Here’s the third installment of my series of Toastmaster speeches on memory.
Mr. Toastmaster, ladies and gentlemen —
Have you ever noticed how much we talk about making memories?
Your Memory Is Not a VCR
You may think of your memory as this kind of mysterious VCR that you’re powerless to control. It’s always on, always recording, and spitting out unlabeled tapes into a gigantic, disorganized pile, where you can never find anything.
But this VCR model misses a crucial fact: we do make memories. We craft memories. A man says to his wife, “Honey, let’s take the kids to the beach and make some memories!” He never says, “Honey, let’s take the kids to the beach and hope that their brains passively record experiences that they’ll later be able to access easily.”
If It’s Interesting, We Remember It
No. In our casual language, we have a strong sense that when we choose to do something interesting, we also, at the same time, make strong, vivid memories. Memories that we’ll remember easily.
In a perfect world, everything we needed to remember would fascinate us as deeply as that first trip to the ocean. In real life? Not quite.
If It’s Boring, Make it Interesting
Instead, though, you can learn to craft magnificent memories. You can make the forgettable fascinating.
Tonight, I want to share some specific aspects of what makes a clear memory.
Let’s take something simple. Eating an orange. Imagine if I stand here and say, “Ladies and gentlemen, yesterday — I — ate — an — orange. The end.” This is not the kind of magical moment you’re going to remember in your hour of need.
Remember With All Your Senses
But if I say, “Yesterday, my throat was dry, and my tongue had that dead feeling you get when you haven’t drunk those eighteen glasses of water you’re supposed to drink every single day. So I got this orange, and it was lopsided. It bulged towards the end where the stem had touched the tree.
I dug my fingernails into the thick, rubbery skin, and it spurted, in a cloud of citrus mist. That mist smelled so good. Sunshine and summer and mown grass. You know that smell. In the dead of winter, suddenly it’s July.
The yellowish juice stained my fingernails, and seeped stickiness into the crevices of my palm.
But I didn’t care. I pulled off a slice, so ripe it was ready to burst. I looked closely, I saw the white veins between the pulp. Then I held it up to the light, and it glowed like stained glass. I closed my eyes, and opened my mouth –”
And if you check your mouth, right now, there’s a good chance it’s full of saliva.
That’s how vivid your memory can be. You just tricked your digestive system into thinking that you’re actually about to eat an orange. It’s gearing up, as we speak, pumping digestive enzymes into your mouth, raring to go.
I’m sorry about that. We really need that Snackmaster.
Details Make Memories
But with my first description, you didn’t salivate, did you? It’s not enough to just say, “I ate an orange.” That’s abstract. It doesn’t engage your imagination. It doesn’t light up your brain. If that was all I said, I’d be lucky if you remembered which fruit I ate by the end of the talk.
But when I got into the details, your brain woke up. If you remember this talk at all, you will remember that we ate an orange.
Although I began with this basic idea of eating an orange, I crafted a much stronger memory by looking for details. What kind of details should you look for as you craft your own memory?
First, you want your memory to be unique. Nothing else on this planet smells and tastes like an orange. Lemon and grapefruit are similar, but the orange is unique. Find what’s unique about what you’re trying to remember.
You also want your memory to be vivid. Use all your senses. We didn’t just taste that orange, we saw the glow, smelled the mist, felt the stickiness, and even heard the squirt.
More senses mean more mental connections. More mental connections mean stronger memories.
You also want your memory to be bright. Bright, vivid colors. When I started developing my memory, I was amazed at how dark my imagination was. I’d imagine, say, a football, and it would be dim and gray. And then I’d forget it.
Bright, vivid colors simply seem to take more work. It’s almost like it literally takes mental power to turn up the inner lights. But just like in the physical world, you need to see what you’re doing.
An orange is already bright, but I even held a slice up to the light. If you find yourself defaulting to a dingy mental scene, imagine turning on the lights.
Finally, you want your memory to be big. In real life, if something’s small, what does that it mean? It means it’s far away, blurry, indistinct.
Just as my memories default to dingy, I’ve noticed that I slip into thinking small.
Now, an orange is fairly small. But that’s why I held it close. I made that little ball bigger. And the boring ball bloomed into a miniature world of smells and tastes and shapes. Make your memories big.
Craft Your Memories With Strong Details
So, to review, craft your memories by hunting for strong details. Find details that make your memories unique and vivid, bright and big. If you can have such a fantastically clear memory of eating an orange, clearly, you can remember anything you want to. Thank you.
You may also enjoy: “Visual Mnemonics: Six Keys to a Good Visual Prompt”