As Good as Necessary
- To remember well enough to get through your classes with high grades or to remember what you need at the store or to turn out the lights when you get ready for bed, you don’t have to be a memory whiz. You don’t have to be a Matteo Ricci (1552 – 1610) – who developed mnemonics into a fine art and was fantastic at it – to get as good at remembering as you need to.
Most the tips I offered in the 1996 edition of Get Your A Out of College I’ve used sometime or other, but I apply them only when I must. I got pretty good at it when I was offering a college skills class and didn’t want to embarrass myself. Generally, I try to fix it so that I don’t have to.
But for several years I memorized the first and last names of the students in my classes during one one-hour session. And all the students did, too! I did it as an experiment, and I was the last person to name everyone. After a couple of times my hands quit sweating. That was great for the semester, maybe even six months or so afterwards, but of my 20,000 students I remember the names of only a handful – who found their way into my long-term memory because their imprint was stronger – and without conscious effort on my part.
I hope it’s becoming clear that you can remember as much as you want to or need to.
Generally, I find ways to avoid all that effort. So I add and item to the grocery list on the refrigerator at the time I think of it. If I don’t, short-term memory will erase it the minute I think of something else. That’s just how the brain is designed. So I go along with how our brains work. If I’m out somewhere and don’t have some way to write down something important, then I’ll probably use a memory device – then and there – otherwise, poof!, it will be gone. If I’ve been forgetting my cap or my reading glasses or my folder all over Alameda, I put my name and phone number on them–in BIG print. You can lay the car keys at the door you go out or attach them to an over-sized key ring that’s impossible to miss. And so on.
Assume your memory is rotten. Then you can apply strategies to compensate.
I tell my wife that I don’t have a good memory. I do know lots of memory strategies, though. I do know those. Even without thinking of them for a long time, I can retrieve them. And I never even tried. Working with them and getting the feel of them took care of it. (Taking rubbings. See my 3/2/13 post.) If you grew up with siblings, you don’t have to memorize them. You absorbed them, Bud and Sis and Joe; they are all over your organism. You don’t have to memorize how to ride a bike. Whatever you do becomes part of you. “There was a child went forth . . .”
The Zen way of remembering: Fall IN it, like falling IN love.
Oh, yes, and you can throw in the lines from Yeats’ “Memory .” (See my 3/2/13 post):
. . . the mountain grass [you]
Cannot but keep the form
Where the mountain hare has lain.