Probably as a child you played various memory games, such as having a tray covered with a cloth, the cloth is removed for a few minutes, revealing a variety of articles. The tray is then removed and the person who correctly recalls the most articles wins the game. Other variants use a list of words instead of actual articles.
Now suppose I were to tell you that after seeing a collection of twenty articles or a list of twenty words, for a few minutes, and with a word list you could recall the whole list in order, either forwards or backwards, starting from any article?
“But Jim, I would need an amazing memory to do that,” you say.
And I would agree with you – but here’s the good news. Everybody reading this article has an amazing memory, it just needs the right training to make it work.
For example, you could have the largest, most powerful computer in the Universe, but unless you have the software to make it function, all you have is the biggest paperweight in the Universe.
But how do you program your brain?
In the first lesson in the series I said, “people are much more likely to remember something silly than something sensible – in fact the sillier it is, the more likely you are to recall it.”
But in fact “silly” is a bit too soft, let’s say “ridiculous”, so you need ridiculous pictures in your mind to remember things easily. If you remember my example with the oranges (how could you forget it), that will give you an idea of what I mean.
Now a silly picture in your mind helps you recall individual items (especially if you involve your other senses as well) but how do you remember a list?
To remember a list you need to use an associative memory trick called, “linking”.
Linking Items In a List.
I want to introduce you to a very important list of words. I first heard this list many years ago (and still remember them of course), but I don’t know where the list originated, so I can’t give credit to the author. The actual list is not so important for this lesson, but it is part of a very powerful technique for enabling you to remember a list of up to one hundred items, that I will introduce in part three of this series.
But for know, just think of it as a list of ten words that you want to remember in the right order.
This is a long lesson this time, but you will find it easy to go through, and by the end of the lesson you will have accomplished three things:
1. You will have the ability to memorize lists of words (or items) and recall them, even years later
2. You will know how this method works.
3. This list that you will memorize in this lesson will be of use to you for the rest of your life.
That sounds like a good deal to me, so let’s get started.
Method One, the Long Walk.
I will briefly mention one method for learning lists. In this method you pretend that you are going on a journey, perhaps walking along a road. As you progress on your journey you imagine that you encounter the items that you are trying to memorize, and you build some sort of story around them. This method can work but there are problems with it. The next method is much more powerful as I am sure you will see as we work through it.
Method Two, Linked Pictures.
We are going to memorize our list of ten words. You could use it to memorize 20 or 30 words just as easily, but the article would be three times as long.
As I said in lesson 1, you need a really silly picture in your mind for each item that you want to remember; everything should be ridiculous and larger than life. Then to remember a list, you simply need to link the images together.
Now when I say “images” or “pictures’, I want you to form a clear picture in your mind, but also I want you to use as many of your senses as you can. If possible close your eyes (please don’t try this if you are driving or operating machinery), and when I say “feel” or “smell” or “see” or “taste” then use your imagination to actually feel, smell, see and taste what I am describing (just like the oranges example, back in lesson 1).
The reason that I want you to do this is that something that you “experience” is much better remembered than things you just hear about or read about. This works because parts of your mind cannot tell the difference between reality and something that is strongly imagined. That is why if you watch a horror movie and then hear a noise in the darkness afterwards, your body prepares itself for “fight or flight” (most likely the latter), because your subconscious believes that you are really under attack from monsters.
When I was about ten years old, my dad had to stay away overnight once and I managed to wear my mum down enough to get her to let me watch a horror movie, she was busy tidying my room so she was easy prey. The movie was about some nasty half-human creature that would leap out at people from darkened cupboards, corners and rooms.
Then that very same night I was lying in bed in almost darkness, and I heard a sound in my room (it was difficult to hear over the sound of my heartbeat), and then incredibly, my wardroom door burst open and something landed on my bed. Somehow I ended up outside my bedroom, but I have no recollection of opening the door. You see, my mum’s idea of “tidying” my room that day was to stuff everything into my wardrobe and then slam the door closed. But to my imagination, it was a real monster and so my body reacted accordingly.
