Different learning objectives need different mnemonic strategies.
Which one to use depends on what you are learning and your own best learning method.
Regardless of if you are memorizing terminology for movement, foreign language vocabulary, or anything else, it can be useful to understand if you should use a memory palace as your learning technique.
Everyone is different in their preferences, and I have my reasons for preferring to use memory palaces for memorising terminology.
I’ve written before (here) and here about how memory palaces are fantastic for when the order of the information is important, or for long lists of information.
But what about a list of 20 Korean Taekwondo terminology words that do not need to be remembered in order?
Let’s look at the example of someone who already knows the moves to their Taekwondo exam but now just needs to connect the name to the move (If you need help remembering them move, see my blog here).
Assuming you know the moves well already you can just use them instead of a memory palace to link the name (like in my YouTube video Remember Terminology Instantly – see it here).
The memory palace ‘location’ is the move that you can already visualise and know well.
The image is made to represent what terminology is given to this move. Because you will link them together (in a story) it will help your brain learn and link them together (just like a memory palace).
I tend to give this a quick go when I hear a new piece of terminology in class and then think about it harder later. Making the image and linking it as you hear it is a hard skill to attain but you will improve at doing it on the fly and it helps later on (even if you couldn’t fully form the image).
This allows you to learn the names of movements just one at a time, AND put a whole list of terminology in a memory palace as well if you like.
This is usually my preferred option for grouped and list-like learning.
This is how it works when I learn terminology from a list:
I first decide on a memory palace where I will place this group of terminology. Let’s say for my recent Taekwondo grading.
I work through the list starting at the top. In the first location in my mind I visualize the first move and link it to the correct terminology (as we have discussed).
I move to the next item on the list and the next location and repeat until I have completed the list.
Why do it like this rather than separately?
It gives me an extra hook (or association) in my brain and I find it tends to move the information to the long term faster.
It means whenever I want to go over the list it is fully in my brain.
I won’t miss any out. Don’t underestimate this. When I am bored in a car, on a train, or trying to get to sleep I have a library of things I am learning that I can run through (again moving the learning to long term memory faster).
I most definitely ran through my terminology palace while driving to my Taekwondo exam.
When I do my next exam, I need to know a further list of Korean plus the one from my previous exam. Given it is in a neat brain file I can go back over my ‘old lists’ whenever I like to keep them fresh.
Will you run out of palaces?
Some students initially worry they will run out of memory palaces.
Don’t stress about this either. If you think of all the palaces you know it is endless. Your memory palaces might currently include childhood homes, friends’ houses, the school you went to, your favourite takeaway restaurant or the route you walk to the train.
Just be clear when using this memory palace – is it a temporary (or training) palace, or one for permanent information? You’ll be letting your brain know whether it is on the way to committing this information to long term memory or just holding it for the short term.
I get a lot of questions from students asking if they can use mnemonic techniques to improve their ability to remembering movement.
Exercise is good for your memory. But is memory good for exercise? Can we use memory techniques to improve our ability to remember physical exercises, or any movement?
Absolutely. I do it all the time.
Using memory techniques improves your short-term memory and allows you to learn movements faster, and it also allows you to understand the movement on a deeper level. This means you also improve how well you are performing the movement.
First, let’s clarify what is movement. It may be broader than you think.You could be trying to learn exercises, tai chi, a martial art or dance. But you could also be learning smaller or subtle movements like playing an instrument, sign language or touch typing.
All these forms of movement can be learned with adaptions of the same basic memory idea – translate something that is not memorable into something that is.
Normally this translation uses visualized images or stories to picture the information being learned.Sometimes the requirement is to learn movement only, such as in tai chi. Often both the movement and its name need to be learned, such as in dance, music or martial arts.
Whatever the case you can use memory techniques to increase your memory power and learn faster.
Let’s look at the steps to do this.
The first step is to understand the movement
This can be done by running through a few questions. Not every question here will be relevant for every movement, so pick out the best for your exercise from this list.
Shape – Does the movement draw a shape in space?
Shape orientation – When looking at the shape drawn is it vertical, horizontal, 2D or 3D?
Pattern ground – Does the movement draw a pattern on the ground?
Pattern other – Does the movement draw a pattern in another plane? (ie on a vertical wall)
Feel – How does the movement feel? (smooth, sharp, zig zag, round)
Size – What is the size of the movement? Compare it to your body – eg the size of finger, or it comes up to half your height.
Size change – Does the size of the shape change or stay the same throughout the exercise?
Parts of the body – If several parts of your body move together are they simultaneous or does one lead and others follow?
Speed – What is the speed of the movement? Is it slow, fast, continuous, or does it have a rhythm that changes.
