Memory: How to Develop, Train and Use It

Chapter XVI

How to Remember Occurences

The phase of memory which manifests in the recording of and recollection of the occurrences and details of one’s every-day life is far more important than would appear at first thought. The average person is under the impression that he remembers very well the occurrences of his every-day business, professional or social life, and is apt to be surprised to have it suggested to him that he really remembers but very little of what happens to him during his waking hours. In order to prove how very little of this kind is really remembered, let each student lay down this book, at this place, and then quieting his mind let him endeavor to recall the incidents of the same day of the preceding week. He will be surprised to see how very little of what happened on that day he is really capable of recollecting. Then let him try the same experiment with the occurrences of yesterday–this result will also excite surprise. It is true that if he is reminded of some particular occurrence, he will recall it, more or less distinctly, but beyond that he will remember nothing. Let him imagine himself called upon to testify in court, regarding the happenings of the previous day, or the day of the week before, and he will realize his position.

The reason for his failure to easily remember the events referred to is to be found in the fact that he made no effort at the time to impress these happenings upon his subconscious mentality. He allowed them to pass from his attention like the proverbial “water from the duck’s back.” He did not wish to be bothered with the recollection of trifles, and in endeavoring to escape from them, he made the mistake of failing to store them away. There is a vast difference between dwelling on the past, and storing away past records for possible future reference. To allow the records of each day to be destroyed is like tearing up the important business papers in an office in order to avoid giving them a little space in the files.

It is not advisable to expend much mental effort in fastening each important detail of the day upon the mind, as it occurs; but there is an easier way that will accomplish the purpose, if one will but take a little trouble in that direction. We refer to the practice of _reviewing_ the occurrences of each day, after the active work of the day is over. If you will give to the occurrences of each day a mental review in the evening, you will find that the act of reviewing will employ the attention to such an extent as to register the happenings in such a manner that they will be available if ever needed thereafter. It is akin to the filing of the business papers of the day, for possible future reference. Besides this advantage, these reviews will serve you well as a reminder of many little things of immediate importance which have escaped your recollection by reason of something that followed them in the field of attention.

You will find that a little practice will enable you to review the events of the day, in a very short space of time, with a surprising degree of accuracy of detail. It seems that the mind will readily respond to this demand upon it. The process appears to be akin to a mental digestion, or rather a mental rumination, similar to that of the cow when it “chews the cud” that it has previously gathered. The thing is largely a “knack” easily acquired by a little practice. It will pay you for the little trouble and time that you expend upon it. As we have said, not only do you gain the advantage of storing away these records of the day for future use, but you also have your attention called to many important details that have escaped you, and you will find that many ideas of importance will come to you in your moments of leisure “rumination.” Let this work be done in the evening, when you feel at ease–but do not do it after you retire. The bed is made for sleep, not for thinking. You will find that the subconsciousness will awaken to the fact that it will be called upon later for the records of the day, and will, accordingly, “take notice” of what happens, in a far more diligent and faithful manner. The subconsciousness responds to a call made upon it in an astonishing manner, when it once understands just what is required of it. You will see that much of the virtue of the plan recommended consists in the fact that in the review there is an employment of the attention in a manner impossible during the haste and rush of the day’s work. The faint impressions are brought out for examination, and the attention of the examination and review greatly deepen the impression in each case, so that it may be reproduced thereafter. In a sentence: it is _the deepening of the faint impressions of the day_.

Thurlow Weed, a well-known politician of the last century, testifies to the efficacy of the above mentioned method, in his “Memoirs.” His plan was slightly different from that mentioned by us, but you will at once see that it involves the same principles–the same psychology. Mr. Weed says: “Some of my friends used to think that I was ‘cut out’ for a politician, but I saw at once a fatal weakness. My memory was a sieve. I could remember nothing. Dates, names, appointments, faces–everything escaped me. I said to my wife, ‘Catherine, I shall never make a successful politician, for I cannot remember, and that is a prime necessity of politicians. A politician who sees a man once should remember him forever.’ My wife told me that I must train my memory. So when I came home that night I sat down alone and spent fifteen minutes trying silently to recall with accuracy the principal events of the day. I could remember but little at first–now I remember that I could not then recall what I had for breakfast. After a few days’ practice I found I could recall more. Events came back to me more minutely, more accurately, and more vividly than at first. After a fortnight or so of this, Catherine said ‘why don’t you relate to me the events of the day instead of recalling them to yourself? It would be interesting and my interest in it would be a stimulus to you.’ Having great respect for my wife’s opinion, I began a habit of oral confession, as it were, which was continued for almost fifty years. Every night, the last thing before retiring, I told her everything I could remember that had happened to me, or about me, during the day. I generally recalled the very dishes I had for breakfast, dinner and tea; the people I had seen, and what they had said; the editorials I had written for my paper, giving her a brief abstract of them; I mentioned all the letters I had seen and received, and the very language used, as nearly as possible; when I had walked or ridden–I told her everything that had come within my observation. I found that I could say my lessons better and better every year, and instead of the practice growing irksome, it became a pleasure to go over again the events of the day. I am indebted to this discipline for a memory of unusual tenacity, and I recommend the practice to all who wish to store up facts, or expect to have much to do with influencing men.”

The careful student, after reading these words of Thurlow Weed, will see that in them he has not only given a method of recalling the particular class of occurrences mentioned in this lesson, but has also pointed out a way whereby the entire field of memory may be trained and developed. The habit of reviewing and “telling” the things that one perceives, does and thinks during the day, naturally sharpens the powers of future observation, attention and perception. If you are witnessing a thing which you know that you will be called upon to describe to another person, you will instinctively apply your attention to it. The knowledge that you will be called upon for a description of a thing will give the zest of interest or necessity to it, which may be lacking otherwise. If you will “sense” things with the knowledge that you will be called upon to tell of them later on, you will give the interest and attention that go to make sharp, clear and deep impressions on the memory. In this case the seeing and hearing has “a meaning” to you, and a purpose. In addition to this, the work of review establishes a desirable habit of mind. If you don’t care to relate the occurrences to another person–learn to tell them to yourself in the evening. Play the part yourself. There is a valuable secret of memory imbedded in this chapter–if you are wise enough to apply it.

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