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Exercises In Memory

( Originally Published 1907 )

I RETAIN a clear impression or image of everything at which I have looked, although the coloring of that impression is necessarily vivid in proportion to the degree of interest with which the object was regarded. I find this faculty of much use and solace to me. By its aid I can live again at will in the midst of any scene or circumstance by which I have been surrounded. By a voluntary act of mind I can in a moment conjure up the whole of any one out of the innumerable scenes in which the slightest interest has at any time been felt by me." Dr. John Kitto.


Review deepens mental impressions;

Storing of mind enlarges it, and gives it immense momentum;

The effort to secure mental force multiplies Will-energy.

It was John Ruskin who said, " There are but two strong conquerors of the forgetfulness of men, Poetry and Architecture." But Ruskin had the far outlook in mind. There is but one strong conqueror of the personal forgetfulness, and that is the determined Will. The poem and the cathedral preserve their age in the world's memory; the resolute Will preserves the individual's mind from becoming a sieve. The Rev. Dwight Hillis once remarked in a lecture, that he for-got with his memory. This was an old pleasantry. Men forget at times because of the rush of thought forbidding the quick grasp of mind necessary to the thing desired. But the real secret of forgetting lies in a vaporous condition of Will.


There is therefore but one "golden rule " for improvement of the memory. The " golden rule " is the iron rule of persistent and intelligent exercise. The first requisite of memory-cultivation is attention; the second is found in the laws of memory. Memory depends upon mental impressions, and these upon attention, understanding, similarity and contrast, and Will. All elements of success here call primarily upon the latter.

Professor James has formulated the law : "Whether or no there be anything else in the mind at the montent when we consciously will a certain act, a mental conception made up of memory-images of these sensations, defining which special act it is, must be there."

The secret of the Will is anticipation based on memory.

Not to refine unduly, it may be said that the power to remember is measured by the ability to attend. Joy, pain, and the like are easily recalled because they greatly impress the mind ; to secure an equally adequate degree of attention in regard to other matters demands that the soul set itself about the task of deepening its own impressions. Hence we may say, speaking broadly, to attend is to will; to will is to attend.

"All determinate recollection," as remarked by Dr. Carpenter, "involves the exercise of volitional control over the direction of the thoughts."


Exercise No. 1. Select the best specimen of condensed and simple English that you can find. Read a paragraph carefully. Begin to read again, defining to yourself every word. If you are in the slightest doubt, consult a dictionary. Go hungry a month to possess a first-class dictionary. After satisfying yourself that you understand every word in the first sentence, make sure that you understand the sentence as a whole. Now proceed, attentively and with strong Will, to re-peat the first few words, keeping words and thought in mind. Do not repeat like a parrot, but think, resolving to remember — the words and what they say. Continue until you have memorized this part of the sentence. Then go on in the same manner with the next few words. Fix these firmly in mind. Now re-call all words and thought thus far committed, and re-peat, again and again, thinking the thought as you do so with the utmost attention and energy. Proceed in this way until the entire sentence is mastered.

It will be better not to try too many words at a time; you will easily ascertain the number most convenient to your mind.

In this method, never for a moment forget to keep in mind the ideas presented by the language. As words often represent different shades of meaning, will attention to the shade here used. Let the work be done with the utmost concentrated energy.

If you will repeat that sentence frequently during the day, wherever you chance to be, always thoughtfully and determinedly, you will fasten it firmly in mind.

If you will repeat the same exercise with another sentence the following day, and frequently repeat both sentences, the first will become more deeply impressed upon memory, and the second will be acquired as fully as was the first.

The value of repetition is not new. But the point of this exercise lies not so much in repetition of words as in concentrated and continuous gripping of their thought. In all repetition, therefore, study and master the ideas which they present.

It may be supposed that you are memorizing some brief poem or bit of prose. When it has been acquired, you should frequently repeat it as a whole; say, once in several days, and later, once during several weeks. In a comparatively short time it will have become indelibly stamped upon the mind. Two or three times a year thereafter recall it, which will pre-serve it from " drifting out " again.

Read originals now and then for correction of unconscious errors.

If it is the thought that you are mainly concerned about, use it as often as possible in conversation or writing; work it over in your own material; you will thus work it thoroughly into your own mind. This done, words and source are of little importance. Here is plagiarism defensible before the gods. They, in-deed, practise it more than their worshipers.

Some books are not worth much labor. There are others which will amply repay a resolve to master them. If you thoroughly master one small book during a year, as life and reading go, you will do well.

But there are few books that should be verbally memorized. You wish the contents rather than the words. These may be acquired in the following manner, supposing the book is not largely technical, and to a degree, perhaps, if it is so:

Exercise No. 2. First, know what the book treats. Now read a paragraph very carefully, making sure that you understand every word and its thought as a whole. Then take the first complete statement of fact or theory, whether involving one sentence or many, and think it out aloud and in your own words. Read again, and restate the thought in different language from that employed by the author or by yourself in the effort just indicated. Imagine that you are speaking to some person ; recite to him ; compel him to listen ; act as though trying to teach him. Seek opportunity to do the same with real people. Become, without ostentation, a walking instructor. Don't be a bore, but resolve to become the most interesting converser among your acquaintances. But remember, it is al-ways the contents of that book which you are trying to make your own property.

