Neurons Do Not Fire When You Forget Something
Students have asked me for years why my memory works well. Also, as you get older, the memory may fade some, especially the long-term memory or, in some cases, the short-term memory. I always explain that memory can be built with practice and hard work. Certain techniques can be developed if a person wants to improve memory. For example, how do I learn students' names? I first study the face when the person's name is given. Next, I look at the name on the roster and write it in the grade book. Each time a student turns in a paper I try to picture the student as the paper is being graded. You may notice in class I say hello and goodbye to students, thinking all the time how their names are spelled, both first and last. The constant attention to calling students by name helps reinforce the memory. In walking across campus, I picture that student and something he or she said to me. Now, what is that person's first and last name? Some names are particularly hard to remember with their spellings. If a name is particularly long, I usually break the name into pieces. For example, let's say I had to remember the name, Amshildpfening. I would break the name into pieces: first, Amshild. Then, I would think of a German boardgame played called Pfenig. The person whose name needed to be remembered would be pictured playing that boardgame. Now, the name is coming together: Amshildpfening. In your memory work, you need to use crutches wherever possible. As you can see, memory development is hard work, contrary to the infomercials on late-night TV.
Have you wondered why people collect business cards at social and business gatherings? It is not simply to start a collection of business cards. Business cards, once studied, help you remember people. Always jot something on the back of the card to help you remember that individual. If a person does not possess a business card at a social gathering, for example, you can always produce the blank side of your cards and ask the person to write at least the name, e-mail address, and company or company and job title. Look over your recently acquired business cards occasionally. Can you picture the individual you met? What distinguishing characteristics do you remember?
Sometimes life is embarrassing when you are trying to remember long-lost friends at a social gathering. I will never forget the faux paus made when I talked to someone known from years past. I called the person, Barbara, and realized I was wrong. After recovering sufficiently, I asked for the person's e-mail address on one of my business card blank sides. The person obliged, and that looking at the e-mail as well as thanking the person triggered the right response. The name was remembered, and the social situation was saved. Use whatever tools you can to remember people.
Recently, serving on a jury allowed me to practice the importance of memory skills. I wanted to learn everyone's first and last name. First, listening was required during the selection process to hear the name. At the inevitable breaks the judge gives, I introduced myself with first and last name. In many cases, I asked people to spell their last names. For example, Kesler, I heard was spelled with one "l." When the last name became impossible to remember, even after writing it down in the evening after a day's jury duty, I listened during deliberations to the introductions again. At the moment, I wrote down the spelling and tried to memorize the letters. Each time you look at a person think of the spelling of their first and last names. People appreciate your caring, and my efforts proved more fruitful than imagined. I begin to call people by their first names after a few days of seeing them in the hallways before trial. Each chance I called people by their names when excusing myself between the chairs or holding open doorways. That helped to solidify the name. People became friends, and our jury, both regulars and alernates, pulled together as a family. I would like to attribute some of that effort to the importance of remembering people's names. It is a conscious effort that anyone can practice. You just have to care about other people and what they have to say.
Once I had a professor in college named Dr. Roman Warmke. He said there was an easy way to remember his name. Think of a warm key. I never forgot that professor's name, in addition to learning a great deal about Retailing, Retail Salesmanship, and Advertising. You have to come up with whatever memory aid will best help you.
You have to want to improve your memory. Names and places have to become important to you. Memory starts with a goal. I want to learn students' names and learn how to pronounce them correctly. Memory becomes quite important in business communications. You want to learn customers'and clients' names. Their business is important to you. I am constantly amazed at a bookstore sales associate who always calls me by name when he waits on me. He is practicing the art of memory.
Something else is occurring with that bookstore employee. He is remembering the process of memory as enunciated by Alan S. Brown in Maximizing Memory Power: Using Recall in Business:
You attend to details when you test your memory. You become observant. What is the color of your associate's clothing? What do you notice in your associate's office? How many cars were parked on your street last night? When you went to the restaurant, how were the waiters and waitresses dressed? Attend to the details. Mr. Brown does recommend our knowing how much information we can handle at any one time.
If you want to remember, then, you have to associate what you want to remember with something that is personally satisfying. If I want to remember a detail for tomorrow, I usually think of that detail upon retiring. A piece of paper is not always handy to remember that detail. Therefore, I place a medicine bottle or some object askew to remember that detail. Then, I don't forget as readily to bring a student's paper or whatever.
