- Education and Science
Easy memory techniques
Brain training for memory and creativity
At some point in our lives we all forget something very important. It happens to the best of us! And in society, it is generally accepted that all kids need to go to school, get an education and pass exams. This requires great mental capacity, but the tricks and techniques of memorisation are rarely taught in schools to assist children - and adults - to pass important exams.
Outlined here are some of the more common methods of memorisation: the Chain Method, the Hook Method and the House Tour Method. If practised regularly, we can all improve our memory and recall capacities, and improve our creative thinking ability as a bonus!
Techniques for memorising
Mnemotechnics and creative visualisation
During our childhoods we were all probably taught a few memory tricks to help us to remember things. But as we get older, nobody ever teaches us the tricks and techniques that could really help us in remembering important facts for exams, or even how to remember a simple shopping list!
We move away from mnemonics and creative visualisation as we get to the crucial point in our education - high school - and end up trying to learn things 'parrot-fashion'.
Here are a few examples: if I asked you to name the colors of the rainbow, you would probably think of a little rhyme you learnt while you were a toddler.
Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain (or a similar variation)
This is an example of a mnemonic, where the first letter of each word stands for a color of the rainbow. So the colors, in order, are Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet.
What about other childhood memory aids? The musical notes on treble and bass clefs have their own mnemonics:
- Every Good Boy Deserves Fruit - EGBDF - lines on the treble clef
- Good Boys Deserve Fruit Always - GBDFA - lines on the bass clef
- The word 'Face' - FACE - gaps on the treble clef
- All Cows Eat Grass - ACEG - gaps on the bass clef
And the rhyme that we used for remembering how many days in each month:
Thirty days hath September
April, June and November.
All the rest have thirty-one
Excepting February alone
Which has but 28 days clear
And 29 in each Leap Year.
And which way to set your clocks and watches when you have to change them:
Spring - Forward
Fall - Back
You probably know a host of other memory tricks to remember things from when you were growing up, but I'll go on to describe some advanced techniques for memorising information.
The Chain Method
Story-telling to remember
This is a great method for learning lists of items, remembering tasks or shopping lists. The chain method - also referred to as the linking method - involves associating consecutive pairs of items on the list with each other.
When associating the items, it is important to actually visualise them in some way, and also critical to follow some simple rules:
- Make the picture connecting the items as vivid as you can
- Connect the two items in as unusual a way as possible
- Make sure that the two items interact with each other
Without all three of these rules, the memorisation technique will not be effective.
Derren Brown's book Tricks of the Mind describes in great detail how to memorise a list of twenty items. You are invited to try to learn the random word list in 30 seconds using your normal learning method. My recall was a disastrous 3 words of recall!
Then you are invited to study the word associations that Derren provides - actually without any deliberate attempt to memorise. My recall this time was the whole list of 20. And it was immediately possible to recall the words backwards also. It is an incredibly powerful technique.
And since it relies only on your imagination, you can pretty much memorise a list however long it is! Of course, the method relies on very vivid imagery, and so works best with nouns, and things you can actually see, like a mouse or a sausage or a telephone. But you can normally substitute for something else. For example in Derren's list, one of the words was 'Christmas' - just think of a Christmas tree, or something else you associate strongly with Christmas.
Example of the Chain Method
How to memorise lists
Here is a little portion of the list in Derren Brown's book and how he thinks about visualisation.
So the approach is to connect the first two words telephone and sausage to each other. Make the association vivid and unusual, and it helps if the picture in your mind's eye elicits some sort of emotional response, such as amusement or disgust.
Telephone/Sausage: think of trying to dial an old-fashioned telephone using a sausage, a flaccid, cold, uncooked sausage. It feels revolting, and is entirely impractical.
Sausage/Monkey: think of footage from a wildlife documentary about a monkey cooking sausages on a barbecue. Perhaps next to him he has a selection of dips.
