Nature vs Nurture is a question that has been debated for as long as man has been having debates. In the vast majority of cases that the argument can be applied to, the correct answer is usually at least a little of both. The same holds true for the case of human memory. Yes, some people may be born with innately better memories than others, but it is very rare that the proper training can’t easily make up for this difference.
When you go grocery shopping, if you need more than five or so items, you probably write down a grocery list for yourself. Were I to ask you why, no doubt you would answer along the lines of “because I wouldn’t remember all 20 things I need.” This may be true, but it is not because you are incapable of remembering that many items,just that you are not properly trained to easily do so.
In the Middle Ages, most commoners were completely illiterate. In a given community the only ones who could read or write were the priests and the scribes. Yet people still went shopping. Successfully.
When a message needed to be delivered somewhere, it was rarely done through letters. Instead, a courier would memorize the message and then at the destination would repeat it back verbatim. These couriers were not geniuses. They just trained their memories.
How many times have you met someone, exchanged names, and had them say “I probably won’t remember- I’m really bad with names”? Or have you used this excuse yourself? Because that’s all it is: and excuse. And this excuse becomes a crutch.
When I was entering 9th grade, it was at a new school where I barely knew anyone. When someone came up to me and said “Hi, my name’s Sam,” I didn’t really think about it much, figuring that would be happening so often during the day that it wasn’t worth really trying to remember. Later, when I was talking to Sam and couldn’t remember his name, I actually almost said “Sorry, I’m really bad with names.” But I stopped myself. At that point I asked myself “Am I really bad with names, or am I just too lazy to remember them?”
Freshman year of college I had a 30-person honors seminar where on the first day of class we played an icebreaker. The professor had us go in a circle, say our names and something interesting about ourselves. I ended up going last, and the interesting thing about myself that I gave was that I could go around the room and list everyone else’s names and something interesting about them. And I proved it.
I don’t believe that my memory is naturally better than average. I have, however, spent the past 8 years training it so that now I know it is. And yours could be too.
The first step to improving your memory is really very simple: just acknowledge that you can improve. And make an attempt to remember things instead of just assuming you will forget.