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Superpowers Are Real: How Mnemonics Can Improve Everyday Memory
Why should I bother to memorise, anything?
Appointments, people's phone numbers, birthdays, anniversaries and passwords. All those passwords you have. It seems today we are more reliant on technology than ever before. Once more, we now have the capability for computers and software to learn our shopping lists, amongst everything else. I do have concerns about how the internet provides this external environment for storing our knowledge. The fact is we simply don't memorise a lot of information anymore. In this article, I explain why memorising is good for you and share some great memory techniques that can be applied for everyday use.
- Memory training slows down cognitive decline in elderly by 7 to 14 years.
- Memorising provides exercise for the brain and gears the mind to focus and to pay attention.
- Learning and developing new concepts (schemas) become easier
- Students who used Mnemonics scored significantly higher on tests than students who did not
You can learn strategies and read more on memory techniques and approaches after this article but it’s your mindset about what you’re learning that comes first. If you have a bad attitude towards a subject, then the strategies will not be used because your emotions are in the way first. If you are trying to memorise information, I’ve found by asking questions to engage more with the material and viewing different perspectives that can change your attitudes can really help. Also, the more optimistic you are the more you will succeed with memorising information.
How to Remember Names
Here are the basics:
Tell yourself you want to remember this persons' name.
WHY? If we aren't initially motivated or interested in somebody, you won't remember anything about them including their name. You need to take a positive approach when it comes to memorising anything.
Link the name to a person with the same name you already know of.
For example, I may meet someone called Bob, for me Bob the Builder cartoon comes to mind so I would imagine this person wearing a builder's hat and holding a hammer. If I imagine Bob moving his hat to look cool and is hammering an object in my mind's eye the name will now stay in my memory. Another example, if I already have a friend called Bob, I imagine my friend Bob and this new person to be fighting over a name tag with Bob on it. Please note, if images are moving or interacting for instance: fighting, moving, slipping, dragging etc the vivid images are more likely to stay in your mind.
Take notice and use distinct features.
For the purpose of memorising, big noses, spots, hair styles, distinct shoes, tattoos or clothing can all be linked to the persons' name. For example, if someone has an afro or tattoo which is visible this will aid in learning their name, "Josh? Oh yeah, the guy with the afro who likes to wear tight pants". Exaggerating features can help too as the imagery will be more prominent in your memory.
The Linking Method
Linking two objects you want to memorise will make it stick in your memory. For example, if I wanted to learn the objects of a cooking pan and a female ice ring skater. I can imagine a giant pan the size of 4 cars which is covered in ice and I can see the ice ring skater wearing pink doing tricks and skating about. There we go, that mental image will stick, some pointers you need to include:
Think in visually vivid ways to memorise which includes the senses, i.e smell, taste or touch.
If I said to you "Imagine a man running down the street naked covered in melted chocolate holding a giant flag shouting "CHOCOLATE FOUNTAIN FOR EVERYONE!". This is how you should be making mental images because unusual images stick and when you want to memorise trivial and sometimes boring information this is the way to go. In memory championships, contestants are required to memorise long strings of binary digits i.e 000101111101010 and thinking in vivid and imaginary ways is how this is achieved.
The mental image of the two objects needs to interact.
If two objects are fighting, dancing with, slapping, eating, riding, or is using the object as something else this will be easier to imagine.
The more unusual the better.
For example, if you wanted to memorise the words Sherlock Holmes and hot dog you would not imagine Sherlock eating a hotdog. You would imagine Sherlock using a giant hot dog as a stripper pole or driving around in a hot dog car.
Implementation and Uses.
In relation to names and faces, let me give you an example: You happen to meet a person called Frankie who has two cats which he loves, also he is divorced as his wife has just left him. He also loves to go on hot air balloon rides. Okay, let us use this linking system here to learn about Frankie to come up with a little story to learn this information.
Please follow along and imagine with me.
