3 Reasons Why You Can’t Remember Names


Have you ever heard someone say they are bad with names. I hear people all of the time saying they can “always remember a face, but never a name.” Actually, most people can remember names. Many people simply are not aware of the subconscious and conscious battle taking place when they are meeting someone new.

Here are my 3 Reasons WHY you have trouble recalling names.

1. The Subconscious Wins

When you meet someone for the first time, the conscious mind is moving as fast as it can (at about 40 items per second). Most of us are using most of this conscious “mind-speed” to think of the following types of things while in the middle of an introduction: he has nice teeth, she is prettier than I am, do I smell bad, he has such a firm handshake, I wish I would have worn my blue shoes and socks with no holes in them, I probably need some gum, he looks like my Uncle Bill, will I be stuck here talking to him for awhile, is she married, she seems more successful than I am, I wonder if he makes more money than I do.

While all of this “thunder” is taking up the faculties of your conscious mind, there is one thing you are not thinking about… can you guess it? Yes, you are correct! You are not thinking about the name or introduction the person mentioned as your conscious mind was sprinting.

Being assertive about what your conscious mind is actually doing through this initial introduction is the first step to understanding why you can’t recall a person’s name. Because your conscious mind is “distracted”, your subconscious mind takes over. Assuming you heard the name, you subconscious mind will, by default, now file that name away in memory. This is where the name is actually being “lost”. Your subconscious has won the fight between it and the conscious mind begin utilized to store the name into memory. Be aware, next time you meet someone, notice what your mind is doing (most of you will forget this step, so the next 3 steps will not matter).

Related Article: 4 Steps to Never Forgetting a Name, Ever Again!

2. Associated Memories

Freud was no stranger to the concept of our brain’s being plastic. However, we do know a great deal more about this mental re-organization than when Freud was authoring his books on this subject. In the book “Psychopathology of Everyday Living”, Freud alludes to plasticity in two ways. First, Freud suggested that when your subconscious mind files a new name into memory, it looks for a place to file it. A common stop, according to Freud, is to pair it with other “like” neurons or collection of neurons. For example, if you are meeting “John” your subconscious mind may file the new friend “John” with the area of your mind that remembers John your brother-in-law. Or it could connect this new neural thought to a series of neurons associated with a news show you watched two hours earlier with a news anchor named… John. When you go to recall this memory, it simply isn’t where it is “supposed” to be. It is has been file with or paired with “associated” neural pathways completely unrelated to this new “face” you can recall.

This is what often causes us to “think” we are so close to remembering a name, but cannot. We can easily recall our brother-in-law’s name, John. But we are mentally unable to now dis-associate that new “John” pathway with the brother-in-law pathway. You might even “think” the new name is John, think of your brother-in-law, and then talk yourself out of the name being John because something doesn’t mentally seem right.

If I tell you my name is Justin, and you don’t use the 4 Step to Never Forgetting a Name, Ever Again, and my height reminds you of your good friend Jason who is also tall, guess where your subconscious has a great chance of storing my name? Yes, with Jason, your tall friend. This might cause you to either guess my name is Jason, accidentally call me Jason or wonder if my name was Jason or not. Regardless, this doesn’t provide optimum name recall.

3. Repressed Memories

Names can also be subconsciously associated with repressed memories. We have a propensity to “sweep bad memories under the carpet”. If, through association, the new name “John” is somehow subconsciously associated with a repressed memory, recall in the future will be very difficult, and unpredictable. If you had a horrible experience at the post office, and you met “John” for the first time in the post office, there is a good chance your subconscious mind will file this name with the repressed memories of the post-office. These memories are very difficult to recall and make remembering names difficult.

If you have enjoyed this article, and you have not read 4 Steps to Never Forgetting a Name, Ever Again!, I highly recommend you read it. Knowing why we forget names is good background information, but understanding how we can learn to remember names adds more value.

I’d like to hear your stories about remembering or forgetting names, please post, like or share this article if you found it helpful and/or interesting. You might also forward or tag someone you know that struggles with remembering names!

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