The Three Secrets Of Memory
"The drudge may fret and tinker—or hammer with dusty blows, but back of him stands the Thinker—the clear-eyed man who knows."
In the beginning of this course I made the statement, "There is no royal road to a good memory, but there is a way." In the preceding chapters I have tried to show you the right way and to get you safely started on it. But you ask, is there no easy way to the goal; no golden key to unlock the massive door which bars the way to the storehouse of the mind; is there no magic password which will admit you instantly into the presence of the Muse of Memory; is there no mysterious secret in memory-training? Certainly there is no password, and of mystery and magic there is none, but there is a secret, a secret so simple that it really is no secret at all. In fact, there are three secrets, all easy to under-stand.
We will travel a little farther on the way, and find these three, secrets of successful memory training. They are very simple—if they can be called secrets at all—but they are so effective they might almost be entitled to the phrase " A Royal Road."
The first secret is so simple that I can state it in two words, ELIMINATE ABUSES. No wonder that the majority of people cannot depend upon their memories when they abuse them in so many ways. If you would have a great memory, you must give it a fair chance to develop, so it is imperative that we eliminate these abuses and that we stop those things which tend to make memory weak and keep it so.
Now let us give our attention to a few of these abuses which we are to eliminate. First: Stop making negative suggestions about your memory. A thousand times I have heard this remark, " Oh, I have an awfully poor memory," " I always forget everything," " My memory is very bad," " I always have had a weak memory, and I suppose I always shall." Every time you say, " I have an awfully poor memory," you help to make it so. Every time you voice the negative thought about your memory, you erect a barrier like a stone wall between yourself and the attaining of the fine retentive memory which you ought to have and which is yours by divine right. Never say, " My memory is poor," or " weak," or that it is " unreliable." Substitute for that negative statement a positive thought and say, " My memory is all right if given a fair chance. I have not trained it, but now I am going to concentrate upon the development of my memory and I expect to develop an unusually good, strong memory." Stop the negative suggestion and put in place of it a positive suggestion and you will be surprised to find how it will help your memory to grow in strength. In the interview to which reference has already been made, Roscoe Pound said, " Attitude has much to do with memory. Just tell yourself that your memory is bad, and it won't disappoint you, it will be bad. It is one of the most obedient servants that we possess and it is a sensitive one. It will give you back just what you give it."
Another great abuse of the memory is omnivorous reading. I doubt if any other one thing is so destructive of a retentive memory as the hasty and careless reading of the daily news-paper. I charge - the modern newspaper with being the father of mental dyspepsia. It is responsible for multitudes of weak memories. Its pages are crammed with so much stuff that is not worth remembering that the average reader has difficulty in swallowing it, to say, nothing of digesting it. Day after day the omnivorous reader scans through its columns without any effort to retain what he reads until his mind becomes a sieve with meshes so wide it catches nothing. Contrast such mental dyspepsia with the strength of our memory experts.
Recorded in the annals of the past century are men and women who could speak all living languages. Other students have performed marvelous feats of memory under most difficult tests. It is said that. we have two newspaper men in America to-day who can read an entire column of a newspaper once and repeat it word for word. William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Gladstone, and Woodrow Wilson are only a few examples of men in political life noted for their great faculty of memory.
Of course, we cannot expect every one to possess such an extraordinary memory as old Eli in the story told by Irvin Cobb. This darky had such a remarkable memory it-is said, that his master once made a wager with the devil that if Eli ever forgot anything the devil could have him. So one day the devil suddenly appeared where the old darky was plowing corn with a typical dun-colored mule of the South. The devil commandingly spoke one word, " Eli." The darky dropped the reins in a hurry and replied, "Yes, suh." "Do you like eggs I " asked the devil. " Ah sho' does," replied Eli, rolling the whites of his eyes. The devil disappeared and Eli saw him no more. Then just twenty years later to a day, the devil suddenly appeared before Eli where he was plowing in the same field. " Eli." " Yes, suh." " How? " And without an instant's hesitation Eli replied, " Fried."
