Are you lucky?

Follow hanmireddy on Twitter

Sunday, November 1, 2009

12 Memory Tricks

12 Memory Tricks

Indisputably, we moderns can't match the memory feats of bygone times, those days when people could do things like memorize the "Iliad" in Greek without even knowing Greek. And maybe it's true, as some have speculated (me, for instance), that we've lost this capacity because we now tend to outsource our memory tasks to an exo-brain of technological gadgets. We no longer have to remember Mom's birthday because our cell phone will remind us about it when the time comes.

But it struck me recently what this doesn't mean. It doesn't mean we depend on (organic) memory less than people of the past. A good memory is still a power tool in this world. It's just that our culture imposes different demands on our memories.

Those ancestors of ours who could memorize the "Iliad" and so forth lived in quieter times. They could sit under a tree and devote themselves without distraction to a single, sustained memorization project for days on end. Who has that luxury now?
New ball game
Today, most of us have to cope with an unremitting swarm of info-bits coming at us like wasps. At this moment I have at least a dozen things I should be thinking about, but since a guy can do only one thing at a time, I'm holding all those thoughts in abeyance -- keeping them in memory, that is -- while I write this column.

But even as I write, some of those items will become irrelevant, some will change, others will rise to urgency, new concerns will intrude, e-mails will come in, phone calls -- it's the same for everyone I know. We're constantly revising the map of information we're "holding in memory," just to stay functional. It's like memorizing the "Iliad" while it's still being edited: Every time we look, it's a different "Iliad." No, we can't match what the memory virtuosos of the past achieved, but I bet they couldn't match what we moderns do either.

This is why I take an intense interest in ways to buff up my admittedly shabby memory. I remember that right out of college I worked at the post office for six months and spent three of them in a mnemonics class; can't remember what I learned, though. Since then, I keep asking people to tell me their tricks for remembering, especially if their job requires instant access to tons of data. Unfortunately, few of them are into metacognition: They don't remember their tricks. Once you've solved the problem, I guess you throw away the scratch paper.

Expert testimony
So I decided to look into it myself and talk to the experts -- people who teach memory skills professionally. At the end of this column I'm going to list 12 tips I distilled from their recommendations, but first, to put those tips in context, let me just review how memory works.

Biologically speaking, we actually have two kinds of memory: short-term memory and long-term memory. Think of them as the front room and the back room.

The front room is what we're actively dealing with at any given moment. Call it consciousness. This room is small: Only seven or eight items fit in there at a given time, and nothing can stay in there for more than a few seconds. The back room is a warehouse. For all practical purposes, it's infinitely large. Incredibly enough, everything we ever learn or experience gets stored in long-term memory, and once it's there, it's there for life.

The question is, once a piece of information goes into that dusty back room where trillions of items are already stored, how do you find it again when you need it? The answer lies in that front room. What happens there is the key, because nothing gets into the back room without passing through the front.

Memory retrieval
All memories are recovered memories, and we recover them through associations: We remember a past event because something currently in our awareness -- something we're looking at, hearing, tasting, thinking about, whatever -- reminds us of something, which reminds us of something else, which reminds us of something else and so on back. That's why recent events are easy to remember: The environment is still loaded with cues and the chain of links is short.

Good memory, then, is all about processing information properly as it goes into storage. Psychologist William James summarized the fundamental principle in a single phrase: "The secret is … forming diverse and multiple associations with every fact we care to retain."

Here, then, are 12 concrete steps you can take to remember particular facts and improve your general capacity to retain what you learn. Note that only the last step is one you can take when you're actually trying to remember. All the rest have to do with how you absorb information and how you convert it into memory.

1. Pay attention. You can't remember what you never knew, so don't be multitasking when you're trying to learn or memorize something: Give it the spotlight of your full attention at least once.

2. Understand. The more completely you get it, the less likely you are to forget it. (If you don't understand football, you're not likely to remember the scores.)

3. Repeat and apply. Directly after learning something, repeat it, preferably out loud. Even better, use it in your own way. If you want to remember a joke, for example, tell it to someone and try to make them laugh.

4. Chunk. Although short-term memory can deal with only about seven items at a time, you can finesse this limit by grouping items together and thinking of each group as a unit. Later, you can unpack those units. Remembering the numbers 5, 4, 6, 1, 9, 8, 6, 5 and 8 is harder than remembering the numbers 546, 198 and 658.

5. Make meaning. Nonsense is hard to remember. Compare this:

disease reported control Chicago mumps the for of center an in outbreak

with this:

The Centers for Disease Control reported an outbreak of mumps in Chicago.

To make meaning where none inherently exists, the experts recommend embedding the information in an invented narrative. The license plate 3PLY981 thus becomes: Three carpenters cut a piece of plywood into nine pieces and ate one. Yes, I know, no one eats plywood; but that's actually a strength of the narrative in this case. (See step 7.)

6. Look for patterns. Stanford researchers have found that forgetting is a key aspect of good remembering, but not because you have to clear out space; rather, it's because forgetting the less relevant details reveals the more meaningful underlying structure.

7. Visualize. Search the information for some element you can turn into an image. If you've just met a Bridget Brooks and want to remember her name, you might picture the Brooklyn Bridge spanning her face from ear to ear. The more striking or ridiculous the image, the more likely it is to stick in your mind.

8. Hook it to something funny. Stalagmites or stalactites -- which ones go up? Well, it's like ants in your pants: The 'mites go up, the 'tites come down.

