Memory: How to Develop, Train and Use It

Begin by turning your attention upon some uninteresting thing and studying its details until you are able to describe them. This will prove very tiresome at first but you must stick to it. Do not practice too long at a time at first; take a rest and try it again later. You will soon find that it comes easier, and that a new interest is beginning to manifest itself in the task. Examine this book, as practice, learn how many pages there are in it; how many chapters; how many pages in each chapter; the details of type, printing and binding–all the little things about it–so that you could give another person a full account of the minor details of the book. This may seem uninteresting–and so it will be at first–but a little practice will create a new interest in the petty details, and you will be surprised at the number of little things that you will notice. This plan, practiced on many things, in spare hours, will develop the power of voluntary attention and perception in anyone, no matter how deficient he may have been in these things. If you can get some one else to join in the game-task with you, and then each endeavor to excel the other in finding details, the task will be much easier, and better work will be accomplished. Begin to take notice of things about you; the places you visit; the things in the rooms, etc. In this way you will start the habit of “noticing things,” which is the first requisite for memory development.

Halleck gives the following excellent advice on this subject: “To look at a thing intelligently is the most difficult of all arts. The first rule for the cultivation of accurate perception is: Do not try to perceive the whole of a complex object at once. Take the human face as an example. A man, holding an important position to which he had been elected, offended many people because he could not remember faces, and hence failed to recognize individuals the second time he met them. His trouble was in looking at the countenance as a whole. When he changed his method of observation, and noticed carefully the nose, mouth, eyes, chin, and color of hair, he at once began to find recognition easier. He was no longer in difficulty of mistaking A for B, since he remembered that the shape of B’s nose was different, or the color of his hair at least three shades lighter. This example shows that another rule can be formulated: Pay careful attention to details. We are perhaps asked to give a minute description of the exterior of a somewhat noted suburban house that we have lately seen. We reply in general terms, giving the size and color of the house. Perhaps we also have an idea of part of the material used in the exterior construction. We are asked to be exact about the shape of the door, porch, roof, chimneys and windows; whether the windows are plain or circular, whether they have cornices, or whether the trimmings around them are of the same material as the rest of the house. A friend, who will be unable to see the house, wishes to know definitely about the angles of the roof, and the way the windows are arranged with reference to them. Unless we can answer these questions exactly, we merely tantalize our friends by telling them we have seen the house. To see an object merely as an undiscriminated mass of something in a certain place, is to do no more than a donkey accomplishes as he trots along.”

There are three general rules that may be given in this matter of bestowing the voluntary attention in the direction of actually _seeing_ things, instead of merely looking at them. The first is: Make yourself take an interest in the thing. The second: See it as if you were taking note of it in order to repeat its details to a friend–this will force you to “take notice.” The third: Give to your subconsciousness a mental command to take note of what you are looking at–say to it; “Here, you take note of this and remember it for me!” This last consists of a peculiar “knack” that can be attained by a little practice–it will “come to you” suddenly after a few trials.

Regarding this third rule whereby the subconsciousness is made to work for you, Charles Leland has the following to say, although he uses it to illustrate another point: “As I understand it, it is a kind of impulse or projection of will into the coming work. I may here illustrate this with a curious fact in physics. If the reader wished to ring a doorbell so as to produce as much sound as possible, he would probably pull it as far back as he could, and then let it go. But if he would, in letting it go, simply give it a tap with his forefinger, he would actually redouble the sound. Or, to shoot an arrow as far as possible, it is not enough to _merely_ draw the bow to its utmost span or tension. If, just as it goes, you will give the bow a quick push, though the effort be trifling, the arrow will fly almost as far again as it would have done without it. Or, if, as is well known in wielding a very sharp sabre, we make the draw cut; that is, if to the blow or chop, as with an axe, we also add a certain slight pull, simultaneously, we can cut through a silk handkerchief or a sheep. Forethought (command to the subconsciousness) is the tap on the bell; the push on the bow; the draw on the sabre. It is the deliberate but yet rapid action of the mind when before dismissing thought, we bid the mind to consequently respond. It is more than merely thinking what we are to do; it is the bidding or ordering the Self to fulfill a task before willing it.”

Remember first, last and always, that before you can remember, or recollect, you must first _perceive_; and that perception is possible only through attention, and responds in degree to the latter. Therefore, it has truly been said that: “The great Art of Memory is Attention.”

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