If you’re the kind of person who can lose a name at the drop of a hat and struggle for minutes trying to remember it, you might be surprised to hear that what you need to do, some psychologists suggest, is remember more things at once.
The basic idea is that the human brain doesn’t perform well with isolated pieces of information, such as a single word or phrase. It’s something like jotting down a friend’s birthday on a sticky note and then tossing that onto a cluttered desk. If the word to be remembered is already associated with other ideas, it’s like organizing a spot on your desk so that all the April information is in one pile; you have a much better chance of spotting it later.
You can try this yourself, using a technique sometimes called “mind-mapping.” Start with something you need to remember — let’s say that friend’s birthday, on April 10th. Write down April 10 on a piece of paper and then begin free-associating: what comes to mind? If you come up with “April showers,” write that down and draw a line connecting the two. From there you might think “tax time,” so connect that as well, and so on. Soon you’ll have a small “map” that shows you all the immediate associations you make with April.
Now tell yourself to remember the whole group of items rather than just one. You’ll find that when you need to remember your friend’s birthday, your “mind’s eye” will alight much faster on, perhaps, “tax time” — which will bring you quickly to April.