Memory: How to Develop, Train and Use It

In order to fully acquaint yourself with a book, before reading it you should familiarize yourself with its general character. To do this you should pay attention to the full title, and the sub-title, if there be any; the name of the author and the list of other books that he has written, if they are noted on the title page, or the one preceding it, according to the usual custom. You should read the preface and study carefully the table of contents, that you may know the field or general subject covered by the book–in other words endeavor to get the general outline of the book, into which you may afterwards fill in the details.

In reading a book of serious import, you should make it a point to fully grasp the meaning of each paragraph before passing on to the next one. Let nothing pass you that you do not understand, at least in a general way. Consult the dictionary for words not familiar to you, so that you may grasp the full idea intended to be expressed. At the end of each chapter, section and part, you should review that which you have read, until you are able to form a mental picture of the general ideas contained therein.

To those who wish to remember the dramatic productions that they have attended, we would say that the principles above mentioned may be applied to this form of memory as well as to the memory of books. By taking an interest in each character as it appears; by studying carefully each action and scene, and then reviewing each act in the intervals between the acts; and by finally reviewing the entire play after your return home; you will fasten the whole play as a complete mental picture, on the records of your memory. If you have acquainted yourself with what we have just said regarding the recollection of the contents of books, you will be able to modify and adapt them to the purpose of recollecting plays and dramatic productions. You will find that the oftener you review a play, the more clearly will you remember it. Many little details overlooked at first will come into the field of consciousness and fit into their proper places.

Sermons, lectures and other discourses may be remembered by bestowing interest and attention upon them, and by attempting to grasp each general idea advanced, and by noting the passage from one general idea to another. If you will practice this a few times, you will find that when you come to review the discourse (and this you should always do–it is the natural way of developing memory) the little details will come up and fit into their proper places. In this form of memory, the important thing is to train the memory by exercise and review. You will find that at each review of a discourse you will have made progress. By practice and exercise, the subconscious mentality will do better work, and will show that it is rising to its new responsibilities. You have allowed it to sleep during the many discourses to which you have listened, and it must be taught new habits. Let it know that it is expected to retain that which it hears, and then exercise it frequently by reviews of discourses, and you will be surprised at the degree of the work it will perform for you. Not only will you remember better, but you will _hear_ better and more intelligently. The subconsciousness, knowing that it will be called upon later on to recollect what is being said, will urge you to bestow the attention necessary to supply it with the proper material.

To those who have had trouble in remembering discourses, we urge that they should begin to attend lectures and other forms of discourse, with the distinct purpose of developing that form of memory. Give to the subconscious mentality the positive command that it shall attend to what is being said, and shall record the same in such a way that when you review the discourse afterward you will be presented with a good synopsis or syllabus of it. You should avoid any attempt to memorize the _words_ of the discourse–your purpose being to absorb and record the _ideas_ and general thought expressed. Interest–Attention–Practice–Review–these are the important points in memory.

To remember stories, anecdotes, fables, etc., the principles given above are to be employed. The main thing in memorizing an anecdote is to be able to catch the _fundamental idea_ underlying it, and the epigrammatic sentence, or central phrase which forms the “point” of the story. Be sure that you catch these perfectly, and then commit the “point” to memory. If necessary make a memorandum of the point, until you have opportunity to review the story in your mind. Then carefully review it mentally, letting the mental image of the idea pass before you in review, and then repeating it to yourself in your own words. By rehearsing and reviewing the story, you make it your own and will be able to relate it afterward just as you would something that you had actually experienced. So true is this principle, that when carried too far it endows the story with a false sense of actuality–who has not known men who told a story so often that they came actually to believe it themselves? Do not carry the principle to this extreme but use it in moderation. The trouble with many men is that they attempt to repeat a tale, long after they have heard it, without reviewing or rehearsing in the meantime. Consequently they omit many important points, because they have failed to impress the story as a whole upon the memory. In order to _know_ an anecdote properly, one should be able to _see_ its characters and incidents, just as he does when he sees an illustrated joke in a comic paper. If you can make a mental picture of an anecdote, you will be apt to remember it with ease. The noted story tellers review and rehearse their jokes, and have been known to try them on their unsuspecting friends in order to get the benefit of practice before relating them in public–this practice has been called by flippant people: “trying it on the dog.” But it has its good points, and advantages. It at least saves one the mortification of being compelled to finish up a long-drawn out tale by an: “Er–well, um-m-m–I’m afraid I’ve forgotten just how that story ended–but it was a good one!”

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