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What do you think is the number one issue that people have with their memory?

Remembering names.

It’s something many of us struggle with even though we are perfectly capable of remembering other pieces of information as someone’s birthday, a doctor’s appointment or meeting a friend for a coffee.

So why is it so many of us find remembering names so hard, and why does it matter?

Remembering another person’s name is important in both social and business situations. We all have a given name that we like to be known as. Being greeted by your name makes you feel more connected to the other person and their equal.

Have you ever been in a situation where you have recognised someone, spoken to them, used their name and after you’ve moved on, had that little sneaky suspicion that you might have used the wrong name by mistake? Ooops.

Or perhaps you have bumped into someone you know really well and your mind does a complete blank, while another person you know is making a beeline towards you and you know you will be expected to do the introductions. Oh Oh, embarrassing isn’t it.

    What are the reasons some of us find remembering names so hard?

We don’t pay attention or focus on the name as we are being introduced. Sometimes we get so hooked up on having to say our own name we forget to listen or take in the other person’s name. I recently had to facilitate a meeting where I had to introduce a guest speaker and spent a fair amount of time with her. My thank you note I received the following day was addressed to Bianca! The other time I will forget a person’s name very easily is if I am in the middle of something and I don’t give my full attention to someone being introduced.

• Introductions are often done at speed and we have insufficient time to register the information. This is especially likely in group situations when the person making the introductions does a quick round robin.

We tell ourselves we are bad at remembering names, so stop even trying. So maybe it is time to stop using this old excuse and start making an effort. We all have to find a way to make this work. I’ve seen teachers memorising photos with names in order to learn their students identity or seated then in a certain way in the class, again to facilitate their learning.

• If the setting is noisy, it is harder to hear the name being spoken, which increases our chance of either missing it altogether or getting it wrong. I am often called Penny or Jane because of this. Which is ok if I realise they have made a mistake and they use the wrong name in conversation. I can simply correct them.

If you are feeling stressed or anxious taking in new information such as a person’s name is going to be harder. Especially if the stress is about not forgetting their name! if you are stressed, it won’t be just someone’s name you find hard to take in, any new information will be difficult.

    Tips to helps us remember names more easily.

Repeat the other person’s name, preferably out loud. When you introduce yourself, you could say “Mark, it’s so nice to meet you.” Look for opportunities to repeat their name several times during the conversation and always use their name when saying goodbye.

• When you have their name, try to make an association with it. You may know ten John Smiths, so what differentiates this one? How about “Nice John”, “Naughty John” or “John who builds aeroplanes”

• If you are a visual person you could visualise the person’s name written on their forehead, or on a little signpost on top of their head or see John (who builds aeroplanes) with flying goggles on.

• Some people make up a short story with the person. There could be Jane with the purple jacket and three dogs. Or Tony with the red hair who likes anchovies whom we met at the Chinese restaurant.

• If all else fails, then you can simply ask the person their name. Dress it up with an apology if you feel you must, but most people don’t mind being asked. It also reassures them that they are not the only ones who forget names!

• At networking functions where you may be meeting quite a few new people, ask for their business card to help you jog your memory for future reference. Also as their name is likely to be written down on it, if necessary hold the card in front of you (disceetly of course!) as a prompt during the conversation.

• If going to an event or function where you will be expected to remember names, try rehearsing or confirming with others beforehand. If you can remember the name of Auntie Ethels’ cousin twice removed at the family gathering, you could be earning yourself extra brownie points.

• Most importantly relax. If you your mind has gone blank, try not to panic. As soon as that surge of anxiety rises, you have definitely lost any chance of the name popping back up. Let your mind pause, then look for associations, other friends, or events you may both have been at and hopefully their name will slip into your mind and you can casually use it while talking, as if you knew it all along in the first place.

• A tip to help others to remember your name when wearing a name- tag, is to always pin it onto the right side of your upper body. Many of us when greeting someone for the first time will proffer our right hand to theirs for a handshake, which means they scan our face and upper right side of the chest first if nothing else. If the name-tag is there, bingo, they are more likely to remember your name.

So, in relation to remembering names, don’t stress, because we all find it hard to a greater or lesser extent.
Find your own way or ways to help manage and just practice.
Practice, practice, practice.
Because as with many things in life, the more we put in, the more we are likely to get out.

Let me know, what have you found works for you?
We may be able to compile an even longer list of tips and strategies.
I look forward to hearing from you.

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

One Comment

  • drjasonfox says:

    Jenny! Your blog is awesome. I sense a good book coming out of this, and quite soon :-)Can’t wait to interview you on my website – your expertise will be great for students who want to improve their recall in exams. Keep up the great work!

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