Association – Does the movement or the name remind you of anything you can visualize? The movement may remind you of something (eg a person teetering on a type rope) or the name of it may sound like something (eg sounds a bit like mouse)
Corrections – Is there anything with this step the teacher keeps telling me I need to work on?
The second step is to create a combined image.
Use the answers to the questions above to create a combined image to represent the information.
The last step is to attach the image to the movement and its name.
Let’s look at a Taekwondo example to understand how this works.
Chagi means kick in Korean, and for simplicity we will assume that on a previous occasion we have memorized this in a similar process. There is front kick, side kick, back kick, roundhouse kick and many others. They are all something Chagi.
A side kick in Taekwondo is called Yop Chagi. Without going into too much detail, Yop Chagi is :
One knee bends up high close to the chest, while the supporting foot turns so you do around a 90 degree turn with your body facing a new corner. The lifted knee then kicks out to the side (where your front was) while the standing foot (and body) rotates again nearly another 90 degrees. The foot is flexed back and the edge of the kicking foot is parallel to the floor/ceiling.
You need to learn the name and know the move Yop Chagi for your next Taekwondo exam.
First step – understand the movement.
First mentally run through a list similar to this and identify the answers (or notice when you don’t know the answer).
Often, just the act of this analysis will help you to remember the movement. This examination also leads to a deeper understanding of the movement as you analyse what it is you do. Sometimes it even helps as it identifies what you don’t know, does the leg move in an arc or does it kick up directly. Before running through the mnemonic learning technique, one may not have realised there was a choice.
Shape – Looking at the kicking leg, there is a horizontal line drawn as the leg is pulled up bent toward the chest, as the kick happens this line extends out. This can be at different heights but in my mind it looks like a right angle is drawn.
Shape orientation – Vertical and horizontal, feels like a 2D shape for the kicking leg, but when you add the rotation of the supporting leg it has a 3D feel.
Pattern ground – The supporting foot draws a half circle (semicircle) on the floor as you turn.
Pattern other – The kicking leg draws a 90 degree angle in vertical space up to mid body.
Feel – First part feels smooth, the kicking feels quick.
Size – Comes up at least half way on my body.
SizeChange – The size of the kicking leg movement (90 degree shape) stays the same.
Parts of the body – There is consecutive movement, not all at once
Speed – Rhythm changes throughout the movement.
Association – Movement reminds me of a 90 degree ruler angle. When I brainstorm the name Yop it reminds me of hop, slop, pop and other rhyming words. Because it is Yop I would likely go with a variation on one of theses linked with something to remind me of the y. Like Yellow and hop, Yop.
Corrections – there are two : Make sure to kick directly to the side. Use a good flicking action with my leg.
Second step – create a combined image.
Some of these questions will help in memorizing the move and its name, and in addition all of them are good questions for really understanding a movement (which is a vital part of remembering it).
Name image – Lets deal with the name first – Yop. To make the name I came up with two images – yellow and hop.
Movement image – Kicking leg image. For me the 90 degree shape of the kicking leg is a pretty clear image. I see a right angle ruler. This right angle has two lines – the leg drawn up to the chest vertical line, and then kicking out to the side for the horizontal line.
Supporting foot image – Simultaneously, I can clearly see that the supporting foot moves in a semicircle. Seeing as I have imagined the kicking leg as a right angle ruler, I will make the supporting foot a half circle ruler.
These images are then joined together – I see a semicircle ruler flat on the floor with a right angle ruler rising vertically from its centre then going out horizontal at hip height.
My main focus is on the kicking leg image.
Third step – attach the image to the movement and its name.
Finally I link this all together onto the movement.
I stand in the room and do the movement slow motion. As my supporting leg turns I imagine it is standing on a half circle ruler. As my kicking leg starts to draw up to my chest I imagine the vertical line in my head. I also see my foot draw this vertical line with a yellow highlighter, yellow to remember the Y in Yop. As I kick my leg out to the side I see the yellow line drawing horizontally to create the right angle ruler. I am careful not to hop (for Yop) which would mess up my neatly drawn lines.
For my teacher’s corrections:
Make sure to kick directly to the side of me : I simply note that my right angle ruler needs to be not warped so the horizontal line is straight.
Use a good flicking action with my leg : I see the highlighter speed up the drawing process on the top horizontal line of the right angled ruler, with a flick upwards.
In my mind when the move is completed I imagine a straight right angle ruler balancing on the semicircle ruler which is flat on the ground. There is a yellow line drawn on the right angle and because I haven’t hopped this line is neatly drawn, with the top horizontal line flicked up at the end.
And that’s it. Sounds like a lot, but once you have the images it is simple – and memorable.
The next time I am at class I am more far likely to remember how to do Yop Chagi, and with the analysis done to remember it I am also more likely to do it well. I am also more likely to notice corrections the teacher gives about it that I did not previously understand.