Monkey/Button: you have a helper monkey, so you don't have to waste your precious time buttoning up your shirts - you just stand there and admire the monkey cleverly fastening the buttons for you.
Button/Book: a book all about buttons, and in order to open it, you have to unfasten a whole row of big colorful buttons - a very irritating and impractical marketing gimmick.
So you get the idea. Try really thinking about the connections and forming a vivid picture in your mind - you'll find it easy to recall the list, either forwards or backwards.
Extend the list to twenty items, and make the most ludicrous connections between each pair, and you'll find that you can easily memorise them in a very short time!
It is very important you perfect
the visualisation methods of the
Chain Method first, as they are
crucial in the other techniques
The House Tour Method
Visualisation to memorise
The House Tour Method of memorisation is something that I learned about several years ago, and is a small part of what Derren Brown calls the Loci System.
As I mentioned in the orange box above, you really do need to have got to grips with the Linking - or Chain - system, and its visualisation techniques.
As the name of the system describes, you will need to know the layout of your own home. Imagine yourself standing outside your front door, key in hand.
Now, connect the first item on your 'Things to remember' list to the front door. Don't forget to make the picture as ridiculous as you possibly can, and make it have some sort of emotional impact. The richer the connection the better, especially if you can involve more senses than just sight - how does it feel? Or smell?
You are about to take a tour of your home. So for everyone, the rooms you visit, and the connections you make, will be different. But have a specific order, starting with the front door, then the entrance hall, then the living room, dining room, kitchen, etc. Then go upstairs, visiting each room in the order that you arrive at them. Enter each room, visualise powerfully and make a funny association with the next item on your list.
When you want to recall the list, imagine standing at your front door, and allow your mind to remember the association you made. Then simply walk mentally around your house, and you'll remember your list of items if your original associations were powerful enough. If not, try again and be really off-the-wall creative about it. Doesn't matter how stupid the ideas are, you never need to tell anyone - this is all about YOU aiding your memory.
The Hook Method
Using mnemonic devices
The Hook Method - what Derren Brown calls the Peg System - still relies on powerful visualisations, but unlike the other methods, can be used for memorising numerical data.
The really useful thing about the Hook Method is that you don't need to work your way from the beginning of the list to get to the information you are trying to remember.
There are several ways of designing a Hook Method, but the way I originally learnt, and also the preferred way in Derren Brown's book, connects certain pre-determined sounds to the numbers 0 to 9. So, the sounds to learn are these:
- 0 - s or z - 'z' for 'zero' and the similar 's' sound
- 1 - l - they look similar, one down-stroke
- 2 - n - two down-strokes
- 3 - m - three down-strokes
- 4 - r - as in fou'r'
- 5 - f or v - as in 'f'i'v'e, and both are similar sounds
- 6 - b or p - 'b' looks like a 6; 'p' sounds similar
- 7 - T - kind of look similar
- 8 - ch or sh or j - because of 'gh' in 'eight', and similar sounds
- 9 - g - they look similar when written
Using the Hook Method
As easy as counting to ten!
Whenever you need to remember a number, for example a PIN number for your bank card, convert the digits into their corresponding letters and make up some memorable words or phrases, finally connecting the word or phrase with getting some money out of the ATM.
For example, if your PIN number is 4723, your letters will be RTNM. So think of something ridiculous that you can invent out of those letters by inserting vowels. The vowels are used to allow words to be constructed, and have no 'mnemonic' value. I am also very happy to use this system in an entirely auditory way. So if you come up with a word that has a silent letter in it, ignore it! My keyword to remember the PIN would therefore be:
4723 - RTNM - RaT gNoMe
And I'd think of a rat dressed like a garden gnome, with a bobble-hat and whiskers, and a fishing rod, walking up to an ATM and jumping up and down trying to reach it!
Train your Brain
Confused boy lens image: Hasslefree Clip Art
Rainbow image: Image ID: corp2029, NOAA Corps Collection, Photo Date: September 1992,Photographer: Commander John Bortniak, NOAA Corps.