It’s hard remembering stuff.
I remember I used to really want a photographic memory. Now I don’t care as much, but it’d still be cool.
If you do have a photographic memory, why on earth are you reading this post?
If you’re like the rest of us, read on for two great memory tips.
They’re actually not strictly tips. More like systems, both of which go back to Roman times. But they work pretty well as study tips too.
The Vizualization/Association Method
One great way to remember things is through visualization and association. For example, if I want to remember that playa is the Spanish word for “beach,” I might come ups with something along these lines:
Beach -> dude swaggering along, trying to pick up girls -> player -> playa
The great thing about visualization and association is that it works two ways at once. In a test, if I see beach I can go along that same route of visualization. But if I see playa I can just do it backwards (playa -> player -> dude swaggering -> beach).
Because it is a mental picture in my imagination, it doesn’t need to only go one direction. Another great thing about mental associations and pictures is that, with practice, you can invent them very quickly.
Let’s do another: pick Italy out on a map. Exactly. You know that Italy looks like a boot. Visualization and association.
This is actually the way certain folks can memorize the order of a deck of cards – they’ve associated each of those 52 cards with a mental image and they quickly weave together a story in their minds.
Not bad for a simple memory tip, eh?
The Loci Method
Another great method of remembering things is the loci method.
Not Loki. That’s Thor’s brother.
The name actually comes from the Latin word meaning “locations,” but this method has been around for just about as long as people have been trying to remember things.
The idea here is to build a “house” with certain “pegs” in it.
For all you fans of the popular Sherlock show, this is exactly what he’s talking about with his “mind palace.”
Your house or mind palace might have a doormat for the first peg, the door itself as the second, then, working clockwise around the room, a couch for the third, a chair for the fourth, the television for the fifth peg, and so on. When you come across something to remember, you assign it to a peg.
Putting it into action
For example, let’s do the five most populous countries in the world, in order, using those five pegs I listed earlier. Here’s the list:
- United States
Good luck trying to remember that list by itself! Yeah you could say it over and over until you remember, but you still would probably have trouble coming up with the answer to “Name the world’s fourth-most populous country” on a test.
So, let’s jump in. Let me rewrite the list with the peg next to it for you.
- China – doormat
- India – door
- United States – couch
- Indonesia – chair
- Brazil – television
The only problem is how to associate these. There are two things you need to know about associating things with pegs.
First, each person will come up with the best way for themselves. If you’re the one who thinks up the association, you are much more likely to remember it than if someone else does.
The second thing is actually rather unfortunate: the more action, grossness or offensiveness you put into an image for a peg the more likely you are to remember it. Keep that in mind. Just don’t get too carried away.
So, back to our list. How to associate China with a doormat? One way might be to imagine that as you enter the house, you step on the doormat. Suddenly it crunches under your feet and you look down to discover that it was a giant fortune cookie. The crumbs are all over the place, sticking to your shoes. The paper that was inside says “Welcome!”
See how that works? If you add action into your peg image, it will be much easier to remember.
Maybe for India you think of curried rice. As you open the door, the doorknob breaks off and overflows with curried rice.
For the United States, you could picture a big, fat cowboy passed out on the couch. As you come in, he wakes up, pulls his six-shooter and starts firing at you as he eats a big hamburger.
Indonesia has over 150 volcanoes on its islands, so you might picture that easy chair rocketing into the sky, riding on a geyser of lava.
Lots of folks associate Brazil with bikinis and soccer. So you might picture, on the television, women in bikinis playing soccer. Better yet, a bikini-clad woman runs in, grabs the TV and drop-kicks it.
Please note – these images aren’t intended to offend. They’re intended to help you remember something. Stereotypes aren’t good, I know, and I don’t subscribe to them, but in this case, go with whatever works for you. If that’s a stereotype, then so be it.
Voila! You have memorized the five most populous countries, in order! The great thing about this system is that you can use the same “house” (or loci) multiple times for different subjects.
Where to go from here
An important thing you should do right now is make your own mind palace. It’ll take some time and be a little effort, but it’ll pay off.
Start with a place that’s familiar to you – your house or even just your bedroom. Get creative with pegs too. You can easily fit ten pegs to even a small room.
The vizualization/association method and the loci method are just two memory tips, two methods that are out there. Find one that works for you!
What do you think?
What are some memory tips or methods you’ve used? Join the discussion in the comments below!
Image: Gage Skimore via Flickr