It’s been a long week of activities required to bring school to a close for the summer. After textbook inventories, key management, room checkouts, and the myriad of other things needing done, things are beginning to wind down. This gives me time to continue our series on memory.
We will start very simply: How to remember a string of items. We start with this project because it teaches a basic skill, upon which, more advanced techniques are built. For example, to remember numbers, we have a system to turn any number into a picture that the mind can see. Long numbers wind up being a series (or list) of pictures that we will remember using the technique introduced today. It goes back to the old adage that we must crawl before we walk. Today, we crawl.
Let’s begin with a simple list of 10 items. One can actually remember lists that include hundreds of items, but the concept can be taught with as little as three. Going past that is simple reinforcement. Here’s our short beginning list.
- Paper clips
- Fire Truck
To memorize these ten items, we will simply do two things: turn each item into a picture and, second, associate each subsequent item with the one that comes before. To do this we will use two of the assumptions from the last post: Wild and exaggerated pictures and association. To teach this, I’ll take you through my thought processes that I go through to memorize a list like this.
The first issue is to remember the first item. This is more difficult than the others because there is nothing to associate the first item with since it is the first. Later, I’ll share ways to link the first item to a “trigger” that will bring it to mind. For now, I’ll give you paper clip. Don’t just think of a paper clip, go outrageous. Remember that we remember the wild and outrageous better than the mundane. Think of a paper clip as big as a building…or bigger. Another way to exaggerate paper clip is to think of millions and millions of them.
The next task is to think of a wild picture about a snowball and link it to the first term, paper clip. For me, I would imagine myself outside in the snow being pelted by hundreds of snowballs. Guess what the snowballs would be made out of. You got it, millions and millions of paper clips. In my mind, I take a moment to vividly imagine that scene of being bombarded with snowball after snowball made of millions of paper clips. If you make the image wild enough and vivid enough, you will only have to think about it one time. If, later, you find yourself faltering on the list item, snowball, you simply review the imagined scene one more time, trying to make it more intense or outrageous. Many times, when we falter in remembering a list item, it’s because the picture we chose was too plain, making not memorable.
The next item on the list is tree. Again, we make a picture that is wild and outrageous and somehow link it to the previous item, snowball. This time I would think of a huge tree, miles and miles high. That takes care of the outrageous part. Now for the link to the previous item. Instead of the tree being filled with leaves, imagine it being filled with large snowballs. Picture it in your mind. See it swaying in the wind. Imagine the snowballs slowly melting and dripping huge drops to the ground. Imagine large snowballs falling from the tree like apples falling from an apple tree. Take a moment to vividly imagine this.
The next item is book. We follow the same process. I would imagine opening a very large book. When the book is opened, millions of tiny trees come flying out of it, hitting me in my face. I imagine I can hardly see or breathe due to the shear number of trees shooting out of the pages, hitting me in the face. I’ve exaggerated the scene so it’s memorable for me. I’ve also linked the term “book” to “tree”.
The next item is clock. The scene I imagine is a library full of books. I can see miles and miles of library shelves full of books. All of a sudden, I hear a clock bell ringing, and millions and millions of clocks come falling out of all those bookshelves, each one ringing as it falls to the floor, breaking into even millions more pieces.
Let me take a moment and say that these images work for me. These same images may not work for you. This is highly personalized. Feel free to substitute your images for mine. As long as you make the picture very exaggerated and link it to the picture that comes before it in the list, your picture will work. For each image, take a minute and really imagine it vividly, with all the sights, sounds, etc., that would normally accompany the scene.
The next item is football. We create an image that links the term “football” to “clock” (the previous item) and make it exaggerated and wild. In my case, I imagine a clock on the wall, the hands of which are made out of two huge footballs that are three-feet big.
Fire truck is our next list item. I’m thinking of a fire crew racing to a fire. I see the fire fighters on top of the vehicle as it races through the streets. Instead of a truck, they are riding a huge football with wheels on it. Two fire fighters are driving up front and one is hanging on to the ladder, which is mounted on top of the football’s laces.
Our next item is an airplane. I would imagine a bright red fire truck racing down the street, when wings sprout out from the sides, great balls of fire explode from the engines mounted on the wings. The fire truck takes off flying like an airplane.
The next term is “woman”. I imagine an airplane flying overhead. Instead of a metal, fixed-wing aircraft, it is a huge woman, hundreds of feet long! Even more, she is naked! (I told you to make it wild! That certainly would make it memorable to me!) By the way, don’t ask where her engine exhausts are coming from, but beans instead of jet fuel must have been used! Now, if you dare, close your eyes and imagine that quite memorable scene. (Ok, ladies, I’m not sexist, I’m just trying to make it memorable.)
Finally, the last term is fork. I imagine eating a salad. As I look down to load the bite on my eating utensil, I notice that, instead of a fork, it is a very small woman (make her naked if you need to). As I put the bite in my mouth, my scene has me biting her in two. AARRGGHHH! Blood and guts everywhere!
Now, if you have done exactly what I said, you should easily recall this list. Let’s give it a try with the following quiz. Remember, I’ll start you with paper clip since I haven’t shown you how to trigger the first item yet. Answer the following questions:
- The paper clips were hitting you in what form in the winter scene?
- The huge melting snowballs were dropping from what?
- Millions of trees were flying out of what?
- What was falling (ringing as they did so) out of the book shelves in the library?
- What were the hands on the clock made of?
- What were the fire fighters (sorry, I couldn’t think of another term that wouldn’t give this one away) riding on their way to a fire? They were riding this instead of what?
- The fire truck sprouted wings and became a what?
- Instead of a metal airplane, what was flying overhead?
- When the woman was bitten in half what was she being used as?
There you have it. A list of ten items memorized easily. If you had any difficulty, go back and reinforce the image that you are having trouble with and make it more wild and outrageous. If you do this correctly, you will have to think of the image only one time and you’ll have it.
This also takes practice. Now, it may take a few moments to think of the image and the scene that you can use. Later, the wild images will come easier and faster. The associations will also flow faster as you gain proficiency. This is one area in which practice is fun. For practice, I’ve memorized grocery lists, states and capitols, and segments of a speech (for my Toastmasters Club speeches and other presentations that I do) so I don’t have to rely on notes.
Yes, I know this is extremely simple. After all, this is a foundation skill upon which later ones will be laid. Have fun with this one for a couple of days.
Next: How to remember numbers, such as telephone, account numbers, zip codes, etc.