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The Reason We Don’t Remember Names
How many times have you walked up to someone and said, hi I remember your name but I just don’t remember your face. I venture to say probably never. In fact you probably say just the opposite; I remember your face but not your name. The reason we remember someone’s face but not their name is because when we look at their face we are taking 52,000 pictures per second of their face, and their name is abstract. So when you meet someone for the first time and they tell you their name and you tell them your name psychologist tell us that our mind is searching so fast for the next thing to say to them or them to us. In reality you never lock the name in, or should I say into your mind. Yes you do take 52,000 pictures of their face per second, but the name just floats right over the top of your head. Now I have to tell you in 19 years of training executives, professionals, students and every day people I have heard the above statement thousands of times. I myself use to have the worst memory in the world for names and many other things. Being a psychologist and mnemonics trainer in the public and corporate world I have strived to show students in public and corporate programs, how to improve this highly sought after skill of name retention.
In this article I hope to give you some insight and hope for your future. The kind of hope I was able to get 19 years ago after attending a formalized mnemonics workshop. You see today Mnemonics training is becoming more of a formalized study. Clinical studies have now been conducted to show that you can increase your brain power by training the working memory. Specifically I mean the working memory of your mind. Yes fluid intelligence is not an innate or immutable trait of the mind that can’t be improved upon.
In fact a study completed in 2008 in the University Of Michigan Department Of Psychology and published in the New York Times on April 29, 2008 showed findings presented at PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) how fluid intelligence can be improved by memory training. I won’t bore you with the technical aspects of how that study worked, but it proves what I and other mnemonic trainers at MTI have been promoting and teaching in public and corporate workshops throughout the U.S since 1990. We have conducted workshops in corporate America at some of the top fortune 500 corporations throughout the U.S… Training companies like Texas Instruments, teaching the Six Sigma, Xerox in Rochester New York, their 6 step decision wheel, and AT&T their mission statement, (so they could win the Malcolm Baldridge Award in training0. Companies, like Johnson and Johnson, Eastman Kodak, Bausch & Lomb, and many more now use these techniques. I don’t tell this to boast, although we are proud of the work that we have done. I tell this in an effort to gain your interest and attention because of some of the many promises being made out there today without the proper substance or training.
Having spent my earlier professional life working in the Oil and Gas Industry with a company named Arco Oil and Gas, now BP, I held the position of Director of Training and Development in the operations an engineering division in Dallas, Texas. I had been in Houston, Alaska, Tulsa OK., and finally in the headquarters in Dallas. I directed development and implementation of many different types of training programs. My department coordinated college recruiting and placed engineers, technologist, and management trainees on staff in one year training programs with placement upon completion.
The reason I tell you this is If I would have had the techniques and skills I now teach, while developing those programs, I could have remembered all of my students names. You see I, like you, could remember their faces, but not their names. No not even if I saw them at the mall, restaurant, and theatre or wherever. I ultimately was responsible for 400 plus engineers, managers and supervisors future, but had trouble remembering their name.
That being said, I am now going to tell you how your mind remembers and why you need to train it to be more effective today in every walk of life. First let me say the research being conducted today on the plasticity of the brain is exciting. I sometimes feel like I may have been born to soon. So let me say that you control the power to improve your fluid intelligence and no one else does. Yes your parents may have given you 33% of the ability but that’s probably all. I have found in the past 19 years of teaching formalized mnemonic training skills that you can be as smart as you want to be. Clinical studies now show that by doing things like learning new languages, or new operating systems for your computer, or just the act of, will grow your hippocampus. It’s the very part of the brain now being tagged as the central processing system for our memories. In fact some research says that some of the memory traces you lay down everyday in your mind is actually distributed late at night while you sleep, in stage 3 & 4 of your sleep cycles. So rest and REM sleep is important.