People remember, according to Alan Brown, in different ways: sound, visual, or motion. Do you remember the last musical selection you heard? Can you sing the words? You are more accustomed to auditory or sound memories. Do you remember the last painting you saw in a museum? Can you remember how someone's name was spelled on a name tag at a meeting? Do you remember the last map you saw or a photograph shown to you. You are more accustomed to visual or sight memory. Do you remember the last motion picture you saw? Do you remember a car chase on television? Can you remember the motion in a slide show you saw at a presentation? Do you remember a flowchart and how the symbols were arranged with the connecting lines? You have experienced motion or movement memory. Everyone learns differently and may have a combination of these memories for any particular task.
When you rehearse in memory, you have to think of options for that rehearsal. When I rehearse for a presentation, I use an audiocassette to listen to the voice intonations and the pacing. That helps me remember the main points of the presentation and how the audience may receive the data. You can also subtly rehearse memory when you dealing with people's names. You can repeat the name once or twice while you are visiting. That rehearsal helps you remember the name. Let's say you have a big test to study for. How can you rehearse? You can look over your notes immediately after each class for about five-ten minutes. You can read over the chapters the professor mentioned after listening to each lecture. Each rehearsal reinforces your ability to do well on the test. Finally, you can make out some sample questions that allow you to remember the material. All these rehearsals take time; they yield dividends.
Any night during a semester or quarter you may walk by empty classrooms and see rehearsals. These rehearsals may include preparation for presentations or studying for exams. Asking questions of a buddy or vice versa will also allow your memory to function more productively. Rehearsal involves whatever you want to make it.
People find all kinds of ways to support their memory. They make lists, including To Do lists. You see refrigerator after refrigerator in homes with lists to help family members remember. I usually place business cards or wadded pieces of paper in strategic pockets to help me remember names and work to be done. Card files or note cards can support memory. Whatever works best for you should be employed. You can use memos and personal reminders to help you remember. Ask people to call you before a report is due. I ask students to remind me to bring a paper to class they want. Also, a note is written as further support.
When I attended a recent seminar on College Survival, one of the sessions I heard concerned the 12 Principles of Memory (developed by Linda Wong) and the acronym, SAVE CRIB FOTO. The speaker maintained, if we learn this acronym or acrostic, then we would always remember the 12 Principles. Let's see if that is true.
S in the memory aid means Selectivity. To efficiently use memory we need to carefully select those items we want to remember. Are those items a series of people we have just met? Are they certain concepts in textbooks we are trying desperately to remember?
A in the memory aid means Association. We need to link certain ideas together. If we have to remember Assets, Liabilities, and Equity, how could we think of the formula and where each part goes? How can we associate the assets with something we own? How can we associate the liabilities with something we owe?
V means Visualization. How can I picture the Art of Calculated Neglect in time management as someone pushing away all the tasks that have to be done? How can I think of that person as a procrastinator?
E means Elaboration. Memory takes work. You have to want to remember. You need to apply your skills to make memory work. Memory does not happen by osmosis. You need to ask Why and How as your elaborate.
Now, we come to the CRIB. C means Concentration. You have to concentrate all your mental faculties on remembering. As you grow older, memory is tougher. It requires extreme focus. You have to say, for example: I want to remember that person's name. Now, how is it spelled? How is it pronounced? Can I see that name in my mind's eye?
The R refers to Recite or Recitation. Often, you need to say outloud what you are trying to remember. You need to repeat to your friends or study group what you are trying to remember. All these recited responses reinforce what you are trying to remember.
The I goes along with Concentration and Elaboration. You have to possess Intention in what you are trying to remember. It has to be a subject or a person you want to learn about. You possess the interest, and the memory takes over. You store what catches your fancy. You set the goals and the plans for your Intention.
The B for Big and Little Pictures requires much more explanation. You tend to draw what you want to remember. You could use memory maps called mindmaps if that will help. You could create concept maps or organization charts. You could make up your own drawings or setups. The point is the drawing helps reinforce the memory. It is often a good way to take notes. The drawings have meaning to you.
We encounter the last four letters, FOTO. The F stands for Feedback. You can give yourself oral or written feedback. If a person's whose name you have remembered responds, "How did you know your name?", you have also achieved feedback. Feedback is an elusive item that only you can determine. Did your memory work? Did you get the feedback or results you expected? Did the professor grade your essay test and that grade showed you remembered the concepts? You just achieved another form of feedback. Feedback involves accountability. Are you accountable to your memory?
The letter O implies Organization. Did you help your memory by writing down and organizing (perhaps in outline form) what you heard? Did you write down the name of the person after you met the individual? Did you study the business card and write some notes on the back? Was your memory organized? If we are going to improve our memories, then organization is a key step in that process.
