It's all in the mind

It's all in the mind

Do you remember?

It's all in the mind

The fact that memory is an inherited skill and, therefore, cannot be improved, is a myth. There are many helpful techniques that promise to aid one’s memory, suggests Dorothy Victor

The famous line, “Et tu, Brute?” supposedly addressed to his friend-turned-betrayer Marcus Brutus, by the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar on his assassination, was a widely used phrase of the yesteryears to connote treachery and treason of a trusted friend.

These words were not the bailiwick of the Shakespearean club. Rather, they were fluently used by the average English-speaking communities. The ease at which this line — and perhaps several other noteworthy punchlines and verses — which figured in conversations and written work in the past may be ascribed to the compulsory practice of committing poems, war-speeches and dramas to memory in the bygone days.

Rote learning was common in classrooms till the last decade. But today’s learning environment shuns every memorising exercise as a redundant method of study. Yet, the benefits of ‘memorising’ towards improved memory, acquiring knowledge and through it, to enhanced cognitive skills cannot be emphasised enough.

Winston Churchill, the key political statesman in the allied forces that vanquished the dangerous rise of Adolf Hitler during the World War II, was also a renowned writer and a winner of the Nobel Prize in literature. In the midst of the turbulent war and despondency running rampant among the people, his speeches and addresses to the citizenry often dispelled foreboding and reassured them of peaceful times. When someone asked him the secret of such poignant speeches, he said, “The gems of literature I memorised.”

Highly beneficial

Memorising poems, rhymes, songs and passages from books in the early years help in the shaping of young minds as they grow. Noble words committed to memory often merge with the fabric of one’s nature influencing thoughts and actions. Great words of great men, whether in the form of poetry or prose, when memorised, are seldom forgotten and they remain for life extending their subtle, yet immense inspiration.

Unlike general opinion, learning by heart eventually leads to fluency and volubleness. Eloquence is the by-product of training the mind to memorise. This, in turn, makes one more confident and leads to good social poise. As an enthusiast of the rote learning method rightly put it, “If you are the sort of person who cannot remember the punchline of a funny story, who fumbles for names and dates in conversation, you are bound to feel shy and insecure.”

In rote learning the students, who get the information memorised, use them to understand higher concepts and applications. The memorised matters can be easily combined and used in critical thinking and analysis. In short, it can be said that the information acquired by rote is the house of higher-level learning.A primary cause for poor performance in examinations is a shallow memory.

Students with superior retention capabilities have an edge over those who struggle with retention. However, the consoling truth is that memory can be improved. It is a myth that memory is an inherited skill and therefore, cannot be improved. Memorising, by itself, is a good memory booster and it does to the mind what exercise does to the muscle. In addition, experts have lately worked out a number of helpful techniques that can supplement rote learning and aid one’s memory.

The tricks

The most popular technique in memory enhancement is the three-fold method of linking, picturising and positioning. These three techniques are rooted in the study of the Greeks, who were known as “gladiators of the mind,” having developed fundamental memory systems called mnemonics, a name derived from their worship of the Goddess of Memory, Mnemosyne. They were pioneers in memory study and discovered early on that memory was in a major part based on association, image and location.

To illustrate, take the case of the word ‘diamond’. The brain can register and remember the word, if it is linked to its appearance. It has been proved that associating any concept to something that is already familiar in the mind increases the chances of recalling it anywhere from 50% to 100%.

Tony Buzan, the inventor of mind maps and a distinguished author of several books on memory, creativity and speed-reading, exhorts, “Whatever you wish to memorise, make sure you associate it to something stable in your mental environment.” Thus, linking ‘diamond’ to jewellery or showbiz stars who adorn them, helps the brain recall the word at ease.

Imagination is the second most important tool in memory enhancement. Albert Einstein famously said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Imagining or forming mental pictures brings the subject alive. Thus, forming images of a ‘dazzling evening star’, or a ‘delightful firefly’, or a ‘delicate chandelier’, in trying to remember the word diamond is fitting and relevant.

The more imagination is applied to memory, the better the memory gets. And the more positive the images are, the better the retention power. This is because positive images make the brain want to return to the images, while certain negative images, despite acting as an important memory tool, may be blocked by the brain as it finds the prospect of returning to such images unpleasant.

The third pillar of memory is the ‘setting’ of the matter to be memorised. The brain will remember the matter that it has associated and imagined, if it also has a special setting that it can go back to. In our illustration of the diamond, a jewellery store or a plush mall can form the location against which to remember the word.

Over and above these three basic memory tools, other personal memory tricks can be developed keeping in mind personal forte and limitations. From repetition to carrying postcards in pockets that can be read frequently, there are several memory aids to suit everyone. But the key factor is to commit to diligent reading and consistent practice. Improved cognitive skills and a surge in personal confidence are bound to follow with improved memory.

So, committing to memorising and the other techniques in improving memory is a worthy agenda in anyone’s book.

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