Habitual forgetting of passwords is my biggest work productivity sin. I can easily lose 15 minutes (to say nothing of my sanity) successfully firing up all the accounts I use.
So I devoured this episode of Adam Grant’s Work Life podcast “How to remember anything.”
Adam is a very clever organisational psychologist who has created a very clever podcast, interviewing people who do what they love for a living. He also uncovers some fascinating stuff about our brains and how to make them tick more efficiently, especially when it comes to our work.
He says having a good memory has been a valuable tool since caveman times, and that’s largely because of three things:
The 3 most important things a good memory brings to your work
- A good memory helps you to establish expertise in uncertainty:
“If a car salesperson knows safety specs at top of head you’ll assume she knows what she’s talking about.”
- A good memory is essential for making fast decisions: “An emergency doctor doesn’t have time to run a Google search before treating a cardiac arrest.”
- A good memory helps you build and maintain relationships: “You want your therapist to recall your world view was shaped by your weird family and that your boss hasn’t forgotten all the good work you’ve done prior to a performance review.”
“A great memory gives you an edge to make quick decisions because you have an entire library of successes and mistakes at your fingertips… You can strengthen your memory like a muscle, and when you do it will pump up creativity and boost sales,” says Adam.
Who doesn’t want more of that stuff in their life?
The real “secret” to having a good memory
Helpfully, Adam doesn’t just leave us with that thought; the rest of the episode is spent uncovering a solution via the work of American journalist and author, Joshua Poer.
Joshua was sent by Slate Magazine to cover the United States Memory Championships where he spent time with people with remarkable abilities, ie they could repeat the sequence of a whole deck of cards after looking at them for just five minutes. Or remember the names of 100 strangers after meeting them the day before.
The experience not only left Joshua with fascinating insights, he learnt how to cure his only bad memory in less than a year, and then wrote a book about it. Not a bad outcome for a junket, eh?
‘People have done this for 2500 years’
As Joshua told Adam, the “secret” to a good memory wasn’t natural genius, but commitment to ancient mind-training practices. Some of which had been around for 2500 years.
“Incredible memory is latent inside all of us if we use the right techniques to awaken them,” Joshua says.
The process is relatively simple and requires some imagination; Joshua describes it as creating a memory palace.
“Pick a place you know well and mentally attach things/words you want to remember to each image in that place,” says Josh.
“The more memories and time and experiences spent in [our memory palace] the far more sticky they become, because they’re attached to all the other memories you have about that place.”
Designing your own memory palace
Joshua’s memory palace is his childhood home. So every time he wanted to remember a speech or a word, he’d picture that word or phrase as existing inside a room of his childhood house.
“When you close your eyes and walk back through each room of your house (or memory palace) the words you want to remember will be inside each room where you left them.”
Here is how Joshua explains remembering tp buy items on his shopping list:
“Say I have a shopping list, I will picture myself inside my childhood house pouring a gallon of milk over my mum’s head. I really picture that image of her, and how angry she would be. Because the more emotion and colour you attach to that image, the more likely you will be to remember it.”
Sound too good to be true? Well, here is the real kicker, Joshua says the results are almost instantaneous;
“You can almost immediately after earning this trick memorize really long strings of information,” he says.
It’s bound to be worth a shot.