Remembering Names – The Real Secret

Remembering names is a subject close to my heart. I even created a ‘Definitive Guide to Remembering Names‘ 2 years ago. Of course, the post was anything but ‘definitive’. And, as a result, I’m back 2 years later and finally feel like I’ve understood what it takes to remember names.

Firstly, I thought I’d explain why this topic is close to my heart. It’s a simple reason really – Remembering names is magical – for both sides. It’s magical for you because you have just pulled out a name, against the odds and feel really really good about yourself. And, if you’ve ever been the receiver, you know that there are few things that equal the magic of somebody remembering your name when you least expect it.

I’ve been witness to pure magic in this regard – miracles have happened in restaurants, super markets and in the oddest of places simply because a name was remembered. In some cases, it wasn’t even because a name was remembered. It was simply because a name tag was noticed. How amazing is that?

And, all that aside, I find that calling a person by their name forges a deep connection. It’s amazing that a simple collection of letters can forge a connection as deep. But, that’s really how magical the name is. It counts.

Now, over to the next problem – How do we remember names?

I have a friend with whom I had the benefit of spending many years in close contact. He is a very passionate Biologist and he, very often, shared interesting learnings from his classes in school with a bunch of us when we hung out. While we used to joke about falling asleep right as he began expounding some interesting theory, I’m glad he never gave up on us because I absorbed many an interesting tit bit.

One such tit bit was about memory and emotion. It was actually during a conversation when somebody pointed out that women tend to have better memories (on average) than men. And this friend explained the reason. He said the way our minds work is that memories become etched when they are attached with emotions. And women, being more emotional than men, as a result have better memories.

This learning came back to me as I was muttering a couple of names to myself a week or so ago. I had just asked a few members of the team at my favorite lunch haunt for their names. And I was busy trying to make proper associations to remember them. And I found myself struggling. Attempting to practice what I write about, I tried focusing on a successful moment i.e. a moment when I remembered a name.

And right then, the manager of the same haunt flashed in my mind’s eye. I remembered her name with ease. She was the first one I’d gotten to know. She was warm, sweet and always had a smile on her face. I cared about her.

I went over these thoughts again in slow motion and two words stood out. I cared.

I cared!

And I remember the moment – I stopped for a couple of minutes, pictured each person in my mind’s eye, associated their name with something familiar (eg: Rob with Robbie Williams) and felt that surge of emotion as  I decided I would never forget their names. I met them every single day. Surely I was capable of caring that much..

Turns out I was.

I re-learned something very meaningful that day. It doesn’t matter how many tricks, tips and techniques you know. At the end of the day, if you don’t care enough, the rest simply doesn’t matter.

I haven’t forgotten their names since and doubt I ever will. At the end of the day, it came down to a simple concept – caring enough.

I’m sorry if you find yourself disappointed at the absence of some cool Jedi mind trick that would zap names into your memory. I, for one, am not underestimating this learning. It’s taken 2 years to get here. And it hasn’t been easy!

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. | T.S.Elliot

So, there you go. That’s my secret to remembering names. And, the more I think about it, I realize this could very well be a secret to leadership, success at work, great relationships or life.

We can do most things we set out to do.

We just have to care.
Just have to care.
Have to care.
To care.