This section is from the book "Applications of Psychology to the Problems of Personal and Business Efficiency", by Warren Hilton. Also available from Amazon: Psychology and Achievement - Applied Psychology 12 Volume Set.
IT IS evident that if what we have been describing as the process of recall is true, then the commonly accepted idea that practice in memorizing makes memorizing easier. is false, and that there is no truth in the popular figure of speech that likens the memory to a muscle that grows stronger with use.
So far as the memory is concerned, however, practice may result in a more or less unconscious improvement in the methods of memorizing.
'By practice we come to unconsciously discover and employ new associative methods in our recording of facts, making them easier to recall, but we can certainly add nothing to the actual scope and power of retention.
Yet many books on memory-training have wide circulation whose authors, showing no conception of the processes involved, seek to develop the general ability to remember by incessant practice in memorizing particular facts, just as one would develop a muscle by exercise.
The following is quoted from a well-known work of this character:
"I am now treating a case of loss of memory in a person advanced in years, who did not know that his memory had failed most remarkably until I told him of it. He is making vigorous efforts to bring it back again, and with partial success. The method pursued is to spend two hours daily, one in the morning and one in the evening, in exercising this faculty. The patient is instructed to give the closest attention to all that he learns, so that it shall be impressed on his mind clearly. He is asked to recall every evening all the facts and experiences of the day, and again the next morning. Every name heard is written down and impressed on his mind clearly and an effort made to recall it at intervals. Ten names from among public men are ordered to be committed to memory every week. A verse of poetry is to be learned, also a verse from the Bible, daily. He is asked to remember the number of the page of any book where any interesting fact is recorded. These and other methods are slowly resuscitating a failing memory."
As remarked by Professor James, "It is hard to believe that the memory of the poor old gentleman is a bit the better for all this torture except in respect to the particular facts thus wrought into it, the occurrences attended to and repeated on those days, the names of those politicians, those Bible verses, etc., etc."
The error in the book first quoted from lies in the fact that its author looks upon a failing memory as indicating a loss of retentivmess. The real cause is the loss of an intensity of interest. It is the failure to form sufficiently large groups and complexes of related ideas, emotions and muscular movements associated with the particular fact to be remembered. There is no reason to believe that the retention of sensory experiences is not at all times perfectly mechanical and mechanically perfect.
Interest is a mental yearning. It is the offspring of desire and the mother of memory.
It goes out spontaneously to anything that can add to the sum of one's knowledge about the thing desired.
A manufactured interest is counterfeit. When a thing is done because it has to be done, desire dies and "duty" is born. In proportion as a subject is associated with "duty," it is divorced from interest.
If you want to impress anything on another man's mind so that he will remember it, harness it up with the lure of a desire.
Diffused interest is the cause of all unprofitable forgetfulness. Do not allow your attention to grope vaguely among a number of things. Whatever you do, make a business of doing it with your whole soul. Turn the spotlight of your mind upon it, and you will not forget it.