I once went to church with a friend of mine. He introduced me to his pastor. Then we went back again, about ten years later. We walked in the door, the pastor took one look at me, and said, “Hi, Stever! I hope all is well with you.” Mind. Blown. When someone remembers your name ten years later, they have obviously proven themselves a person of discriminating taste and high expertise. So if you want to make that impression, there’s no better way to do it than master the art of remembering people’s names.
And there’s no better way to learn to memorize than to turn to a master. That’s why today’s episode is based on an interview with memory expert Jonathan Levi. You can visit GetItDoneGuy.com/remember to learn more, but for now, I’ll try to give you the rundown.
I’ll start with what you already know: remembering people’s names is a simple act that can do a ton of good for new relationships. But when we’re meeting people, names often go in one ear and out the other. If we want to remember names from introductions, we need a better plan than just hoping for the best. Jonathan Levi says we need to stop and engage our memory based on how it evolved to work.
Activate Your Visual Memory
My human brain is so incredible and awesome that when I meet a new person, I’m able to remember their face and body language for years. Yet I’m also able to forget their name mere seconds after they introduce themselves. This is because handling images took center stage for tens of thousands of years of human evolution. So the average human is far more likely to remember images than sound. Or smell. Or taste. Or pretty much any other type of information, for that matter.
Take words, for example. Words are great! They are the building blocks of modern thought and human interaction! Without them, Facebook and Twitter would be out of business. But at an evolutionary level, our brains are still learning to deal with language. A name is a word, so to remember words, we must turn to imagery.
When you meet somebody whose name you want to remember, make a picture of them in a scenario related to their name. When you meat Nick, make a mental image of Nick nicking himself while shaving. When you meet Sandy, make an image of Sandy on the beach, building a sand-castle. And as for Pandora, imagine her hanging out next to a statue of Pan, your favorite Greek demigod, with you old friend Dora.
Relate the Name to Something You Already Know
Connect your new knowledge to something that’s already in your minds. Your brain needs a path to the new information, and that path is via old information.
Since we humans are very self-centered creatures, we remember the vivid details of our own lives. What did you have for dinner last night? I’ll bet you remember. What did your best friend have for dinner? I’ll bet you’ve forgotten—or even worse, you never called to ask. See? We’re all self-centered. So connect new names to memories from your life, and they become easy to remember, too.
Relate the name of the new person to something familiar. Imagine Nick’s bloody tragedy happening in your very bathroom. Or Sandy’s sand castle being built in your front yard, right by the flower beds.
Now take a conscious moment to deliberately burn it into your brain. This may feel unfamiliar at first—after all, it’s not how you’ve remembered names up until now—but with practice, dedication, and repetition, you’ll be able to activate your visual memory like butter. Big, yellow, familiar butter from your very own life.
Make Your Memory Thrilling or Unusual
What helps this work ever better than merely familiar butter is making your images thrilling and unusual!
If you look in brass and string chamber ensembles, all you see is sax and violins. If you watch TV, all you see is sex and violence. That’s because, let’s face it, danger and reproduction were pretty much our two basic drives for millenia. Oh. Did I say “were”? Silly me.
Jonathan reports that images relating to sex and violence are even more powerful. Danger, in particular, activates an intuitive threat response that can help your brain latch on to images. When you imagine Sandy building a sandcastle, imagine it coming to life with cute little sand trolls, who swarm all over Sandy, hacking with their cute little sand axes and munching on Sandy’s flesh while discussing the election results. A bit morbid, I know. But it’s all in your head, and it’s memorable.
Instead of violence, you can also just go weird. In the good old savannah days, most things that were new and exciting were probably trying to kill you. So we don’t just remember real danger, we also remember the unusual, since it was probably going to be dangerous too. So when you’re remembering Pandora, don’t just picture her standing with Dora near a Pan statue. Picture them stealing it … or covering it with bubble gum. The weirder, the better. And that visual, if you do it successfully, won’t go away no matter how hard you try.
The key to remembering names is to engage your natural memory. Imagine the person you’re meeting in a situation that sounds like or reminds you of their name. Make the situation familiar, with an element of danger or sex, to heighten the effect. Concentrate on the imagery for a moment, and you’ll remember that much better. And remember this: visit getitdoneguy.com/remember, to hear the full interview with memory genius Jonathan Levi. Imagine a giant, super-human brain with amazing memory skills sitting on your keyboard. Now imagine putting a little Get-it-Done Guy on top of it, eating a slice of Oreo ice cream cake. Now when you get back to your keyboard, your brain will imagine that brain and you’ll know it’s getitdoneguy.com/remember.
This is Stever Robbins. I run webinars and other programs to help people be Extraordinarily Productive, and build extraordinary careers. If you want to know more, visit SteverRobbins.com
Work Less, Do More, and Have a Great Life!