- Article Overview
- Why we remember certain things but forget others
- Some Memorization Techniques
- Memorization Tips from a Memory Champion
- Article Summary
In this article, you will learn why we remember certain things but forget others. You will also learn some memorization tips for committing lists and names to memory.
Pause and Think: “How do I remember all these?”
Why we remember certain things but forget others
In the article on how human memory works, we explored the memory as a concept that refers to the process of remembering. You can probably vividly remember your first hug with someone dear to you. The first time you were in a life-threatening situation is also probably a very vivid memory in your mind. In that article, we looked at why we remember some things quickly and not others.
Memory formation involves registering information or encoding, processing, storage and retrieval. And memories are encoded most strongly when we’re paying attention, when we’re deeply engaged and when information is meaningful to us. This means that emotion affects all the phases of memory formation.
In fact, emotion enhances memory and improves recall of experiences that have importance or relevance for our survival. In the words of Dr. Shahram Hesrat, emotion acts like a highlighter pen that emphasizes certain aspects of experiences to make them more memorable.
Emotion helps us remember certain things more vividly because it causes us to pay attention. We’ve mentioned many times in this tutorial that paying attention is important for chunking information. Attention helps us focus on and select what’s most relevant.
Interestingly, nothing focuses the mind like surprise. When you experience something unexpected, you immediately shift all of your focus and attention to it, making it difficult to forget. For instance, an armed-robbery attack is an unexpected and unforgettable experience.
Some Memorization Techniques
A helpful tip for memorization is to create meaningful groups that simplify the material. For instance, MR NIGER D is a popular mnemonic that is used to memorize the characteristics of living things. Here M stands for movement, R for reproduction, N for nutrition, I for irritability. G stands for growth, E for excretion, R for respiration and D for death.
Also, it’s much easier to remember numbers when you associate them with memorable events. For instance, the year 1988 might be when one of your relatives was born. The number 16 might be the age when you started your first business.
The Memory Palace Technique
The memory palace technique is a particularly powerful way of grouping things you want to remember. It involves calling to mind a familiar place like your house. You then use this place as a kind of visual notepad for depositing the things you want to remember.
Let’s say you want to memorize a shopping list that includes milk, bread, eggs, tomatoes, fish and rice. You could start by imagining a cup of milk pouring on the floor of your sitting room. As you go to the back of your house to get a mop to clean it up, you find your dog chewing bread from the dustbin. You decide to get water from the kitchen sink, and you find rotten eggs smashed all over the floor.
You cover your nose because of the stench and turn on the sink tap, only to see freshly ground tomatoes gushing out. Confused about all that is going on, you decide to run to the bathroom instead. But you are shocked to find a fish swimming in the toilet. But that’s not all. As you turn on the bathroom sink, this time around rice gushes out. If you quickly imagined something as strange as this while trying to memorize the list, you should find it easy to commit the items to memory.
Memorization Tips from a Memory Champion
Memory champions use their imagination in very creative ways to commit all kinds of things to memory. They also often use the technique of creating pictures out of words and weaving them into a story.
Chester Santos is a memory expert and motivational speaker best known for winning the USA Memory Championship. He talks about the importance of visualization. That is, taking whatever it is you want to remember and turning it into a picture.
He also talks about the importance of taking advantage of the psychological aspect to memory. We’ve already explained that we tend to remember with little effort things that are strange, unusual and extraordinary.
In his TEDx talk, he made an interesting demonstration told his audience a strange story to help them memorize a random list of fifteen words. The demonstration involved memorizing some of the following words: monkey, iron, rope, kite, house, paper, shoe, worm, envelope, pencil, river, rock, tree, ball and coin.
Weaving the list of words into an unusual story
In the talk, Santos asked his audience to listen to his story, while trying to see and experience it happen as best as they could. The story went something like this:
Imagine a monkey making all kinds of monkey noise and jumping around. The monkey then tries to pick up a huge iron. But a rope attaches itself to the iron. As you look to the end of the rope, you notice that it is attached to a kite which is flying around in the air. As you watch the kite, it suddenly crashes into the side of a house. Then you look closely at the house, only to discover that the house is covered in white paper, for some reason. The paper is all over the house.
As you wonder why a house would be covered in paper, a shoe appears out of nowhere. This shoe with no legs in it, starts to walk all over the paper-covered walls of the house. As it does this, it leaves muddy shoe imprints on the walls. Because the shoe smells very badly, you cover your nose and decide to look inside the shoe. And you see a worm crawling inside the shoe. Suddenly, the worm jumps out of the shoe and into a white envelope.
Strangely again, a pencil appears out of nowhere and starts to write your first name on the envelope. As soon as the pencil is done writing your name, it then jumps into a river just nearby. As a result, you hear a loud splash. You turn your attention to the river and notice that it is flowing and splashing against a rock. Suddenly, for some reason the rock jumps and smashes into a tree beside the river. You look closely at tree, only to discover something weird. The fruits hanging from the tree branches are actually balls and coins.
Now look away from the story and try to remember the words. As you try to replay this weird and strange story, you should find it relatively easy to remember the words.
The key to committing things to memory is to make them memorable. Something that is memorable or unforgettable is something that is easily remembered especially because it is special or unusual. So use your imagination to turn names, list items, numbers or abstract words into images that are disgusting, weird or funny. By doing this, you are making whatever you need to remember worth remembering.
You can now see that much of what we learn and commit to memory have some form of emotional significance. In other words, to make your memory of something stronger, pay adequate attention to it and attach emotional significance to it. Make it funny, gross, absurd or scary and you’ll find it difficult to forget.
What do you think about the ideas that were shared in this article about memorization techniques? In what way do you think you can apply the tips to your learning? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.