We have all struggled at one time or another to remember something. From the list of all US presidents that all school children are forced to ingest, to the “down cards” in a hand of stud poker, the human brain isn’t really wired to remember things forcibly.
Of course there are the things we can’t forget ranging from a car crash we saw happen to the jingle on the radio for the attorney you should call if you were involved in said crash. If you live in Rochester NY, I guarantee you can tell me who will answer the phone if you call 454-2020, not because you want to, but because you have no choice.
Clearly there are ways into the permanent memory locations of the mind, but on the surface they seem involuntary, beyond our control. The good news is that isn’t actually true. There are ways to easily remember any information and they are counter to almost everything we have been taught and most of what we do.
We humans have five senses and when we involve more than one them in the learning process, the effect is not additive, it is multiplicative. It has been said that the sense of smell is most strongly connected to memory, but that isn’t too useful in most situations. That said, there are tricks that combine sensory input to turbo charge tour memory.
The good news is that once you know the tricks, remembering pretty much anything is both easy and fun. Today I bring you a few stories, some fun facts and some information you probably wish you had the day the teacher handed you that list of presidents.
When I was in elementary school I sang in the chorus. I can’t tell you exactly when, but at some time after second grade, we learned a song called “Fifty Nifty United States.”
If you know the song then you know the song. If you are not familiar, here it is.
We learned the song and performed on the stairs of the cafetorium in front of our parents; but since there was intellectual data combined with music, after the concert the song remained in our little brains. At the writing of this story, it hasn’t budged for more than four decades.
So, I never had a problem remembering the names of all fifty states, but it wasn’t until my second year of college that I figured out how to use that song to make money. As I said before, if you know the song, you know the song, so here is what I would do.
I the presence of someone who I thought might fall for my trick, I would casually whistle or hum the tune of “Fifty Nifty United States.” If my mark did not respond to the tune I would issue the following challenge: “I bet you $10 that you can’t name all fifty states in ten minutes.”
Everyone thinks they know all fifty states and given enough time they would finish the list, but ten minutes isn’t very long unless you have a system, and doing it by geography in your head is not a system.
I never once lost a bet and if I needed $50 for the weekend, I’d start out around noon on a Friday, and before “beer-o-clock” I was flush for the two days ahead.
In my freshman year at Lehigh University, I had a job working in the dish room of the largest cafeteria called Rathbone Hall. The job was a simple one – I showed up at 4:30, ate an early dinner and then stood at the clean end of a conveyor dishwasher until 7:00, pulling the clean dishes out of the machine and loading them onto those spring loaded carts from which the diners took them.
Apart from me, the entire dish washing operation was staffed by the residents of a nearby group home. They were hard working and kind people, but none of them were much for conversation. In fact the entirety of my daily verbal interaction with my fellow dish washers was the one guy who would unfailingly ask, “hey Steve, how’s you mom?”
Once I had confirmed that my mom was in fact doing fine, nothing else was said among the dishwashers.
After a few days of this, it occurred to me that my two and a half hours in the dining hall could be put to better intellectual use. So, the next day I started recording my each of my lectures on cassette tape. In this day of smartphones, it is hard to believe the effort I had to go through to simply record a 50-minute class, but since we didn’t know any better I just did what I did.
For each of my classes I would bring my Panasonic cassette recorder and a 60-minute tape. Once the professor started talking I would press record. Thirty minutes into the class, the machine would click off and I would have to flip the tape and press record again, hoping that in the 30 lost seconds the professor didn’t say anything too important.
When I went to work, I would take each of the lectures from that day and play them back on my cassette Walkman. The most expensive part of this whole operation was the batteries, though I did eventually figure out where there were plugs in the lecture halls.
By combining the audio recordings of my lectures with the contrasting sensory input of the dish room, I found that anything that hadn’t stuck in class did so after listening just once more while stacking plates and soup bowls.
I can’t tell you exactly why it worked but it did.
Using this same idea, I developed a technique for memorizing lines for the roles in the plays I did in the latter half of college.
For the lines that didn’t come quickly I would study the script while either riding the stationary bike in the gym or walking along the train tracks down by the river. By simply stimulating other senses while taking in the pages, my brain seemed much more receptive to what I was trying to do.
In my adult life I have done a good bit of traveling throughout the northeast for business. To keep my brain sharp while driving to and from Boston, New York, Philadelphia and other destinations I listen to recorded books. Sometimes I listen to fiction and other times business books or biographies.
After a few years of doing this I started to notice something – as I would drive by a location or landmark along the highway, I would be reminded of a part of a previously consumed book that I was listening to as I drove by that spot once before.
This of course has no real value, but it gave me some insight to how sensory stimulation unlocks the memory channels of the brain.
A few weeks ago I stumbled across this little diagram.
There are many very smart people who have studied this kind of thing and I am sure their data is very interesting, but this diagram is the clearest explanation I’ve ever seen to quickly explain what I have personally experienced.
If the use of one sense is good, the use of more than one is better.
Last Saturday morning, three of my four children asked if they could watch TV or zone out with their electronic devices. I suggested that they get on their bikes and ride the two miles to our CSA where the Saturday morning “u-pick” was just getting underway. To my surprise they agreed to do so without too much prodding.
They were gone for 90 minutes during which they rode their bikes, picked beans, kale, chard, zucchini, and flowers. When they got home they cleaned, blanched and froze some of the beans – the rest they gave to neighbors. My daughter made zucchini bread.
Apart from the veggies we got out of the deal, I can promise you if they are asked, “what did you do Saturday morning?” they will be able to tell a better and more detailed story than if they’d simply been staring at a screen.
I no longer have a need to memorize lists of things for tests in school, but the message of the diagram above speaks to a larger lesson – Live a full life and your life will be more fulfilling.
I’ve got plenty of vegetables, but I’m finding my wallet a little light right now, so I’m going to head out and see if I can find some people who’s egos are larger than their ability to name all fifty states. If you know the song, I suggest you do the same.
Copyright © 2015 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved - More Than One