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Jim Owens: Training Your Memory 1/3

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I’m sure if asked, just about everyone would say that they would like to have a better memory. Them they could pass the  PMP exam, win TV game shows and amaze the guys at the bar. Now I know that  there are people who can demonstrate seemingly impossible feats of  recollection, such as recalling sequences of thousands of digits after reading  them for a shot period of time.

In fact I remember one amazing Indian  gentleman with this precise talent revealing what his “trick” was. He said,  “The trick is I simply remember strings of 128 digits and link them  together”. Yes, that’s a very useful trick (NOT!). And then there are the  incredible chess players who can recall every game anyone, anywhere ever played.  Or the boss who can remember every mistake make by anyone, anywhere (except  their own).

But excluding these few exceptional individuals, the way I like to say it is, there is no such thing as a “bad” memory,  it’s just an “untrained” memory. In fact there seems to be consensus among  many experts that the brain is exercised by use, and improves with use,  just as the muscles in your body improve with exercise (after the pain  goes). But the training must be the “right” type of training to bring about  the required result.

Just suppose for a moment that Mozart had been  born to peasant farmers in a very poor country, and then at the age of twenty  he was seated at a piano? He wouldn’t have a clue what to do with it, would
he? Yet Mozart performed before the Bavarian elector and the Austrian  empress when he was just six years old, and he published his fist work, four  piano sonatas, at the age of ten. The only difference between the peasant  farmer’s brain and the musical genius brain was the amount and *type* of  training it received (plus a good helping of McGregor’s Theory Y from his parents  and others).

It’s the same with your brain. Currently its  major task may be just to prevent your head from caving in if it were  removed, but with the right training you could amaze everyone, including  yourself.

So how can you train your memory and what tricks  can you use to remember things (such as PMP exam information and the date  of your wedding anniversary)?

I have given presentations over the years on such  things as life skills, personal development and memory training and so  on. And one thing that I learned early is that people are much more likely  to remember something silly than something sensible – in fact the sillier it is, the more likely you are to recall it. Think about it; if you go  to a presentation and the presenter says a rude word by mistake, or falls  off the stage, you will remember that event for years, long after you  have forgotten must of the
rest of the presentation in fact.

Now another very interesting fact about memory is  that it is associative. That means we don’t just store one piece of  information at a time but instead we store groups of related information   (although how some things are related are a mystery known only to your subconscious mind).

I’m sure you has had the experience where you  recall a long forgotten memory, and then suddenly you start remembering a  whole bunch of other stuff too – some obviously related to your original
memory and others not. The same can happen when you smell or taste or touch  something too.

Most experts seem to agree that memories are  stored in your long term memory as you sleep, and dreams are a by product of the  filing and discarding process.

The way I picture it is your subconscious mind is  a clerk sitting at a desk, and this clerk has a big pile of 6×4 cards with  short term memories written on them. Then as you sleep, this clerk sorts
through the cards discarding the ones that are not important and sorting the  ones that he sees as
important into groups that are somehow related  and then files the groups away in your long term memory. Then when you  recall any member of the group, your memory recalls the associated ones too.

So knowing that your mind works in this way you  can use it to your advantage. The trick is then to associate  something silly with sensible things. The silly thing is easy to recall and so  when your memory recalls it, it brings up the others too.

For example if I were to give you five minutes to  read a list of ten items, and you aren’t allowed to write them down. How  many people could one month later recite the list forwards and backwards and
given any item in the list could give the remainder of the list of the  preceding items forward or
backwards? Not many I’m sure (unless they had  been trained to do this ofcourse.

I’ll give you one tiny example. Suppose you are  going to attend the first day of your PMTI 4-day PMP course (some people  think it’s a 5-day course, but in fact it’s only it’s a 4-day course and you  pass the PMP exam on the fifth day). But I digress; you are on the way to  your PMTI course and your partner tells you to buy oranges on your way  home. I’m assuming that you don’t write this down – but even if you do write  it down, how are you going to remember to read the note?

You could rely on your memory – but that’s too  risky.

But if you picture in your mind, an orange  sitting on the passenger seat of your car, then when you return to your car after work you’re a bit more likely to remember about buying oranges – but not  much more likely.

Not let’s get a bit silly. I want you to imagine  that you’re walking up to your car this evening (yes actually picture it in  you mind). You open the door – and there are oranges sitting on the  driver’s seat. Now although you see them you sit down and squash them and you can  feel lumpy oranges squashing under you, and you can smell squashed  oranges and feel cold orange juice wetting your trousers.
Then there’s more likelihood that when you return  to your car you’ll either remember the oranges or you’ll wet yourself.  Notice that we’ve involved sight, smell and touch – the more senses you use  the better.

This is also the basis of pain control – and good  story writing – a good story involves your senses so you get a more real  experience.

But now if you make it really ridiculous –  example – then you will remember!

You realize of course that when you go to your  car tonight what are you going to think about? You’ll think about oranges  – probably for weeks, and every time you see an orange you’ll think about  me and PMHub and PMTI.

I tend to visualize things in a different way to  most people, but then you remember them better.

Someone said to me once, “Jim you’re either a  genius of you’re a very silly person – I haven’t worked out which yet”. Because  this person had been on my memory training presentation 10 years before and
she could still remember the list of items forwards, and backwards from  any item in the list.

Next time we will cover the two simplest ways of  remembering lists of 10 to 20 items (or more), and if I find time I will  describe a method that will enable you to remember hundreds of items.

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