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Do you have a good memory? Few will respond in the affirmative. Yet there is good news: there is no such thing as poor memory! It is simply well-exercised. Or not. As a coach, record-breaking winner of the All-Polish Memory Competition, and multiple national representative at the World Memory Championships, I would like to present […]
Do you have a good memory? Few will respond in the affirmative. Yet there is good news: there is no such thing as poor memory! It is simply well-exercised. Or not. As a coach, record-breaking winner of the All-Polish Memory Competition, and multiple national representative at the World Memory Championships, I would like to present you with five simple ways to start you off on your adventure […]
Do you have a good memory? Few will respond in the affirmative. Yet there is good news: there is no such thing as poor memory! It is simply well-exercised. Or not. As a coach, record-breaking winner of the All-Polish Memory Competition, and multiple national representative at the World Memory Championships, I would like to present you with five simple ways to start you off on your adventure with memory training.
Whenever someone asks to be taught how to memorise first and last names, foreign language vocabulary, mathematical formulae, dates, poems, or a public speech, the conversation should be side-tracked. Imagination is vital. Let me use an example to illustrate the thesis. If someone approached the greatest ski jumper in the world and said, “Please teach me how to achieve such amazing results,” the master would in all probability respond with a question, “Can you ski at all?”
Memory works more or less the same way. Theoretically you have no need for a well-developed imagination to memorise something; once you have it, though, you get to approach another level altogether. The use of imagination makes memorising things simple. Imagination is the foundation of memory.
Upon hearing the word “lion”, your mind comes up with the image of the animal. If you know several languages, your mind will come up with the same image regardless of whether you hear “okno”, “window”, or “ventana”. This happens because our mind has a natural aptitude for images; once we feed it information in the form of an image, it will encode it much more efficiently than a non-image. While we may associate a first name with an image of a person we know, the name itself is not an image. If we used words depicting objects of daily use as human names, problems with memorising them would be significantly reduced.
On the next possible occasion, try memorising the first name of a new acquaintance as described: imagine a specific object you might associate with the name. For example: if meeting a Maya, think of Maya the Bee lighting upon her nose. If meeting a Carol, imagine her singing one from sheet music. Trust me, the effect will be truly amazing!
When memorising artwork titles you can use your imagination as well. In case of The Pianist, imagine a TV film constantly showing a man seated at a piano, and sheet music with the word piano, or quiet, written all over it (to avoid any doubt that it is an upright rather a grand piano we are after). The image will remain in your mind much more efficiently than the constantly repeated, pianist, pianist, pianist.
Associating is a typical feature of our memory and cerebral effort. In an analogy to language learning, images can be referred to as our memory’s vocabulary, associations its grammar. Note: when hearing the word “Paris”, you conjure up an image of the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, or any other object you associate Paris with. While we all have different associations, we all use them as a basis for our brain to recall facts and data. For example, if keen on remembering that we are to make an important phone call at noon, think of Gary Cooper in High Noon. When trying to memorise someone’s birthday, we can associate a given month with a specific image: June with a large June bug on the birthday boy’s head, for example (the funnier the better!), or December with the birthday girl climbing a Christmas tree.
Now, back to remembering names – we used association then too. Carol – Christmas carols on sheet music. Maya – the Bee. We will do even better if we associate our name-image with a typical facial feature of the name owner. For example: if Carol has a large mouth, imagine her using it to sing carols loudly. If Maya has a pointy nose, imagine the Bee landing on its end.
This memory boost trick gave rise to a basic mnemonic technique: the Association Chain Method. It involves coupling pieces of information by creating a chain of associations – picture strips. Let’s experiment. Try reading the shopping list below and memorising it: milk, roll, champignons, ketchup, toilet paper, matches, yoghurt, sausage, watermelon, chocolate, pasta.
Now try closing your eyes and listing all the products you must buy.
Any success? Even if you listed all products, in all probability their order was an issue. Now let’s try and connect the pieces, arranging them into a little story. And imagining it. For example: you spilt milk all over a few rolls in your kitchen. Rolls became soggy with milk, which is why champignons grew on them. You pour ketchup over them to make them tastier. Unfortunately, you spilt some ketchup on your shirt, so you use some toilet paper to wipe it off. You then decide to burn the used paper, so you grab some matches. Aaaahhh! Fire got out of control! You grab a cup of yoghurt to put it out (the funnier the better, remember?). And then you find a sausage at the bottom of the empty yoghurt cup! You try it – it tastes just like a watermelon. And it’s covered with delicious chocolate, arranged on the sausage in thin stripes, which look exactly like pasta! Imagine the crazy story. Close your eyes again. Again, try reciting all products on your shopping list!
