Improving Your Memory

June 7th, 2011 | Posted by John Kapeleris in Mind - (1 Comments)

Have you ever been in a situation where you have forgotten the name of a client after you just met them for the first time or returned from the supermarket and forgotten the one item you really needed? Memory lapses are very common and can be very frustrating. The issue is not with storage of the information but rather with retrieval – the information is already in your mind.

Memory is defined as the mental activities that acquire, process, store and recall information. Memory involves three major processes: encoding, storage and retrieval. There are three types of memory: short-term memory (STM), long-term memory (LTM) and sensory memory. Sensory memory is very short-lived, usually lasting up to 4 seconds, and consists of information that first enters your brain via your senses, such as sight, sound and smell. A small proportion of this input passes to your short-term memory for recall. STM is the information that we are actively thinking at a given point in time and usually lasts about 30-40 seconds which is enough time to memorize a telephone number or someone’s name. STM acts as a filter for the input the brain receives from the external world, only passing certain information onto LTM for storage.

Many people find it difficult to remember abstract facts or information. Improving memory involves making the information less abstract in your mind. One way of doing this is to categorize material in a more distinctive way or link the information mentally to a personal experience. For example, we can always remember what we were doing during the morning of September 11, 2001. A more familiar and common way of remembering is practice and repetition, which is commonly used by students but also actors. To memorize their lines, actors tend to read and then re-read the material quickly over a period of four days, approximately five to ten times a day. By the time they have read the material twenty times the lines are stored within their LTM.

When you arrive at a supermarket without a shopping list do you try to recall the name of the items or do you recall the image of the item? Memory recall can be either verbal or visual, therefore memory improvement techniques are grouped into these two categories.

To improve your verbal memory try the following techniques:

  1. Rhymes – It is easy to recall information when placed into a poem or rhyme e.g. “Thirty days hath September, April, June and November…” etc
  2. Acronyms – Devise your own using initials of words that you need to remember. e.g. ROY G BIV is used to remember the colours of the rainbow and their order.
  3. Acrostics – Similar to acronyms but consist of words that allow you to remember other words e.g. “My Very Educated Mother Just Sent Us Nine Pizzas” is used to remember the planets in our solar system and their order.
  4. Stories – Making up a story which contains all the key elements that you need to remember is a great way to remember a list of words, activities or presentation notes.

To improve your visual memory you need to picture images in your mind and develop a visual vocabulary:

  1. Mental images – Forming an image in your mind that captures the vital information is a very powerful way of remembering. For example, if I wanted to remember the following list of nine items: apple, briefcase, keys, umbrella, window, newspaper, tree, pen, car, I would form the following image in my mind – ” I am in a room with a desk and on the desk is an open briefcase with a newspaper next to it. I need to place the apple, pen and keys into the briefcase. Next to the desk I see an umbrella that I need to take with me. From the window in the room I can see a car outside parked next to a tree“.
  2. Grouping – Visual grouping involves associating a random list of items with unrelated objects. For example, if you were going hiking in the mountains, you would remember to take the following items because you would associate them with your trip: an umbrella could be associated with a tree; your hiking boots could be associated with rocks, a hat could be associated with a large flower; and food items could be associated with pine cones or other forest berries.
  3. Visual references – The use of visual landmarks to guide someone to a destination is very common e.g. buildings, intersections, bridges, schools, shopping centres, sports fields, statues, gardens, unique structures or places of business. An extension of this approach is to use visual references as anchors for remembering things. Also called “Method of Loci” this technique was used by ancient orators to remember speeches by associating paragraphs with the mental picture of the different rooms of a familiar building. As the orators visualized a “mental walk” through a building they would recite the paragraphs of their speeches that were associated with each room of the building.

Memory joggers can also assist you to remember specific items:

  • Keep a small notebook with you at all times and write notes to yourself. You can also use your electronic notes function on your phone or 3M Post-It notes.
  • Write lists of items that you need to remember e.g. shopping list, list of travel essentials, holiday destinations list, To-Do list
  • If you need to take something with you in the morning leave it by the door or in your car.
  • If you keep losing essential items such as your keys, decide on a specific location where you will always place the keys.
  • For medication or vitamins taken daily, place the items with something that you will use daily such as your toothbrush or drinking glass.
  • When you put something away or file a particular item, record the item and its location on a log, running list or simple database

What approach do you use to remember important items?

