Before you can expect to remember or memorize a thing, that thing must have been impressed clearly upon the records of your subconscious. And the main factor of the recording of impressions is that quality of the mind that we call Attention, which is the ability to focus and give meaning to a particular data or stimulus.
Our capability to process information is somewhat limited. Therefore, we must constantly select and decide which data are relevant and which are not. Stimuli or sensations that you perceive and organize into meaningful thoughts are selectively analyzed by your brain. If the stimuli or data is relevant or applicable for further use or access, your brain transfers this information to the long-term storage center. However, for this to happen, attention must take place
One of the most common causes of poor attention is the lack of interest. You are more inclined to remember the things in which you have been most interested, because in that emanation of interest there has been a high degree of attention exhibited. A person may have a very poor memory for many things; but when it comes to things in which his interest is involved, he often remembers the most intricate details. This is called involuntary attention. This type of attention does not require special effort or exertion because it follows upon interest, curiosity, or desire.
The other type of attention is called voluntary attention. This form of attention is granted upon objects not necessarily interesting, curious, or attractive. This requires the effort and usage of the will.
Every person has more or less involuntary attention, while only a few possess developed voluntary attention. The former is initiated by instinct, while the latter comes only by practice and training.
For attention to take place, you must diligently practice the art of voluntary attention. Here are some successful strategies to help you acquire this essential skill:
- Turn your attention upon some uninteresting thing and study every detail until you are able to describe them. This will seem boring or tiresome at first but you must stick to it. Do not practice too long at a time at first; take a rest and try it again later. You will soon find that it comes easier, and that a new interest is starting to manifest itself in the task. For example, pick a flower. Touch it. Smell it. Feel its texture. How many petals does it have? How long is the stem? What is the color and shape of the petals? By doing this simple task, you will be surprised at the quantity of little things that you will notice. This method, practiced on many things, in spare hours, will develop the power of voluntary attention and perception in anyone, no matter how deficient he or she may have been in these things. Begin to take notice of things about you: the places you visit, the people in the rooms, etc. In this way you will start the habit of "noticing things," which is the first requisite for memory development.
- Eliminate distractions. Even though you may have heard of multi-tasking, it is very difficult for people to do more than one thing at a time. For example, you’re a law student studying for the Bar Exams. You wouldn’t be able to absorb properly into your mind what you are studying if your radio is playing loud rock-and-roll music, or if you’re hearing the video games being played by your kid brother. As much as possible, avoid any possible distractions such as TV, radio, or other people chattering.
- Retain focus and concentration in the process of learning or memorization. Let’s say you’re busy preparing for an important presentation tomorrow. A new employee was introduced to you while you are working. In this case, there would be much less chance for you to remember anything about that new employee because you are concentrating on something else which you regard as more urgent or important. If you want to remember something well, shift your focus on that one thing and willfully commit it to memory.
- Keep track all of your thoughts. Whenever you become aware that your thoughts are losing, yell "STOP!" in your mind. This will bring your drifting to a halt and redirect your attention to what needs to be done. Remember that good concentration breeds good memory. If you find that your thoughts are traveling, be conscious that your attention is drifting.
- Get interested. To have good memorization skills, you should also like what you are doing. To vividly memorize a visual, an image, or even text, engage yourself into it. You should put your heart in every activity you’re working and doing. If you don’t like to engage in a certain activity, there’s a slim chance for you to remember aspects about it. Let’s say your parents want you to become an engineer, but you dream of becoming a musician. If you studied engineering because your parents forced you to, you won’t have the dedication or desire to retain information from your engineering books. Don’t push yourself to do something that you have no interest in. As Leonardo Da Vinci said: "Just as eating against one's will is injurious to health, so study without a liking for it spoils the memory, and it retains nothing it takes in."
- Get motivated. Now let’s say you want to become a doctor. Why are you familiarizing and memorizing into such ambiguous medical or biological terms? For one thing, you might want to be on the top of the class. Or you might want to be popular in your school. Or you might want to be a good doctor someday to help your community. Goals and timeframe nourish motivation. And motivation promotes a sharp memory. To further motivate yourself, reward yourself for any tasks that you have accomplished. Set a particular incentive for every objective. For example, treat yourself to your favorite restaurant after finishing a project. When you've accomplished a bigger task, go on a vacation. Just set something gratifying to indulge in after completing a certain undertaking. Remember: Man by nature is a go-getter. He will get whatever he aspires for. In a consumption-based and technologically-driven world, one should have a stake or goal to feed his symbolic ego. By rewarding yourself in every success you account for, you will aspire for more and will develop interest on your activity. In the process, your interest will make you more productive and successful.
- Give your subconscious a mental command to bear in mind what you want to remember. You may say, "Here, you take note of this and remember it for me!" You’ll be astounded by what the subconscious can do for you.
Before you can memorize or remember anything, you should be able to perceive well through proper attention. Use the methods above and you’re well on your way to a sharper memory.