How did you do? Easier, right? And definitely fewer problems with the order the products were in! The technique is really simple, yet it yields amazing results. Suffice a little exercise and you will master the art of coming up with funny stories to entertain your brain.
All mnemonics are actually tricks of replacing actual information you want to memorise with specific images. The Ten is the simplest trick of all. The method involves assigning an image to each of the ten numbers. For example: 0 – egg, 1 – cane, 2 – hook, 3 – bird, 4 – chair, 5 – hand, 6 – die, 7 – lightning, 8 – snowman, 9 – umbrella.
Once equipped with such a digit-and-image code, we can replace any number with a story and memorise it. The year Columbus reached America, for example. Old Columbus was using a cane (1) to walk. He got tired, so he sat on a chair (4). It was raining on the ocean, so he opened an umbrella (9). And met Captain Hook (2).
This method can be used in daily life, e.g. when trying to memorise a PIN code, a bus number, a postal code, a telephone number, etc. The important thing is to link the coded image story to actual referenced information. Following a similar rule, when memorising somebody’s phone number, connect the made-up story to the number’s owner. The funnier the story the easier it will be to remember.
The “loci” was discovered by ancient Greeks. It is an improved version of the Association Chain Method. When memorising long word or digit sequences, coming up with stories may be an issue. This is the perfect time for the memory path – the “loci” method. To use it, begin with selecting 10 to 15 typical places along a route we frequently take. Bedroom to garden gate, for example:
1 – bed, 2 – bedroom door, 3 – bathroom, 4 – table, 5 – TV set, 6 – refrigerator, 7 – window, 8 – front door, 9 – garden, 10 – gate
Once we come up with our virtual memory path, we can use it to memorise data sequences, such as many words or huge numbers. Bearing in mind that images are our brain’s language, and associations are its grammar, our job will be to imagine every information in turn at a different point on our memory path. And to make up a brief and funny story at the same time. Let’s go back to our shopping list: try and memorise all products using the sample memory path. Here’s an example of a beginning:
We spilt milk on the bed and couldn’t go to sleep.
The bedroom door was made of glued-together rolls.
Champignons grew on my bathroom floor.
While the method is ordinary, it yields extraordinary effects. Try coming up with your own memory path and using it at the next opportunity – when memorising a shopping list, for example.
We’ve all been there: returning to our front door to make sure it was locked, that the gas stove was off, etc. We often cannot recall where we put our keys. Simple things escape our memory, bringing trouble and irritation with them. And yet there is a remedy: memory triggers.
Difficulties with recalling routine tasks are rooted in repetition. We do things on reflex; our brain doesn’t think that turning the key in the lock or turning the gas stove off is anything unusual. The first thing we need to do to get rid of issues with remembering such activities is to develop a habit of focusing on them as step one. Step two involves the use of memory triggers – their purpose is to make the activity attractive, extraordinary, standing out in a string of others, and thus easier to register by the mind.
A private bodyguard may become our memory trigger. We see him in our mind’s eye when turning the key in the lock. The funnier the image, the stronger the memory fixation. These stories obviously need changing – as time passes, they will stop being unusual and will not help in recalling whether we did something or not. Not interested in putting imagination to work? Use a body motion! For example, when turning the gas stove off before leaving home, do a jumping jack (this is something we don’t do too often, so our brain will definitely make a note). When placing home keys somewhere else than usual, pretend to tickle the spot (the funnier the better, remember?).
What can we do to always collect important office papers from home? Which method will help us remember to make that phone call? We already know that when needing to remember something, we have to imagine it and then associate it with something. If in shortage of a natural memory trigger (typical situation: standing in front of your own door and frantically looking for that set of keys), come up with your own. Sticking a coloured piece of paper to your front door is the simplest one of all. Looking at it will always make us think of whether we haven’t forgotten anything. It will help us reach deep into our memory and imagination, bringing and end to issues with forgetting major stuff, such as collecting important office papers from home, or closing the living room window.
Everyone should come up with his or her own memory triggers – ones that will truly work. Good luck!
Bartłomiej Boral – Best Brain