1. Memory vs. Recall – Most people have no problem with their memory. The information they learned is in there, somewhere. The problem is being able to recall it on demand.
The brain naturally decides what is memorable based on a few criteria: is it something vitally important? Does it stand out from “normal” stuff? Is it a threat? Is it funny?
We need a way to tell our brain what information is important for recall, and give it the proper tools to facilitate recall when we need it again.
2. Your Brain Is Weird – Your brain stores and categorizes information in ways we don’t entirely understand. This is what makes recall so dicey.
It’s like walking into a library to discover that the books are arranged according to how many pages they have, or what color the cover is.
Or like a computer. Imagine you could only access programs or documents if you knew where—physically—the information was stored on the hard drive.
3. Almost Like Bookmarks & Computer Icons – Luckily, you don’t need to know where on the hard drive your important documents are. Your computer provides a picture-based structure to help you find what you need.
That image that looks like a folder isn’t really a folder. It is a stand-in that helps the computer know what you’re looking for. Click on it and the computer finds the information on the hard drive that the picture represents, and opens it for you.
The bookmark in your book isn’t the page you stopped on… it simply points you to that page.
Your brain can do the same thing for you.
REMEMBER BETTER, NOW!
4. The Power Of Association – The simplest way to tag something for recall later is to associate it to something you already know, something you can recall on demand.
.. but in an absurd way.
Let’s say you have a bad habit of misplacing your car keys and you put your car keys on the coffee table. You could just picture that in your mind… but it’s a mundane, boring image, isn’t it?
But if you imagined putting your CAR on the coffee table… make it realistic: hear it straining just before it collapses in a heap of splinters beneath the weight of the car… feel the floor shake as the car hits the ground… THAT’S memorable.
Now, just try to forget where you put your car keys. All you have to do is think of your car, and that image comes right back to you.
5. Outrageous Associations – Outrageous associations are the key to keeping information available for recall… I mean really ABSURD. (Active, Big [no, really big), Sensory, Unexpected, Ridiculous [or Raunchy] and Dumb). Expected images are easily forgotten. Ridiculous, humorous, colorful, smelly, action-oriented associations are not.
6. The Power of Substitution – Picturing cars is one thing… but what about an address or a number or an abstract concept? Or a word you don’t even know the meaning to? To do that, it’s really the same thing. You simply create a mental image to serve as a stand-in for that concept. What does it look like, sound like our otherwise remind you of?
For the number 12, for example, you could picture a carton of a dozen eggs.
If Bob lives at number 12 Forest Lane, picture a forest. In that forest is a tree with cartons of eggs growing on it instead of fruit. Picture Bob standing under the tree, and a carton of eggs falls on him, cracking, covering him in slimy raw egg.
Now, I dare you to forget where Bob lives.
7. Why This Works – First, the native language of the brain is images. Creating “memory images” plays to the strengths of your brain.
Second, you are intensely focused on the information at hand (even if briefly). That is a clear signal to the brain that this is important and might be needed later.
Third, bringing in sensory details involves multiple areas of the brain… another signal that this might be important later.
Fourth, you are actively thinking about the subject not only analytically (what is this information… what does it mean?), but you are thinking about it creatively as well, creating new and unexpected connections to unrelated ideas.
Fifth, it’s FUN! Rather than repeating dead, dry facts until you’re sick of them, you are pouring creativity and imagination into them, giving them a life of their own… making them unique to you.
REMEMBER MORE, NOW!
8. Super Power – Now that you know HOW to create an association to remember something… let’s use it to remember a LOT of somethings
Imagine your house. Walk through it mentally, one room at a time in a logical progression.
Have someone come up with a list of 12 random items. Give yourself 60 seconds to mentally walk through your house placing each item in one room of your house. Make it absurd… make it huge, or comical, or active.
Make it the least likely way that item could possibly be in that room. Does it take up the entire room? Is it replacing a piece of furniture (impractically)? Is it attacking you as you try to make your way through?
Do it quickly as you can, but see it clearly in your mind. 60 seconds.
