Train Your Brain for Better Memory


Matthew Barrett, founder of Brain Trainers, is the speaker for our November 18 WorkSource Professional Network meeting.  Barrett has a Masters degree in Psychology and calls himself a “personal trainer for the brain.”  His lessons take cutting-edge cognitive neuroscience and turn the science into entertaining and accessible presentations for his audience.  We spent some time together recently talking about what “brain training” is and why it matters to jobseekers.

Barrett says that Brain Trainers helps professionals remember and analyze details, make good decisions faster, think intuitively and insightfully, and remain competitive in a changing market.  “Seventy percent of what I teach audiences is about how THE brain works,” he says. “The other thirty percent of what you need to understand is about how YOUR brain works.”  You can improve your brain by working on specific skills that you want to master or improve.  Exercises can help you remember whatever you want – numbers, faces, facts or directions – and can also help you be more creative, solve problems faster and combat any decline you may experience as you age. In our November 18 meeting, he’s going to focus on a common problem: forgetting faces and names.

Full disclosure: I suffer from an inability to remember names and faces, and it frequently frustrates and embarrasses me.  My otherwise reliable memory fails me in networking situations, and I have been reluctant to simply blame my age, because I’ve never been good at this skill.  Barrett says that I’m right to think it’s caused by something else.

Most people, he says, remember faces better than names.  That’s because there’s a part of our brain that’s wired to recognize faces; it’s an ancient survival technique from our caveman days.  If you couldn’t remember which caveman was part of your clan and which was your enemy, you’d be more likely to die young.  So our brains developed facial recognition technology.  But we never developed a similar system for names.

Added to that is the fact that most of us stopped making fun of people’s names in about the third grade.  Why is that a problem?  Because that name association – no matter how cruel – was one of the best ways to remember names.  “Ellie, Ellie, she’s so smelly” was a crude but effective version of a mnemonic  (ne-MON-ick) device, a technique for remembering facts or numbers.  “Because we work so hard, from third grade on, at neutralizing any association with names,” says Barrett, “we have no real tools to commit them to memory.”

The key to remembering names is to move them from short to long-term memory, or as Barrett refers to them, “from your desktop / workspace to your file cabinet/ storage space.” Our short-term memory “desktop” can only hold four or five concepts for 10 – 12 seconds.  After that 10 -12 seconds, if you have not used one of the techniques that will help that information transition to the “file cabinet,” you will almost certainly forget it.

Next:  The five associations to help you remember faces and names.

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