We all forget things from time to time. Whether it’s where we put our car keys, the next main point of our speech, the names of our neighbors or the list of things to pick up at the grocery store, forgetting something can be frustrating or even embarrassing. That’s why there are so many ads out there for products that allegedly improve your memory bombarding the radio and television airwaves. But I have a secret for you that will help you improve your memory for free.
In most of the classes that I teach, the first exercise I do is to go around the room and get everyone to introduce themselves. This serves a variety of purposes but the one we care about right now is that it helps me learn everyone’s name. In most cases, I have everyone’s name memorized by the end of this exercise which usually prompts someone to ask me how I did that. And that’s when I share my secret for having a good memory.
Most people think that there’s some magic technique, and while I cover some memory techniques in my public speaking classes, I often don’t need them to remember names. The real reason why I remember names is because I care about remembering them — it’s a high priority for me. Learning and remembering names (and how to correctly pronounce that name) has been something I’ve been interested in since I was a kid.
I didn’t realize it when I was younger, but looking back now it all makes sense — we remember what interests us. I knew kids in school that got bad grades but could remember the entire roster of each of the Boston sports teams. In fact, baseball card collecting was the big thing when I was in middle school so every month when the new price guide came out, kids memorized the prices of all their valuable cards. Many of these kids didn’t do so well in math class yet they could add up the values of their collections in their heads.
Many kids couldn’t remember the state capitals but they could tell you the team and city name of each professional sports franchise. They couldn’t name all the U.S. Presidents but they could name the entire cast of their favorite television shows. They can’t remember to pick up a gift for their aunt’s birthday, but they remember to stop by the store the first day that must have toy is for sale.
So if there’s one thing that you could do to better remember things, it’s to be interested. Now being interested doesn’t guarantee that you’ll remember everything — we all forget things that we’re interested in remembering (such as the next part of our speeches) — but it’s the first step. The tricks and techniques out there that claim to help you improve your memory help you for two reasons. First, they help you focus on what you’re trying to remember (artificially creating interest). Second, they force you to remember it in the first place. And that right there is the secret to improving your memory retention.