Most people’s memory suck, that is a fact.
Dispute it if you want, but none of us is really born with a natural talent or the knowledge of how to use our memory properly and it is only when you start using your memory as you are growing that you find out how badly you suck at storing things in your brain!
When you were young you were probably told in school or by your parents that in order to remember anything, you need to make sure to repeat the thing you’re trying to remember over and over again, or until it gets too boring and unbearable that you move on! However you see, this is actually the wrong way to remember stuff (I know, even your teachers and parents can be wrong sometimes)!
You see by repeating a statement or a fact over and over again, you aren’t actually processing the information that is going into your brain!
Here’s an example of what I mean: think about a childhood memory that you remember very vividly. This can be your first kiss, the time you broke your wrist playing rugby, that trip to the beach when you were 6 or the time you got caught stealing a chocolate bar from the kitchen cupboard. Now I want you to just picture that scene in your brain for a moment. At this moment, you can probably feel all your previous emotions coming up to your chest and a feeling of nostalgia beginning to overwhelm you.
Now, I want you to think about something else, I want you to go back to that day you had your first maths lesson on basic trigonometry. Wait, what was that? You can’t? How come?!
Well, here’s the reason. Your memory is not a piece of document that is arranged in neat little files like that in a computer or contained in a mental list that you can just pull out and look at. No, your brain is in fact a spiderweb of information with each bit linked to an emotion, feeling or experience which you have gained over time! So what does this mean then?
Well, it means that we can use this to our advantage and here's how you do it!
Firstly, before we jump into the techniques, you must understand the idea of a mnemonic. So, what is it?
Well, put simply, a mnemonic is an association technique that aids in the formation of memories!
Here’s a 30-second exercise you can do right now!
Let’s say you want to know the names of planets in order from the sun to Neptune (as Pluto is a dwarf planet and doesn’t count as an official planet in our solar system). What I want you to do is this. First, imagine for a second that you are standing outside of your house facing the front door. You look up into the sky to see that the sun is out and it is a hot summer day, the air is humid and there are no clouds in the sky to shadow you from the intense heat of the sun.
Now, I want you to look towards the door and imagine a large thermometer, as large as the front door itself, hanging on the door. Then suddenly the temperature gets so hot outside that the thermometer instantly explodes throwing shards of glass everywhere and the large droplets of mercury from inside the thermometer are shot towards your body! Take a moment to imagine and feel the pain of the mercury droplets on your face and hands!
And there you have it! You just remembered the first planet of the solar system - Mercury!
Now, I want you to imagine yourself running into your house frantically looking for a nearby sink to wash off the mercury, but as you open the door to of the toilet you see an absolutely gorgeous woman standing in front of you doing her make-up. This is the goddess Venus and the name of the second planet in the solar system!
You are suddenly feeling incredibly awkward standing there staring at her, so you decide to instead go look for another sink. But as you step outside of the toilet, you suddenly see a massive globe in front of you, blocking your path! This globe as you can tell will be a model of the Earth which is the next planet after Venus!
You decide to push it to see what happens and as you do it rolls along the floor picking up speed before smashing through the walls of your house and your neighbour’s fence before ending up in their garden! This is definitely not good and so you go outside to examine the damage when you are greeted by your angry neighbour who suddenly morphs into the God of War - Mars!
Then in the distance comes running an incredible giant, 10ft tall and built like the Hulk! He represents the planet Jupiter - the largest planet in the solar system after Mars and is a huge gas giant!
He comes to your aid and calms down the God of War. As the giant turns towards you, you notice that he is wearing a t-shirt with the word “SUN” across his chest and these letters will represent the next three planets, the ‘S’ for Saturn, ‘U’ for Uranus and ‘N’ for Neptune!
And there you have it! You have now successfully remembered all the names of the planets and the order that they come in as well!
All you have to do to recall it is to play this weird story back in your mind!
So, how does this work?
Well, what I just got you to do there is a simple exercise of linking ideas together! First, I got you to link the memorising the names of the planets with a familiar place - your house, as that's where the story took place!
Then I got you to think of the names of the planets as physical objects, whether it be a person like Venus or an object like the metallic Mercury. By thinking of the thing you are trying to remember as a tangible object is very useful as it allows you to physically touch the object in your mind and move it around like a real-life object!
Not only that, but you can also put the object in certain places as well such as in the wardrobe in a bedroom of your house - this method is called the mind palace! Not only is this a brilliant mental stimulus, but it also allows you to incorporate your senses as well as you can imagine things like how the object would feel like in your hands or what sounds does the object make and what material is the object made of?
Here’s another example: if you want to remember someone’s name for instance, what you would do is the following. First, you would have to turn their name into an object so if for instance, their name is Tom, then you can imagine a tomcat.
Next, you need to associate their name with the actual person’s body. A good way to do this is to look for something unique about that person like a specific feature on their face. This can be, for example, a moustache. Here, you would make an association between the tomcat and Tom’s moustache by imagining, for example, a miniature tomcat resting on top of Tom’s moustache sleeping. And now, every time you see Tom, you would recognise his moustache and subconsciously be reminded of his name due to the picture of the tomcat sleeping on his moustache.
© 2021 Jackson Zheng