Why Do I Struggle To Learn Names?
7.5 Simple Ways To Get Better At Remembering Names
As I write this I am reminded of my old headmaster from primary school. He used to remember the name of every student in the school. Not only that, he was also able to remember the names of their siblings and parents too. I remember seeing him years after I had left the school and him asking me about each member of my family by name. I didn’t realise at the time just how rare and impressive that was but if an elderly man right up to the point of retirement could recall names with such ease, why is it so hard for the rest of us?
In truth – it isn’t. It’s not hard for us to remember names, we just don’t do it right. How often do you find yourself already “knowing” that you’re not going to remember someone’s name before you’ve even finished the introduction? We make it hard for ourselves and, as with so much in life, create barriers for ourselves that don’t need to exist.
Why Is It Easier To Remember Faces?
Often those who have a hard time remembering names quickly jump to their own defence by professing how good they are at remembering faces. As great as that is, they are two completely different skills. Remembering a name requires you to access the memory of that information whereas recognising a face relies on your ability to recall the face that is ALREADY there in front of you. A very different way of using your memory entirely. That said, if you are one of those people there’s some great news – Being good a recalling faces can help you remember names, if you follow the steps below.
Why does it matter?
Do you remember a time where someone didn’t remember your name and it left you feeling less valued by that person. Or a time when someone you didn’t think would remember you well actually dresses you by name? Remembering someone’s name is a way of showing them that you care, that they matter to you.
“A person’s name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language”
– Dale Carnegie
I’ve not always been great at remembering names. If you ask me today the name of an actor I still probably won’t be able to help you but I’ve also run networking meetings with rooms full of new people and been able to introduce them all by name. The biggest difference? Deciding to remember them and using some or all of the tips that I’m about to share with you now.
1. DECIDE To Remember
It may seem too simple but so often we forget names for the simple reason that we weren’t really paying much attention to remembering it. When we are first meeting someone and hear their name, it’s fresh in our mind and we are naturally over confident in our ability to remember information if we aren’t under pressure to recall it. (Think about how many times you look at your watch/phone for the time and then have to look again a moment later because you weren’t really giving it your full attention). Be present in the moment and decide to remember.
Recognise that, though it’s not difficult, it does require intention and attention to remember a name.
2. EXPECT To Remember
While it’s good to acknowledge that it takes effort to remember a name it’s also helpful to know that you CAN do it and that you ARE doing it in that moment. If I offered you a large sum of money if you can remember a name when I introduce you, I recon you’d do a dam good job of remembering that name, right? So you know that you CAN do. Rather than assuming you’ll just forget the name (which your subconscious will gladly allow you to do if that’s what you’re accidentally instructing it to do through your belief and expectation), remember that you are going to remember the name this time.
3. Repeat It Back, Repeat It Back.
When you are introduced to someone, repeat their name back to them. Ie: “Nice to meet you [NAME].” By repeating the name you are physically engaging with the name, hearing it in your own voice and resonating with the sound in a way you wouldn’t if you were just listening to someone else saying it. This will vastly improve your ability to recall it later. You could boost this by writing it down too but that may be less practical in a setting where you are meeting someone new.
4. Test Yourself
If we expect, at the time of learning, to be tested on information at a later stage, we become better at recalling that information. It’s no surprise really, if we think someone will ask us the question we will put more focus on actually storing the information in order to later recall it. Plan to test yourself on the names of the people you are meeting and have that thought in mind when you are introduced. Use this to create some positive pressure that encourages your memory.
5. Build associations
What’s the first thing you notice about the person you’ve just met? Maybe a particular facial feature sends out to you. It could be a mannerism or how they talk. Focus on that thing as you make the choice to commit their name to memory. By doing this you will establish an association between that feature/trait and the person’s name. This will make it easier to recall the name when you next see that person.
6. Use mnemonics
You may have used mnemonics in the past and not known what they were called. It’s just a way of creating an easy memory link. It could involve a rhyme, a list of letters or other things. A common example is remembering how to spell ‘because’ – “Big Elephants Can’t Actually Use Side Exits”. They can also be rhymes (we are even better at remembering rhymes), such as “I before E except after C.” (Even if that rule is rarely actually true).
To use this when remembering names, find something that rhymes with the persons name or something about that that helps them stand out to you and like the association above, link it with their name. Maybe you’ve just met Tim and you notice he is rather tall and seems like quite a clever bloke. Tim – that Tall Intelligent Man you just met could be an easy one to remember. How about Daisy – doesn’t she seem kinda ‘crazy’ to you? It’s not a perfect system but when combined with the others it forms a trail of breadcrumbs that helps you get back to where you stored that memory.
7. Say Goodbye
After you’ve done all of that (or chosen the bits that suit you best), Remember to use their name again when you say goodbye. This will help enhance all the other points, you will have decided to remember, you will have known thatches test was coming, you will be repeating the name again and enhancing the associations. The other benefit to this is the Primacy and Recency effect. We are better able to remember things that happen at the start and at the end of a situation. Saying goodbye will help make their name one of the last things you remember about that encounter and therefore easier to recall in the future.
Here’s the extra half a tip. Practise. the more you practise remembering names using the tips above, the easier it becomes. You really can improve your memory by using it more.
What are your thoughts? have you used any of the ideas above or do you have some mnemonics that you still remember and use today? let me know in the comments below.