I imagine Frankie in an empty tub of ice cream (Frankie and Benny's) which is the size of a boat, he is currently floating and paddling away in his ice cream boat with his two cats on board which he loves like his family. On land, a woman in a white wedding dress (Frankie's wife) is waving him off (She doesn't want to go with him) as he is divorced now. As Frankie is paddling, a hot air balloon comes down to save him and the cats which take them away from the stormy rainy sea. This big red hot air balloon then goes over the storms into the clear blue sky and Frankie and his cats look out at the sunset.
Now that sounded like a lot of hard work, but it's so easy to visualise rather than to write these facts down or to rote learn them. This is because we have dedicated brain areas for spatial awareness and locations which make sense because from an evolutionary perspective we wanted to know where the big dangerous lion stayed. These brain regions have developed and are still used due to natural selection to keep us safe and alive so we might as well use them to our advantage.
Vivid Images used in Memory Techniques Stick
Method of Loci: Memory Palace Technique
Humans have this fantastic ability to visualise everywhere we go and we can use this to our advantage to remember what we like. Memory champions use this and it’s called the method of loci, as in locations. This dates back to the ancient Greek times when Simonides a poet who was entertaining guests at a banquet hall. He had briefly left when the hall collapsed sadly killing everyone inside but he was able to remember where everybody was sat as he walked around the tables.
Let's give this a try, you walk into your living room and you notice you have the table, TV and some draws. You know which order they go in, i.e from left to right in the room and if I told you to place a famous person on each piece of furniture you can do so. You have just memorised three characters in order with no effort. Once you really know the route of looking at those pieces of furniture this will stay in your long-term memory.
Progressing: Once you know the order of 10 objects in your room and you can walk into that room and look vividly at each object in the right order you are ready to really embrace this method.
You can memorise any 10 objects or people in order for your convenience. This could be the order of presidents, vivid objects for a list you need to know, famous singers of the 60's or well-known TV characters. For me, the journey/loci method has helped me learn key points for a presentation, helped me learn lines for performances in college, to learning evidence for an essay for an exam, for example (Bandura, 1977).
Progressing the Loci Method
Expanding this: Giovanni's massive memory palace is a technique that enhances the loci method. For example, if Harry Potter was sitting on the TV casting spells with his wand, as soon as I touch his wand this can mentally transport me to Hogwarts. Mentally, you are now standing in the great hall looking around at all these magical characters and objects.
You can now create a new room with new loci by using the character as a hyperlink to that new room. If there are 5 rooms in your house each with 10 objects or loci, you can expand your memory palace by 10 times using this method.
Confused? Let me explain further, in the video below this Youtuber memorised a chapter from Moby Dick by assigning each line of text with a vivid mental image which he places along his journey in his memory palace. With 38 images he is able to memorise the chapter. I have provided a link to further explain and a link to a memory forum where you can explore and fully understand this technique.
Interested? Dominic O'Brien who has won the world memory championships eight times once went through 54 packs of randomly ordered playing cards which took him 12 hours. By studying each card once he was able to recall 2,800 of the 2,808 cards in the correct order, which is an amazing feat of memory. He has published books on improving memory and has been featured in numerous articles.
"Memory is a great artist. For every man and every woman, it makes the recollection of his or her life a work of art and an unfaithful record."— Andre Maurois
- Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K., Marsh, E., Nathan, M., & Willingham, D. (2013). Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14 (1), 4-58 DOI: 10.1177/1529100612453266
- Williams, K. and Kemper, S. (2010). Interventions to Reduce Cognitive Decline in Aging. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services, 48(5), pp.42-51.
- Wolinsky FD, Unverzagt FW, Smith DM, Jones R, Wright E, Tennstedt SL. The Effects of the ACTIVE Cognitive Training Trial on Clinically Relevant Declines in Health-Related Quality of Life. Journals of Gerontolog: Psychological Sciences & Social Sciences. 2006;61(5):S281–287. [PubMed]
© 2017 Timothy Hayward