Dr John Kapeleris

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“The purpose of man is in action, not thought.” — Thomas Carlyle

We are fast approaching Christmas and this is always a sign that we have once again reached the end of another calendar year. I always find the end of the year to be a time of reflection and review. It is also a time to evaluate the progress of your life purpose, goals and objectives that were set at the start of the year or the longer term goals set in previous years.

The end of the year also offers a fresh start for activities that we had intended to do but never got around to doing them. Although I had previously stated that any day can be the start of the rest of your life, the end of the year can be a special time because it can provide closure to outstanding action items that may no longer be relevant, but also removing limiting beliefs by leaving them behind in the current year. The dawning of a new year provides the incentive to start a fresh action list and the motivation to get things done.

Many people make New Year’s resolutions, however, they quickly discover that the resolutions fade even before the first quarter of the calender year is reached. It is not just about making New Year’s resolutions at the dawn of the New Year, it is about making a committed effort to set written goals and objectives for the coming year and for the medium to longer term timeframe.

I challenge you to make a committed effort, that is, take ACTION, to review your previous goals and objectives, and to set new goals and objectives for 2011. Begin by identifying the major achievements and highlights for 2010. These could include work achievements, financial objectives, family highlights, personal development, educational achievements or personal success outcomes. Achievements should also be acknowledged and celebrated to ensure mental reinforcement and capitalizing on the motivation that this can provide to your subconscious mind. I try to reward myself when I achieve a particular goal or objective. For example, I will buy a gift for myself that reminds me of the success that I have achieved, or I will organise a special holiday trip for myself and my family. Last January I decided to go to Byron Bay and live in a beach house for ten days to celebrate a very successful 2009. In previous years I bought myself a Tag Heuer watch to remind me of a successful multi-million dollar deal I had closed in the year.

I use a visual journal with white pages to document my goals and objectives for the new calendar year. Once I complete this activity I then develop Action Plans for the major goals and objectives. Throughout the year I periodically review my goals and revise any action plans that are not progressing as expected. You should also prepare a vision board which consists of a portfolio of visual material or a collage of images that portray your vision, goals and objectives. The vision board helps to stimulate your reticular activating system in your mind to reaffirm your subconscious.

Like most people I also identify a few missed opportunities or disappointments for the year. This allows me to learn from the experience so that I can strengthen my future plans moving forward. Go ahead and document the missed opportunities and disappointments. Ask yourself, “What could I have done differently to capitalise on the missed opportunities or overcame the disappointments?”, and document potential changes and actions for the future. Don’t spend too much time regretting the missed opportunities. The rest of your life starts now, therefore focus on your future goals and plans for 2011. Some of these goals could also be carried over from 2010. Particularly goals that were over ambitious, which is common amongst high achievers.

I had also previously posted a number of blog entries that can provide further detailed information on developing your goals and objectives (see below). Furthermore, I have included a Personal Development Plan Template that may also be used as a guide. A decent driveway paint site will get you the driveway paint you want.

What does your personal development plan look like?

Have a merry Christmas and I wish you every success for 2011!

Dr John Kapeleris

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My high school’s motto was “Scientia est Potestas” which in Latin means “Knowledge is Power”. The well-known phrase was first coined by Sir Francis Bacon in 1597, when he wrote “scientia potestas est” to mean “knowledge is power”. I continue to hear this phrase mentioned in presentations and discussions, particularly in the academic world. I would like to challenge the phrase and provide a variation to reflect current thinking.

Someone once said to me that knowledge is power if you actually use the knowledge or share it. Hoarding knowledge alone will not result in power. Now you would think that in the academic world, knowledge is openly shared, however, I have found that many academics do not openly share their knowledge as they are afraid that someone may acquire their ideas or take advantage of the knowledge. Academics generally share their knowledge when they are “ready” and have something to write about, usually in a high-tiered journal. I praise those academics and researchers who, in addition to publishing in peer-reviewed journals, also contribute to blogs, submit online articles and write content for trade journals and magazines. By sharing their knowledge to the greater masses, this can stimulate better diffusion and adoption of knowledge by the wider community, rather than just a limited reader group in an academic journal.

