Old Dog Learns New Trick

11 Sep Old Dog Learns New Trick

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 19.9.22


One of the great things about getting older is that you’ve been around long enough to know a lot of things. Mostly what you know is there’s a lot you still don’t know. This is delightful.

I am also learning new things about myself. I had thought I was a visual rather an aural person which makes sense for someone who has been hearing impaired since childhood – my eyes were always more reliable than my ears and have done a top job of lip-reading my way through life.

Certainly when it comes to understanding ideas and retaining them, I have always been the kind of person who absorbed information best by seeing it written down. Show me, my brain says, don’t tell me.

And for committing it to memory I’ve always handwritten lists of anything from the shopping to what I am going to talk about on stage because something in the act of getting my hand and eyes involved in the process of planning and remembering helps commit it to memory.

But now it seems I am not an either/or on the visual/oral spreadsheet, but a little of Column A with a bit from Column B.

Like everyone else, I worry about memory. Any time I forget someone’s name or reach for a word and can’t find it, I fret about this being an early sign of something serious that can’t be fixed by an early night and more fish oil.

Though it is comforting to recall with crystal clarity that I have always been dreadful at remembering people’s names, even when I was 23. Something to do, apparently, with being too stressed about how a new person perceives me for the correct part of my brain to calmly and politely file away information about them. Honestly, being a people-pleaser is not at all useful when it comes to pleasing people by remembering their name.

Nevertheless, I am so keen on keeping forgetfulness at bay that I’ve adopted a daily regime of brain exercises which work a treat whenever I remember to do them.

And then this thing about being visual rather than aural got a second think recently. I was sitting on my yoga mat at the beginning of a class, attempting to join in the meditative chant which you can either read from laminated cards or follow along by listening then repeating.

There was a brief moment of mild panic as I sat in sukhasana and realised I could neither see the words without my glasses nor hear the chant clearly without my hearing aid – neither of which I take into the yoga studio.

Was I usually an aural or a visual learner, my teacher had asked? Once I would have confidently replied, “Visual” but it occurred to me this has changed – now it is “both”. I need to see the words to understand, then need to hear them to imbed them in my memory.

Which is why over the past few weeks while I’ve been learning scripts for a drama, I’ve adopted what is, for me, a new approach. Turns out my favourite way to memorise a scene of dialogue has been to voice-record it and then both listen and read – simultaneously at first, then without the pages, then without the recording, and finally just from memory.

So the answer to whether I am a visual or aural person is that now I am both. Old dog learns new trick. Highly recommended.