One of my colleagues asked me how I remembered details of peoples’ lives like I do.
My answer: Stories. They’re all stories.
Stories are how we connect. No matter what happens to you, you are creating a story about it in your mind. It’s how we cope with things. It’s how we organize what happens to us.
It’s also how we remember things. We can only store between 5 and 9 things in our short term memories at a given time. Those 5 to 9 things can be either facts, songs, or stories. That’s the reason that even as adults when we are having trouble alphabetizing something, we find ourselves singing that song. You know the one.
I actually have a horrible time memorizing. I remember the stories and patterns to something quicker than I can memorize the facts. It’s part of the reason I have to work so hard to remember names. I try extra hard to remember as many names as I can. That’s why I actually remember more names than most. I try really hard.
The best way to remember something that you really want to remember is to make it into a story or a song. This group of techniques is called chunking. Not the most palatable term as the lady at Waffle House told me one time.
Chunking works by combining several factoids into a form so that instead of trying to recall a dozen facts, you are remembering a single song or story.
In addition to building these chunks of memory, we have to build the proper triggers or associations.
When I was in the ninth grade, we had to memorize the periodic table for a test. We had to know the first 92 elements’ name, number, and symbol. Potassium is K with a number of 19. The way I remember this to this day is because there is potassium in bananas. You put bananas into cereal. Product 19 and Special K are cereals. Even now, when someone mentions the letter K, I think of potassium. Go figure. The same thing happens with the number 19.
When creating your memory chunks, you have to build them in a way that allows the proper triggers to be put into place. With proper triggers, remembering these factoids actually becomes a habit. Eventually, instead of even having to remember the story, the trigger will cause you to remember the facts associated with that trigger instinctively.