By the way I am not advocating sharing confidential information that may result in protectable intellectual property such as patents, trademarks, designs or trade secrets. I am merely stating that non-confidential information or know-how should be shared where possible. That is, once a preliminary assessment of the value of the know-how has been undertaken to ensure that a patent opportunity has not been inadvertently disclosed.

Applied knowledge is what will create value in the market, in society or in organisations. If we can translate research outcomes and tacit knowledge into applications that result in products and services, or assist in solving industry and societal problems, then we will create the power that we seek.

The diagram below outlines the Knowledge Cycle which involves knowledge production, knowledge transfer, knowledge application and knowledge diffusion. Other inputs required include creative inspiration, an intellectual property strategy and entrepreneurial skills and resources, including funding.Unfortunately, one of the most difficult processes that we encounter, both from a research-borne or industry-borne perspective, is the translation of great ideas into practical solutions and applications. A number of factors contribute to the difficulty in successfully applying knowledge and ideas , and conversion  into products and services:

  1. Humans are generally risk averse
  2. Limited availability of early stage risk capital
  3. Access to know-how required to take ideas to market
  4. Scarcity of entrepreneurial skills and experience
  5. Lack of motivation and desire – it is hard work!

Those who seek and acquire knowledge through reading, learning, observation, investigation and experimentation will grow and develop in their specific disciplines. Those who then adopt or apply the knowledge will create significant value for society.

Dr John Kapeleris

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“In the field of observation chance only favors the prepared mind.” Louis Pasteur

Tacit knowledge has been defined as non-codified, intangible know-how that is acquired through the informal adoption of learned behavior and procedures.  Polanyi describes tacit knowing as involving two kinds of awareness: the focal and subsidiary.  While individuals may be focused on a particular object or process, they also possess a subsidiary awareness that is subliminal and marginal.  Tacit knowing also involves subsception, that is, learning without awareness and this is associated with serendipity.

Serendipity is defined as a random coincidence or accident that triggers an idea or concept when the individual is not actively seeking an idea i.e. without awareness of a problem or need. While a discovery that involves focused awareness is usually termed synchronicity since the individual is actively seeking an idea or a solution to a problem.

Serendipity has resulted in a number of accidental discoveries producing innovations that have contributed to significant value for society. For example, penicillin was discovered by Sir Alexander Fleming when he observed an anomaly on a bacterial culture. Another example of an accidental discovery was Scotchgard by Patsy Sherman when she accidentally spilled a polymer on her tennis shoes. The table below shows a number of innovations resulting from serendipity or synchronicity:

Although accidental discoveries and observations in nature lead to new innovations, the person making the discovery or observation needs to have a mindset that is conducive to identifying the opportunities. Sir Alexander Fleming could have thrown out the bacterial cultures when he found an anomaly, but instead continued to investigate the cultures to determine the cause of the abnormality, as a result of his curious and open mind.

The prepared mind, as stated by Louis Pasteur, is characterized by specific patterns of brain activity that place a person in the right “frame of mind” through the establishment of new pathways or networks of thought. The prepared mind has the ability to sense, understand, decide and act upon observations and opportunities that suddenly appear by chance.

Welter and Egmon in their bookThe Prepared Mind of a Leader describe eight mental skills that can further develop and prepare your mind to identify opportunities, solve problems and enhance decision-making:

  1. Observing – Look for non-conforming information generated by the constantly changing environment, that can provide new ideas and opportunities.
  2. Reasoning – You need to be able to answer “Why?” when you are proposing a course of action.
  3. Imagining – The ability to visualize new ideas and linkages.
  4. Challenging – Challenge your assumptions and test their validity.
  5. Deciding – You need to make timely decisions or influence others’ decisions.
  6. Learning – Continuous learning will move you forward.
  7. Enabling – You need people with the knowledge and ability to progress opportunities.
  8. Reflecting – Allocate the time to think and reflect to determine whether a particular decision was successful.

How are you preparing your mind to solve problems and capitalize on opportunities?

