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Self-training In Memory

Hand in hand with clear thinking goes reliable memory. But so many of us
have it not, and feel its need so strongly that we shall consider for a
moment some means of training it.

William James holds that brain-paths cannot be deepened; that memory is
not strengthened in that way. There is a natural retentiveness with
which some of us are born--the men of colossal intellect--and they
remember and are able to use infinitely more things acquired in the
past, because they have a brain substance of greater tenacity in holding
impressions than others possess. James compares some brains to wax in
which the mark left by the seal is permanent; and others he compares to
jelly which vibrates at every touch, but retains no dent made in it.
From our study of the subconscious we know that the dent did leave an
impression on the brain; but it was in the subconscious. So we beg to
change the figure and liken, in all mankind, that part of the brain that
handles the subconscious to wax, while granting that in some rare cases
parts handling the conscious material also hold impressions, as does the

Consequently, according to this theory, we do not strengthen our
memories by repetition of facts, lines, or phrases. We cannot grave any
deeper the memory paths which nature has provided at birth. But the
attention to the thing to be remembered, which repetition has required,
has made a larger number of connections of the words with each other, of
thought with thought, and of the new with the old. So we have tied the
new together with the old by that many more strings, as it were; and any
bit of the new tugs at other bits; and the old to which it is tied
brings the new with it when it comes to the fore. In other words,
careful attention, at the time, to the new stimulus, and its association
with the already known, together with repetition, will form a whole
system of relations in the mind, and the newly entered material soon
become so well-known that it will be difficult to disregard it.

When, in spite of determined effort to remember, the thing is forgotten,
especially in the nurse's case, it is usually because the emotional
reaction to weariness or to some like obstacle has interfered with
proper attention. James advises us if we would improve memory, to
improve our thinking processes; to pay more and keener attention, so
that we will link things closely together. This in itself will help to
arouse interest in the thing to be remembered; and keen interest alone,
or careful attention at the time of introduction of the new, and
repetition of the thing to be retained, with a will which holds the
attention fast, will assure a good, workable memory in any normal mind.

Next: Emotional Equilibrium

Previous: Concentration

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