Monday, March 31, 2014

Continuing To Reap Success: A Paper Memory

Continuing To Reap Success
March 2014

[Today's blog is turned over to Elder Sterling W. Sill for one of the ideas which he urged upon his audiences frequently.  I encountered this idea while I was in Pennsylvania on my first mission.  It was in one of Elder Sill's other books, Leadership. In there he said something like, "The palest ink is better than the best memory."  That made a great deal of sense to me so I began recording those thoughts and ideas that appealed to me. I have been doing so ever since then. This blog is part of our Continuing To Reap Success series.]

A great psychologist challenges us when he asks, “How would you like to create your own mind?”  At first thought that idea may seem a little strange and yet it has the most substantial possibilities.  Actually, the mind is made up of what it feeds upon.  The mind, like the dyer’s hand, is colored by what it holds.  If I hold in my hand a sponge full of purple dye, my hand becomes purple; if I hold in my mind and heart great ideas of faith, ambition, enthusiasm, and devotion to God, my whole personality is colored accordingly.
But the mind was never intended primarily as a baggage room or a storehouse.  Its greatest service comes from its possibilities as a mental machine or as a great spiritual workshop.  The mind’s chief functions are to think, to make decisions, to motivate, and to take action.  The memory function of the mind is also important, but this is one of the departments that needs assistance.  If anyone plans to reap the most profitable harvest, he will need to supplement his powers of recall.  However, this fault may be corrected by supplementing our mental powers with a paper memory.
To illustrate, just imagine that you attend some kind of a three-day educational convention.  Suppose that during that period you heard one hundred ideas that you wanted to remember.  Without the aid of some kind of paper memory, the average person would have lost 60 percent of these ideas by the time the meeting closed.  The ideas may still be in your mind and they could be recognized if someone else reminded you of them, but they have passed beyond your ability to recall them.  As time passes, they sink deeper and deeper into oblivion and take many others with them.  That is, if you wait another six months, many of the other ideas will join them in regions of forgetfulness.  In time, a large majority of our ideas will have slipped below the level of consciousness.
One of the difficult things about this situation is that the moment of forgetting, like the moment of birth, is an unconscious moment.  We don’t know that we are being born during the time that it is actually taking place, and we don’t find out that we have been born until some time afterward.  The moment of learning is a conscious moment, but the moment of forgetting is an unconscious moment, and we can sometimes lose our finest ideas without actually realizing our losses.
However, when these ideas are made a part of our marvelous paper memory, they become our permanent possession. Many people are capable of extensive reading and straight thinking, but they are weak in remembering.  In fact, everyone complains of a poor memory.  One man once said, “There are three things that I can’t remember: The first thing I can’t remember is names; the second thing I can’t remember is faces; and I have forgotten the third thing I can’t remember.”
Writing an idea down helps you retain possession of it and it can also be a helpful aid to understanding.  That is, before we write a thing down, we usually think it through and make decisions about those points that are not clear or about which we have doubts.  The act of writing an idea down stamps it more indelibly in our mental memory, but it also makes an imperishable paper record which can be used as an aid to the memory. In fact, it has been said that so far as memory is concerned, one dull pencil is worth five sharp minds.
It can be very helpful for one to get in the habit of reading with a pencil in his hand.  He can underline, make notes, and add any ideas of his own that may be turned up in the process.  It has been pointed out that there is a way to get more out of a book or a lecture than there is in it.  By absorbing each thought as we read it, we can get everything out of the book that there is in it.
As one’s mind pursues the content of the book, it will occasionally strike an idea that will send his thought ricocheting out into space.  It is suggested that we should let our minds follow and make notes about those ideas that we come in contact with along the way.  You will find that some of your best ideas will be those you think during one of these mental excursions. By this process, your thought will lead you to a lot of its friends and relatives that you didn’t know before.  Ideas almost always come in chains or clusters or in family groups. Following ideas is one of the best ways to learn things. When your exploring effort has exhausted itself, you may come back and take up your reading again at the place where you left off.
You will certainly want to write down the flashes of inspiration that sometimes seem to come from nowhere. If, as has been said, we sit in the lap of an immense intelligence, some of our most outstanding ideas will be those things that we ourselves think.  In trying to connect up the human race, the evolutionists have talked a great deal about “missing links.” There are also a lot of missing links in our philosophies, our morals, our inventions, and our business successes, as well as in our religion.
Most people’s ideas come in fragments and if we keep the pieces, the missing links will soon show up so that the jigsaw will be complete.  Sometimes we must discover the key idea that makes the whole meaningful, or sometimes we get the materials that will purge the impurities out of the mixture that has been causing our philosophy or our lives to malfunction. A reading process can be like a mining operation wherein we burn out the dross, eliminate the slag, and keep the pure gold.
