|The true art of memory is the art of attention. —Samuel Johnson|
Please read the following paragraph very carefully:—
You are driving a bus which contains fifty people. The bus makes one stop and ten people get off, while three people get on. At the next stop seven people get off the bus, and two people get on. There are two more stops at which four passengers get off each time, and three fares get on at one stop, and none at the other. At this point, the bus has to stop because of mechanical trouble. Some of the passengers are in a hurry and decide to walk. So eight people get off the bus. When the mechanical trouble is taken care of, the bus goes to the last stop, and therest of the people get off.
Now, without re-reading the paragraph, see if you can answer two questions about it. I feel pretty sure that if I asked you to tell me how many people were left on the bus, or how many got off the bus at the last stop, you would have the answer immediately. However, one of the questions I want you to answer is:— How many stops did the bus make altogether?
I may be wrong, but I don't think that many of you can answer this question. The reason, of course, is that you all felt sure that the question I would ask, after you read the paragraph, would pertain to the amount of people. Therefore you gave your attention to the amount of people that were getting on and off the bus. You were interested in the amount of people. In short, you wanted to know or remember how many people would be left on the bus. Since you didn't think that the number of stops was important, you didn't pay much attention to that. You weren't interested in the amount of stops, therefore they didn't register in your mind at all, and you didn't remember them.
However, if some of you did feel that the amount of stops was important or if you felt you would be questioned on that particular point; then you surely did know the answer to my first question, or remembered the number of stops that the bus made. Again, simply because you were interested or wanted to know that particular information.
If you feel elated because you did answer my question; don't. Because I doubt if you will answer the second one. A good friend of mine who is employed at Grossingers, a large resort hotel, at which I perform quite often, uses this in his afternoon quizzes. I know that a very small percentage of the guests ever answer this correctly, if at all. Without looking at that first paragraph again, you're to answer this question:— What is the bus driver's name?
As I said, I doubt if any of you can answer this correctly, if at all. Actually, this is more of a trick question on observation than it is a memory test. I use it here only to impress upon you the importance of interest in memory. Had I told you before you read that "bus" story, that I would ask for the driver's name—you would have been interested in the name. You'd have wanted to notice and remember it.
Even so, it is sort of a tricky question, and you may not have been observant enough to be able to answer it. This, incidentally, is a principle that many professional magicians have been using for years. It is called "misdirection." It simply means that the important move in a trick, the move that actually is the "modus operandi", is kept in the background. Or, it is covered with another move, one that has nothing to do with the trick, but which you are led to believe is the important move. This is the move that you will observe and remember. The one that actually worked the trick is not even noticed, and that is why you are completely fooled. Most people, when describing a magician's trick, will make the effect so impossible that if the magician himself were listening, he wouldn't believe it. Only because they leave out the all important move in their description. Aside from "box" tricks, or tricks that mechanically work themselves, magicians would have a tough time fooling their audiences if it weren't for the art of "misdirection."
Well, I "misdirected" you by making you think I was going to ask about one thing, and then I asked about something you didn't even notice. I guess I've kept you in suspense long enough. You probably are anxious to know the answer to my second question. Well, actually the first word of the paragraph tells you who the driver is. The first word of the paragraph is, "you". The correct answer to the question, "What is the bus driver's name?", is your own name! You were driving the bus. Try this one on your friends and see how few of them can answer it correctly.
As I've said, this is more of an observation test than a memory test. But memory and observation do go hand in hand. You cannot possibly remember anything you do not observe; and it is extremely difficult to observe or remember anything that you do not want to remember, or that you are not interested in remembering.
This, of course, leads to an obvious memory rule. If you want to improve your memory immediately, force yourself to want to remember. Force yourself to be interested enough to observe anything you want to remember or retain. I say, "force yourself," because at first a little effort may be necessary; however in an amazingly short time, you'll find that there is no effort at all required to make yourself want to remember anything. The fact that you are reading this book, is your first forward step. You wouldn't be reading it if you didn't want to remember, or if you weren't interested in improving your memory. "Without motivation there can hardly be remembrance."