T. Are you willing to spend the necessary time as well as effort to remember something or someone? Memory does not happen because you will it. It takes time to remember people's names. You have devote minutes to the task of remembering. In studying you have to devote hours to remembering information and data. What are you willing to invest (in time) to remember something important? Have you spent the Time on Task to do that job?
In reading we are told muscle reading helps with Preread, Organize, Question, Read, Underline, Answer, Recite, Review, and Review again. The keywords we need are Review and Reviewing. The last O for the 12th Principle means Ongoing review. Memory takes building blocks. You can't afford to let your memory grow stale. If you can't remember a person's name after a day or so, go back and study what you wrote down about that person. In a textbook, constantly reread headlines and underlined copy to refresh your memory about certain concepts. Provide the ongoing review each week, so, when the test comes, you know the material sideways. Practice ongoing review, and your memory will remain solid. You will remember when the time comes.
Have you learned your SAVE CRIB FOTO? Is your memory better than it was before you started reading this website?
Psychologist Daniel Schacter of Harvard University has investigated the seven sins of memory that inhibit our ability to recall. Five of these sins as defined in his book, The Seven Sins of Memory, include:
- Bias (Sharon Begley, "Memory's Mind Games," Newsweek 138 (16 July 2001): 52-54.
Have you had the experience of forgetting a person's first or last name? Have you forgotten something on your grocery list? You may have a case of blocking. A group of psychology students from Boston University volunteered to look at photos. They were asked about the photos from 15 minutes to 48 hours later and what they remembered. They saw the "effect" of the photos, which were never shown to them. They pictured spilled groceries; yet, they were only shown the photo of someone reaching into a pile of oranges. They blocked out or obscured what they had seen. Two researchers writing in the Journal of Experimental Psychology concluded that "memories can be illusions" (Begley, "Memory's Mind Games," p. 52).
Misattribution represents an even scarier phenomenon when applied to remembering. In misattribution you transfer a memory from one mental category to another. Let's take the terrible footage we may have seen on TV of the El Al cargo plane crashing into Dutch residents' homes in 1992. The footage made such an impact that people remembered seeing the fuselage aflame and where the plane fell. Yet, the footage never showed these details. The brain made a "binding" error (Begley, "Memory's Mind Games," p. 53). Remember this story the next time you think a friend told you a story, and, in reality, it was your mother. The mind, through a hiccup in the hippocampus in the brain's temporal lobe, does, indeed play tricks.
How can people confuse personal recollection with outside sources of information? You can lead people to believe something by the way you question them. One Korean War veteran, Edward Daly, believed he had taken part in the massacre of South Koreans at No Gun Ri. The images became so vivid (outside sources) to Daly that he bore false witness to the event. The next time you serve on a jury think about suggestibility on whether a witness really saw the details mentioned in the testimony. We can confuse in our mind.
Trauma and stress create the persistence syndrome with our recall. Think about a traumatic event in your memory. How do you feel? Did someone, for example, call you a do-nothing on the playground and, to this day, you still think about not succeeding when you recall that image? You can blame the part of your brain called the amydala (Begley, "Memory's Mind Games," p. 54). Stress hormones add to the trauma of the previous event. Think about persistence the next time you have a blockage.
The Psychologist Schacter believes we rewrite our memories to suit the present. Think of a couple deeply in love who remember only the anger after their wedding and the shortcomings of their spouse. That memory lingers as bias instead of the good times. Powerful memory systems bully our brain (Begley, "Memory's Mind Games, p. 54). When you are convinced something is true from memory, the memory conflicts start. Watch out for bias, including stereotyping, when you are testing your memory. You may have the wrong image.
Dr. Eileen Crimmins from the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology recently gave a presentation, "Memory and the Highly Educated," to the Association of Retired Faculty on the CSUN campus. During her question-and-answer period I asked about forgetting something: "Suppose you forget someone's name and the 4 C's of some list you were trying to memorize. Several hours later the name comes to you, and the fourth C is finally remembered a few hours later. Will you comment on this phenomenon and what is happening?" Dr. Crimmins explained that the person's neurons were not completely firing. The items had been lost in short-term memory, but they were later retrieved in long-term memory. The later age of the person meant it took longer to remember. During the spell to recall, the brain is at work subconsciously. Then, the patterns are remembered, and the brain produces the archive.
Last updated Friday, October 10, 2008
(c)G. Jay Christensen, All Rights Reserved
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