Outswimming

HARVEY MACKAY

A man had gone to a circus as a small boy and decided to return years later. He was sitting in a cheap seat when an elephant came along, reached up into the stands, wrapped his trunk gently about the man and carried him over to the best seat.

The man turned to his neighbor and said, "That elephant remembered the last time I was here years ago. I fed him peanuts." Just then the elephant came back, lifted his trunk, pointed it straight at the man and blew a stream of water in his face. "I forgot I gave them to him still in the bag," the man added.

This is a classic story about memory, or what I call "that thing I forget with." But memory is no laughing matter. It's serious stuff and can help you a great deal in ­business and in life.

If you read this column on a regular basis, you are familiar with one of my important lessons: "Pale ink is ­better than the most retentive ­memory." In other words, write things down.

I have many coaches, including a memory coach, Benjamin Levy.

I've seen Benjamin meet more than 100 people at a dinner party and be able to say goodbye to each person by name. How does he do it? He says we just need to "wake up our brain," tell it to pay attention and not just let new information slide past. Here are a few of his techniques. The first is the power of association. For me, if I meet someone named Neil, I immediately think of all the Neils I can recall — Neil Armstrong, Neil Diamond, Neil Young, Neil Patrick ­Harris and so on.

In Benjamin's case, he uses the acronym "A NOVEL" to enhance the mental images he makes that help him remember names and other things. "A" stands for active pictures or an action movie. For example, if he met a woman named Fern, he would imagine throwing ferns at her or her throwing a fern. Things are more memorable with action.

"N" is for new. You want an image you haven't seen before. "O" is for obscene. "The big dirty secret of memory training is a tremendous percentage of it is having obscene and sexual thoughts in your head," Benjamin said. "The more you make images interesting and memorable, the better you'll remember them."

"V" is for violent. The more stuff you have going on the better — a broken window, bleeding and so on. "E" is for emotional. "When you make your visual pictures, if people are having emotions … your images are more memorable," Benjamin said.

"L" is for ludicrous. Try to make your mental picture really ludicrous or funny in some way.

Benjamin adds one other ingredient — color. Make your images as colorful as you can.

In memory training, you are constantly associating, linking or connecting one thought with another. This quadruples your retention. As Benjamin says, "You have to give the brain the material the way it wants it."

I've only scratched the surface of his valuable advice. He shares a variety of practical techniques that have worked for me, such as rhythm and repetition.

Mackay's Moral: Don't just make memories — make your memory work for you!

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail harvey@mackay.com.