How to Improve Your Memory and Never Forget a Face

You are still in the company of your new acquaintance. Having applied Rule One successfully, you are positive you heard his name pronounced correctly, and you are conscientiously observing Rule Two, which means you are seizing every opportunity of saying his name aloud. Rule Three comes next, and you are to put it into effect at once: Fasten the Face in Your Mind.

The difference between the man with an excellent memory for faces and the man who constantly mistakes one person for another is not a matter of eyesight or of intelligence — it is a difference in observation. The first man thinks about what he is seeing; the other does not. William P. Sheridan, one of the most celebrated detectives that ever operated in America, developed the “camera eye” to such an extent that he could pick out of a crowd any one of twenty-two thousand criminals whose pictures were on file with the New York police. His secret? He had schooled his mind to register every detail that his eye took in. He had learned to pay attention, to observe.

You can’t get a definite picture of a man if you are thinking of anything else. You will never be able to remember faces as long as you are flustered at introductions, getting only a blurred impression of the face before you. It is absolutely necessary to forget yourself just for a few seconds to give all your attention to stamping a new portrait on your mind. It’s easy for me to say, “Don’t be self-conscious,” I know, and I also know that a voluntary attempt to forget oneself is one of the hardest things in the world to do. But here is a suggestion to you who so often miss new impressions out of sheer self-consciousness. You might look at it as an exercise in this third rule: Fasten the Face in Your Mind.

Go to the movies. It’s dark there, and you can forget about yourself thoroughly as you scrutinize the faces on the screen. Analyze the appearances of the actors and actresses, giving particular attention to hair, eyes, ears, noses, mouths. Try to figure out the ages of the different characters, notice their height and their gait. When a close-up flashes on the screen, watch out for wrinkles, moles, and warts. Keep your ears wide open for the quality of the voices. For name practice, you might see if you can remember later what the actors were called in the play. Most of us know we saw Myrna Loy or Clark Gable in a particular picture, but we rarely remember the names of the characters they portrayed.

The beauty of this practice is that no one has to know what you are doing, and you alone may be the judge of your results. Students who have tried it have found that it has improved their powers of observation to the degree that they carried over the quickened interest into everyday life and were able to observe without any embarrassment the faces of people to whom they were introduced.

You might practice fastening faces in your mind while you are riding in a bus or subway. Glance at the person opposite you, look in a different direction, and try to reconstruct his face in your mind. As you grow more expert you will need less and less time to take in details of physiognomy.

You will become rapidly more proficient in taking in a person’s entire appearance in a few glances as you continue to fasten faces in your mind. Your eye can take in a hundred details at once. It is your brain which needs training in realizing what the eye has seen.

Once you get the habit of concentrated observation you will take new notice of the differences between people. When you meet a man you will not be content with noting just that he is a fat man or a thin man, an old man or a young man. You will make a note of the color and quantity of his hair. You will jot down in your mental notebook whether his complexion is ruddy, swarthy, pallid, or tanned. You will pay sharp attention to peculiarities of his features, walk, manner, and voice. And so doing, you will effectively put into use Rule Three: Fasten the Face in Your Mind.

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