There I was, driving along I-275 at 8:30 in the morning. I had two hands on the wheel. Since the car was an automatic, I only needed one foot to work the brake and accelerator. “Jimmy”, one of my co-workers, was finishing up a phone call in the shotgun seat. We sat for about a minute, watching the hills pass by when “Jimmy” turns to me and says, “Remind me to call Bob at ABC Company today.”

Let’s see, I have both hands on the wheel, one free foot and my attention is on the road while “Jimmy” has 2 free hands, two free feet and is free to focus his attention on anything he wants. So why is he asking me to remind him to do something when he can remind himself or simply write it down?

The answer: Because he trusts my memory more than he trusts his own abilities.

Back when Dale Carnegie was first creating his methodology over 90 years ago, he discovered that the majority of people taking his program lacked a certain amount of self-confidence. One of the strategies that Dale Carnegie used to enhance self-confidence was to help people use their memory skills in an effective manner, thereby increasing their confidence in the rest of their abilities.

That’s right, I said memory skills.

Why We Have Poor Memory Capabilities

Many people feel that memory is some magical thing that they are born with—they either have it or they don’t. While there are physiological and biological factor involved in memory, the major reason people don’t have a good memory is because they were never taught how to use it effectively. Memory strategies are not something that we learn in our schools. We typically find a strategy that works by trail and error and continue to use it even when it is inadequate for a given set of circumstances.

What’s interesting is how we deal with these limitations when we bump into them. When we outgrow a particular skills or strategy, we don’t say, “oh, I’ve outgrown this particular memory strategy, it’s just not adequate for what I need to do. Let me find a new one.” We usually find a creative answer to justify our performance including:

  • I’ve got other things on my mind.
  • I’m not good at remembering names.
  • They say memory is the first to go when you get older.

And my personal favorite,

  • I’ve never had a good memory.

The Stacking Memory Method

Tony Buzan has written a number of books on the physiological aspects of memory and some simple methods to improve our recall. One those is memory methods is called stacking. We teach it in the first two sessions of the Dale Carnegie Course and use extensively throughout the program.

If you are not familiar stacking, this method is useful for remembering an ordered list of items. It’s a visual strategy that takes advantage of the fact that we remember things that are visually vibrant and out of the ordinary. In the stacking method, we take items that are symbolic of things we want to remember and we link them to each other in a certain order to create a flowing story.

For example, if we wanted to remember a dish, a pencil, and a cow in that order, creating these items in our minds as separate entities would not help. So first, we place a huge dish made of bone china on the floor. We then plunge a gigantic, yellow, number 2 pencil into the dish cracking it. At the eraser end of the pencil, we smash a purple Jersey cow. Now we have a complete unit that is easier to remember.

There are other aspects that tend to make images easier to recall. For example, for many people, making an image bigger, brighter, and colorful will make an image easier to recall as opposed to a small, dull, black and white picture. Making a picture more graphic will also increase memory recall for many people. Just having a cow balance on the tip of a big pencil won’t make a lasting impression. But having a monstrous, yellow number 2 pencil skewering this poor purple cow with the tiniest amount of blood dripping down the length of the pencil… well, you get the picture.

If you tie your representations together well and the items are representations of the things that you want to remember, you’ll be able to impress your friends by reciting the list of items forward and backward

Additional Resources For Developing Memory Method

We introduce a number of different memory methods in the first few sessions of the Dale Carnegie course. These strategies help individuals remember an ordered list, a list of items that they can remember out of sequence, remembering names and remembering talks that they want to give. If you are curious about the physiology of memory or other strategies that you can use for increasing your memory power, I would suggest reviewing Tony Buzan’s books on reading and memory.

You can also read a direct application to public speaking in Dale Carnegie’s book, How To Develop Self-Confidence And Influence People By Public Speaking.

But the best way to learn about the stacking memory method is to start using it. Try the stacking memory method at home or at work and see what kind of response you get from other people. Eventually, you will find that you have become the most indispensable person at work because everybody will trust your memory capabilities more than they trust their own.