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How to Improve Your Memory for Names

By Edited Sep 30, 2015 0 1

A lot of people are convinced that they're lousy in remembering people's names. In reality though most of the times they are not lousy, but they sure are lazy. Remembering names is a skill you can learn and train. It takes some tricks and a little practice, and you will soon be the one who amazes other people by your ability to remember names quickly. People will notice your skill because people like to be seen and nothing proves the fact that you've really seen them better than calling people by their name.

Just follow this simple how-to guide, and invest a couple of hours of practice to get to a level that surpasses most. Invest some more hours of practice and integrate it in your daily life to impress people at a steady rate. So here's what to do:

Things You Will Need

  • A working memory (luckily most people are blessed with this)
  • A little courage
  • A little fantasy

Step 1

Listen First, Speak Later.

It may seem trivial, but to remember a name correctly, you have to really hear it first. When exchanging introductions however, most people are not focused on hearing the other person's name. Instead they are mainly focused on the act of introducing themselves! They rehearse what they're going to say in their mind - even during the time the other person is introducing themself - and wait for the right moment to say their name exactly as they rehearsed it in their mind. That's the climax, and after you've said everything correctly, the pressure of doing it right fades away, and along with that your attention and focus fade too.

Whether you're first or second to introduce, you either miss the other person's name because you're preparing to say your own, or you miss it because your attention fades after saying your own name.
So the first step to improve your memory for remembering names, is to focus on hearing the other name, rather than saying your own. Look at the other, and listen!

Step 2

Repeat the name

So now you've at least heard the name, now on to remembering it. Only hearing does not mean that the name will also be stored in our memory. Our sensory system (luckily) filters a lot of information that comes to us, and in this case we want to prevent that filter from working.

So the next step is to repeat that name out loud. To repeat the name, our mind first has to process the information coming through our senses, and then turn it into a deliberate action. By doing that, you bypass the filter, and prevent it from discarding the name from the flow of information.

A natural way of repeating a name is by simply replying to the introduction by saying: "Hi George, nice to meet you." or something similar. This has three effects:
  1. You repeated the name and by doing that you stored it in your short term memory
  2. The other person will notice that you repeated their name, and will remember you easier because of it. People will recognize their own name in many situations, as it's one of the most powerful anchors they have developed in their life.
  3. The other person will also have gotten used to your voice, laying the foundation for them to really hear your introduction.

Step 3

Connect the name to the person

Repeating the name placed the name in our short term memory. However, to remember it for longer than just a couple of minutes, we need to take it one step further and store the name in our long-term memory. One of the tricks to achieve this is by using a technique called "mnemonics".

Mnemonics are simply mind tricks that help you to remember. In primary school you probably already learned a couple, like the classic "Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sallie" to remember the order of mathematical operations.

Apart from textual mnemonics we can also create visual mnemonics. With a visual mnemonic for remembering names you imagine the name of the person to be somehow attached to his or her body. So if we look at the "George" example once more, you could focus on his ears and imagine they're the "g's" in his name. Left ear is the first g, and the right ear the second g. In between the ears is the "eor", which resembles the word ear. Visualize George's name to run from ear to ear, and you'll remember it easier. If you meet a Richard and he has tattoos, remember him for his "rich art" on his body.

It may feel silly, but that's exactly why it works! The trick is to see the name on the person, and make the connection a little absurd. Our minds like to remember absurdities...

Step 4

Repeat

So if you've come to this step you've created a connection in your brain and placed the name in your long-term memory. But it's still a fragile connection, and fragile connections are likely to disappear over time too. To strengthen the connection you need to repeat, repeat, repeat. So if you have spare moment, look around the room and remember the names, repeat them in your mind and rehearse the mnemonics.

Imagine all those names visualized all over the bodies of the people in the room. In case you find gaps, you can still find some casual conversation to check it. Just make sure you don't burst out laughing, looking around the room with all those names attached to people! It can be a funny sight.

Step 5

Just ask

If all else fails, simply ask for someone's name. The only thing more embarrassing than forgetting someone's name, is remembering it wrong. So when in doubt, ask. Most people don't mind, and will understand that you didn't remember it (especially in crowded places). In fact it might even be a reinforcement of your attention for them, you take an additional effort in getting to know them and that's also something people will notice.
Remembering people's names is a memory skill, and as such can be trained. Do this exercise in this how-to guide repeatedly and you will get better at it. Maybe even to the point of impressing people with your skill, and they in turn will remember you for it.

Mnemonics are only one trick in the book, there are many other ways to improve your memory. Names, places, dates, or even something as easy as remembering all of the items on your grocery list. But those require different techniques.

Tips & Warnings

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Comments

Sep 3, 2010 5:25pm
lifelearner
Thanks for the article. I struggle with remembering names and in my profession, remembering names is critical. Thanks again.
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