Memory techniques

Memory techniques are at the heart of memory study and memory improvement. Without taking the time to learn the tools to do the job, you're just fooling yourself, and basically just dipping your toe in the water, when what you need to do is dive right in and get wet. Like any other endeavour, you need to have a goal, and a plan, and you need to stick to that plan. You can't expect to develop a truly extraordinary memory overnight, but you can start to learn some really useful memory techniques, and learn them thoroughly. And the more you learn, the more you need to practise, and practise regularly. And that's the key - regular practice.

 

 

You don't need to let it take over your life completely. Even if you only commit ten minutes a day to practising your memory techniques, you will benefit from it. Obviously, the more time you spend practising, the quicker you'll see results, and the more impressive they'll be, but don't go overboard. You'll do yourself far more good spending just ten or fifteen minutes a day going over some memory routines, and doing it regularly, day after day, than trying to cram six months' work into a fortnight.

Sometimes, less is more!

The trick is finding the middle way - not spending too much time and effort on your study of memory improvement, and not skimping on it either.


A toolbox of memory techniques

toolbox with various tools

Keep adding to your mental toolbox.
Your personal memory system
should consist of various
methods and techniques.

Some of the many memory techniques are:


The link method

The link method is as simple as it sounds, and yet it's at the root of nearly all memory work. All memory works by association. We remember things, very largely, by linking them to other things. Learning to use the link method effectively is not just an end in itself, it will help you use all the other memory techniques that you'll learn.


Mnemonics

Mnemonics are just clever little devices to help you remember stuff. Technically, any memory device is a mnemonic, but the word usually indicates a rhyme or a phrase, or a string of letters, or something else designed to trigger your memory. People who have really mastered memory skills have generally made very wide use of mnemonics. Because we tend to link things in our minds easily, we tend to remember them. As we think about these things, creatively, we are literally making stronger neural pathways in our brains. And the more we do this the more skilled we become at making memory work. And don't just use mnemonics, make up your own personal mnemonics! Making them up is the really creative part, even more so that using them, so get busy every chance you get.


Writing and repetition

People tend to value these two things far lower than they're worth, yet they really are incredibly powerful. The very act of writing something down makes it 'real', in the same way that saying it out loud does. There's a reason for the creaky old phrase, "the magic word" - a word really can have an almost magical quality. Ask any psychologist how important it is for a child to be told he/she is loved. A parent who fails to say the words is losing out, and depriving the child of the feeling of security that comes from hearing the words.

In memory terms, saying things aloud and repeating them are important ways to reinforce the memory you want to solidify. And further than that, to write the thing down goes a step further. To make it even more effective, make the act of writing special. You could keep a notebook specifically for things you want to commit to memory. Or you could write them carefully and neatly, if that suits you. Or maybe use different colours, or change from lower case to capitals where it seems appropriate.

There are no rules. Well, except one ... do what works for you. It might be enough for you to trace the words with your finger on the palm of your other hand. Or you might like to keep carefully written notes, or flashy post-it style notes all over the walls. The only thing that matters is to make use of writing and repetition, and do it in whatever style suits you best.

Don't be confined to one particular memory technique, take a look at them all and choose what you will from each. It might suit you to use a mix of techniques, or a particular one for a particular purpose. Be willing to change and adapt.


The journey method

The Journey Method is a development of the Roman room method. Legend has it that in ancient Rome, senators, generals and others who had a need for excellent memorisation would use their homes as 'memory palaces'. It stands to reason that if you're going to use memory links, using something you know really well as a starting point is the way to go. So these people developed a system of linking things to places and things in their own homes. As they mentally walked around the house, they would 'see' the people and things they had commited to memory, right there, in their own homes.

The Journey Method takes this one step further. Instead of just your own house, you use a well-known journey and place things at specific points along the way. The journey might be a trip into town, or into a neighbouring area that you know well enough to use. If this is a method you want to use, you could develop several 'journeys' and have them ready for use whenever you need them.


The Major System

Gary's hard work helped him nail the Major System
The Major System is looked on by many as the grand-daddy of all memory systems (er, I think there's a hint in the name!). The system consists of applying consonant sounds to the numbers 0-9. Once you've done that, and memorised them, you can transpose any number into a word or phrase, adding vowel sounds as necessary. It's actually a brilliantly clever system, but one that I sometimes had trouble with (but then I do have memory problems!), so I haven't been spending a lot of time on it. I tend to use the 100 List more often, which is an alternative way to memorise numbers.

Of course, the Major System (and the 100 List for that matter) can be used for more than remembering numbers. For example, say you were trying to memorise a list of items and you also needed to know exactly where each one was on the list, then you could use either system to memorise the items and its number in the list, so you'd effectively be learning both at the same time. You might, for example, need to know not just the entire periodic table of elements, but the position of each (i.e. the 18th element, or the 29th).



The 100 List

Numbers are notoriously 'slippy' and difficult to memorise. But how about if each one had a character all its own? Not so slippy then, eh? smiley face

There's a bit of preparation involved for this memory technique, but once you've got yourself one hundred characters and you've applied them to all the double-digit numbers from 00 to 99, you're up and running. And once you have your 100 List ready, you can do a lot with it.

At the simplest level, each number now has a 'face' and you can more easily remember it, and link it to whatever you need to remember. But one of the more amazing things that you can do with the 100 List is memorise the calendar! Yes, using the 100 List you really can put the correct day to any date, and although it's a bit involved, it's not actually all that difficult. But, trust me, it is impressive!


The Alphabet List

Sometimes you need a good memory system, but you haven't quite mastered either the Major System or the 100 List. At times like this, the Alphabet List can fit the bill admirably. It's easier to learn than the other two, and it gives you access, very quickly, to more than twenty memory pegs on which to hang anything you need to memorise.

You'll be surprised how easy it is to learn, and amazed how useful it can be. If you never learned another memory technique, your memory would undoubtedly benefit from just studying this one.


Memorise the Calendar!

Calendar showing a date marked in red

It's actually possible
to memorise the entire calendar!

You really can memorise the entire calendar (or make it appear that you can!). Perfecting the skill of putting the correct day to any date might seem like a very complicated and fairly pointless exercise, but whether you think it's of any real value or not, the method itself is a wonderful memory exercise. To hear a date and be able to pin the correct day of the week on it is truly impressive, in my opinion. And it does have its uses. But, okay, I accept that it's more party trick than genuinely useful skill. Having said that, I think it's a massively impressive skill, and I love the fact that working on honing that skill really does improve your memory, and to a quite amazing degree.

You don't need to be a mathematician either. It's all about knowing a few key numbers, and then doing a bit of simple mental arithmetic. You can do it, you really can. Er ... and you know you want to! :)


You can take a more detailed look at the Link Method here.

If you want to investigate Mnemonics, there are several pages dealing with the subject.

Details of The Journey Method can be found here.

The Major System can give you a massive memory boost, and it can be used for all kinds of things.

My personal favourite is The 100 List, and it can help you memorise ten thousand numbers! It's also amazingly effective for memorising lists and facts of all kinds.

(A shorter and easier alternative is The Alphabet List)

If you're fed up missing pre-arranged appointments, see Memorise Appointments

Once you've studied the 100 List, you'll be ready to Memorise the Calendar, which, apart from the obvious benefit of being able to put the correct day of the week to any date, will give your memory a serious adrenaline boost.

Give your memory a much needed boost! You already have the best hardware in the world (perhaps in the universe!). Make sure you install the best software available. Increase your virtual memory with some effective memory techniques and boost your brain power instantly!

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