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Monday, 29 August 2011

Some years ago we went to a marvellous Festival of Music and Wine in the south of France and on one occasion were treated to an extraordinary recital of Schubert’s piano sonatas by the redoubtable and remarkable Moura Lympany.   She played the whole evening entirely from memory, without any written music in sight, and we were entranced.

At the cocktail party afterwards she revealed (unwittingly perhaps) that memory can be very selective as she wandered round introducing people to each other by the simple expedient of:

“Darling, have you met darling?”  

By the way, she was well into pensionable age at this time.

It is said that as we age or better, become more mature, our memory starts to fail.  Apart from the sad impact of dementia and other similar conditions, I don’t believe that this is necessarily the case. Perhaps it is because as we age we generate more and more experiences against a limited ability to recall.

The crux of the matter is, of course, that ability to recall.  The memory is there all right, however old we may be, but recall sometimes can be a problem.  In addition, we also tend to remember things in a selective way so that, for instance, two people from the same family can have vastly differing recollections of events in the past.

It is possible to train ourselves to improve recall and Vistage speaker, the very entertaining David Thomas, tells how he managed to remember and recall Pi to well over 23,000 decimal places (we did suggest when he did a limited demonstration for my Group that perhaps he needed to get out more).  Of course, David has trained himself to be able to do that and some more equally amazing feats, by using relatively simple methods which are centuries old.

There are so many distractions in the world in which we live that even though we may start the day knowing precisely what is needed to be done, as time progresses through the day, we forget some things and start to remember others which may or may not be of comparable significance.

The “to do” list does help, of course.  I went to see a client once who said that he had a “to do” list on which he worked every day.  Impressed, I asked to see it and was slightly surprised to find that he had 72 items on it.  I suggested that it was more a “things that I hope I may get round to doing” rather than a “to do” list as such but he said that unless he wrote them all down, he wouldn’t remember them anyway.

That is a fair point; writing down something that you feel a need to remember immediately enhances the ability to recall even without looking at the list.  Perhaps I should do that when I go upstairs and then try to remember why.

Keeping a daily journal is a great way to assist in recall: noting down the things to do and the things that you have done, as well as other useful bits and pieces on a daily basis, can be invaluable.

The key to it all is to accept that memory is selective.  We recall things that are significant and tuck the rest away.  The trick is to decide what we need to recall and put a system in place to help it happen. 

Now all you need to do is to remember to do it (and where you left it will help as well).

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