Memory: How to Develop, Train, and Use It (William Walker Atkinson)

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How often have you forgotten where you placed your cell phone, the name of an acquaintance, or how to get to a store in downtown? What if you could train your memory to always remember everything you wanted?
Throughout history there have been examples of individuals who could accomplish this feat. Brad Williams, from Wisconsin, can remember the most obscure dates and details about events including his personal life. For example, when asked what happened on November 7, 1991, he pauses for a few seconds and says, “That would be around when Magic Johnson announced he had HIV. Yes, a Thursday. There was a big snowstorm here the week before.” John Von Neumann was able to memorize a column of the phone book with only a single glance.  Even more interesting, he could repeat what he read in verbatim years later without refreshing his memory. According to Atkinson, while these types of feats are impressive, they aren’t impossible. Just like any other muscle in your body, the memory can be trained to remember aspects that are important to you.

In his seminal book, Atkinson critiques older theories of memory that encourage the practice of remembering people, places, events, and other relevant information using an artificial method. Artificial methods consist of memory tactics that are not ‘natural.’ For example, imagine yourself in a house and spreading the items around that house and then imagine walking around the house to recall the items. He argues these types of techniques are useless because they add an unnecessary burden to your mind. The solution is to use natural techniques for enhancing your memory such as noticing the details of an object (e.g., a person’s nose to remember their face) that are usually easily forgotten. Most importantly, you must make it a point to practice every day.

Atkinson encourages the reader to determine which sensory (sight or hearing) is the weakest and work on improving it. He provides strategies for improving your memory with names, faces, places, numbers, music, occurrences, facts, words, books, plays, and tales. The theme woven throughout these strategies is the importance of showing an interest in what you are learning so that you are more alert in noticing things that you have to remember. If you do not imprint it in your mind, then you will not remember it.

As a classic book, it is interesting to note that a lot of the concepts and strategies mentioned still hold true more than 100 years later. This book is a recommended read for those interested in studying the field of memory and cognition because it serves as the foundation for memory research and training.


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Cognitive Performance Group, LLC is a woman-owned small business with offices in Orlando, Florida, and Cleveland, Ohio. It was founded by Dr. Karol G. Ross, Jennifer K. Phillips, and William A. Ross. The three CPG Principals developed the concept for a company to support cognitive performance improvement in industry and government. (more...)

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