Did you know that people compete every year to win the U.S. Memory Championship? To attain the rank of grand master of memory, you must be able to memorize 1,000 digits in under an hour, the exact order of 10 shuffled decks of playing cards in under an hour, and one shuffled deck in less than two minutes.
To this day, there are only 36 grand masters of memory in the world.
And while you may not be interested in memorizing digits and playing cards, I’m sure all of us would like to increase our mental brain power. Whether you want to quickly memorize the periodic table, learn a new language, recite the names of each president forwards and backwards, or cut down on your studying time, the following memory techniques will help you do it.
The brain wasn’t designed to remember abstract symbols like numbers and miscellaneous facts. However, if you can translate those symbols into vivid visual images and associations, even the dullest list of dates can become as memorable as your own telephone number. The key is to develop a system that allows for quick encoding and easy recall.
We’ll start with the basic techniques and then move on to the more advanced ones. Although the more advanced techniques do take a bit more practice, they also deliver bigger benefits, so don’t write them off too quickly. With practice, you can become a memory master.
One of the most common memory techniques is the use of acronyms. This technique uses an easily remembered word whose first letters are associated with the list of items that need to be remembered. Pilots use these extensively to run through essential checklists during flight time.
An example would be: ROY G. BIV: the colors of the visible spectrum Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet
Keep in mind that associations which are exaggerated, absurd, humorous, and involve all five senses are much easier to remember than normal ones. We remember emotionally charged events much better than boring ones.
Chunking is one of the oldest memory techniques. Using this method, the items to be memorized are divided into small chunks or groups. Chunking is especially helpful for memorizing telephone numbers, ID numbers, etc.
For example, if you want to memorize the number 411645754, then split it up into small groups: 411, 645, 754. You can then memorize each group by rote. By dividing the larger number into smaller subsets, it will be much easier to commit the number to memory.
When using this technique, it is also helpful to make connections and associations among the different chunks and numbers.
For example, if you want to memorize a grocery list, you should group each of the items into related categories. So, one chunk or group might be composed of oranges, apples, and pears, while another chunk is made up of vegetables.
An acrostic is a memory technique that uses a made up sentence or poem with a first letter cue. The first letter of each word is a cue to an idea you need to remember.
One example is: Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally (PEMDAS).This acrostic represents the sequence in solving or evaluating math equations. Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, Subtraction
4. The Method of Loci
The Method of Loci is a memory technique that dates back to ancient Greek times when orators, philosophers, and others had to rely on memory for memorizing speeches and knowledge in general. This was essential seeing that the printed book wouldn’t come around until approximately two thousand years later.
Therefore, they invented the Method of Loci. This memory technique involves associating information you want to remember with specific locations, also known as loci.
These locations can be points along a journey or objects in a room. The ancient Greeks not only created rooms, but entire palaces and cities to remember lots of information.
According to Wikipedia, “In ancient advice, the loci were physical locations, usually in a familiar large public building, such as a market or a church.
To utilize the method, one walked through the building several times, viewing distinct places within it, in the same order each time. After a few repetitions of this, one should be able to remember and visualize each of the places in order reliably.
To memorize a speech, one breaks it up into pieces, each of which is symbolized by vivid imagined objects or symbols. In the mind’s eye, one then places each of these images into the loci.
They can then be recalled in order by imagining that one is walking through the building again, visiting each of the loci in order, and viewing each of the images that were placed in the loci, thereby recalling each piece of the speech in order.”
To create your own mental journey, you must first select the path you wish to use. Be sure to choose a location that has the same number of locations as the number of chunks in the information you wish to memorize.
Take a mental journey through the selected path. You should be able to recall the specific order of the locations without trouble.
Now it’s time to associate this new information with each location along your chosen path. If you want to memorize the presidents, then you might take a mental journey through your school. In the first room, you could have George Washington in an astronaut suit and cutting firewood. In the second room you could have John Adams break dancing in front of the classroom. And on and on until you have completed all 43 presidents.
Remember, emotion and exaggerated associations are the key to memory.
5. The Image-Name Technique
Here’s an excellent (but simple) memory technique for remembering names.
All you have to do is make up a relationship between the name and the physical characteristics of the person’s name you are trying to remember.
For example, if you were trying to remember a person by the name of Tom, you might associate their name with the person you went to prom with who was also named Tom. In this instance, you are making the connection between Tom and prom (rhyming) and between someone you previously knew from high school.
If you want to remember the name Sally, you might imagine them in a ballet. This association will help you remember their name because of the visual imagery and the connection between the “closely related” words that almost rhyme: Sally and ballet.
By making connections, you are instantly more likely to remember their name the next time you see them.
6. Mind Mapping
One of the best ways to learn new things is to relate what you want to learn with something you already know. This is known as association and it is the mental glue that drives your brain.
Associations are also one of the best ways to improve your memory. To maximize our mental powers, we must constantly look for associations that connect new ideas and knowledge with old ideas and concepts that we are already familiar with.
