Remembering Names

11 07 2009

Last summer I was placed in an interesting situation.  I had just left Texas and was starting a new year of college at Brigham Young University in Utah.  It so happened that I didn’t know a single person in the apartment complex I was moving to, and I was also slightly introverted and extremely self-conscious (more posts on how I got over that another time).  Being the type of person who always feels the need to work on something, I set a unique summer goal – to shed the “sorry, I’m really bad with names” excuse.  The fact is, I was horrible with names.  Someone would introduce themselves, and the name wouldn’t even stick around for two seconds.

I figured a new life in a new state would be perfect practicing ground for developing this trait.  I had heard various pieces of advice on the subject, but I wasn’t really sure which method would work for me.  So, I made my own.  It consisted of a few simple principles:

1. Always carry a notecard and a pen in your pocket

2. When someone shares their name, make a pointed effort to take mental note of it.  Repeat it in your mind as they talk.  Repeat it back to them in your conversation.

3. Look for something unique and unchanging about that person that you can associate with their name.  It helps if it rhymes with their name, but this is not at all necessary. (ei “Jenny – overly jubilant’ or ‘Mark – sounds like the movie trailer voice’).

4. As soon as they turn their back, take out your notecard, and write down their name and their unique characteristic.  Just a note – if ever there was a place to be euphemistic, this is it!  The last thing you want is for someone to stumble on their notecard and see something  like ‘Kyle  – guy version of Susan Boyle.’

5. Review your notecard that night and also before any situation in which you might potentially see that person again.

I learned a lot about how my memory works from this experience.  Before, when someone would say their name, it would go in one ear and out the other.  This is how we are conditioned to accept information. We let the specifics pass through, and only hold on to the big picture.  What we hear is “Hey my name’s Tanya.  I’m from California.”  What we remember is “she’s a girl and she’s not from here.”  This is how normal interactions should be – if we get bogged down in every detail, it would be too hard to have a normal conversation.   Most people claim to be bad with names because   they haven’t trained themselves to take special note of that one crucial piece of information.

The notecard method forces your mind to focus on names as they come up.  The notecard is a physical reminder that you are responsible to remember the name and the person associated with it.  The beauty of this system is that a focus on names eventually becomes natural and you can shed the notecard.  Go ahead – give it a try.  Meet some new people and show you genuinely care by remembering their names.

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