Yes, your lunch from Thursday Jan. 23. In theory, you should be recalling a mental picture of it right now, sitting in the mailbox of your childhood home.
And, in theory, if you hadn’t read that column and hadn’t been given the visual clue, you’d be struggling to remember what it was you ate nine days ago.
The point of the exercise was to show that people best remember things that come with a visual association. Put it down to the almost 2 million years during which our brains were honed by evolution to remember what was important to hunter-gatherers – the way home, which plants were poisonous, the face of someone in your group, telling a dog from a cat. Evolution also explains why we forget so quickly what our brains perceives as “junk information” (names, numbers, abstract words -- we shed 50 percent of what we see, hear and smell within 10 minutes): so that our brains are free to focus on things that might become important to our survival. This in-built preference for images is behind the most successful memorization methods still used today, including the Major System for numbers (in which you pair numbers with letters and then rely on your imagination to create memorable scenarios from the words that result), the Journey Method, in which you place images representing whatever it is you want to remember along a well-worn mental path (perhaps the walk you took to high school each day) or the similar Memory Palace technique, which is the one we used to help you remember that Jan. 23 meal. (The nuts and bolts of how to implement these mental strategies can be easily found on the Internet.)
While these methods offer a way to improve your recall on a daily basis (need to memorize the entire Mohs table?), perhaps the more important lesson for store-owners is just what makes something memorable for a customer: it is the novel with an emotional hook. It also suggests why those 100 quirky things that stamp your personality on your store are so important in helping your business stand out today. The chains may have corporate managements, access to vast amounts of capital and the latest technology. But who can tell one chain store from another?