Association is the primary method that memory champions use to win international memory competitions. If you want to enhance your mental abilities, then association is one skill that you will definitely want to practice.
Mind mapping is one of the best ways to practice association.
According to Wikipedia, mind mapping: “is a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks or other items linked to and arranged radially around a central key word or idea.”
Mind maps have been used for centuries to aid in learning, brainstorming, memory, and problem solving.
To start creating your own mind map, simply get out a piece of paper, multiple colored pens, and begin drawing a handwritten mind map that connects a variety of ideas and concepts to a central key word or idea. The simple act of using your hand for thought can really get the brain going.
7. Write an Article
One of the best ways to learn a topic is to start writing about it yourself. This forces you to clarify your thoughts and dig a bit deeper into the topic at hand.
By expressing the core ideas in your own words, you will gain a much deeper understanding of the topic.
Explaining a topic to others will help you to “really” understand the matter because teaching something to others requires a completely different level of insight.
Think about it. If you had to teach a class, wouldn’t you make sure that you understood the material even better than the students. Take on the role of an instructor and you will find yourself gaining a much deeper understanding of the topics you study.
8. Peg words
Peg words are extremely powerful, but it does take some time to learn how to use them. However, once you master this technique, you can probably cut your studying time in half.
The use of pegs goes all the way back to the seventeenth century and Henry Herson. He came up with a list of ten objects that physically resembled the number itself. For example, the number 1 was represented by a candle. Number 8 was a pair of spectacles.
Peg words essentially become “hangers” or pegs on which you can hang different items that you want to remember.
This system works by pre-memorizing a list of words that are easy to associate with the numbers they represent. To begin, you can connect simple objects with the numbers 1-20. Those objects form the “pegs” of the system.
Once you have created a list of words for each number, you can then begin using your peglist to quickly memorize a list of objects.
For example, let’s say you want to memorize a grocery list of 10 items. To begin, you would need to make a peg list for the numbers 1-10. Here’s an example:
Now, you must associate the groceries on your list with each of your peg words. Remember that your associations must be exaggerated and filled with emotion in order to make them easy to remember. Here are some examples of how you could associate the grocery list with each of the peg words:
1- tomatoes - Visualize an army of pencils attacking a field of overgrown tomatoes.
2- grapes - Visualize your favorite TV character stomping through a big barrel of grapes with bright white shoes.
3 - cereal - Visualize opening your phone and having your favorite cereal start shooting out of the mouth piece.
Get the idea?
Once you have created your list of peg words, you can use them over and over again to memorize a variety of different lists.
You could use the peg system to memorize the Presidents of the United States, the periodic table, or the state capitals.
When creating your peg words, it’s best to use tangible things or objects for each peg word because objects are easier to associate other items to.
Also, make sure that you don’t use similar peg words for different numbers. For reference, always keep a full list of the peg words close by. In fact, putting this list in your wallet or purse is one of the best places. This way, you will always have access to the peg system.
At first, you may find it difficult to come up with the creative, illogical, and exaggerated associations that help you remember more. It comes with practice. However, once you have mastered the technique of association, you will find that you have also increased your creativity and problem solving skills at the same time. The key to creating good associations is thinking like a child again. Let your mind wander past the limitations created out of what we now know as “adulthood”.
Visualization is an extremely powerful memory technique. However, visualization doesn’t just improve memory. It can also help reduce stress, improve sports performance, and increase your motivation.
Create descriptive pictures of your possible future and move yourself towards it. Visualize your next sports event or public speech to improve your performance.
When studying history, play out visual renditions in your mind of historical events that you want to remember. Imagine the smells, sights, and sounds of Gettysburg or the excitement and unity created by Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. By visualizing history with mental replays, you are much more likely to remember them in detail.
When it comes to rote memorization, flash cards are my favorite memorization tool. Flashcards can help you learn new subjects quickly and efficiently. They are especially useful for learning new vocabulary or even a new language.
One of the biggest benefits of flashcards is their portable nature. They allow you to study anywhere at any time. It doesn’t matter whether you’re on the bus, stuck in traffic, or in the doctor’s office. You can always whip out your flashcards for a quick 2 to 3 minute study session.
To create effective flashcards, dedicate one point to each card. For example, you could put a vocabulary word on one side and the definition on the other side. This way, you can repeatedly quiz yourself until you have mastered all of the concepts.
Considering that memory is such a fundamental skill, it’s surprising that schools don’t teach us more about how to learn and use our memory to its optimum potential.
Our mind, just like the rest of our body, needs continuous exercise and training. Those who think they have a poor memory actually just have an untrained memory.
Just reading this article won’t improve your memory. A good memory comes from practice. Find something new and exciting to learn. Start testing out these methods as soon as possible.
You could learn how to fly, learn a new language, photography, or even investing.
When you have mastered these memory techniques, the world’s knowledge is yours to discover.
Read, Learn and Flourish!