I can remember intricate details about my friends and our conversations from Year Three, but if you send me out down the street to pick up a pizza and a six-pack of beer there’s a good chance I’m going to come home without one of them, or at least text you and ask what that other thing was I was supposed to get. And that person I met right before I left? Absolutely no clue what their name is any more.
While I always jokingly say that my issue is I have a bad short-term memory, according to USA Memory Champion Nelson Dellis, the issue isn’t that my memory is bad, it’s that no one ever really taught me how to use it.
He recently spoke to Fast Company about some of his tips for remembering things (he was able to remember 201 names in 15 minutes). One of his suggestions: Make it exciting.
According to Dellis, our brains are naturally good at remembering the extraordinary things we comes across. He says that 90 per cent of your day in non-interesting, so if you want to remember something a good way to do it is to try and turn it into something exciting. Specifically, he suggests turning it into something you can visibly see, since our brains are better at recalling images than abstract ideas.
For instance, if you want to remember a name, Dellis suggests remembering someone else you know with the same name. The example he gave was remembering a new guy you meet named Nelson by picturing Nelson Mandela.
I already do something similar when I meet new people, in that I try to associate them with a friend with the same name. It’s an idea that works, provided you actually know another guy named Roberto.
For the pizza dilemma, the suggestion is to remember something like sizzling cheese or that time you burned the roof of your mouth on a slice.
The key here is to take something pretty generic and transform it into something a little out of the ordinary. When your brain considers something a “wild and crazy” occurrence rather than your millionth trip to the grocery store, you’re much more likely to recall it later.