The Link Method

Memorising with the Link Method

Chain links, signifying the way the link method works

Linking things like a chain makes it easy to remember a list

The link method might very well be the most basic method of memorization of them all. Linking one thing to another is the kind of thing that everyone does to help them remember a list of things, and it’s one of the oldest and most instinctive memorization methods known. Men were probably using the link method to keep track of things when they still lived in caves!

It’s so simple and basic that there really doesn’t need to be a tutorial about it, but actually it can be helpful to know how to do it better. Just because it’s the kind of thing that we all do automatically doesn’t mean we can’t become more proficient at it. And any system you can improve, including the link method, is worth improving, right?

The key to being better at the link method is to really use your imagination. It’s one thing to link, say, a can of beans to a box of breakfast cereal (if, for example, you’re putting together a shopping list), by seeing a mental image of the beans and the cereal together in some boring, uninteresting way … for example, the tin of beans balanced on top of the cereal box. Sure, the two are linked, and you’ve made an effort to ‘see’ them, but it’s not much of an image, is it?

Far better to vividly imagine something unlikely. For example, see the beans being poured over a huge dish of the cereal. See the opened tin (opened roughly using an old fashioned can opener, the lid bent up and with sharp, jagged edges), spilling the beans and the sauce all over the crackly cereal, and spilling over the sides of the ridiculously huge bowl, the table sagging under its weight. Now that’s really using the link method!

To make the Link Method effective, vividly imagine

That image will stay with you a lot longer than the first! So what changed? Simple really …

The first image was boring – the second was interesting!

The second image was formed using the full power of the imagination. The cereal bowl was huge (the table was actually in danger of collapsing under its weight!). The lid of the tin had sharp edges, dangerously sharp. You could see the beans and the tomato sauce, pouring over the cereal in a big, beany, gloopy mess. The cereal was fresh and crackly (couldn’t you just hear it making crackling noises?). As you ‘saw’ the images formed, you could probably almost taste the odd and unlikely flavour of the sauce and the cereal combined. All these things go to make the image more memorable, more ‘real’. Your brain (which, let’s face it, is pretty smart) doesn’t want to waste time and energy remembering ordinary, mundane things. It tends to pass them by. But this was unusual. This was kinda weird. This was something worth remembering! Paying attention to all these little details is what makes the link method so effective.

But won’t this method of imagining things take ages?
Who’s got time for all this nonsense!

Actually, it’ll take just moments. It takes far longer for me to write about it, or for you to read what I’ve written, than it would take either of us to come up with such a scene. And when you make it a habit, you can come up with things like this even faster. The bottom line is, if you want to see something in your mind vividly, and remember it, then imagine it in great detail. With practice, this becomes much easier.

Memorise effectively

If you practice and work on it, you’ll very soon be using the link method very effectively, and you’ll find yourself using the link method to remember lists all the time. Because it works! Just keep in mind, if you want to memorise effectively, pay attention to the details.

Don’t forget to keep a few guidelines in mind:

  • Make things unusual, even ridiculous
  • Make things bigger, bolder, brighter
  • Make actions unusual or what would be unexpected in the real world
  • Use all your senses (see things, hear the sounds they make, imagine how they would feel if you touched them, how they would taste, etc.)
  • Bring emotion into it – make things appear dangerous, frightening, wildly attractive, shocking, sexy, whatever.
  • Put things in awkward positions – unbalanced, teetering on the edge of something, inside something that in the real world is smaller, etc. (in other words, mess around with the logic!).
  • Don’t be afraid to make things do stuff they can’t they can’t do in the real world, like fly, swim, sing, whatever.
  • Feel free to give things legs and faces! Make them into little characters (it’s easier to have them singing and dancing if you’ve given them legs!)
  • And remember, you don’t have to be a professional cartoonist or a CGI expert with Hollywood experience (or have a Hollywood budget!) – in your imagination you can do anything!

The link method is perfect if you want to remember a list (e.g. a shopping list), and it’s easily learned, since we all do it to some extent anyway.

The next step is to link the second item to the third, and so on. It’s as simple and as uncomplicated as that.

Here’s an example of a shopping list, and I want you to first try and remember all the items the ‘normal’ way (i.e. without using any special memory techniques) and then by using the link method.

You might never have to write a shopping list again, once you use the link method!

You might never have to write a shopping list again!

A wholemeal loaf
two tins of tomatoes
garlic bread
bottle of wine
a pizza
pack of printer paper
pack of paint brushes
tin of undercoat
bottle of thinners
drop a parcel off at the post office
washing up liquid
pan scourers

Okay, when you’ve tried memorizing the list in the so-called normal way, try it like this:

Imagine a huge loaf, the size of a house, and you’re struggling to work your way through it, but you keep coming across big seeds and grains in the bread, each one the size of your fist … when you finally emerge at the far end of the loaf, you step out onto two big tins of tomatoes the size of beer kegs (you know they’re tomatoes because the straggly bits of the tomato ‘vine’ are becoming three-dimensional and they’re sticking out of the pictures on the tins) …

when you step off the tins you slip and slide on a whole load of loose onions and instinctively grab onto a couple of long sticks of garlic bread to steady yourself, like a skier using his ski sticks ….

the smell of the garlic bread, as it squashes in your hands, perfectly complements the dish in front of you – a big, wide plate of spaghetti, fresh off the boil and as wide as a jacuzzi … makes you think, “why not get in for a nice relax” so you get in amongst all the slippy, slidey stands of spaghetti, and you pour yourself a nice glass of wine to help you relax …

then you lean back and open the newspaper to have a leisurely read … you grab the glass again for another drink of wine but you’re shocked to see that it’s turned into a milk bottle and, without thinking, you’ve taken a swig … oh no, you were expecting wine, the taste of milk seems weird now … you jump out in a state of shock and fall head first into a huge pizza, with bits of mushroom and cheese and pepper sticking to your face …

you reach out and grab for something to wipe your face clean and tear open the first thing that comes to hand: a pack of printer paper … while you’re wiping the mess off your face with the crisp, shiny paper you realise that it’d be quicker to use a brush so you tear open a large plastic pack of paint brushes …

glad I’ve got this pizza mess on my face, you think, not some oily paint, like, er, undercoat … I’d need some thinners if that was the case! … finishing your clean up, you remember it’s time to drop that parcel off at the post office … job done, so it’s time to wrap up and clean things up properly with some washing up liquid and pan scourers!

Okay, so I struggled a bit to make some of the links clever and meaningful, but that was off-the-cuff (although, to be fair, I did go back and tidy up what I’d written ‘cos it was a bit of a mess, but I didn’t change anything important).

And I bet if you read through that and vividly imagined the scenes as you read it, you wouldn’t have much trouble remembering the whole list, and in order too. And I’ve just had another look at that list and it consisted of sixteen items! I’m willing to bet you would have had trouble remembering it in the ‘normal’ way. Let’s be honest, most people would have trouble remembering eight or ten items without a written list.

Benefits of the link method of memorisation

Using the link method has lots of benefits. First (and very obviously!), you can remember the list, and pretty easily too. On top of that, you’re exercising your brain, which is always worth doing (keeps it active and healthy!). That makes it easier to use this method of memorisation, since every time you use it you become more proficient at it. Last but not least, you can’t lose the list, ‘cos it’s in your head, and you can’t really forget to take that with you, now can you?


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