It happened again in embarrassing fashion. I was in a social situation on Sunday with someone I had met several times. It was just him and me and our kids, so lots of interaction. We had run into one another accidentally but were now off on an adventure together with our boys kayaking at Stone Mountain. The only problem was, I couldn’t remember this guy’s name! It was terrible! So what did I do? I did the only thing I could do, the unthinkable. I asked him his name for probably the fourth time and made sure I remembered it this time. It was awful. It was embarrassing. I am going to make sure that never happens again. Here’s how.
I have had a sneaking suspicion for some time now that I am under utilizing my brain (insert snarky joke here) and my memory in particular. I know there are ways to improve mental cognition and ways to dramatically improve memory, but I have never taken the time to learn them and use them properly. That ended today.
I am publically announcing my goal to take my memory seriously. I want to be able to do the following within the next two months:
- Remember all names and faces of people I meet. ALL OF THEM! I want to be able to memorize the name of every person at a 48in48 event. That should be about 100 – 150 names. I want to do this so that people will know that I care about them and that they matter to me when I meet them.
- Be able to memorize the order of a deck of cards. I know, it’s dumb, but I want to prove to myself that I can do it, so I’m going to give it a shot.
I’m committing to this publically so that I can be accountable. I want to be able to do this by the end of October or sooner.
In light of this new goal, I started listening to the audio book Quantum Memory by Dominic O’Brien this morning. While the book is a little hooky in the beginning, after listening to it for 30 minutes and going through one exercise, I was able to remember a list of 10 completely unrelated items in order and repeat them back both forwards and backward. In fact, here is the list (from memory).
That was the list I learned from the book at 7am this morning, and I was easily able to recall it now at 10:36am. So far, I’m impressed with this book. On to the next adventure!
There are things that I don’t notice. As obvious as that is, it’s something that I’m oblivious to most of the time. How do you notice the things that escape your notice? How do you see what you aren’t inclined to see? And, how important are those things anyway?
I had an interesting experience recently that brought home to me how much I don’t notice. I took my kid to an event. I was focused on what was going on at the event, the people the stuff to look at, etc. Then, later that day, I was talking to a friend that was there (and is also a mom), and she said, “did you hear the music at that event? It was terrible! I wanted just to reach out and cover your child’s ears!” To which I responded, “there was music there?”
Apparently, at this event, there was terribly inappropriate music. And, not only had I not noticed the inappropriate lyrics, I hadn’t noticed that there was music at all! Which brings me to the, not at all profound, realization, that my attention is limited. Once my attention is fully engaged, I stop noticing things, apparently even significant things that include F-bombs and other fun words.
This leads me to realize something else that is obvious. I only have so much attention, and after it is spent, things get missed, so I had better be careful where and how I spend it.
In 1892, Williams James wrote, “All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits,—practical, emotional, and intellectual,—systematically organized for our weal or woe, and bearing us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be.”
Many of the choices we make on a daily basis are not choices at all; they are habits. According to a paper published by a Duke University researcher found that “more than 40% of the actions people performed each day weren’t actual decisions, but habits” (The Power of Habit).
Think about your day so far. What time did you get up? What did you do first? Did you tie your left or right shoe first? Did you put on your pants or your shirt first? Did you brush your teeth and then floss or the other way around? What side of the bed did you sleep on and in what position and with what pillow? Did you make conscious decisions for any of this? Of course not! They are all habits!
How about this? Have you ever been driving and a little zoned out, only find that you are driving to one place when you should be going to another? Then you suddenly realize that your brain has disengaged and your habits have taken over?
I figure if 40% or so of what I do day to day is caused by habits, I should probably figure them out and figure out a way to improve them. I’m working on that and is why I care so deeply about habit formation, destruction, and hacking. If we can all learn to better control this “mass of habits” that call our lives, we can dramatically improve our daily living and the lives of others as well.
I started a nonprofit while I was in high school; people thought I was nuts. I started a church in downtown Decatur; people thought I was nuts. I started a digital marketing company with a friend just as the economy tanked; people thought we were nuts. I started a crazy nonprofit to build 48 websites in 48 hours (with this guy); people thought we were nuts. I have five kids with my lovely wife; I’m pretty sure we are nuts.
When people think I’m nuts, it means I’m pushing against the norm. I love this because I feel that pushing against the norm is the best way to be great. Most great thinkers, entrepreneurs, inventors, and leaders have pushed against the norms and have risen above their peers as a result. The best companies are the ones doing what no one else is doing too. Think about Apple coming out with the iPod and then the iPhone. These we so far beyond the norm it was embarrassing to the competition. And, as a result, Apple grew unimaginably fast.
In those moments when I’m looking, thinking, and acting like the norm I try to ask myself, “what am I missing?” In those moments, I know there is something more that I can do or another way of looking at a situation that will help me find an opportunity that others may have missed. In those moments I want to find that opportunity and have the courage to act on it.
I have been wearing a Pebble Steel watch for about a year and a half now, and eyeing an Apple Watch for the last year as well. I love the wearable idea and really think there is a lot of value in using them well. But recently, I have noticed my own habits changing and specifically have become more aware of how intrusive my phone alerts (and therefore my pebble watch alerts) have become. So, I decided to control how I’m alerted, and a big part of that was taking away the ability of my phone to alert me via smart watch. You guessed it, I bought a dumb watch. But, not just a dumb watch, a mechanical watch that doesn’t even use a battery!
I got a Seiko 5 because it’s super affordable, looks good, and tells time. It’s also a subtle reminder to me each time I look at it that technology doesn’t have to encroach upon my life. Yes, I’m missing out on some serious benefits of having a smart watch, and I might still venture back into that space later. But for now, I want to re-learn how to be present and my dumb watch is a part of that journey.
I was taking an ethics class and the professor asked the question, “do you ride the bike, or does the bike ride you?” Of course, we all know the answer to that, right? I ride the bike. But, it’s not as simple as that when you dig into it. The bike forces me to move my feet in a certain way. It also forces me to move my arms in a certain way and sit facing a specific direction, otherwise, I will fall off. So yes, I do ride the bike, but the bike rides me as well. The question is, how much control do I exert and how much control is exerted over me?
Now insert “phone” in place of “bike” in the above scenario. Do you control your phone, or does it control you? I realized recently that my phone’s notifications were controlling me, and were completely out of control. I was constantly being interrupted in the middle of work or family time with notifications that, while interesting, really don’t matter and aren’t pressing. So, I have decided to try something new.
I am changing the way I allow my phone to do notifications. I have removed almost all notifications that go to the lock screen (the most annoying interruption) and am pushing the notifications I can into the notifications center or allowing them to show with the App Icon. By doing this, I can look at my phone intermittently to see what is going on, but I’m not interrupted every 10 minutes by my phone buzzing.
All of this really goes back to my thinking about being present in the moment. Reducing the intrusion of my phone notifications is just one of my steps in doing that, more will come, and I will write on those soon.