In addition to the above, say to yourself frequently during the day : " This book affirms, at such and such a place, so and so "— stating where and what the matter is. Do this as often as it may be convenient. When you make this effort of memory, think backward and forward in the book from that point. At the close of the day, repeat all that you have thus far mastered. Then read the book for correction of errors.

On the following day, repeat the same process with the next complete statement.

Continue as above until you have passed through an entire chapter.

Now, without reading, try to make in your mind alone a mere skeleton of the main thoughts of the chapter. Then memorize the skeleton. The chapter may reduce to one or two general statements, or it may involve a number of general. together with subordinate propositions. Make these in their order your own.

When the skeleton has been firmly fixed in mind, review from memory the series of statements already thought out and memorized, and of which the skeleton is a reduction. This will preserve the filling-in of the synopsis. Thereafter, at convenient intervals, proceed in a like manner, now to review the outline, now to recall the detailed propositions.

Now proceed in the same way to the next chapter. Always think the written thoughts in your own words. Repeat during each day all preceding thought-statements of the chapter in hand, as well as the one of that day. When the second chapter has been finished, think out from memory a skeleton of its contents. Meanwhile, during the exercises with the present chap-ter, occasionally recall the thought-statements, in out-line and in detail, of the first chapter, looking well after their order. When the second chapter has been acquired, think out occasionally a consecutive statement of the contents of both chapters. Then construct a new skeleton of all thoughts thus far presented, and memorize as an everlasting possession.

Continue until you have mastered the book.

In all this work, ignore whatever is not strictly essential to any sentence-thought, or to any statement-paragraph.

Such labor will tax your patience, but it will surely make you master of your book, and will in time give you the greatest facility in reading. Ultimately the mind may be depended upon to supply all necessary filling-in, if the skeletons have been well understood and thoroughly memorized. You will have acquired the ability, if your author is worth reading, when you know his general propositions, to think the details with-out further reading, unless the matter is technical or historical, or the like.

Exercise No. 3. While passing slowly through a room, glance swiftly and attentively around. Then, in another room, recall as many objects noted as may be possible. Do nothing languidly. Put your entire energy into this exercise. Repeat every day for ten days, with rest of two days, making a record of results. On the tenth day, compare records and note improvement.

Exercise No. 4. When on the street, note, as you pass along, all objects around you. Having passed a block, recall as many objects as possible. Repeat frequently every day. Repeat during ten days, with rest, and on the tenth day, note improvement.

Exercise No. 5. Resolve with great Will-power, when you retire, to awaken at a certain hour, and instantly to arise. If you fail for a time, be not discouraged ; persevere and your mind will surely remember. But you must instantly arise at the appointed time, or your self will discover that you do not really mean what you profess to will. Continue until you have acquired the ability to awaken at any desired hour.

Exercise No. 6. In the morning resolve to recall a certain thought at an exact hour. You must think mightily on this resolution and fix it firmly in mind. Then dismiss it from immediate thought and attend to other duties as usual. Do not try to keep it in mind. In time you will obey your own order. You will probably fail at first, but perseverance will make you master of appointments of this kind. The reflex influence in other matters will appear in due time. Continue at least six months.

Exercise No. 7. When you start for your school or place of business, intensely resolve to return by a certain different route from that followed in going. Put your whole mind into this determination. In time you will not fail to remember. Never by action contradict any of these resolutions. Continue at least six months.

Exercise No. 8. Walk or drive to your school or place of business, and return home, in as many different and previously planned ways as possible. Never deviate from the plan. At the end of each, arrange an-other for going and coming, and adhere to it as a matter of the utmost importance. Continue at least six months.

Exercise No. 9. At the beginning of each day make a plan for your general conduct until evening. Learn to have an order for action. Be master of yourself. Having decided upon such plan for the day, never, if possible to carry it out, vary its execution. Do not plan for more than one day at a time, unless the nature of your doings requires it, and in this event, leave particulars for each morning. Make your plans with care and strong Will, but do not burden the mind with them in a way to interfere with details that spring up. Command your mind to attend to the plan without forcing you to unnecessary strain of conscious thought. It is always better to arrange for results, leaving minute details to be decided according to demands of the moment. Continue six months.

Exercise No. 10. At the close of each day carefully review your thoughts and doings since morning. What have been your most valuable ideas ? What your most emphatic sensations? What your most important actions? Have you carried out your plans? If not, why not? How might your thoughts, feelings and doings have been improved? What have been your motives? Have they been wise and worthy? Resolve upon betterment the next day, and incorporate this resolution into its plan. Continue this exercise in-definitely.

