Harvey Mackay Academy's Blog

I have often wondered if people are born with a photographic memory, or does it take time to develop?

While it’s said that one advantage of having a poor memory is that you find all jokes funny, memory for many is no laughing matter. It’s serious stuff and can help you a great deal in business and in life. National Memory Day is every March 21.

As the world has developed, people have had to remember more with each passing generation. “Memory is the mother of all wisdom,” said Aeschylus, the ancient Greek who is often described as the father of tragedy.

You don’t have a poor memory. You either have a trained memory or an untrained memory. If your memory is a concern for you, the good news is that memory can be improved. You can learn to remember anything if you practice some retention techniques.

Studies show that 20 percent remember by hearing, so say things out loud. Forty percent remember by seeing, and the other 40 percent by doing, so write things down to prove to yourself that you know it.

But this isn’t anything new. Confucius said 2,500 years ago: “What I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. What I do, I understand.”

Like most people, I forget 50 percent of what I hear within hours, so I have adopted many techniques to help me remember.

I can’t put it any better than Samuel Johnson, the English writer and poet, who said, “The true art of memory is the art of attention.” Rule number one: pay attention. If you are distracted when you are learning a new name or fact, you have to focus on the person or information in front of you.

How many times have I preached: Pale ink is better than the most retentive memory? Write things down, and just as important, remember where you put the information. I am constantly writing myself notes and leaving them where I can find them.

I also read my notes aloud because I’ve found that if I repeat the name or number, I will be able to pull the item to be remembered up from my subconscious and reinforce my memory. Repetition aids retention. I say things three times, so it is firmly fixed in my mind.

Name association is another tool I use. When I meet someone and want to remember their name, I associate names with famous people. For example, if I meet a Michael, I think of Michael Jordan, Michael Jackson, Michael Douglas and so on. It also helps if I have a close friend with the same first name. Last names present a different challenge.

Remembering is easier when what we are trying to memorize or store away in our minds is related to something we already know. That’s why many memory methods urge us to try to associate something new with something we know very well.

Visualization is yet another tool. Anything you can visualize is always easier to remember. In memory training you are constantly associating or linking or connecting one thought with another. This quadruples your retention.

There are other ways that you can improve your memory other than these tricks I use. First, get plenty of rest and exercise. I’ve found that socializing and eating the right foods also helps. Anything you can do to reduce stress and minimize distractions is a benefit. The main thing is to keep your brain active. Exercise your brain so your memory doesn’t get flabby.

Remembering names, numbers and facts all comes down to desire. You must control the mind and make it do what you want it to do. Take time to realize the value of what you are trying to remember and reinforce it by reminding yourself that this memory can enrich your life.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one – or remember it – but here’s my favorite memory joke.

The Memory Card walks into a bar, spots a piano, sits down and starts playing some incredible music. After several songs, mostly original, the Memory Card gets up and the bar goes wild with cheers and applause.

The bar owner was so impressed that he ran up to the Memory Card and said, “Buddy, you were INCREDIBLE! If you come back tomorrow, I’ll split the night’s till with you!”

“No can do…” says the Memory Card. “I’m limited to one gig!”

Mackay’s Moral: Put your memory where your mouth is. If you want people to know how much you care, show them how much you remember.

About the Author

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.