Big learning projects
Often your learning will require you to repeat the same moves in different sequences. Think playing an instrument, dance, and martial arts. In this case it can be useful to formalize what we have done for each separate movement to create a movement vocabulary.
You can create a visual code of all the different ‘moves’ you come across.
Anytime you come across that move you can remember it using that image. You can link the images together in a story to remember long movement sequences.
This will be the topic of a future in-depth blog.
What is the take away?
Learning using memory techniques works. And not just for academic information. You can use mnemonics to learn anything faster, including movement.
Analysing what your body does is a vital first step. You must really understand what you know (and don’t know). Even this step alone would get you learning faster. Taking this analysis and turning it into images and then attaching them to the movement massively improves your ability to learn movements faster.
And as bonus, the whole process boosts your general memory and concentration.
Training your memory is obviously a mental exercise, right? Hit the study, head down.
In fact, that’s not the whole story.
The learning and memory benefits of exercise have been well documented in numerous medical studies. It is a fact that regular aerobic exercise changes the brain and improves memory, thinking skills and overall brain health. There is a positive effect on memory function, cognitive ability, attention, processing speed and executive function skills. Studies also point to exercise helping to reduce neuron degeneration and dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.
Exercise helps memory and mental health indirectly as well, as it improves mood and sleep, while reducing stress and anxiety. And not forgetting … you get fit!
Aerobic exercise appears to be key
The hippocampus is an area of the brain that is critical for our memory, as it is involved in verbal memory and learning. It is widely accepted that exercise enhances the production of neurons in the hippocampus. A University of British Columbia study concluded that the volume of the hippocampus region was increased after six months of regular aerobic exercise, where the subject had a raised pulse and was sweating. The same study found that resistance training and muscle toning exercises did not have the same effect on the brain, so you need to be puffing.
Aerobic exercise over at least several months has shown to increase brain volume in not only the hippocampus but also the prefrontal and temporal cortex. On top of this, athletes have been shown to have more concentrations of gray and white matter clusters in their brain (which is a good thing) than those with a sedentary lifestyle. So your brain not only gets bigger, but also better. What’s not to like?
But a further study confirmed you need to achieve the right exercise level – not too little or too much. This study was on rodents, but hey, we are all in the rat race together. It suggests that moderate exercise intensity improves cognitive performance, but high intensity exercise becomes less effective, likely because it creates higher levels of stress responses.
How does it work?
Exercise helps memory and cognitive processes in several ways. These include reducing insulin resistance and inflammation and also stimulating the release of growth factor chemicals in the brain. These chemicals help to grow new blood vessels and improve the survival of new brain cells. Aerobic exercise enhances neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to change) and also lowers the amounts of toxic proteins in the brain. This is a great outcome, because these toxic proteins are an important factor in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, one of the most common causes of adult dementia.
Exercise benefits the mind further than just your memory
Exercise also helps with anxiety, depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
A large body of studies support the idea that exercise can prevent or delay the arrival of these mental disorders. And the effect it has depends on how much exercise you do. Again, moderate aerobic exercise in adults is better than low or high intensity exercise.
Exercise helps with motor skills, too.
Even one exercise session significantly improves motor skills performance in a test, and helps remember that skill for longer.
Dance and your brain
I encourage people of all ages to start learning dance – it’s great for both your body and mind.
As a dancer I know first-hand the improvement I feel in my memory after a dance class. And studies back me up on this. Dance shows the same brain benefits as aerobic exercise, but with additional effects. There is a strong body of observational research that shows dance also alleviates the symptoms of dementia, including Parkinson’s disease. Moving while concentrating on learning coordinated movement seems to be the key, and music has a further effect. Dance has shown such strong benefit for brain health that it is now being used to treat people with Parkinson’s.
And regardless of the benefits to your brain, dance just makes you feel so good.
Physical activity and aging – first the bad news
Aging is inescapable and is linked to decreased cognitive function and increased risk of brain diseases including dementia and Alzheimer’s. The hippocampus loses neurons and size as we age and this is associated with aging-related reductions in neuroplasticity and memory functions.
And now the good news
Physical exercise is known to reduce and delay age-related cognitive decline. Exercise (especially dance 🙂 can alleviate aging related structural and functional changes in the brain, reducing the risk of neurodegenerative disease. As mentioned above, exercise enhances the adult hippocampus neuron production that is critical for memory functions.
Put it to the test yourself
So what should you do? Regardless of age, if you haven’t already done so start an aerobic exercise habit and enjoy improved physical and mental health. Hit the gym, go for a run, or take up dance!
And leave the study alone for an hour or so.
Interested in improving your memory and learning memory techniques? Check out my online Master Your Memory course.