Most of us live in (big) cities rather than small villages, so there are a lot of people to remember at work and around town. Because our brains don’t retain a lot of information about what a person looks like, it can be tough to remember everybody. With an easy association trick, however, you can remember people more easily. Here’s how.
Photo by Michael Mol
If you remember any of your favourite cartoons vividly, you’ll remember two things: cartoon characters are almost always dressed in distinct, colourful outfits (that they wear every day of their lives) and their faces have very little detail. These distinctions are necessary in order to help you tell one character from another. Because the brain doesn’t retain a ton of visual detail when you see things (because it would overload if it kept that amount of data) it remembers enough to provide you with a feeling of familiarity so you know you know this person. We’re not really meant to remember as many people as we encounter nowadays, so people we don’t know can look familiar to us when they shouldn’t. This is because we try to remember people by concentrating on the wrong detail: the face.
Try to remember someone’s face — someone you know really well, even — and see if you can bring up their image with any real detail in your mind. In fact, try to imagine what you look like. There are very few people who can do this, and so it doesn’t do us much good to try and remember that highly detailed information. It’s just not going to happen for most of us. Instead, you need to convince your brain to 1) pay attention (much like you do when writing) and 2) retain detail you’ll actually be able to recall and use in the (near and far) future. When you meet someone for the first time, imagine them as a cartoon. Emphasise prominent features as you draw them in your mind. Obviously you can’t give them an elaborate costume because they’re probably not wearing one and they also — hopefully — change their clothes from time to time. So rather than focusing on the clothing, focus on hair colour, style, the largest and smallest features of the face, and any other distinct and permanent detail you can notice within a few seconds. Create this sketch in your head and remember it. You should have a much easier time recalling this specific information, rather than simply trying to remember the information you brain saves by default.