Welcome back! Glad to see that you haven’t given up yet! So yesterday you memorized a list of 20 words. That’s cool but you had a world memory champion holding your hand and suggesting images every step of the way. Today you’re gonna have to start improvising your very own stories and images like a real grown-up. Before you start your first training task of the day, here’s a slightly too long list of precisions and potentially useful advice.
- Most of this training program will focus on the memorization of random meaningless information, list of words for example. Don’t worry, we’ll get to more practical uses later on. If you’re wondering what’s the point of memorizing lists of absurd things, the point is to spend a short while developing your skills in a controlled setting before you start using them in the messy real world. Those short training sessions will help you become better at the art of transforming information into images and stories. Just like any difficult training, it literally physically transform parts of your brain. The night before an exam isn’t the best time to start using memory techniques for the very first time. If you go through some training first, you’ll be much better prepared when you’ll face a more difficult challenge. Finally, although you may not believe me, there’s a good chance that you will discover that this type of training can really be just plain fun
- As I said you’ll now have to try improvising your own stories and images. If all this is new to you, take your time, go at your own pace and don’t worry if you don’t get 100% correct answers during your first attempts. The more experience you gain with memory techniques, the faster the process will be and the easier it will be to find images or “tricks” to represent even the most complex concepts. Some individuals achieve remarkable results very quickly. Others have more difficulties, but all are capable in the short to medium term of dramatically increasing their starting level. If you feel you’re “not creative enough”, don’t worry, this is also a trainable skill. Try to ask yourself “what kinds of images and stories would a young kid with a wild imagination choose to use?”. When I write that I expect you to get this or that result in that amount of time, those are rough estimates. I base those estimates on a small number of studies, on my intuition and on my experiences with different groups when I present a workshop. I don’t have enough data on the subject and it’s very possible that I’m partly wrong. It is possible that you will exceed those estimates, it is also possible that you may have more difficulties. There is no need to be embarrassed if you don’t manage to get those same results right off the bat.
- For most exercises, I will present you with a document that you will have to study for a while and another that you will use to check how many correct answers you are able to provide. Sometimes you will have to time yourself. When it will be time to check your answers, you will generally not be able to write directly on the document (unless you had it printed before). To get around this problem, you can either answer on another document, on a sheet of paper, orally or simply in your head.
- If you have difficulty remembering certain information even when you have used an image or memory trick, most often the cause is related either to a lack of attention, to the quality of the trick you have used or the fact that you have simply not reviewed enough. It can also of course be simply because you didn’t get enough sleep the night before.
- Sometimes just saying “all right there’s this thing over there” can be enough, but often it isn’t. If your images or memorization tricks aren’t memorable enough, here are some examples of strategies you can try to use. There’s a lot here, so don’t hesitate to come back and reread those tips later on. 1- Make your images wilder, weirder, uglier, more beautiful, sexier, more violent, smellier, more disgusting, with more tentacles, more ice cream and more blood! In your imagination, there’s no such thing as “too extreme” or “too offensive”. That’s of course all up to you. More mundane and ordinary images can also work quite well. 2- If it is difficult to find an image directly representing what you want to remember, use any association, however twisted or absurd or vague it may be, even if this association is only very vaguely related to what you want to memorize. If you have no idea for a particular word, break it up into parts. Surely you can find a trick at the very least for the first letter of what you want to remember. 3- Use your 5 senses and add sound or even olfactory, tactile and gustatory elements to your images. 4- Use the power of stories by sometimes imagining a bogus reason why all this nonsense happens. The “logical” links (quotation marks are important here) thus created can greatly solidify your stories. 5- Link your images with each other by making them interact from time to time, even if it is only indirectly (a character may notice what is happening next door and find it very strange). 6- When using a memory palace, link the images with their environment. That imaginary turtle on your kitchen table is making quite a mess! It won’t be easy to clean that up. 7- Not every memory trick need to be visual. All kinds of associations can work, as long as they make sense in some weird way in your mind. If you meet someone named William and you think “that guy has a lot of willpower”, that’s not visual and maybe the guy is in fact the laziest person in the world, but it can still work. To paraphrase someone else, memory techniques work even when they don’t work. They force you to pay attention, to transform the information and to play with it. Just mentally linking something to some other relevant or irrelevant concepts is enough to drastically increase retention levels. Even when you can’t find the right image or mnemonic, you still make progress simply by trying to assimilate the information in different ways.
