Mnemonic Basics

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Mnemonic devices are very old, with some dating back to ancient Greek times. Virtually everybody uses them, even if they don’t know their name. It’s simply a way of memorizing information so that it “sticks” within our brain longer and can be recalled more easily in the future.

The key to memory is to ASSOCIATE/CONNECT new information to be learned with key words or letters that you already know.

Using Your Whole Mind to Remember[edit]

The key idea is that by coding information using vivid mental images, you can reliably code both information and the structure of information. And because the images are vivid, they are easy to recall when you need them.

The techniques explained later on in this section show you how to code information vividly, using stories, strong mental images, familiar journeys, and so on.

You can do the following things to make your mnemonics more memorable:

  • Use positive, pleasant images. Your brain often blocks out unpleasant ones.
  • Use vivid, colorful, sense-laden images – these are easier to remember than drab ones.
  • Use all your senses to code information or dress up an image. Remember that your mnemonic can contain sounds, smells, tastes, touch, movements and feelings as well as pictures.
  • Give your image three dimensions, movement and space to make it more vivid. You can use movement either to maintain the flow of association, or to help you to remember actions.
  • Exaggerate the size of important parts of the image.
  • Use humor! Funny or peculiar things are easier to remember than normal ones.
  • Similarly, rude rhymes are very difficult to forget!
  • Symbols (red traffic lights, pointing fingers, road signs, etc.) can code quite complex messages quickly and effectively.

Designing Mnemonics: Imagination, Association and Location[edit]

The three fundamental principles underlying the use of mnemonics are imagination, association and location. Working together, you can use these principles to generate powerful mnemonic systems.

Imagination[edit]

is what you use to create and strengthen the associations needed to create effective mnemonics. Your imagination is what you use to create mnemonics that are potent for you. The more strongly you imagine and visualize a situation, the more effectively it will stick in your mind for later recall. The imagery you use in your mnemonics can be as violent, vivid, or sensual as you like, as long as it helps you to remember.

Association[edit]

this is the method by which you link a thing to be remembered to a way of remembering it.

You can create associations by:

  • Placing things on top of each other.
  • Crashing things together.
  • Merging images together.
  • Wrapping them around each other.
  • Rotating them around each other or having them dancing together.
  • Linking them using the same color, smell, shape, or feeling.

As an example, you might link the number 1 with a goldfish by visualizing a 1-shaped spear being used to spear it.

Location[edit]

gives you two things - a coherent context into which you can place information so that it hangs together, and a way of separating one mnemonic from another. By setting one mnemonic in a particular town, I can separate it from a similar mnemonic set in a city.

For example, by setting one in Wimbledon and another similar mnemonic with images of Manhattan, we can separate them with no danger of confusion. You can build the flavors and atmosphere of these places into your mnemonics to strengthen the feeling of location.