Tuesday, 01 October 2019 05:21

Do you often forget things? This is how you can improve your recollection skills

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How many times have you met somebody for the first time, only to forget their name within seconds of them introducing themselves?

It's a frustrating (and embarrassing) situation many of us have found ourselves in - but according to a memory expert, there are a few simple techniques we can employ to ensure we never suffer those awkward moments again.

Chester Santos, known as the 'International Man of Memory', firmly believes no one has a 'bad' one - rather, they simply don't have the right skills to make theirs work as effectively.

He has spent the last 11 years teaching people the techniques he believes work best to improve memory, and is the personal memory and mind coach to a number of celebrities, politicians, professional athletes and high-powered executives.

Chester believes just one hour of his coaching is enough to improve a person's ability to retain information because, he says, 'once you use the right technique and correct approach to committing things to memory, you'll notice an immediate difference right away'.

'Remembering things is a skill,' he told FEMAIL. 'Most people don't have any technique, any way of commiting things to memory. They just think they were born with a good one or a bad one.

'Using these sorts of techniques, you are activating more areas within your brain and building more connections in your mind to the information than you normally would, so you're likely to retain more than you would.'

So, what are his magic techniques, and do they actually work?

I call Chester in Miami from my desk in London - having not started off on the best foot after I, ironically, forgot we had an interview scheduled.

Consequently I wasn't too optimistic that Chester would be able to transform my goldfish brain into the sort of eidetic mind possessed by the character of Mike Ross on Suits.

While I have a pretty good memory when it comes to learning the lines of play scripts, I'm far less adept when it comes to remembering my calendar for the week and the names of people I meet in passing. 

My memory is particularly bad when alcohol's involved. Just a couple of glasses of wine have been known to wipe entire conversations from my consciousness - which I'm often awkwardly reminded of the following morning. 

'Alcohol interferes with the ability to transform information into long-term memory,' Chester reassures me. 

When it comes to everyday, none-boozy life, Chester believes everyone is capable of remembering much more than they already do - even me.

Given he won the USA Memory Championship in 2008 and represented the country at the 17th World Memory Championship in 2007, I argue he's probably more genetically blessed than the rest of us. 

'I was someone that was naturally good at creating connections in my mind between something new that I was trying to learn and something that I already knew,' he reasons.

'I had my own weird ways of doing it, but no formalised way of training at that point. But once I learned the right techniques later in life I really magnified my ability to remember.'

Chester reckons people claim to have a worse memory these days due to 'digital dependency', which sees more of us relying on search engines to help us out when we can't remember something.

I inwardly blush, thinking of the amount of times I've Googled dates, spellings and whether Prince Philip has one 'l' or two that morning. 

'Nowadays we are outsourcing not only our memory but other mental functions to these electronic devices,' Chester warns.

'There is a danger in this, as these devices are very useful, but I want to make people aware that we need to be very wary of letting them do everything for us. The use it or lose it principle does apply to your memory and other mental functions.

'We used to remember the phone numbers of family and friends, and when I was growing up my parents would give me emergency numbers. Nowadays you give someone one number and they can't remember it - some struggle to remember their own.'

He's got a point - I couldn't even tell you my boyfriend's phone number (though weirdly I can still remember a number of my school friends' old digits back when they were listed in the telephone directory).  

We begin our session with a warm-up visualisation exercise, where Chester encourages me to imagine myself in a room I'm familiar with, in which I'm joined by Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.

Surreal as it sounds, I find it relatively easy - and amusing - to conjure up a picture of the two surly-looking men in my relatively small living room.

It gets better, as Chester then urges me to imagine them chucking custard pies at each other - a treat for the mind's eye, I can tell you. 

The point of this exercise is to highlight how powerful our visual memory can be. He explains how when dealing with people, we tend to be pretty good at remembering faces we've seen at parties or on the TV, but not so good when it comes to names.    

'This makes a lot of sense, because when you're interacting you always see the face,' Chester explains.

'It's recorded into our visual memory, but at no point do you say the name - it's more abstract to the brain.

'One way of getting better at remembering names or pieces of information is changing it into visuals - so Mike could be a microphone, Alice a rabbit (from Alice in Wonderland).'

He also suggests thinking of items that rhyme with the person's name - such as a chain for 'Jane' - as visualising something to represent the name will make it more memorable to you.

Chester's top tips for remembering names

Step 1: Whenever you are introduced to someone, immediately repeat their name, for example: 'Nice to meet you, John.' Get into that habit.

It may seem totally obvious, but a lot of times when someone is introducing themselves to us, our mind is on something else and we're not paying any attention at all to the name. Repeating it forces you to pay attention for at least one second.