- Your ability to focus is absolutely crucial. Get some sleep! (I’ll often bug you with that point) On your computer, do not leave anything in sight that is not relevant to the task you are about to perform. Before each exercise, make sure you are in a quiet place with your cell phone closed or ideally left elsewhere in another room. Studies show that the “Your cognitive capacity is significantly reduced when your smartphone is within reach — even if it’s off.” If you are waiting for a call and shutting off your cell phone or putting it on airplane mode isn’t an option, the “do not disturb” mode can disable all notifications while allowing calls to some numbers you have selected.
Day 2, task number 1:
Today we’re going to start training with something fun and relatively easy: random images. You will be shown rows of 5 images each and for each row, you’ll have to memorize the order of the different images. Later on you will be shown those same images in a different order and for each row, you will have to indicate the correct order by writing the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 next to each image. You don’t need to use a memory palace for this task (although as we will explain later on, you can also choose to do so), all you have to do is to improvise some very short and very simple stories with the first 4 images of each row. Why just 4 and not 5? Because since the same 5 images will always appear on the same row they were in originally, just not in the same order, it would be simpler for you to just skip over the fifth images of each row. During recall, you will know that the image you don’t remember looking at is automatically the fifth one.
Here’s an example with just two rows:
Here’s one possible example of a silly story you could use to remember the order of the first four images. You’re at the top of the water slide and you hesitate because it looks kind of scary. The evil owl behind starts making fun of you and calling you mean names. So you jump and slide down. But at the end of it instead of falling in the water, you fall inside a train wagon that carries you to the side of the pool where the friendly giraffe is waiting to congratulate you for your amazing bravery.
That’s the first row. Writing the story down like I just did may take a minute, but simply making it up in your mind can be done very quickly. The more you do it, the quicker you will become and the more creative and memorable your stories will be. Now moving on to the second row. You’re discouraged about those tons of books you have to read. Why oh why can’t you just go to the desert and be a ninja like you always dreamed of? But a beautiful angel shows up and tells you need to read your books and be responsible. That’s it. The fourth image seems to in fact be a ballerina, but if I only take half a second to look at it, I might end up with a different interpretation and that should be good enough for recall. Your stories don’t have to be “good” or logical, you just need to make them up. A bad story or an absurd story is still 10 times more efficient than no story at all.
Here’s what you might be shown during the recall period, the same images in the same row, but in a different order.
You didn’t include any plane or any pool ball in your stories did you? Then write a “5” next to those two images. Then write 1 to 4 to the images you’ve memorized, in the order that they appear in your stories. That’s all you need to know to memorize tons of images!
Now time for you to try. Go to standard-memory.com and click on “5 min random images” (the first “pdf” in the first column). Now improvise a story with only the first 4 images of the first 5 rows, so only 20 images in total. No need for a stopwatch and no need to hurry too much. Just avoid being a perfectionist and thinking that your stories need to be great. After finishing with the first 5 rows, which should not take very long, you can review once if you want to, but personally I would just proceed directly with recall. To enter your answers you will have to click on the corresponding document in the “recall online” column. For each row enter the numbers 1 to 4 next to all the images that were parts of your story and write the number 5 for the image that you didn’t bother looking at. Then click on the “submit recall” button at the bottom of the sheet to check if it worked well.