Well enough exciting research findings let me now tell you I sometimes meet several hundred people a week and then don’t see them for the next ninety days. At least not until they show up with their associates or family members to attend a two-day workshop. You guessed right, I remember and call them by their name. They’re impressed, I’m impressed, but I impress myself everyday and believe me I am not easily impressed. The exciting thing is you can do this too! Yes you all have an innate ability lying dormant in your mind you just have to learn how to turn the switch on. The beauty of the program we teach is whether you were raised in the north, south, east or west or even in a foreign country you all can do this. It’s simply a matter of training your working memory. The secret is with proper training we can train our conscious and subconscious mind, or the cognitive ability of our mind to work in alignment. I believe that by doing so we remember more efficiently. The process I will call rapid cognition is used in a mindful based stress reducing environment.
When I said before you don’t remember their name but you do remember their face, it’s because you take pictures of their face. The name is abstract and you don’t see the name. In our workshop we show you by using two simple rules for turning abstracts into pictures you can tie that persons name to their face. You tie it to a facial file that will help you remember their name for the rest of your life. Yes I said a facial file. You see we use a simple acronym of F. P .G. , to remember anything whether it be names, formulas, concepts, theories or foreign languages. F stands for file or a mental location somewhere to store information. P stands for picture, everything is stored in a picture format. G stands for glue it’s the bonding agent that keeps the picture in the file long enough to transfer it from the short term memory to the long term memory.
We teach a two day workshop where we cover all four generations of mnemonic systems. Some are passed down 2500 years ago. The first one being association, the second being the chain of visualization, the third the peg system and the fourth the mental file folder system. Each student is tested at the beginning and all along the way to show their improvement, sometimes a 1000% in the first few hours. I have found in training someone, using the power of positive affirmation along with showing them their results they will ultimately learn quicker. It always makes them more receptive to their teach ability factor of being open minded to progress and change. We know they have the willingness to learn because they take 7 hrs. out of their life to attend a memory workshop and pay good money to be there. So we open their minds to learning new processes that show immediate results. The same results that are less time consuming and as tedious as rote memorization takes. In fact we don’t teach memorization we teach you how to picturize your way through life!
I have been doing this for 19 years, 18 of which I have instructed public and corporate in house workshops. Not once have I had someone ask for their money back and we do offer a money back guarantee! Most of them want to attend an advanced program. I found out why when we opened up in Louisiana back in the ninety’s. They wanted to go to the casinos and remember how the black jack cards fell on the blackjack table. So now we know why they wanted the advanced program!
So when people say I just can’t remember names I just smile and ask them if they have tried this? The thing I am alluding to is the Six Step Process for remembering names we teach in our training. We do a lot more than just name retention; such as how to remember formulas, appointments, numbers, dates, speeches and presentations etc (you can see our workshop outline on our website). Somehow though all of these years I have been told by thousands that name retention is their number one problem. I will tell you the six steps but it takes a two day 7hr. program to get to know how the six steps work in a memory matrix for all of us.
The Six Step Process for remembering names:
Step 1- You have to pick a facial file on that person. (Something unique about them and there are rules)
Step 2- Introduce yourself and ask for their name, the proper spelling and the origin.
Step 3- Using rules for turning names into pictures turn the first name and the last name into a picture.
Step 4- Take the first name and the last name pictures and put them on the persons face.
Step 5- Using the pictures for their name make a chain of visualization story to tie the the pictures together.
Step 6- Always repeat the name to the person or yourself before leaving.
We use the above six steps to teach the attendee’s how to remember names. Obviously there is a lot more information that has been absorbed by the student to refine these skills, at the point of conducting our mock cocktail party. I now want to explain how the brain takes that information and uses it to build a memory trace finally stored in the long term memory. I should say my theory of what takes place when you remember or you don’t remember someone’s name. I believe we all have these picture vocabularies in our mind we carry around with us and periodically we use them to learn. For those of us that are formally trained on how to use our memory retention skills, we use them more often. For those of you out there that lack that training you will have to take my word for it own faith. But the beauty is we all have our very own!
