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It is one thing to see something, and quite another to observe it. The difference between the two is not miniscule, it is huge. If you are asked which light is on top of the traffic light, whether it is red or green, you may hesitate before answering. If it is a 'crorepati' question for you, something which will make or break your fortunes, can you be sure of your answer? Not many people would be very sure. The traffic light is something you see every day, but you may not have noticed the colour of the light on top, and that of the one at the bottom. This shows that seeing and observing are absolutely different things. It is notable here that when you see, you don't register it consciously in your brain. When you observe, you do so with intent, and then you remember. Red is on the top of the traffic light. Green is always at the bottom.
Another test you can take right away is to not look at your wrist watch, and answer this question:-is the number six on your watch dial, the Arabic 6, or is it the Roman Numeral VI? You are on the 'crorepati' show again, and on the answer hang a million. Now look at your watch and see if your answer was right. It could be that none of the answers were correct and you have a small dial there which shows the ticking seconds!
Can you recall the time your watch was showing at the time you looked at it? Most probably you cannot, because your concentration was elsewhere. You saw but you didn't observe.
It may be that you are really smart and have a fund of general knowledge. You know the answers to most questions, and can rattle off the names of heroes, places, dates etc. at the drop of a hat. Yet, you may not be a keen observer. You may not remember your own Pan number.
The emphasis being laid here on observation is because it is one of the things important to training your memory. If you do not observe, you will not remember what you see. So it is important to develop a keen sense of observation. Once you observe something, the next important thing to help you remember it is to use association. You have to link what you observe with something you already know, and you have to form an association. Anything that you have learnt or remembered till now is because of the fact that you have made a subconscious association of it with something you already know.
Association simply means the connecting or linking of two or more things to each other. After observation, you have to make a conscious association, and in this way you train your memory.
Subconscious association is when you may read something or hear something, and it may help you recall a completely unrelated piece of information or an event or some music. The association is subconscious because you did not 'try' to associate the two things together. In the case of conscious association, there is a purpose to making the association.
You have used definite conscious associations many times before, without realizing it. "Thirty days hath September, April, June and November, all the rest have thirty-one," is one such example. "VIBGYOR" is another such example of this kind of conscious association that you learnt in your schooldays in order to remember the colours of the rainbow.
When learning spellings, and to remember that it was 'i' before 'e' in the word "believe", you were made to remember a short sentence, "Never believe a lie." Just remember the phrase, "piece of pie" which will always tell you how to spell, "piece." These are a few examples of conscious associations that are commonly used; and they certainly do work.
You will not be able draw anything that resembles the map of England, China, South America or the Czech Republic. Yet the map of Italy will be easily drawn by you. You would most probably draw a boot and so get the approximate outline of the map of Italy. This is only because you remembered, from sometime in your schooldays, that the map of Italy was shaped like a boot. The boot was something you were familiar with, the map of Italy is what you had to remember. By associating it with the boot, you had the map figured out in your mind. Simple conscious associations helped you memorize abstract information very easily. Simple conscious associations can be applied to remembering anything and anyone in your professional and social spheres.
However, the whole point here is that conscious associations are made once observations are made. Most people need to sharpen their sense of observation and this can be done with a little practice. Eustace H. Miles, the great educator, has said, "What one has never properly realized, one cannot properly be said to remember either." You cannot realize what you don't observe. What you don't realize, you don't remember.
There are several ways to strengthen your sense of observation. Take a piece of paper, and without looking around you, list everything in the room where you are sitting right now. Don't leave out anything you can think of, and try to describe the entire room in detail. List every photograph, piece of furniture, artifacts etc. Now look around the room. Notice all the things you did not put down on your list, or never really observed, although you have seen them many times. Observe the items in the room again, go out of the room, and prepare a new list. This list will definitely be longer, including many things you may have left out. You can do this exercise for the other rooms as well, and if you continue to practice this, you will find that your sense of observation has improved over time.
How different the observation capabilities of most people are becomes obvious from any recounting of a car accident by the spectators. No one person's observation will be the same- from the way the accident occurred to the type and colour of vehicle, the age of the occupants of the car, what they were wearing, who got hurt etc. They had all seen the same thing, but their observations and memories were at fault.
Another exercise that can help you improve your observation skills is to think of someone whom you know very well. Try to visualise his face. Then try to describe the face on paper. Go into the details of the colour of hair, eyes, and skin, the kind of complexion, the prominent features.
See whether he wears glasses, and if he does then type of glasses, the kind of nose, ears, eyes, mouth, forehead,
the approximate height and weight, hairline, on which side
the hair is parted, whether it is parted at all, the way he walks, how he dresses, etc. The next time you see this person, check for yourself the attributes you had listed. Notice what you had missed, or what you had got wrong. Now re-list everything, and this time you will fare better.
You can also do a variation of this exercise when travelling on the Metro, or in a bus. Look at one person for a moment, close your eyes and try to mentally remember every detail of this person's face. Open your eyes and check whether you have got the details right.
You can also do the following exercise. Look at any shop window display. Observe everything in it. Then list all the items without looking at the display. Try it again. You will find your powers of observation improving over a period of time.
By strengthening your powers of observation, you begin to be more alert and aware of your life and surroundings, and through this process you strengthen your recall. This, coupled with a vivid imagination, helps you to form strong associations and acquire a better observation.