THE BLOG
10/10/2014 01:33 pm ET Updated Dec 10, 2014

The Secret to Remembering Critical Information

When I was a freshman in college, I remember taking a Jerry Lucas course on memory. It was designed to increase one's ability to remember--and I ended up memorizing an entire book that year. The Lucas system is all about association: connecting funny pictures to ideas so that they stick in your mind. It's quite effective, especially if you continue to practice the concepts.

Today, however, our memories are taking a beating. First, we are bombarded with more information than ever before (up to one thousand messages a day). It's too much to filter and recall, so we give up. Second, we don't cultivate our memory skills like we used to do. We don't have to remember names, phone numbers, addresses, or simple facts about people and circumstances because we have mobile devices that do it for us. Use it or lose it.

This is not limited to our elders either. New studies show that Millennials (or Generation Y) remember less than their parent's generation does. Wow. That's scary to me because I know how much I struggle to remember even the smallest bits of information today.

Creative Association
So let me furnish you with a novel idea. Why not try creative association? It really does work. When people connect an image to an idea, we tend to remember both. Further, creative experiences we initiate can help us remember. My old friend Jimmy Johnson used to practice a habit when he got a great idea in the middle of the night. He always left his socks on the floor right next to his bed. Then, if he woke up with a fantastic idea but didn't want to get up to write it down, he'd grab one of those socks and throw it across the room. I recognize this sounds crazy, but in the morning, when he'd walk over to pick up the sock, he'd always remember the instance and the idea he'd had in the middle of the night. Throwing the sock was associated with the thought.

An increasing amount of university students are now putting this concept into practice. They tell me that chewing gum while studying gives them an advantage on exam day. When they chew the same flavor of gum while taking their test that week, it enables them to remember more information from their study time.

This works with habits, too. If you want to create a new, good habit, the best way to succeed is to connect or associate it with an already established habit. For instance, if you want to remember to take your vitamins in the morning, set them next to your toothbrush. If you need to remember to take out the garbage, set a small piece of garbage (i.e. a wadded up piece of paper) next to your car keys. Since you brush your teeth and drive your car everyday, you'll likely be able to set these new habits in motion.

Zig Ziglar used to say, "No one has a good or a bad memory. They are either trained or untrained." Here's to leaders developing their memories for the sake of all that important "stuff" you gotta get done.

At Growing Leaders, we've harnessed the power of creative association through our leadership development system Habitudes®. Each Habitude is comprised of an image that associates with an important character ideal. For more information, click here!