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Finding ways to remember inhuman amounts of information always attracted my attention, as I saw ways to impress friends, improve my ability to remember information at work and simply do things that others thought impossible to do. So over the next few weeks, I’ll share some interesting ways to remember things. You’ll simply amaze yourself! Assumptions All mnemonics are built on some pretty simple assumptions. I call them assumptions, but more and more are being proven as fact and laws as more brain research is done. It really doesn’t matter if they are research-based; the only important issue is whether these assumptions work. In my years of using the techniques that I’m going to be showing you, I’ve found these assumptions to be spot-on:
The human brain thinks in pictures. Although we read words printed on a page, our brain converts them to images that it “sees”. We may listen to others talk, but, again, our brain converts the spoken words to pictures. This is much like a computer taking my words that I’m typing into it and converting them into 1’s and 0’s so it can understand me. The human brain learns — and remembers — new information by associating it to something it already knows. In schools, we administrators insist that teachers, prior to introducing new material, “activate prior knowledge”. One day, this may mean
simply reviewing the previous day’s lesson. Another day, this may mean doing an activity that forces the student to recall something that they had learned as a result of environmental experiences. In either case, the student “sharpens the hook” upon which new information will be hung. The human brain remembers wild and outrageous things easier than the mundane. Imagine driving to work and seeing three people dressed in brown pants, blue pants, and gray pants. In a week, one will forget these people. However, drive to work and unexpectedly see three circus clowns pushing an red elephant into a small green car and that image will remain with us for years. Stupid? Yes. Memorable? You bet!
The brain needs a trigger. Something needs to initiate the recall. We’ve all been in situations where we’ve heard a sound, smelled an odor, or felt a touch that triggered an intense memory of an event that occurred years ago. I can still hear a certain Barry Manilow song and suddenly, I’m transported in my mind back to my early college years when I first met my wife. I can vividly remember the cold weather, as we first began dating in the winter. I can still feel the cold wet snow hitting my face and hear the sloshing of my steps as I asked her out for the first time. That song triggers it. It happens every time. This is NLP’s basic anchoring at it’s most primitive use.
By using the four “assumptions” listed above, one can remember inhuman amounts of information. In fact, by using the methods that I’ll be sharing over the next few weeks, I still remember phone numbers of people I knew 30 years ago. I recall the names of people that I met only one or two times decades ago. I still can look at a painting and it practically tells me every historical and artistic fact that is important about it (Yes, I used these techniques to for art appreciation classes as I worked toward an art degree). I looked at each painting only one time and linked all needed information to the details in the painting. Looking at the painting is like reading a book. The painting itself tells me every important fact about it. None of this information is new. It’s been tested and proven true for thousands of years. The problem is that we don’t consistently use these techniques. When I don’t apply the techniques, I don’t remember things. When I do apply them, it’s almost like I can’t forget. Example So buckle up and hang on! This is going to be fun. Let’s start out with a simple exercise that demonstrates the power of thinking visually. I used to have an OCD thing about checking doors. I would have to go back and check to make sure that I locked doors at least 10 times. I have been more than half way home (30 minutes into the trip) and have to turn around and go back to pull on that damned door one more time, only to find that, yes, I locked it. This is not a good issue to have when you are in charge of locking up a fairly large
building at the day’s end. Then I read how Harry Lorayne, one of the first famous memory experts, would teach an audience how to think visually and to show how strong that visual memory is. He would be on stage and bring pocket fulls of common items. While the audience watched he would place the items at various places on the stage. A handkerchief would be set on the bar. A pocketknife would be laid on a chair. A wallet would be set on a coffee cup. With each item, he would describe what he was doing with it. During the routine of placing objects, he would reach into his pocket and take out his keys and tossed them on the coffee table that was on the set. As the keys fell to the wood, he told the audience to imagine that, as the keys landed, they exploded like a hand grenade. He described, in great detail, how the coffee table blew up, throwing splinters of wood up to the ceiling and all over the audience. He described the fireball that resulted when the keys blew up. He described the dense smoke that filled the auditorium. The producers of the show took down phone numbers of random guests before they left. Several weeks later, Harry came back on the show. The host, using the telephone numbers gathered earlier, called several audience members who were present for the original interview when Harry placed all the common items on the set. They were quizzed as to where Harry left each item that he had placed. All the guests could not remember where Harry had placed the items. After all, no one told them there would be a quiz on this stuff! Remarkably, however, everyone remembered the keys! Instead of saying that he placed —
or tossed — them on the coffee table, the unanimous response was, “They blew up the coffee table!” Why did it work? Visual memory was a large factor. It also works because as we focus on the item or act to make these visuals, it forces us to really pay attention to what we’re doing. Our mind is attending to what we’re doing rather than imagining being on the golf course. It forces us to be in the moment. Reading that, I changed my practice in locking my building doors. Whenever I walked up to check a door and pulled on its handle, I imagined that the door blew up. I imagined the metal and glass erupting in a fireball and being blasted off its hinges. The door would fly past me, slamming several times on the concrete sidewalk before coming to rest in a hot, fiery, and smoldering heap. I tried to make that visual as real as possible in my mind’s eye. Interestingly, when I began to question whether the door was actually locked and began to feel the urge to go back and check it, that vivid scene of the door blowing up played back through my mind. Natural memory took over and I knew that I had locked and checked it. I never went back to check another door since then. The next time you have to remember where you place something, give this technique a try. Have your keys blow up the dining room table. Place your wallet on the kitchen counter and imagine the wallet melting the counter as it sinks right through it, leaving a large gaping, steaming hole. See if when you look for your item, these
images will pop up. Ah! My keys blew up the table! That’s where I left them! My wallet melted the kitchen counter! That is a small sample of the things you will be able to remember. Over the next few weeks, we’ll discuss:
How to remember numbers — short ones and long ones — front-wards and backwards. Phone numbers will be a breeze. Account numbers will be a piece of cake. How to remember lists of items — shopping lists, checklists, etc. — with ease. How to remember people’s names and other important information about them. Their own face will remind you of everything you need to remember.
How to Remember Lists - Lesson 1 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.
• • • •
plane Woman For
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 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. 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:
id so) out
shelves in the l
the clock made
(sorry, I couldn
term that would
away) riding on
fire? They wer
instead of what
The fire t
wings and beca
what was flying When the woman was bitten in half what was she being
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