Dr John Kapeleris

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“Your attitude determines your altitude”. Zig Zigler

A winning mindset is all about having the right attitude. A positive attitude can be one of the greatest assets that you can nurture in yourself, which can then determine how far you go with your personal development and achieving the outcomes you desire in life.

Your attitude is reflected in your thoughts, your beliefs and your self-image.  Every person can choose to have a positive attitude no matter what their background or abilities. Your attitude can affect everything in your life. If you have a positive attitude then you tend to attract the good things in life, while a negative attitude attracts the bad things in life. That is, you generally get out of life what you directly focus on.

To avoid a negative attitude you need to stop blaming others or blaming previous setbacks in life, and take responsibility in your life to choose a positive attitude that will elevate you to the next level. Your attitude is one thing that you have complete control. It is up to you to determine whether you choose to uphold a positive or negative attitude in life.

Many athletes choose to adopt a winning mindset that drives their achievements and successes. For example, if you consider two soccer players who have the same exceptional fitness and the same high level of skills, the distinguishing attribute that will differentiate the better soccer player will be the one who possesses the positive attitude and winning  mindset. In other words, it is not only physical abilities but also mental abilities that can make a difference in sport, which also relates to your business and your personal life.

Following are some suggestions of how you can adopt a more positive attitude in life to activate and maintain a winning mindset:

  1. Take some time out of your life to think and reflect on your situation.
  2. Ask challenging questions of yourself and determine where you want to go in life.
  3. Recall situations when you were at the top of your game i.e. in the zone or flow
  4. Extinguish any negative thoughts and stop worrying about things that may never happen
  5. Think positive thoughts and build positive visions i.e. be optimistic
  6. Keep smiling and share your smile with others.

Mindset is really about the way you perceive reality and not the way things ‘really’ are. When used well it can be a powerful incentive to drive your personal development and success.

Dr John Kapeleris

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The Creative Mind

May 18th, 2010 | Posted by John Kapeleris in Creativity | Mind - (4 Comments)


Creativity is the ability or aptitude by which individuals or groups generate or conceive new ideas, or adapt existing concepts into new principles. Many ideas have led to successful businesses and innovations. For example, these ideas may be a new solution to a problem, a new business model, or a new method or product concept. By stimulating the creative process within individuals, new ideas and concepts can be generated that can lead to the achievement of new innovations.

When ‘creativity’ is mentioned to people, the general perception is that creativity is associated with the ‘creative arts’ or being “artistic” such as music, painting and literature. This is not the case, as creativity is an ability that can drive competitive advantage across all disciplines, including business. The general perception of creative people is that they were born with unique creative skills. Michael Polanyi[1] and Arthur Koestler[2], who began writing on the subject of creativity in the 1950s and 1960s, further clarified and described tacit knowledge and creative thinking processes. Creativity and lateral thinking was later popularised by the likes of Dr Edward de Bono[3] and Tony Buzan[4], reinforcing that creativity was not innate but could be learned and deliberately applied to personal and business environments.

The creative process was first described by Wallas[5] back in 1926. He proposed a systematic model that usually follows a sequence of phases:

  1. Preparation: Collecting background information & focusing on the problem or opportunity
  2. Incubation: After reviewing and processing the available information you sleep on it!
  3. Illumination:  Often when least expected an idea will flash into your mind – the Eureka experience!
  4. Implementation/Verification: Develop a plan to implement the idea and test.

However, we find today that many people do not have the interest or inclination to develop their creative thinking capacity. They feel more comfortable with their analytical or logical thinking.

It is well accepted that a continuous flow of ideas provides the antecedents for innovation within an organisation, and in particular the development of new products, services and processes. Creativity plays an important role in the generation of new ideas and the identification of new opportunities. However, once ideas are generated they must be captured, screened, evaluated and finally implemented, which takes significant effort. This is reflected in the statement made by Thomas Edison that “Genius is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration.”