I will start by saying our brain works in pictures! To give you the acid test do not think of an elephant! What happens is in a millisecond is your mind throws up a picture of an elephant, a big gray mass, with big floppy ears and a long trunk, an elephant. Now you don’t spell the letters e l e p h a n t, you could do that if I asked you to, but instead you see a picture of an elephant. You then you tell your mind to not think about it. I will tell you why I believe this to be true. You remember when Apple computer came out? You had a neat little mouse you moved around to grab a file folder (a manila folder) and you pulled it over to a trash can, the trash can swelled up then returned to its normal size. It meant you just deleted that file folder. Now we have Microsoft windows and all of these icons we click on and then go to that program. Our mind works in pictures. Think back when you were in first grade or kindergarten and around the top of the room there was the alphabet. Under the letter A was an apple and under the B was a boy or a bat and C a cat or a cow. Then pretty soon you had enough letters and pictures to build words, then sentences, then paragraphs. Well there is your proof. If you don’t believe me try to see a deer next time someone says there’s an elephant.
I have established in your mind that your mind works in pictures so here is what happens to names and faces. We have a wonderful thing in our mind called selective remembering selective forgetting. The things we like we remember easier than the things we don’t like. Now along with that fact faces and names are remembered easier when we meet someone we have a romantic interest in. It works differently those times right. Well I am sure that’s because we lay down those name memory traces with a lot of emotion and hormones that establishes the long term memory process. So that being said here is what happens to everybody else’s names and faces. While we are taking those 52,000 pictures per second, I told you about earlier; when you hear the name it flies right over the top of our head. Hearing their name briefly our brain says, this is not a person I am romantically involved with and what is it he or she wants from me or what do I need from them? Even to the point of us determining their worth or interest to us.
Now that we have established that at the point of introduction is where we lose the name, let me explain what I personally think is happening. Your brain is receiving information from your eyes and the little lock box of your subconscious (the little box that no one has been able to explain how it got there or how it works) is going through thousands of computations. These computations are checking the way that person looks, smells, moves, and all of the other little idiosyncrasies that our subconscious mind finds important or not important. It then tells us if we are safe or if we should we feel threatened. Then in that split second our biases and prejudices are checked to determine interest levels to make our next calculation for listening or talking. It is in that split second that we can lock in that persons name by using skills learned through mnemonic training. The stress hormone called cortisol produced in your adrenal gland will take over. It will either lay down or choose not to lay down the new memory traces at this moment. I believe if we determine that we are proactively going to remember this person’s name using mnemonic skills we can do so. We however must control that proactive step and here’s how.
We teach, by using mnemonics and mindful based stress reducing activities how you encode, recode and store information for easy retrieval when we need it. In this case being a name and face, it’s the best way to move the memory trace you form from a short term memory to a long term memory state. The electrical and chemical transmission that takes place in this process is where we force our mind to activate the beginning of remembering someone’s name and face. Technically two brain cells of the neuron type make up in your brain are connecting. It’s at the tip of the dendrite spine (DS) that firing of a synapse occurs between the two receptors forcing those two brain cells to form a new memory trace. I believe these newly formed memory traces are reinforced to transfer to a long term memory trace or they are not reinforced and passively decay to oblivion.
We can determine how to place those new memories into long term memory through reinforcement using mnemonic devices. It’s called a queue when mnemonics is used to strengthen that new tangle (memory trace) to lay down new identifiable recoded data. Data that can be recalled by the queue or stimuli we build. I believe now with the functional MRI and other probes we can see this take place in the area of the brain called the hippocampus. Though we may not know specifically now that is what happened at some point I believe research of the future will show how these tangles or memory traces are activated and formed. Then at the moment we see that person again the same things we saw originally are served up in our mind from the memories we laid down with that name, face and queue. The same memory traces we laid down originally using mnemonic tools like the six step process for remembering names. This is called the Encoding Specificity Principle. The principle, which says, “Stimuli can retrieve a memory if the memory or stimuli is stored with a queue. What this does is the queue actually retrieves the memory. The same type of memory we now form subconsciously through our emotion, and other sensory perceptions to lay those memories down. What these queues represent are the mental files we build using pictures to recall the persons name. These files are the mnemonic devices you learn by training the working memory.