Aside from intending to remember, confidence that you will remember is also helpful. If you tackle any memory problem with the thought, "I will remember"; more often than not, you will. Think of your memory as a sieve. Each time that you feel or say, "I have an awful memory", or, "I'll never be able to remember this", you put another hole in the sieve. If, on the other hand, you say, "I have a wonderful memory", or, "I'll remember this easily", you're plugging up one of those holes.
A lot of people I know, invariably ask me why they can't remember a thing, even though they write down everything they wish to remember. Well, that's like asking why they can't swim well, even though they tie a twenty pound stone around their necks. The very fact that they do write it, is probably why they forget; or rather, why they didn't remember in the first place. As far as I'm concerned, the phrase, "I forgot" should not be in the language. It should be, "I didn't remember in the first place."
You cannot forget anything you ever really remembered. If you were to write things down with the intent of aiding your memory, or with the conscious thought of helping you to be exact with the information, that would be fine. However, using pencil and paper as a substitute for memory (which most people do), is certainly not going to improve it. Your handwriting may improve, or the speed of your writing might improve, but your memory will get worse through neglect and non-use. You see, you usually write things down only because you refuse or are too lazy to take the slight effort or time to remember. Oliver Wendell Holmes put it this way: "A man must get a thing before he can forget it".
Please keep in mind that the memory likes to be trusted. The more you trust it the more reliable and useful it will become. Writing everything down on paper without trying to remember, is going against all the basic rules for a stronger and better memory. You're not trusting your memory; you haven't the confidence in your memory; you're not exercising the memory, and your interest is not strong enough to retain it, if you must write it down. Remember that you can always lose your paper or notebook, but not your mind. If I may be allowed a small attempt at humor, if you do lose your mind, it doesn't matter much if you remember or not, does it?
Seriously, if you are interested in remembering, if you have confidence that you will remember, you have no need to write everything down. How many parents continually complain that their children have terrible memories, because they can't remember their school work, and consequently get poor marks? Yet, some of these same children can remember the batting averages of every baseball player in the major leagues. They know all the rules of baseball; or who made what great play in what year for which team, etc. If they can remember these facts and figures so easily and so well, why can't some of them retain their lessons at school? Only because they are more interested in baseball than they are in algebra, history, geography and other school subjects.
The problem is not with their memories, but with their lack of interest. The proof of the pudding is in the fact that most children excel in at least one particular subject, even though they have poor marks in all the others. If a student has a good memory for one subject, he is a good student in that subject. If he can't remember, or has a poor memory in that subject, he will be a poor student in that subject. It's as simple as that. However, this proves that the student does have a good memory for things that he likes, or is interested in.
Many of you who went through High School had to take a foreign language or two. Do you still remember these languages? I doubt it. If you've travelled in foreign countries, or to places where they speak these particular languages, you've wished many times that you had paid more attention in shcool. Of course, if you knew that you were going to travel to these places, when you were in school, you would have been interested in learning the language; you would have wanted to do so. You'd have been amazed to find how much better your marks would have been. I know that this is true in my case. If I had known then that I would want to know these languages, I'd have learned and/or remembered much more easily. Unfortunately, I didn't have a trained memory then.
Many women will complain that their memories are atrocious, and that they can't remember a thing. These same women will describe and remember in detail what a lady friend was wearing when they met weeks ago. They usually can spot another woman in a car travelling up to forty miles an hour, and tell you what she's wearing; the colors, her style of hairdo; whether the hair was natural or bleached, and the woman's approximate age!
They'll probably even know how much money this woman had. This, of course, goes out of the realm of memory and starts to touch on psychic powers. The important thing, the thing that I have been trying to stress in this chapter, is that interest is of great importance to memory.
If you can remember things that you are interested in to such a tremendous degree, it proves that you do have a good memory. It also proves that if you were as interested in other things, you would be able to remember them just as well.
The thing to do is to make up your mind that you will be interested in remembering names, faces, dates, figures, facts—anything; and that you will have confidence in your ability to retain them. This, alone, without the actual systems and methods of associations in this book, will improve your memory to a noticeable degree. With the systems of association as an aid to your true memory, you are on your way to an amazingly remarkable and retentive memory. You can start to prove this to yourself in the next chapter.
Link Method of Memory