There is no need to dwell on the importance of having a good memory. A bad memory is such a handicap in life that everyone realizes the advantages of a good one. By a good memory we mean a retentive and accurate memory, one that will retain for us knowledge once gained, and retains it correctly. How slow and erratic is the progress of a student who cannot remember what he has learnt! He is like Sisyphus, the poor wretch the Greek fable tells about, who was condemned to push a stone up a hill in Hades, which was forever rolling down again before it reached the top. In business life, a man who cannot remember his appointments and is always forgetting the orders he receives will soon be left behind. A servant who forgets to do his work at the proper time quickly loses his job. One of the poorest excuses we can make for work undone is, “I am awfully sorry; but I forgot!” And it is an excuse that is not excused if it is made too often. A good memory is essential for the student, the businessman, the employee, the politician, the statesman – in fact for every one in every walk of life. It is necessary, too, in social life; for a person who forgets his social engagements and can never remember the faces of those he has met will not be a social success.
People with bad memories, however, need not despair; for even the worst memory can be improved by training, like every other faculty. The chief cause of a bad memory is inattention, lack of concentration. We often blame our memories for not retaining knowledge, when as a matter of fact we never gave it the knowledge to retain. It is not the memory that is to blame, but our lack of attention, when learning. You read a book, and at once forget all about it; you forget it because you never really read the book. Your eyes passed over the words on the page, but your mind was wandering, and you never really took into your mind what the author wrote. The first step in training a memory is to learn to concentrate our mind on what we are doing, and give it our whole thought. We must learn to notice things, carefully observe what we see, consciously and determinedly attend to what we are about; and then regular repetition of the knowledge we have gained will quickly strengthen memory, till remembering becomes a habit.
The only disadvantage of a good memory is our inability to forget things we do not want to remember. There are events, desires, and thoughts in our past life which we would like to forget. The only way to forget such unpleasant things is to fill our mind with good thoughts, for you cannot forget by trying to forget.