Step 2: Early on in your interaction with a new person, ask them a simple question using their name to reinforce it in your mind. For example, 'So John, tell me...'.

You don't have to keep using it over and over again, as it might seem a bit weird, just use it once early on, that's enough to reinforce it.

Step 3: Take a few seconds to connect the person's name to anything you already know. For example, John Lennon, or a character from a TV show or movie, or something as simple as you having a friend or family member that has the same name.

You could weave in the visual idea here as well - link something about that person's look to another visual (the crazier the better). 

Step 4: When you leave the party or meeting, make it a point to say goodbye to people using their names. That will go a long way to helping you remember more of those names the next time you see those people. 

If you've already forgotten it, I recommend you ask the person their name again then and there, as they won't be as likely to be offended and will appreciate the fact you care enough to know their name for the next time you see them. 

If you can do all this, you'll start to remember a huge majority of people you're meeting.

After visualising Trump and Putin, Chester tries to engage more of the senses, such as smell and taste (what do the pies taste like? What can you smell?) to activate more areas of the brain, thereby building more connections in the mind to the information so it becomes easier to retrieve when you need it later.

He also acknowledged that the scene he described was purposefully out of the ordinary.

'I want for you to learn to take advantage of the psychological aspect of human memory, which is all of us, with putting in little to no effort, tend to remember things that are strange and catch us by surprise,' he says (admitting he often imagines the place where he leaves his keys 'blowing up' as he puts them down to help him visually remember where they are so he doesn't misplace them). 

'Combining these three principles, it becomes easy to remember anything.' 

The next challenge, Chester tells me, is to remember a random list of words, which he rattles off at breakneck speed. 

These are cloud, bicycle, elephant, watermelon, cat, egg, rabbit, mud, bird, whistle, jungle, turkey, computer, sword and pizza.

No chance, I think to myself. 

'A lot of times when I recite that list of words to audiences for my presentations, people look at me as if to say, "Come on man, you can't be serious, there's no way I'm going to remember that unless you give me a lot of time to do it",' Chester admits, as if reading my mind.

But he is insistent I will know these words back-to-front in the next few minutes - and still remember them next week. 

His way of doing this is to help me build up mental cue cards to remind me of what I'm trying to commit to memory, again using a visual clue.

He also encourages me to see this memory task not as something difficult and boring, but as a fun exercise and an opportunity to use my creativity and imagination. 

'This shift in approach will make a huge difference in your ability to remember things,' he says. 

He asks me to picture a cloud up in the sky, from which a bicycle suddenly drops and lands on the ground before wheeling along by itself until it, unbelievably, crashes into an elephant.

'Just see this like a movie or cartoon playing in your head, however you best visualise it,' he says.

This process continues until the mini-story is complete. Incredibly, when Chester asks me to repeat the words back to him, I do it no problem, even in reverse, by relaying the mini storyboard in my head - and giggling as I do so.

OK, so it works, and it's fun - but, I challenge Chester, when will I ever need to memorise a list of random words in real life?

I'm missing the point, he explains, as this same technique can be applied to remembering anything - and can be particularly handy when doing things like giving a presentation.

'Nowaways people don't commit things to memory, they have slides with tonnes of information packed into them,' he says, quite rightly.

'If you can remember five to 10 key things which you can rattle off and show you know your stuff, you're better demonstrating expertise and setting yourself apart from other professionals.

'If you can get up there and give an interactive presentation or one-on-one with a client, memory skills will set you apart - you make yourself more memorable.'

It's becoming clear why Chester's services are so in demand from the likes of politicians and business leaders.

'If you're attending a bunch of events and have no idea what peoples' names are and what they do for a living, you're not maximising business networking,' Chester points out.

'There's power in remembering names. I've been hired by politicians – they want to know the name of everyone there, spouse's names, things they like for topics of conversation, things they don't like to avoid in conversation, as it makes them more popular and likable to get them more votes.

'In the case of the everyday person, it will help you get more business and improve your likability factor, make you more popular in the organisation you're involved with. It affects success in many different areas of life.  

'Remembering people's names, their kids' names, things about them, makes you more likeable, and it's more likely a likeable person will progress better in their career.' 

He adds that age is not a factor when it comes to memory, explaining he's had people from age eight up to 90 at his workshops.

'I have seen so many people in their sixties and seventies completely outperform people in their twenties and thirties,' he says.

'In general someone older might not have a memory as sharp as someone younger, but a large factor is how much you're using your memory and exercising it. People that are keeping themselves mentally active tend to be sharper than their younger counterparts.

'By keeping your brain and mind stimulated, you can keep your memory sharp at any age.' 


Compiled by Olalekan Adeleye