The fact that people don’t care how much you know before they first know how much you care, shows It’s kind of hard to show someone you care if you can’t remember their name don’t you agree. That statement made by a famous motivator, is the very reason we should all use these mnemonic techniques to remember more names. Mindful based stress reduction training makes us focus. By forming a habit of paying attention, focusing and using something like these 6 steps you will ensure that you will remember someone’s name. When you focus your attention to that person, their face, then turn the names into pictures and put those pictures on their face, you force memory trace structure. Its the very structure necessary to build the long term memory traces. Then with a queue that helps the mind feed the memory back the encoding, recoding, storage and retrieval system works more efficiently. Using our adjustable unconscious mechanism.
Now as we walk around in our daily life we carry around in our mind our picture vocabulary. The picture vocabularies we build throughout our entire life. Then when we learn how they are built we become better authors and readers of life. The very act of laying down these memory traces make our minds grow and stretch. With the fact that we are living longer it is essential that we learn how to learn more efficiently. This will make sure our latter years are packed with new knowledge that in the long run maintains a healthy brain and focused consciousness.
I have always liked Fyodor Mikhalovich Dostoevsky quotes but the one he made ” It seems, in fact, as though the second half of a man’s life is made up of nothing, but the habits he has accumulated during the first half”, has been a challenge to me to try to make that a statement that some our ancestors may have had to live with but not us!
I have to tell you now that I am dyslexic and being a psychologist I know I meet most of the criteria for A.D.H.D. (I probably should be medicated, but I was to old to best tested.) Actually there were no test readily available in my early years of school but through struggles and God’s grace I survived. My oldest daughter graduated from S.M.U in Dallas four years ago and had a job a year before she graduated. I took her to the workshop when she was eight years old and she was then a high B to a low A student. Using the mnemonic training she graduated a year early and had a job a year before she graduated. My youngest daughter now in her fourth year at North Texas State University had an 18 hour course load last semester and made a 4.0 making the presidents list using these techniques. Now my wife was already naturally smart having attended SMU at the age of 16 and completing with an accounting degree by 19. She at the time was diagnosed with a rapid brain wave so you can imagine what she does with this system.
Now I know you think oh yeah it was in the genes, well maybe some actually today they are finding that 33% of it may be in the genes but it is my opinion that it is in the environment and behavior more so. I flunked a year and struggled through school but if I would have had formalized mnemonic training I probably would have excelled. So I am a firm believer that you are capable of being most anything you want to be and my wife and I have raised our girls that way.
Now to sum up what I have tried to give you in a short but deserving longer explanation is that mnemonics is going to be a way of life somewhere in the near future. I believe it will be a structured process introduced somewhere in elementary education and used to help our youth attain better grades and understanding for the future. I am asked in the workshops many times why isn’t this taught in grade school in fact I have one exact statement in letter form from a Vice President of a major stock brokerage firm. I always answer; it’s like the metric system, who’s going to pay for it? But we are paying for it by not doing it. We do let students attend our public workshops with their parents free of charge between the ages of 10-18. Actually girls can pick this up at 8 years of age where as boys mature about 2 years later and at 10 years of age can handle abstracts. I do feel however the U.S. will eventually conform as it is taking off in leaps and bounds in Asia now. Face it look at how many honor students are in India as well, more than we have in total number of students. So America it is time. So write the president and tell him it’s time to research Mnemonics!
We now have a new program for learning and remembering names on Audio and you can see it or order it from our website. I hope this has been as an enlightening article for you as it has been a rewarding 19 years for me. I plan to write future articles on some the other things we are doing at Memory Technologies Institute. I look am looking forward to your questions and observations on this article.
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