Then get a sheet of paper, number it 1-12. Take another mental stroll and write down what item is stored in each room. Chances are you’ll get most if not all of them.
If an item is pizza and you’re in the dining room, don’t just picture a nice hot pizza sitting on the tale. Imagine the entire take to is a giant pizza… or a bunch of pizzas are buzzing around the room like flying saucers. The ordinary and expected are not memorable. The surprising and absurd are.
If you miss any, you’ll probably find that the association between the item and the room wasn’t nearly as outlandish or memorable (ABSURD) as the those you remembered. See if you can fix it, and try again.
9. Speech! Speech! – This is the precise method Greek orators used to memorize speeches, and bards used to remember poems and songs.
They’d create an image for the first point they wanted to make and place it at the front door of their house. The second point would go in the foyer. The third in the living room, fourth in the dining room and so on.
When it came time to give the speech, they’d stand up and mentally tour their home. Coming to the front door, they’d talk about point #1. Walking inside, point #2 was there to greet them. As they moved through their house room by room, the entire content of their speech was laid out in order.
As a more advanced method, the main topic of each section would be in the center of the room, with images for supporting points linked to different furnishings and fixtures in the room.
They’d walk into the den and state, say, their fourth main topic. Then they’d, perhaps, look clockwise around the room and cover the supporting points for that topic.
This freed them from having to memorize an entire speech word for word, making the delivery much more spontaneous and free, without leaving out an important fact. One can remember rather long speeches or poems in this manner.
10. A Whole Neighborhood of Memory – To make this powerful, flexible technique even more powerful and flexible… you can use any building or structure as a memory building, as long as you know it well enough to walk through it in your mind.
Your house, your school, your church, the local park or playground… your own body.
SHORT TERM vs. LONG TERM
11. Reinforcement- Much of what you will use these techniques to learn will be for short-term memory (48 hours or less) — to hold the information close at hand until you can use it for some purpose.
The way to cement this information in your memory is with repetition. Not the old Rote Memory style of repetition, though. With these techniques, that kind of drudgery is a thing of the past. The review here literally takes seconds.
Each time you review the information, the association gets stronger and lasts longer. So you review it on a schedule like this
1. Immediately after creating the association
2. One or two hours later.
3. Before you go to sleep
4. Upon waking the next day.
5. Upon waking the NEXT day.
6. 3-4 Days Later
7. A week later
8. A month later.
12. Why This Schedule Isn’t As Daunting As It Looks – This review schedule seems like a lot of work… but let me convince you why it’s not.
First, it happens at the speed of thought. All you’re doing is reviewing a succession of linked images in a house in your mind. You can flash through images in your mind– and comprehend what they mean– at ridiculous (almost instantaneous) speeds. But even if it took you five seconds per room, if you had 12 rooms, that’s still just 60 seconds.
Let’s say you read a book. The book has 12 chapters. You create an image to represent the main point of each chapter and place it in its own room.
In this case, when to review it later, you’ll be reviewing all 12 major points of the book in just 60 seconds. If you were to add 5 supporting facts to each room and it took 5 seconds to review each one (it won’t… but for sake of argument)… that’s 5 seconds per fact for 6 facts each in 12 rooms.
That’s the 72 most important elements in the book and you’ve reviewed it in just 360 seconds (or 6 minutes).
Using the schedule above, you will have reviewed the book 8 times over the course of a month and a half… for a grand total of 48 minutes.
And since you don’t even need the book in hand to review it (you’re just strolling through a house in your mind, remember) you can do it in the car on the way to school or work, or in the shower, or while walking/running/working out… or during one of a million other previously wasted moments in any given week.
13. Quick Review –
Where did you leave your car keys?
Where does Bob live?
What are the 12 items you had to memorize?
Those took place quite a while ago… how did you do?
14. This Isn’t New – This isn’t something someone just came up with recently. Back before the printing press and chainsaws, back when books and paper were in short supply, this is HOW students and professionals learned things.
Lawyers, philosophers, doctors, poets, singers, storytellers, craftsmen and tradesmen — most of them completely illiterate– acquired and passed knowledge on in this very fashion.
