What is memory?
You may think that the above question has already been answered (in a roundabout sort of a way), in the previous couple of chapters. Well it has, in a biological and to some extent, a psychological sense, but not in a practical one.
I have a question for you. Don’t look at your watch.
Does your watch have Roman numerals, numbers or lines to mark out the hours?
Do you know? Are you sure??
Now look at your watch to see if you were correct. If you were well done. Your observational skills are better than most.
Oh by the way, when you looked at your watch, what time did it say? Most people, even if they get the first question right, get the second wrong.
‘The most important aspect of memory, is observation.’
Regarding memory, the above statement is one of the most accurate that you are ever likely to read. For without observation, there can be no memory. Allow me to elaborate.
Imagine if you will, that you are sitting on your favourite chair, reading a newspaper, with the TV chatting merrily away in the background. Now there you are, reading through a mildly interesting article, when you become distracted by something that is being said on the television.
Now you continue to read through the article (that is your eyes continue to move over the text), but for just a few short moments, your minds attention is focussed on the TV. After a few seconds you realize that you have read through an entire paragraph of the article, yet you have absolutely no idea what was said in that paragraph.
Now I feel certain that if you have never experienced that exact situation, then you have most likely experienced a similar one. That is a situation where your eyes were on one thing, whilst your attention (or observation) was on something entirely different.
Specifically, what the above analogy tells us is that one can see something, without necessarily observing it. Without observation, there can be no memory. To prove this point, I will offer a few specific examples.
Examples of the importance of observation
Consider a man at a party. There he is chatting away quite happily, when he thinks to himself – ‘Did I lock the front door before I left for this party?’ He cannot seem to remember whether he did or he didn’t. Now let us assume that the man did lock his front door. The problem is that he just cannot seem to remember doing it.
The reason for this mans unfortunate predicament, is that locking the front door whenever he leaves his home, is such a natural thing for him to do, that he does it automatically (without thinking). And if he did not think about what he was doing when he locked his front door, then he did not observe the event.
No observation = No memory.
A woman is at work, but did she remember to switch off the radio before leaving her flat? Again switching off the radio may be such a natural thing for her to do before leaving for work in the morning, that she did it without thinking. She therefore failed to observe the event.
Failing to observe the event results in no memory being formed to associate with the event. So it is not at all surprising that she is so unsure.
For my final example, I would like you to imagine if you will, a man who embarks on an holiday, only to be plagued throughout the entire journey, by the thought that he had forgotten to switch off his living room light, before leaving for the airport. He did switch it off, but again he did not observe himself doing it, and as a result he cannot recall the event.
Now that is the sort of thing that can really get in the way of enjoying a holiday!
The above examples may seem irrelevant, or even silly to you. However they do serve to make clear the point that observation is the singularly most important prerequisite of memory. A prerequisite I might add, that can be greatly improved upon. I will now explain how this improvement may be accomplished.
How to improve your observation
The method that I shall now outline is an incredibly simple one. Basically, all that is required is for you to make a conscious effort to use your observation.
For example in the above case of the man at the party, who was unsure as to whether or not he had locked his front door. All that he would need to do, in order to prevent all that needless worry, would be get into the habit of whenever he locks his door, taking the time to pause for a couple of seconds to think to himself. ‘I have locked the door.’ Now because he has made a conscious effort to observe himself doing this, he should not forget the event.
The same technique may be applied to the second example. All that the woman would need to do in order to remember switching off her radio, would be to pause for a moment when she does it, and to think to herself. ‘I am switching off the radio.’ Now because she has observed herself doing this, she also should have no difficulty remembering the event.
Finally in the third example, all that the man would need to do, would be to observe himself switching off the light in his living room before embarking on his holiday. This should make his journey considerably less stressful.
Do you still think that your observation is good? Then read the piece of text on the next page.