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
o 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.