building strong memory 3
3. The Principle of the Intention to Remember Without an intention to remember, it is doubtful that any worthwhile learning takes place. Many people have personally experienced the truth of this principle without realizing it. For example, many of us have helped a child memorize a poem or a speech by correcting his errors and prompting him when he forgot his lines. Yet, after spending as much time on the poem or speech as did the child, we knew hardly any of it, but he had mastered it. The explanation: He intended to remember; we didn’t.
The intention to remember is well illustrated by waiters in restaurants who exhibit a remarkably good memory for what customer’s order up until the moment they have paid their bills. Once the order has been filled and the bill fully calculated, the waiter jettisons the entire transaction from his mind So that he can give full attention to his next customer. In this case, just as he intends to remember, he can intend to forget.
This concept of the intention to forget, so that one has room for new material, is succinctly put forth by Dr. Hans Selye in the following excerpt.
It seems that to some extent newly learned facts occupy the place of previously learned or subsequently learnable ones. Consequently, there is a limit to how much you can burden your memory; and trying to remember too many things is certainly one of the major sources of psychologic stress. I make a conscious effort to forget immediately all that is unimportant and to jot down data of possible value (even at the price of having to prepare complex files). Thus, I manage to keep my memory free for facts that are truly essential to me. I think this technique can help anyone to accomplish the greatest simplicity compatible with the degree of complexity of his intellectual life. The intent to learn, of course, is an overall positive attitude that automatically triggers several subsidiary attitudes, such as paying attention, getting a fact right the first time, and striving to understand. Attention. Attention is the mental set of giving yourself fully to the task at hand. Unfortunately, inattention is common in reading textbooks, especially when an idea in the book starts your mind dreaming down another road. Then your eyes move along the printed lines without comprehending them at all. The chapter on “The Ability to Concentrate” tackles this problem directly.
Getting it right the first time. We have learned that all remembering depends on forming an original, clear neural trace in the brain in the first place. These initial impressions are vitally important because the mind clings just as tenaciously to incorrect impressions as it does to correct impressions. Then we have to unlearn and relearn. Incorrect information is so widespread that Mark Twain once wrote, “Education consists mainly in what we have unlearned.” One helpful aid in getting it right the first time is to be attentive and cautious when it comes to learning new knowledge. Go very slowly at first. Place your emphasis on accuracy, not speed. Striving to understand. First and most important, you must make sure that you understand new material before trying to remember it. A good technique to ensure understanding is to recite or write the author’s ideas in your own words. If you cannot, then you do not understand them. The conclusion: You cannot remember what you do not understand. In other words, you cannot form a clear and correct memory trace from a fuzzy, poorly understood concept. In the classroom, do not hesitate to ask the instructor to explain further a point that is not clear to you. If the point is unclear to you, there is a good chance that it is unclear to others; so you will not be wasting anyone’s time. Furthermore, most instructors appreciate the opportunity to slow down a lecture to answer questions.
4. The Principle of the Basic Background Our understanding of what we hear, what we read, what we see, what we feel, and what we taste depends entirely upon what we already know — upon the knowledge and experience we have in our background. When listening to a speaker, we understand the successive points that he is making as long as we can interpret those points in terms of what we are already familiar with. But the moment he refers to a concept like the “Zeigarnik effect,” or to a word like “serendipity” — a concept or a word that we do not have in our background, then we are lost. This concept and this word stand alone as isolated sounds; we cannot attach an accurate meaning to them. At this point, we may need to stop the speaker and ask him to explain. Experienced speakers, however, usually know when they are putting forth concepts and words that are not popularly known, and they provide the audience with an example or analogy.(To satisfy your curiosity, the Zeigarnik effect is the tendency to remember uncompleted tasks better than completed tasks. Serendipity is the faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident.) Many students make the mistake of thinking that the basic courses taken in their freshman year are a waste of time. These courses create the background essential for all their later courses. The budding technician or engineer should realize that when he starts studying these basic courses, he has already begun his career. The upper-level courses do not convey all the secrets of being a technician or an engineer. Your professional life begins with your freshman courses. And if you want to become a good technician or engineer, you will have to remain a student all your life.