Memory: How to Develop, Train and Use It

In view of the facts just stated, it will be seen that the remedy for “poor hearing,” and poor memory of things heard is to be found in the use of the will in the direction of voluntary attention and interest. So true is this that some authorities go so far as to claim that many cases of supposed slight deafness are really but the result of lack of attention and concentration on the part of the person so troubled. Kay says: “What is commonly called deafness is not infrequently to be attributed to this cause–the sounds being heard but not being interpreted or recognized … sounds may be distinctly heard when the attention is directed toward them, that in ordinary circumstances would be imperceptible; and people often fail to hear what is said to them because they are not paying attention.” Harvey says: “That one-half of the deafness that exists is the result of inattention cannot be doubted.” There are but few persons who have not had the experience of listening to some bore, whose words were distinctly heard but the meaning of which was entirely lost because of inattention and lack of interest. Kirkes sums the matter up in these words: “In hearing we must distinguish two different points–the audible sensation as it is developed without any intellectual interference, and the conception which we form in consequence of that sensation.”

The reason that many persons do not remember things that they have heard is simply because they have not _listened_ properly. Poor listening is far more common than one would suppose at first. A little self-examination will reveal to you the fact that you have fallen into the bad habit of inattention. One cannot listen to everything, of course–it would not be advisable. But one should acquire the habit of either really listening or else refusing to listen at all. The compromise of careless listening brings about deplorable results, and is really the reason why so many people “can’t remember” what they have heard. It is all a matter of habit. Persons who have poor memories of ear-impressions should begin to “listen” in earnest. In order to reacquire their lost habit of proper listening, they must exercise voluntary attention and develop interest. The following suggestions may be useful in that direction.

Try to memorize words that are spoken to you in conversation–a few sentences, or even one, at a time. You will find that the effort made to fasten the sentence on your memory will result in a concentration of the attention on the words of the speaker. Do the same thing when you are listening to a preacher, actor or lecturer. Pick out the first sentence for memorizing, and make up your mind that your memory will be as wax to receive the impression and as steel to retain it. Listen to the stray scraps of conversation that come to your ears while walking on the street, and endeavor to memorize a sentence or two, as if you were to repeat it later in the day. Study the various tones, expressions and inflections in the voices of persons speaking to you–you will find this most interesting and helpful. You will be surprised at the details that such analysis will reveal. Listen to the footsteps of different persons and endeavor to distinguish between them–each has its peculiarities. Get some one to read a line or two of poetry or prose to you, and then endeavor to remember it. A little practice of this kind will greatly develop the power of voluntary attention to sounds and spoken words. But above everything else, practice repeating the words and sounds that you have memorized, so far as is possible–for by so doing you will get the mind into the habit of taking an interest in sound impressions. In this way you not only improve the sense of hearing, but also the faculty of remembering.

If you will analyze, and boil down the above remarks and directions, you will find that the gist of the whole matter is that one should _actually use, employ and exercise_ the mental faculty of hearing, actively and intelligently. Nature has a way of putting to sleep, or atrophying any faculty that is not used or exercised; and also of encouraging, developing and strengthening any faculty that is properly employed and exercised. In this you have the secret. Use it. If you will listen well, you will hear well and remember well that which you have heard.

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