Day 2, task number 2:
Okay, congratulations, but you’re capable of doing better than that. Go back to standard-memory.com and reopen the same “5 min random images” document. Go to row 6 (you have already memorized the first 5 and the site only generates new documents once a day) and improvise some short stories for the next 10 rows. Start a stopwatch just out of curiosity (or don’t start one if it stresses you out). Try to go at a steady pace, but relatively comfortable. This time try to do everything in just one go, without reviewing. Once you’re done, go back to the “recall online” page and enter your answers. How long did it take you to get through those 10 rows? 5 minutes? 10 minutes? 3 minutes or less? Your percentage of correct answers and the time you took for these 50 images will give you a good idea of what you can aim for next time.
Day 2, task number 3:
This last task of the day can be procrastinated until tomorrow if you’re tired. Otherwise, we will now tackle random words. The simplified method I will recommend you to use for now is to place 5 words in each of the rooms or zones of the memory palace you built yesterday. You can improvise and place the words anywhere in the room, depending on your inspiration of the moment. 2 words on the bed, 1 word next to it and then 2 words on the dresser? 1 word only on 5 different places? 2 words on one piece of furniture and then three words on another? It doesn’t matter, it’s up to you to choose by improvising every time.
Suppose that the first 5 words you have to memorize are unicorn, accountant, error, novel and grammar. In your room, one could first imagine that a unicorn is asleep in your bed. A stereotypical accountant arrives and proclaims to the unicorn that she made a mistake, it’s not her bed and unicorns aren’t even real! Next on the dresser, someone you know is reading a novel while paying particular attention to the grammar of each sentence. You could even imagine that the person reading the novel is your grandmother (“grandma”… grammar… get it?).
Okay, you understand how that works? Let yourself be inspired and use the first idea that comes to mind, even when it is a bad idea. If a word seems difficult to you, simplify it. A word like “hypothalamus” (for now you won’t have to memorize such a difficult work, this is just an example) can possibly be remembered using just a fuzzy image loosely related to the concept like “a brain” or “a scientist”. You can also use a word or two words that rhyme like a “hip” (meaning cool) type of “humus”, a “hippopotamus” or a “hippocampus” (a sea horse). It’s even possible to use a trick that represents solely the very first letter of what you want to remember. Using just “ok” to represent a word like “obstreperous” is far from ideal, but it can still help. As I’ve said before, a bad memory trick is better than no trick at all. Perfection is the enemy of good. If you really don’t have an idea for a word, move on to the next words instead of getting stuck.
You will now have to memorize 20 random words. 5 words per room or zones, so you will need the first 4 rooms or zones of the memory palace you built yesterday. First you will improvise all your images and stories and then review everything once. You can then check how many words you can remember either by writing them down on a sheet of paper, on a word document, in your head or out loud. If you do not fall into the trap of perfectionism, I expect that the memorization process will take about 4 or 5 minutes and that you will be able to correctly remember between 15 and 20 words out of 20. Twenty words in 4 or 5 minutes may not seem very impressive to you, but remember that this is only your first attempt. You should also know that achieving the same result without a memorization technique would be far from easy. I myself tried it not that long ago (I can choose consciously avoid using any memory trick and only repeat the words in my head) and I was really surprised by the difficulty of the exercise as well as by my poor result.
Okay, are you ready for the moment of truth?
Now check your answers. How did you do? I can’t know for sure but I bet you did well, even if those words weren’t very easy (and don’t worry if you had some trouble, you’ll get better).
By the way when you’re done checking all your answers, you should now avoid reviewing this story unnecessarily in your head. Let those images fade and slowly disappear. Eventually you will want to reuse the same memory palace for other things and it will be a little easier if the place isn’t filled with what we call “ghost images”.
Now congratulate yourself on being so incredibly awesome. Go brag to someone. If you want to, go watch that Memory Games Netflix documentary we’ve mentioned before. Or maybe instead go watch that very interesting 20-minute episode of a series called “The Mind Explained”. It was uploaded on Youtube so you don’t need Netflix or anything. Remember to get plenty of sleep and dream about all the awesome memory feats you will learn to perform in the future.