Very frequently ideas deteriorate in our mental memory. They sometimes disappear as they come–in fragments.  We may have the general idea, but a missing key word or a missing punch line or a supporting phrase makes the whole weak and unproductive.  But if an idea is transferred to your paper memory while you have the spirit of it, it can be recorded in all its vigor and beauty.  Its cheeks can be painted, its attire can be made spotless, and its hair arranged at its best, and that is the way it will always remain. You can preserve your memory, your culture, your spirituality, and your occupational know-how by an acquisition of the right combination of ideas that are properly kept in your paper memory, ready to be applied whenever the need arises.
Of course, the book from which we get ideas can’t do the job by itself.  That is, every inspired book needs an inspired reader. And an inspired reader is one who already has some parts of the ideas. He is one who thinks, meditates, makes notes, joins ideas together, decides questions, and makes applications. Someone was once asked what he thought about a certain thing and he said, “I don’t know, I haven’t spoken on it yet.” Before one speaks effectively on a subject, he needs to think it through, come to some conclusions about it, and develop some convictions on the subject. Then he is in a position to write it down and prepare to take action.
Some people may read and listen endlessly to the thoughts of others, only to have these go in one ear and out the other, without any gain or profit to the one concerned. The reason that the teacher always learns more than the student is that the teacher must get a better possession of the facts.
An idea collector should make a personal examination of the pros and the cons of any matter.  Both the teacher and the student should have done their homework and have effectively researched the subject in such a way that each is capable of a written report.  One is only able to get the clearest ownership title to an idea after he has put it into action.  Neither the giver nor the receiver should sit back and expect the other to do all of the work.  Whether one is reading for enjoyment or for profit, it is necessary for him to use his powers of understanding, concentration, conviction, and action.
Hearing pretty words and high-sounding philosophies may by itself be useless. There may be little value in ideas about culture, education, and success unless we link with the actual industry that must always be present in any success. That is, we learn to do by doing.
As a part of one man’s New Year’s resolutions, he decided to stop smoking, but he said, “Don’t tell anyone about it because I may not want to go through with it.”  This man would do better with his resolutions if he first made some strong decisions about them. His determination could then have been strengthened by writing it down.  Someone has said that a plan is not really a plan until it is on paper. No architect would amount to much without a good set of paper drawings.
One of the most important parts of our religion is memory. From the top of Mount Sinai the Lord said, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.”  (Exod. 20:8) The entire scriptures should be part of our paper memory.  To strengthen this part of our lives is also the purpose of books of remembrance and diaries.
A written memory helped Ralph Waldo Emerson’s moods to believe in each other. He said it was as difficult to manage his mind as it was to manage thunderbolts. Emerson’s chief business was thinking, writing, and speaking for the benefit of others, yet he says that at times his brain would become a blank and his mind would be left in a state of barrenness. Life seemed to him like an occasional flash of light followed by long periods of darkness.  As one of his most profitable moves, Emerson decided to keep a journal. Once begun, it was kept up faithfully.
In his journal he wrote down his every thought and made many helpful written suggestions to himself.  Each day he collected in his journal his disjointed dreams, his mental reveries, and the fragments of all of those ideas that his mind was able to conceive.  He found that the act of writing an idea down improved both his idea and his mind.  His journal became the hive in which he stored the honey of his mind and the bees of his brain distilled it.  Once his thoughts were written down, he could come back and review them again and again and make all needed improvements.
As he visited with great ideas every day, he grew accustomed to their faces.  After he improved their dress, brightened their eyes, and increased their muscle power, he was able to join them together in a more effective order.  Once Mr. Emerson snared an idea, he never allowed it to get away.  He not only wrote it down immediately, he also put it in his mental incubator. He knew that ideas have a natural tendency to propagate and every idea has the possibilities for a large posterity.
He knew that every personality needs an emotional generator to set industry in motion. There are many of these stimulators that should be made a part of our paper memory. Sometimes a song or a phrase or a poem has the power to set our greatest impulses in motion.  But left in our mental memory alone, they soon grow dim, indistinct, and unusable. Ideas can deteriorate very quickly, and when a particular word is misplaced or the spirit of the idea is lost or its rhythm is forgotten, the idea loses both its punch and its beauty. But when we keep our poems, our philosophies, and other spiritual motivators in our paper memory, they always remain as fresh as when they were written down and they can be used to revitalize our entire personality.
Mind is the master power that builds and molds,
And mind is man; and evermore he takes
The tools of thought and fashions what he wills,
Brings forth a thousand joys, a thousand ills.
We think in secret and it comes to pass;
Environment is but a looking glass.
May the Lord help us to use all of our God-given resources in order that we might live most effectively.

Sterling W. Sill, The Keys of the Kingdom, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft Inc., 1972), pp. 235-240.

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