How to remember people's names

Even memory gurus find it hard to remember names. According to research into neuroplasticity at the University of California, putting a new name to a new face really is as hard as it feels.

Our brains are swamped with so much stimulus that when meeting someone we subconsciously decide whether we’re interested enough to bother learning who they are —no one forgets the name of their new boss, after all.

But with regular practice, international memory athlete Tansel Ali (tanselali.com) believes anyone can become better at remembering. “If you can visualise, use your imagination and tell stories, you can improve your memory,” says Tansel, who has spent 16 years studying memory training techniques and once memorised the entire contents of two Yellow Pages phone books in 24 days.

If you do decide to work on improving your memory, you’ll soon notice a difference. Just like physical exercise, Tansel says memory training comes with extra benefits of feeling more present in day-to-day activities and ready to take on the next challenge life throws your way.

“You become more creative from learning how to encode data into meaningful information. You start processing information a lot faster which helps with problem-solving, innovation and decision-making. Listening skills also improve along with confidence, self-esteem and time management.”

Never forget a name

First, make sure you catch someone’s name when you’re introduced - often we think we’ve forgotten a name when the truth is we never knew it. Look at the face of the person you’re meeting and listen carefully to their name. Repeating their name back and using it in conversation can help to cement it in place.

If you miss it, ask for the name again, then try Tansel’s quirky tip to lock it into place. “You can remember names by making a visual association,” he says. “For example, if you meet Sandra think of her having sand in her hair. By playing around creatively in your mind you can easily remember anyone’s name.”

Never lose your keys again

With regular practice, international memory athlete Tansel Ali (tanselali.com) believes anyone can become better at remembering. “If you can visualise, use your imagination and tell stories, you can improve your memory,” says Tansel, who has spent 16 years studying memory training techniques and once memorised the entire contents of two Yellow Pages phone books in 24 days.

If you’re always misplacing vital things like your phone, glasses, keys, it’s probably down to mindlessly dropping them in random spots. Instead, pause and take a moment to actively notice where you’re leaving something before you do it to save yourself up to an hour of rummaging every day. 

“Visualising as you put your things down and making up a little story about that item you can help reduce this stress,” Ansel says. “If you put your keys down on a table you can imagine your keys getting bigger and bigger and breaking the table. This will act as a trigger for next time walking past the table that your keys are there.”

The same tip can prevent you leaving for work without the lunch you made five minutes before. “Imagine your lunch being so big it blocks the doorway as you’re about to head out. This will act as a trigger for when you approach the door to go back and get your lunch out of the fridge.”

Remembering important dates

If you’ve ever missed your own wedding anniversary or your mum’s birthday, you’ll already know how upsetting this can be for all concerned. But some of us naturally struggle with numbers and it has nothing to do with how much you care about someone.

As Tansel explains, “Numbers are not very meaningful on their own unless they are associated with something else.”

So if your wedding anniversary is the 18th, picture yourself in a wedding dress sitting on a playground size version of the number 18. Or, if you’re into sports, try to remember Mum’s birthday by taking a snapshot of her in your memory wearing the jersey with that number on it.

“For example, the number 23 can be associated with famous sports stars such as Michael Jordan, Buddy Franklin, or Shane Warne. Once you have created meaning around a certain date you can make a little story to connect it to that person or event.”

Go shopping without a list

With practice, it’s even possible to shop without a list and not forget the frozen peas or cotton buds. You can even get the kids involved for fun since Tansel’s preferred technique involves creating a quirky story before you leave home.

“If you wanted to remember the items tomatoes, eggs and ice cream you can imagine arriving at the shops and slipping on a bunch of tomatoes, then as you get up someone throws eggs at you. At that point you then get angry and to alleviate your stress you at some ice cream,” he says.

Sounds wacky but this technique dates back to ancient Roman and Greek civilisations where it was known as “the method of loci”. Now it’s usually referred to as “the memory palace” because people commonly put the things they’re trying to keep track of in an imaginary palace which they walk around.

Limit multi-tasking

Trying to do seven things at once is a recipe for disaster when you need to remember anything more taxing than your own name. Win back control by slowing down and paying attention to give your brain time to access the information you want to recall.

“If you have too many things on your mind then it is easy to forget just about anything, even if you know memory techniques. Being mindful and visualising what you’re shopping for or trying to find will soon assist with better recall.”

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