Posts Tagged ‘memory’


November 11, 2009 1 comment

In previous posts I have talked about two memory techniques: memory pegs and the story system (click the memory tag to the right to view these posts). This third memory technique I’ll describe in this post is perhaps the simplest of the three. It’s a system that supposedly dates all the way back to the Greek orators, who used this strategy to memorize their speeches. It also happens to be the most foundational piece of my go-to memory system (which is a combination of several techniques that I’ll talk about in a future post).


This particular technique is what I call the rooms system. To start, simply think of a house you know very well. For this example, think of your childhood home. Think of all the rooms on the first level of that house–kitchen, living, dining, bedrooms, bathrooms, garage, foyer, etc. Count up in your mind how many different rooms there are. Then imagine yourself systematically walking through each room of that house in the order that makes the most sense. For instance, I picture myself walking in the back door into the study, then into the living room, then kitchen, then garage, then dining room, foyer, first bedroom, and so on until I mentally walk in every room of the house.

The next step is to visualize each item in whatever list you’re trying to memorize in the successive rooms. Using our old example, say you want to go to the store and purchase eggs, butter, soup, a roast, ice cream, lettuce, chicken broth, sour cream, cookies, and milk (which I am still able to recall using the two previous memory techniques). All I do is picture eggs in the bookshelves in the study, people sliding out of the couches in the living room because there is butter on them, a big pot of soup cooking in the kitchen, a roast as a hood ornament on the car in the garage, a gigantic scoop of ice cream as the centerpiece on the dining room table, lettuce leaves instead of floor tile in the foyer, chicken broth spilled all over the bed in the first bedroom, someone using sour cream for hair gel in the bathroom, someone hiding cookies under their pillow in the back bedroom, and dad drinking out of a milk carton in my parents’ room.

Then I mentally rehearse the list several times by visualizing these items in the house. Once again, I’m able to go to the store and be sure to get everything I went there for in the first place.

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November 1, 2009 Leave a comment

In this post I will try to explain another rather bizarre memory technique that I personally use all the time. I call it the story system, although professional memory experts probably have a technical name for it. In this system, you basically create a story by forming the items in a list into a connected series of actions that can be visualized.


Here’s an example. Say you are going to the store and want to be sure to get the following 10 items: eggs, butter, soup, a roast, ice cream, lettuce, chicken broth, sour cream, cookies, and milk (which, by the way, are the same 10 items that I am still able to recall from last week’s post using the pegs). Instead of associating each item with a peg, you simply envision a story in which one item leads to the next. The more bizarre the story is, the more memorable the items will be.

Here’s a sample story off the top of my head. Envision a person throwing an egg to another person who doesn’t catch it because he has buttery hands. He goes to pick the egg off the ground but instead mixes it into an buttery egg soup, which he then puts around a roast that happens to be in a crock pot on the ground beside him. When the roast is done, he scoops it out with an ice cream scooper instead of a spoon and puts in on a big leaf of lettuce instead of a plate. As he’s eating his meal he accidentally drinks a cup of chicken broth. Then decides to form his roast into a lettuce wrap and dip it into sour cream. When he’s done, he finishes off his meal with cookies and milk.

Again, this sounds utterly ridiculous, I know. But ridiculous or not, it works, and that’s why it’s worth trying out.

If this were an infomercial, I suppose this would be a good place for a testimonial. Check out this success story. A few years ago I asked a class of 7th graders to create a random list of 50 items. I wrote the items on the board in the front of the room. It took five minutes or less to come up with a random list. Then, over the next 10 minutes or so, we used this technique to create a story with all 50 items. We took five minutes to review the story a time or two. Then I erased the board, had them each to take out a sheet of paper, and asked each to write down the list in order. Several of the students had committed this random list to memory in 15 minutes, writing down perfectly all 50 items in order. Many other students missed only an item or two of the 50. And this was after being introduced to the technique for the first time just 15 minutes earlier and having only a very short time to rehearse the story. Some of these students have told me since then that they still use this technique to memorize all sorts of lists and to prepare for tests in school. By the way, I use this technique nearly every week to memorize my sermons. But I’ll tell you more about that in a future post.

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October 31, 2009 1 comment


Okay, so I understand that my memory pegs post last week was met with a bit of skepticism. That’s understandable. It sounds bizarre for sure. Furthermore, this technique has its drawbacks, the most notable of which is that it sort of limits you to memorize only one list at a time since there is only one set of pegs (although there are ways around that which I won’t get into…at least in this post).

The big advantage to the memory pegs, though, is that it allows you to recall any item in the list instantly, without having to start at the beginning of the list every time. This is especially helpful if you are using the peg system for a list of say, 60 items, and don’t want to go through the first 57 items to remember what the 58th one is. However, it is rare that you will need to remember the exact position of an item in a list; usually simply remembering that the item is on the list is enough. Occasionally, however, you’ll be memorizing a list in which it would be very helpful to be able to recall an item at the end or in the middle of the list without being forced to recall all the items before it.

For example, I have often thought that the peg system would be particularly beneficial for someone who wants to remember the content of each chapter of a book in the Bible. If you employed this system to memorize the content for each chapter of the book of Matthew, then you would be able to instantly recall what chapter 14 is about without having to mentally scroll through the first 13 chapters. I’ll come back to this sometime in a future post. But enough of the memory pegs for now.

Tomorrow’s post will be about an alternate memory technique that I personally use all the time. All you’ll need for this technique is a bit of creativity and a willingness to give it a try.

[NOTE: To see the original post on memory pegs, click here.]

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October 24, 2009 3 comments

Ever since my freshman year in college I have been interested in discovering and trying out various memory strategies. I use these memory techniques when studying for tests, remembering shopping lists, and even memorizing sermons. One of the first techniques I learned has to do with what are called memory pegs. This technique requires a bit of work on the front end because you have to commit your pegs to memory. Not to worry–there are tricks for remembering the pegs, and the pegs never change. Once you have your pegs in your head you are ready to memorize any list at any time.


If you want to give it a try, start by memorizing the pegs for numbers 1-10. (Some people have pegs for numbers 1-1000 or more, but it’s okay to start small.) Each number has its own peg that will never change. #1 is a tree (because it has one trunk). #2 is light switch (because it can move in two directions). #3 is a stool (because it has three legs). #4 is a car (four wheels and doors). #5 is a baseball glove (for your five fingers). #6 is a gun (a six-shooter). #7 is a pair of dice (lucky 7). #8 is a pair of roller skates (eight wheels and it rhymes). #9 is a cat (nine lives). #10 is a bowling ball (ten pins).

Okay. So take a little while to get those pegs in your head.

Once you have them down, you’re ready to use this technique. Let’s say you’re on your way to the grocery store and are needing eggs, butter, soup, a roast, ice cream, lettuce, chicken broth, sour cream, cookies, and milk (not all for the same recipe hopefully). No problem. You just start mentally associating the items with the pegs (first item with the first peg, second item with the second peg, and so on for all ten items). Picture eggs growing in trees, a slippery, buttery light switch, a stool with a bowl of soup as its seat, a roast driving a car (the more ridiculous the more memorable), a baseball player catching a scoop of ice cream, a man shooting a lettuce ball instead of a bullet, chicken rolling dice, putting on roller skates full of sour cream, a cat in the cookie jar, and a bowling ball knocking down milk cartons instead of pins.

That’s it. You get out of the car with confidence knowing that this trip to the store won’t result in you getting back home without the one thing you went for in the first place. Sounds crazy, I know, but it works!

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