Another good example is when you describe in detail, peeling lemons and smelling the fresh scent and the smooth skin, the imagine yourself bitting into the cool, sharp, acid lemon flesh. And if you’re human, your mouth will start watering – because you subconscious mind believes you are really eating a lemon.
So we involve as many senses in our memorizing system as possible, so that we will actually experience them, and that way they will be strongly remembered.
The following technique will work with any list of items and you will find that if you follow my instructions carefully then, not only will you be able to remember the following list forwards or backwards from any item in the list, but you will still be able to recall them many years from now.
So as we go through the list – see, feel, smell, touch and experience them.
One more point. If you are just trying to remember a shopping list, or articles on a tray (for a memory game) then this all you need.
But if the ordering of the list is important (and it is important in my list below for reasons that you will see in lesson three), then you also need a way to remember which item is the *first* item in your list.
So in the following case, I picture the first item (a tie – or necktie) as a number 1 – easy.
Imagine the number 1, now see a giant number 1 standing on the ground, close your eyes and actually picture it in your mind. You have to tilt your head back because the number 1 is taller than you are and you have to shade your eyes because the sun is shining from behind the giant number. The sun is casting a long shadow across your path, you follow it with your eyes.
Now reach out and grab the 1, it is warm from the sun, feel the warm on your hands. And as you grab it, it immediately becomes a giant necktie and flops over your hands, it feels soft now. You wrap it around your neck. Feel it pressing against your neck as you tie it. You try to walk forwards but you trip on the necktie because it is so long, you feel it jerking the back of your neck, sharply.
You throw the ends of the tie over your shoulders to avoid tripping, but the ends get caught on a passing car and you get pulled along the road.
You have to run at top speed to avoid falling over. You can’t run any more, you are panting for breath. The car now pulls you along the road like a water-skier, showers of sparks are flying from your shoe soles and you can smell burning leather.
You hear a squeal of brakes and the traffic comes to an abrupt halt right in front of you, and many cars crash into each other. You look for the cause of the trouble, and then right in the middle of the road is Noah’s Ark blocking the way. It is the biggest thing you have ever seen. And there is chaos everywhere. You can hear news helicopters roaring overhead and flying around the upper decks. Noah is chasing the animals. Giraffes, horses and goats are running between the cars. Noah and the cops are trying to round them up (it looks like the movie “12 Monkeys – great movie). You can smell the animals; you can see the fur on their backs, and feel the heat of their bodies as they squeeze between you and the car. You can hear their hooves clattering on the hard asphalt and concrete. The cops are helping Noah herd the animals, two at a time, up the gangway into the Ark.
You run after the animals and follow them up the gangway into the Ark. And there at the top of the gangway you see your mother, your “Ma” as you call her. The kitchen of your own home has somehow been transplanted into the Ark.
You mother is cooking your dinner, but things are going badly. Listen to the pots bubbling rapidly, smell the food burning. A pot on the stove catches fire, the flames rush up to the ceiling. Feel the heat of the flames and see how bright they are.
The door on the oven is bulging outwards, you can see it and hear it straining and creaking. Your Ma shouts, “It’s the Rye!”
With a loud bang the oven door bursts open and slams hard against the wall. And out of the oven oozes a gigantic loaf of Rye bread. The Rye bread is growing bigger and bigger because there is too much yeast in it. Like a monster it flows out of the oven getting bigger and bigger. Soon the Rye fills up the kitchen. Feel the Rye bread pressing you hard against the kitchen wall, feel how hot it is and smell the hot Rye bread.
You think that the huge loaf might suffocate you, but suddenly you hear police sirens coming closer and closer and louder and louder. You hear policemen shouting through loudspeakers, “This is the law, we are coming to save you.” Now you hear the cops smashing the door to the kitchen. Out of the corner of your eye you see it is Judge Dredd, and he shouts, “I am the Law!.” You can feel his powerful hands grabbing your arms tightly and pulling hard.