The habit of reading too much fiction is another abuse of memory. A little high-class fiction in the right proportion is not harmful, but the common habit of gulping down fiction in wholesale quantities without making any effort to retain it is decidedly injurious.
Another abuse is the habit of " letting things slide," to. use a popular phrase, or letting slip the idea or the point of information which should be held fast. The habit of making just one feeble effort to recall the point which should be in the memory, and then letting it go with no effort to retrieve it is a common failing. Train your memory to be a good retriever. Send it out again and again after that missing idea or that forgotten point until finally you succeed in retrieving it and bring it back triumphantly.
Another abuse might be termed using brute force on your memory. In other words, forcing your memory to work by rote on something in which you have not a particle of interest, forcing it to almost endless repetition, with little if any understanding of the meaning back of the words; this is brute force. It means doing the thing inefficiently " by main strength and awkwardness." This abuse includes " stuffing and cramming," which are the curse of so many school systems of to-day. These points which I have mentioned are chief among the abuses. Eliminate these, and you are then in a position to utilize the other two secrets of memory.
TRUST IT AND TEST IT
The second secret can be expressed in five words: " TRUST IT AND TEST IT." You must have faith in your memory if you expect it to work well for you. As long as you keep thinking that your memory will fail you, it will measure up to your expectations. You will be surprised to see how it will respond to your faith. Depend upon your memory absolutely. ' Make the positive affirmation, " I need a good memory; I will train it with full faith that it will respond. I will trust it absolutely." This principle can be demonstrated in a very practical way in public speaking. Those who depend upon notes nearly always have to use them.
Now let us turn our attention to the second part of the secret: " Trust it and test it." Right here is one of the biggest factors in memory-training. Avoid the common mistake of reading over and over again the thing you are trying to memorize without stopping to test your memory. In this way you do not know what part your mind has grasped on one reading and what it has not. The old method is aimless and inefficient. Take your selection and say, " Now I am going to memorize this on one reading," for that is possible. Any one of my readers could, by giving his memory sufficient training, reach the point where he could memorize any short selection on one reading. Then after you have read it once shut the book and shut your eyes if necessary, and test your memory to see if the lines are there. Very likely only part will be there but the very testing will show you what part is missing and call your attention to the blank spaces in your photograph, so when you go over it again you will grasp the missing part. Then test the memory after the second reading. You may still find some vacant spots. If so, try again and test again and keep it up until you have a perfect mental photograph. You will find that it will not be necessary by this method to read the article half as many times as by the old haphazard way. Definite steps for testing the value of this second secret will be found under the heading, " How to Study." It is only by repeated trials and after each trial the repeated tests that we know just how our mental camera is working. It is the only common-sense . way to memorize, and yet you will find that the great majority of people read the thing over and over again without any effort whatever to make a test of what has been accomplished. Trust It and Test It; and you are bound to get results. Those who know this secret have a great advantage in every mental operation.
And now for the third secret, which I can give you in three words: " ENTHUSIASTIC DAILY EXERCISE." Commit something to memory every day. Let no day go by that you do not glean and garner some gem for the memory storehouse. It may be some striking paragraph from a great speech; it may be some bit of verse which touches the heart, or it may be only a line or a new word for your vocabulary. Whatever it may be, give your memory a chance on it and do it with enthusiasm. Practice alone does not make perfect, but practice combined with other things makes perfect. In order to master these memory gems so that they are yours for life, persist in repetition, so that long intervals of time may not erase them from memory.
Be sure to memorize something worth while. While you are at it, you may just as well store something away in the treasure-house of the mind which will be of permanent value. Why waste time and energy on trivial things? I once heard of a Frenchman who spent five years of his life learning to throw a pea so accurately that it would stick on the point of a pin at a distance of twenty feet. If this gentleman should ever memorize anything, it would be quite logical to suppose that he would choose " Yes, We Have No Bananas," and if he should ever retire from this strenuous life he might very consistently spend his declining years training a flea to dance a minuet on the tip of a toothpick. Day by day and month after month, if you utilize these three secrets you will build up a wonderful memory and at the same time add to the riches of your mind. Truly has it been said, "Memory is the treasury of the mind."