Memory – Encoding – Remembering Names

Friday, March 21st, 2008 at 5:55 pm.
by pre.

People often find remembering names difficult. The problem is essentially that there’s no method in naming. Names are arbitrary labels, and you can’t figure out someone’s name if you miss it. There’s no reason for most names, they’re initially completely unconnected in your mind so you really have to put some effort in to reinforcing the connection between that label and the person it refers to. In addition, there’s often little time to do so in a social setting. Before you’ve really had a chance to let the name properly sink in there’s a dozen other things to concentrate on, and you’re having to hold up your end of a conversation.

So the key, when you meet someone new, is mostly just to spend a few seconds reinforcing that connection, that association. Any way you can. Every way you can.

Firstly: check you have it right. The kinds of places where you meet new people tend to be noisy, active, difficult places to hear properly. And the less clearly you hear a name, the less it’ll sink into your memory. Even if you think you’ve heard it, there’ll be more doubt and therefore more probability of forgetting that name the less clear it is. If you think they said “Richard” because your ears heard “Richpard” you’ll surely be right. But your subconscious brain will remember the doubt, even if you don’t notice it consciously. Also, of course, if you have the wrong name in the first place then no number of mnemonic tricks or hypnotic suggestions are going to help. So give the name some real concentration. Use it back if possible. Make sure you have it right.

If name itself is a familiar one, if you already know someone with that name personally or through their fame, you’re off to a head start. The name’s already a big semantic symbol in your head. There’s all kinds of things that’ll bring it to mind. Imagine this new person doing an impression of the famous person or friend you already know with that name. Imagine them playing leapfrog together if you need to. Something provocative and evocative will work best to get that name into your brain.

If it’s a less familiar name though, maybe a foreign name you’ve never come across before, you won’t be able to do that. On the other hand, you will have a perfect excuse to ask how the name is spelled. Imagine it written across their face as they spell it. Check you have the pronunciation right. Remember that the more you focus on the name itself the more likely it is you’ll remember it. Talk about the name for a while. Ask where it came from, what it means, who they’re named after.

Try using other ways to get the name into your brain. We’ve already done the normal one, just hearing it, and we’ve added more by visualising a connection or asking for a story about the name, there are others too though. Write the name with an imaginary pen, type it on an imaginary keyboard. Tap it out in Morse code with your foot if you can. The longer you can focus your attention on this name, the more you associate it with the person in front of you, the better it’ll be encoded in your mind and so the better your recall will be.

So that’s the initial few seconds after you’ve been given the name sorted out; but from the moment your conversation moves elsewhere the impression in your brain will start to fade. What it needs, especially in the next few minutes and hours, is constant reinforcement. Use the name during your conversation, and especially as you say goodbye at the end.

Probably the most powerful thing you can do though is use the base encoding systems you’ve already learned to remember new names. Put the people you meet during a conference or wedding or work meeting or party or whatever into a loci memory map, especially if it’s someone you particularly liked, or are likely to meet again, or need to impress. Whenever you get a spare moment, review your name-loki-map mentally in your imagination. This is what will help you remember the name not just later that night, but when you next meet them again two months later.

Start with a ten-loci system and put each person you meet into the next slot. Then when you run out of slots, start doubling up. Eventually you may spend entire bus-journeys or those moments before you sleep reviewing the names of the last hundred people you met. And the more you do it, the longer you’ll remember those names for.

This is what we mean when we say that the Transcendence Skills feed back into each other. As you get better at one skill, it’s use is transferable into improving the next. As each skill improves, the ones that it supports improve automatically.

Not only that, but the skills you learn for remembering names are useful in remembering your life. These same tips (essentially; paying attention, focusing, reinforcing association, reviewing often) can be used to remember that joyous moment when you got that contract, that wonderful evening watching the stars, a surprising lingering smile. The same techniques work, and as you learn how to decide what you remember, you can focus only on the good, and in the process make yourself happier, more secure, confident.

Will this system work? Judge for yourself. But don’t complain it doesn’t work unless you have at least two people in each of those ten slots. Because until you’ve tried it on at least 20 people, you haven’t really tried it at all.