You slide out from behind the Rye, but your left leg is caught fast.
There is lots of pulling, feel your arms being pulled hard and feel your left shoe holding you back.
You try to pull your foot out of the shoe, but it won’t move. Feel your foot getting pressed tighter and tighter. Suddenly you hear a loud “PLOP” as your shoe is pulled free. Your leg shoots forward, kicking Judge Dredd on the chin, sending him flying backward, knocking down an entire wall with a huge crash. There is a big cloud of plaster dust, it gets in your eyes and you can taste it two, it has a sour, gritty taste.
As the wall falls it startles a herd of cows that were behind the wall. Hear the loud mooing as the startled cows knock into each other and try to climb over each other. The cows stampede in your direction, the only thing you can do to save yourself is to jump onto a cow’s back as it runs past you. Fell yourself bouncing up and down on the hard, bony cow’s back. Hear the cows mooing loudly as they head straight for the other wall and all of the cows crash through it, sending up another cloud of plaster dust.
Your cow jumps through the hole in the wall, with you still clinging unto its back. You see that you are very high up and you watch the cows below you fall a long way to the ground.
But as your cow passes through the wall, you notice that all the outside walls are covered with thick, green ivy. The ivy is like a net in front of you and it still has pieces of mortar and brick attached to it, where it had been attached to the wall. Feel the hard ivy scratch against you as you fall through it.
Quickly you grab the ivy with both hands. You can feel the ivy dig into your hands as it takes your full body weight, and you feel your arms jerk straight up. You are hanging there, ten stories up and your arms are hurting, so you start to climb slowly up the ivy.
You are tired, so you stop for a rest; your arms are aching. You can hear a loud buzzing sound from behind you, and it is coming closer and closer and very very loud. You turn your head round, and you can see thousands and thousands of bees swarming all over the ivy. There are so many bees that they are covering everything. As they approach you closer, and closer the buzzing is deafening. They look like a black and yellow furry liquid pouring over everything. You can’t let go because you will fall to your death, so you have to let the bees cover you. You are inside the swarm of bees and you can see flickering light shining through the thousands of yellow and black furry bodies, and your face itches as the furry bodies tough against it, but you cannot scratch it for fear of falling.
Slowly you lower yourself down and out of the bee swarm. Feel a gust of cool, fresh air on your face again as soon as you are free.
But suddenly you toes start hurting. You feel your toes getting squeezed hard and “thinks” moving between your toes. You look down and you see that bees are filling your socks, and they have turned your socks into beehives and there is one big beehive on each foot. You wiggle your toes to try to shake off the beehives, but you can feel soft warm liquid honey squelching through your toes and you can see golden liquid honey pouring out of your socks.
OK, that’s your memory list and if you have “experienced” the list as I have suggested then you will amaze yourself. Have a friend test you to prove that it works.
By the way, when you were memorizing number 9 “Bee”, did you scratch your face when the bees touched it?
This method will work with a much bigger list than twenty words or items, but when you have fifty or one hundred to memorize, what do you do then?
There is another shortcoming with this method. There is no easy way to work out position numbers. For example, suppose you had used this method to memorize the titles of all the episodes of the original TV show, “Star Trek” then you could say them forwards or backwards.
And if someone asked you which episode followed “Arena”, you would instantly recall it was, “Tomorrow is Yesterday”. But if someone asked you what the 29th episode was, then the only way you could work it out would be to work right through the list from 1 (The Man Trap) to 29 (Operation Annihilation) – a bit slow.
In lesson 3 I will show you a method that will do exactly that, you will be able to recall long lists of items, as well as the position number in the list, or given the item, you can say what’s its position is in the list.
And I will show you a method that works with numbers, so you can memorize your credit card number and a bunch of phone numbers or mathematical constants and so on, if you want to.
But the key to these other methods is learning the list of words above, so memorize them and I will meet you in lesson three, don’t forget.