9. Hook it to a melody, chant, rhyme or rhythmic motion. Remember singing A-B-C-D-E-F-G to the tune of "Baa Baa Black Sheep"? How about: "In fourteen hundred and ninety-two/Columbus sailed the ocean blue"? Or try pacing rhythmically while memorizing a table of data.

10. Associate new with old. Greek and Roman orators had a trick for remembering a speech. They would create a striking image for each topic they meant to cover (see step 7), mentally put these images in the rooms of their home, and then, while giving the speech, picture strolling through their home. Each next room would remind them of their next topic, and in the proper order. Note that they didn't have to remember the order of their rooms, because this knowledge was already imprinted in their brains.

11. Link learning to environment. The memory tends to associate information with the environment in which one learns it. If you're going to be tested on something and you know where the test will occur, study the material in the same sort of place. If you don't know anything about the test site, study in a variety of locations so the memories won't get locked into cues from one environment.

12. Let 'er drift. If a memory is staying out of reach, stop fishing for it, the experts say. Instead, let your mind drift to the general area: to friends you knew then, to the school you went to, the car you drove ... with luck, you'll happen into the end piece of a chain of links leading to the memory you're after.

Do you have tricks for boosting your memory? Share them on the Coffee Break message board!


India's highest paid CEOs

Anil Ambani
Anil Ambani does not even figure in the top-100 list with a total remuneration of about Rs 2.42 crore (Rs 24.2 million) from three of his group companies -- Reliance Energy, Reliance Communications and Reliance Natural Resources Ltd.

Anil's package as REL chairman was Rs 2.34 crore (Rs 23.4 million), while as RComm and RNRL chairman he got Rs 4.8 lakh (Rs 480,000) and Rs 3.2 lakh (Rs 320,000), respectively.


Brijmohan Lal Munjal & Pawan Munjal
Hero Honda's chairman Brijmohan Lal Munjal and the company's managing director and chief executive Pawan Munjal are ranked sixth and seventh with annual salaries of Rs 13.99 crore (Rs 139.9 million) and Rs 13.88 crore (Rs 138.8 million) each.


K Anji Reddy
Dr Reddy's Laboratories executive chairman K Anji Reddy is the fifth highest paid executive in India with an annual compensation package of Rs 14.4 crore (Rs 144 million).


Sunil Bharti Mittal
Bharti Airtel's chairman and managing director Sunil Bharti Mittal ranks fourth with an annual pay packet of close to Rs 15 crore (Rs 150 million).


Sun TV chairman and managing director Kalanidhi Maran and joint managing director Kavery Kalanidhi, whose annual remuneration stood at Rs 23.26 crore (Rs 232.6 million) each in 2006-07.


India's highest paid CEOs

Mukesh Ambani
No prizes for guessing who the highest earning CEO in India is. When it comes to earning money, Mukesh Ambani is way ahead of not only his younger brother Anil, but the top brasses of entire India Inc.

With a package of Rs 24.51 crore (Rs 245.10 million), Mukesh takes home over ten times the annual remuneration of his brother Anil -- with whom he parted ways over two years ago.

In the last fiscal ended March 2007, Mukesh Ambani took home a total Rs 24.51 crore as chairman and managing director of RIL -- which is the highest among more than 10,000 top executives and directors at about 1,200 companies that have disclosed so far their annual remuneration figures for the year.

When the brothers were together, they got a package of Rs 21.9 crore (Rs 219 million) each at Reliance Industries in the financial year 2004-05, according to information available in the company's annual report.


Last of Gandhi's ashes immersed in sea

Exactly 60 years after he was shot dead what is being claimed to be the last known urn containing the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi was immersed in the Arabian Sea on Wednesday morning.
The urn was kept for public display from 8 am to 8:40 am at Mani Bhavan, where Gandhi used to stay when in Mumbai, to give followers and the general public a last chance to pay their respects to the father of the nation. Schoolchildren sang bhajans in Gandhi?s honour before it was taken to the Girgaum Chowpaty in south Mumbai for immersion.

The Mahatma?s great-granddaughter Neelam Parikh, 75, placed a wreath on the urn before it left Mani Bhavan. It was Parikh, the granddaughter of the Mahatma?s estranged eldest son Harilal, who scattered the ashes after the family and a few select invitees went into the sea for about a kilometer to immerse the ashes. Feroze Khan, who made the critically acclaimed Gandhi, My Father based on the relationship between Gandhi and Harilal, was also present.

Among those who took part in the procession were scores of schoolchildren of all ages, who sang Gandhi?s favourite bhajans with lots of reverence and zeal right from Mani Bhavan till the time the ashes were immersed.

As the urn was taken for one last prayer, the Armed Reserve Police, Naigaon, of the Maharashtra police formed a guard of honour and a band of the same division led the procession into Chowpaty.

At around 10:40 am, Neelam Parikh scattered the ashes in the ocean. One of Gandhi?s granddaughters, Usha Gokani, was quoted as saying that it was only right that Neelam perform the last rites as her grandfather Harilal, despite being the eldest son, was not present at the Mahatma?s funeral due to differences.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent blog you have here but I was wanting to know if you knew of any message boards that
cover the same topics discussed in this article? I'd really like to be a part of group where I can get opinions from other experienced people that share the same interest. If you have any recommendations, please let me know. Thanks a lot!

Also visit my web site ... quasar gaming casino