Techniques like these are why we still have The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Old Testament and the Torah and historical tales from many early cultures.
This is an ancient art… and this is only the beginning.
15. The Real Name – the house method you just learned is actually called the Loci Method, and is around 3,000 years old, reportedly developed by Simonides, a Greek poet. “Loci” is simply the Greek word meaning “place.” (This method gave rise to the common phrase “in the first place,” as that’s how people actually used to learn things.)
16. Linking – You know that an outlandish association between two ideas is the basis of this system. By “linking” information together in chains, you can remember a lot of information very quickly.
You create an association between one item, and a second item. Then you form a new association between the second item and a third item. Link the third item to a fourth, the fourth to a fifth and so on.
17. An Example – Let’s say you needed to run to the store and were given a small list: Milk, eggs, ham, toilet paper and cereal. First, you’d link “store” to “milk.” Maybe you’re looking at the store and a GIANT bottle of milk falls from the sky, crushing the store. Or perhaps you walk into the store only to find yourself knee deep in milk as you wade through the aisles.
Next you link “milk” to “eggs.” You go to pour yourself a glass of milk, and instead eggs come tumbling out of the jug, cracking as they hit the bottom of the glass. Then link “eggs” to “ham.” Maybe you go to crack an egg, and a tiny pig falls out instead, and runs all over the counter, squealing as you try to catch it.
(Remember, ABSURD: Active, Big, Sensory, Unexpected, Ridiculous or Dumb!)
“Ham” to “toilet paper.” You walk into the bathroom and there’s a pig sitting on the toilet, looking entirely offended that you just walked in on him. Finally, “toilet paper” to “cereal.” Picture yourself pouring milk over a heaping bowl full of toilet paper. Grab your spoon and dig in!
Now, when you arrive at the store and see it, you’ll automatically think of it being crushed (or flooded) by milk. Milk will lead you automatically to pouring a glass full of eggs. Eggs will take you that tiny pig (ham). Ham will put you in the bathroom (toilet paper). Toilet paper will take you to a bowl of the worst breakfast cereal ever.
If someone is giving you this list, you can form the link from item to item as they’re speaking to you. Your first review happens as you repeat the list back to them to make sure you didn’t miss anything.
18. Hooks & Chains – In this example, the store is actually a “hook.” It is the thing you call to mind in order to recall your chain of memory links. In the previous post you read, each room in your memory house is a hook.
Chains can be as long as you like… but I like to stick to ten or fifteen links as a maximum limit. It just keeps it manageable.
19. Your Memory House Just Got Bigger- Let’s go back to your house. If you had 10 to 12 rooms you were using as hooks, and each hook held a chain of 10 links… you now have a place to store 100-120 pieces of information.
And if you wanted to start out safe and just work with 5-link chains… that’s still 50-60 items you can recall on command.
That beats the heck out of the average person’s 7-item short-term memory capacity. But that’s still a drop in the bucket.
20. You Have Just Learned to Crawl – The techniques we discussed here will make your memory– or rather, your recall– far better than it was before you read this. With just a little bit of practice, you can use this to do impressive things.
But this is nothing, really. Like an infant whose big trick had been to turn over onto its belly, these techniques have taught you to crawl and opened a whole new world for you to explore.
Once you are used to using these, you can add other techniques that will allow you to stand, to walk, to run, to climb.
I’ve made a name for myself in three separate careers for being able to sit through excruciatingly long meetings and classes without taking notes, then recap not only the information delivered by the presenter, but the comments of the other participants, including detailed numerical facts and figures.
People who know more than I do say that if you read three books on a particular subject and write a 1-page summary of each, you know more about that subject than 75% of people on the planet. Read 5 and you know more than 95%.
With a rich mnemonic system, you can not only do that, but you could stand and give a speech about each of those five books– and five more– without referring to notes… having read them just once. Not just key points of chapters, but right down to the key point of each paragraph.
You can sit in class and memorize an entire lecture, even if you don’t understand what half the words mean (using the power of substitution), then go home and look up those words, or watch a half dozen YouTube videos until you find one that makes sense to you… giving instant meaning to the body of information you’ve already memorized.