The Creative Mind

Brain research, particularly the work of Dr. Roger Sperry, has helped to explain how the brain works and provide a better understanding of differences in thinking style. The cortex of the brain has been shown to consist of two distinct hemispheres: one on the left and one on the right[6]. Figure 1 shows the difference between the two hemispheres. The left hemisphere has been associated with linear, analytical thought, the type of thinking associated with solving a mathematical problem or writing a report. This side of the brain uses logic to analyze different situations. The right hemisphere deals with creativity, intuition and non-linear information. It uses pictures and images to visualize situations and problems. By using techniques to stimulate right brain thinking, such as creativity techniques, tools and processes, a person can learn to be more creative.

Figure 1.  Comparing the Left and Right Brain Hemispheres

Source: Adapted from Hermmann, 1988

The Lost Art

When observing the behaviour of children it can be noted that they are ready to jump into any situation: to explore and discover, to touch and hold new things. Children are known to be curious as they constantly observe their immediate environment and ask intriguing questions.  They seem to have no boundaries restricting their thoughts and feel that they can achieve anything. However, as children become adults they seem to lose these special characteristics that they exhibit. This change that people undergo throughout their early life can be attributed to the conditioning that they experience at school and at home[7]. They are constantly reminded about what is right and what is wrong, they are educated in such a way that initiates the formation of boundaries and restricts their thinking patterns. It can be assumed that the conditioning stimulates the analytical or left side of the brain and suppresses the creative or right side of the brain. The level of creativity is analogous to “Children enter primary school with a set of multicoloured crayons and leave high school with a single black pen”.

Whole-brain Thinking

Whole brain thinking is important in that both the analytical and creative sides of the brain work together to help drive personal and organizational objectives. For an organization to be successful it must have a system to provide a continuous flow of ideas. Creative right brain thinking (divergent thinking) provides the means to generate ideas. Once these ideas are generated and captured they can then be evaluated using analytical left-brain techniques or convergent thinking. The screening process identifies higher value ideas that can be developed further into concepts which can be implemented in the organization. Barron and Harrington[8] argue that both divergent and convergent thinking is required in the production of any new idea.

[1] Polyanyi, M. (1966) The Tacit Dimension, Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, London.


[2] Koestler, A. (1964) The Act of Creation, Macmillan, New York

[3] De Bono, E. (1993) Lateral Thinking, Penguin Books, London

[4] Buzan, T. (1995) Use Your Head, BBC Books, London

[5] Wallas, G. (1926) The Art of Thought, Jonathon Cape, London

[6] Herrmann, N. (1988) The Creative Brain, Ned Herrmann Group, North Carolina.

[7] Ayan, J. (1997) Aha! : 10 Ways to Free Your Creative Spirit and Find your Great Ideas, Three Rivers Press, New York

[8] Barron, F. and Harrington, D.W. (1981) Creativity, Intelligence and Personality, Annual Review of Psychology Vol.51 pp.478-485

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One of the modern day personal development coaches and mentors, Charlie “Tremendous” Jones stated that “You are the same today as you’ll be in five years except for two things: the people you meet and the books you read”. I wanted to expand on Charlie’s quote by stating that “Your future success will depend on the choices you make today – your thoughts, your attitude, the people you meet, the books you read, the plans you make and the actions you take!”

Learning is the foundation of a personal development program. Books can provide you with mental growth and the ability to learn from other people’s experiences.  They can also provide you with self-education where the learnings can be applied to your work and personal life.

I am a believer of establishing a professional development library and slowly building a wealth of knowledge for yourself and your family. The first step in starting your library is to write a list of the books you feel will make a difference to your self-education and personal development. If you cannot afford to establish your own professional development library then I would suggest you subscribe to your local public library.

Senior executives of successful corporations and high achievers generally read at least one book per month, while a proportion will read up to four books per month.

Following is my list of the top 10 books that would add value to your self-education or personal development program. I have focused my list on the proven classics but have also included some modern classics (for further information on each book click onto the title below):

  1. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
  2. As a Man Thinketh by James Allen
  3. The Master Key System by Charles F. Haanel
  4. The Richest Man in Babylon by George Clason
  5. The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace Wattles
  6. The Art of War by Sun Tzu
  7. The Greatest Salesman in the World By Og Mandino
  8. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
  9. The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale
  10. 7 Strategies for Wealth & Happiness by Jim Rohn

What would your reading list of the top 10 books look like? Go ahead – add your list as a comment.

Make it a great day!

Dr John Kapeleris

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