do it properly and easily.
First, pay attention to the person saying their name. Do not look around, do not think about your dinner plans. Do look at them directly for at least 3 seconds. I typically handshake for 3 seconds while making eye contact. Listen to the name and imagine it written in large bright letters around their head. Keep this image in your mind for 3 to 15 seconds, depending on your power of concentration. While seeing the image, say the name to yourself in their voice three times. With your free hand write the name on your hip or in the air (keep your hand movements small and unobservable). That’s it.
HOW DOES IT WORK
Notice that the bulletproof name remembering strategy uses all three of your sensory channels - visual, auditory and kinesthetic. The result is a synergy. If you were to use only one of the three channels, visual is by far the most important one for most people. Here is a tip - when I learned this strategy, initially it did not work for me. I was told to write the names on the forehead. I did and I did not remember them. Then I discovered through experimentation that my letters were too small, I could not make them out afterwards. The key is to make the imaginary writing big and bright.
REMEMBERING MANY NAMES AT A TIME
We will use the chunk & review method. Have you heard of psychologist George A. Miller’s 7+-2 memory chunks? He discovered in 1956 that people on average can keep in their short-term memory seven plus or minus two chunks of information. If more information is given to them, something else must be forgotten before the new information is recorded. So if you want to remember more then 7+-2 names, you need to transfer the first set from the short-term to the long-term memory.
Suppose you are being introduced to a group of twenty people. We are going to memorize their names in chunks of five. Start by memorizing the first five names using the bulletproof name remembering strategy. Then pause and chunk this information by reviewing all five names in quick succession (look at each one of the first five people and mentally say their name). Then continue by memorizing the next five names, pause, chunk & review. Simple.
You’ve just read TIP #71 FOR CREATING AN EXTRAORDINARY AND MEANINGFUL LIFE brought to you by Holographic University. To get the next Tip visit us at:
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- Arman Darini, Ph.D.
About the Author: Arman Darini, Ph.D. is the director of Holographic University, the author of weekly Tips for Creating an Extraordinary and Meaningful Life, and a certified international NLP Trainer. As the leader of a dynamic team of Life Trainers and Coaches, Arman's motto is "I don't believe in your limitations". To learn more about Arman, visit ArmanDarini.com