The preceding are suggestions only. They are based upon a law of the mind. If they appear to be unnecessary and tedious, that may be an evidence of the indeterminate and weak Will. It is a law, as remarked by Dr. James Sully, " that increase in the power of f ore-seeing action tends to widen the area of resolution. Thus, so far as our daily actions become ordered ac-cording to a plan, they all have a stage of resolution as their antecedent. We habitually look forward to the succession of actions making up the business, etc., of the day, and resolve to perform them in due order as circumstances occur. And the subordination of action to ruling ends implies, as hinted above, a habitual state of resolution, that is preparedness to act in certain ways in certain circumstances."

Exercise No. 11. Make it a rule of life to learn some new and useful thing every day. Especially go outside of your business for such information. This will test the Will and store the memory.

Exercise No. 12. Frequently commit to memory lists of dates, and review often enough to hold in memory.

Make groupings of historic dates and commit to memory. Link each group as a group with other groups from time to time. Frequently review.

Exercise No. 13. Make lists of objects of public interest in your community, with skeletons of information concerning them. Commit, and frequently review.

Exercise No. 14. Commit and frequently review lists of names, as United States Presidents, English Monarchs, United States Navy Vessels, etc.

Exercise No. "5. Determine thoroughly to study some subject which lies outside your business. Keep at it. Remember, growth of mind and Will !

Exercise No. 16. Make the following a perpetual régime :

I. Never be content with any partial acquaintance with things.

2. Learn to refer items of knowledge to general principals.

3. Employ all aids suggested by any particular study.

4. Follow some natural or logical order in fixing facts, propositions, etc., in memory.

5. Cultivate attentive observation wherever you are placed.

6. Stand squarely and conscientiously on the side of truth.


"In a very general way," as remarked in "Business Power," a volume in the Power-Book Library, " the mental characteristics in the matter of memory may be indicated by the following analysis :

" Mind and memory especially occupied with objectively induced sensations.

" Mind and memory especially given to emotions of pleasures and pains.

" Mind and memory especially running to mental pictures.

" Mind and memory especially good in the matter of dates and figures.

" Mind and memory especially attentive to abstract ideas.

" Mind and memory especially interested in principles.

" Mind and memory especially elaborative of laws. " Mind and memory especially given to details.

" Mind and memory especially given to construction of wholes.

" Now, all minds and memories of average intelligence possess all the characteristics thus indicated in some degree, but none of us possesses them in any alI round equal degree. The type of mind is determined by the prevailing characteristic. Thus also with memories. If your type of memory is shown above, and if you require improvement in some one or more of the particular types portrayed, the method consists in persistent attention and the formation of habits in the desired direction by constant practice and the constant use of associations. You are urged especially to observe that the words: Resolution Attention Persistence Repetition Association Habit, represent the amount and kind of effort demanded.

" Take, for example, the memory of details. Are you lacking in ability to recall in that respect? You are urged to resolve on improvement, to attend to all details with all your mind, to persist in such labor, to repeat the attention, to associate the details with recollective ` signs' of any sort that you may invent, to form the habit of doing all this in regard to details.

" The trouble with people who forget is in part the fact that they fail to fore-get. In some cases the fore-getting is actual, but it is too easy and quick, for one thing, so that a good rule will be found in this remark : ` My work really begins when I think it is finished.' With most of us it is there that we close the work. In other words, when you are sure that you have a thing, proceed to hammer it into mind, so to speak, for safe-keeping. But always should the fore-getting be assimilated by association with something already possessed in the mind. In the process of fore-getting, repetition is also required because this habituates the mind or the brain-cells in certain ways so that accompanying mental actions or associations are developed which assist in memory."

It is well to bear in mind that it is the art of observing which gathers the materials which memory stores in mind. Speaking on this subject W. H. Groves says : " Robert Houdin and son immortalized them-selves in legerdemain by the cultivation of the power of observation. They did things which bordered on the miraculous because their eyes had been trained to observe closely. They would pass through a room, or by a shop window, and take a mental inventory of everything they saw, and then compare notes. At first they observed only a few things, but finally they could see quickly and remember accurately everything.

" A splendid idea is to take a bird's eye view of a room and its articles. Then shut your eyes and recall all you saw,— the appearance and size of the room and articles, their number, nature, color — the chairs, carpet, pictures, etc. At first you may not remember accurately, but practice and perseverance will enable you to take in at a glance everything you see.

"Enumerate at night the persons and things you have seen through the day. Thurlow Weed made his mind ` wax to receive and marble to retain.' A man, who was a wonder, studied a map of the place he was approaching in travel, then shut his eyes and recalled it. He did this for about fifteen minutes, and had it clearly stamped in his memory."

All such exercises are of great value and should be practised as time allows. Even when on the street or in company you can be increasing your skill in remembering.

Always, in striving to cultivate the memory, call up and sustain the Mood of strong and confident personality. Resolve : " I shall acquire a great memory for the purpose of increasing the power of my Will."

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