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Memorise detailed information faster – a memory training example

Memorise detailed information faster – a memory training example

Memory techniques can substantially speed up how quickly you can remember new information, its like a brain hack. No more rote learning, yippee!  Once you master how it works it becomes easier and quicker the more you use it. If you want to memorise fast, read on!

I recently had a student come to me with a list of fairly detailed points that they wanted to memorise. It was a version of Dr. Deming’s 14 Points for Management. The list emailed to me was summarised, the first two are detailed below for our example. I’ll also quickly touch on extending this to longer points / paragraphs with more information.

First two in the list of 14:

  1. Create constancy of purpose for improving products and providing jobs.
  2. Adopt the new philosophy of change.

So, how would I approach this list to learn it faster?

I would use linking for each point, but each point would also be a location in a memory palace.

Linking is just where you use several images linked together in a sequence or story to represent information.   You can read more about memory palaces in this blog.

I would be quite literal. So, step one would be to choose a memory palace. This would not need to be ‘made up’ ahead of time, I would just choose a new place and make up the locations as I memorised each point.

Note that the images and stories that you would make up would likely be very different to mine and that is ok. We are all different. Just go with your own associations as that is what will work for you.

There are 3 steps in memorising each point:

1. Do word image association slowly reading the sentence.
2. At each location play with the chosen images to make an image story.
3. Check your progress. 

Lets start with point one in the list to memorise.

  1. Create constancy of purpose for improving products and providing jobs.
First do some word image association slowly reading the sentence –

I read through the sentence and notice what images could spring to mind. When I think of ‘create’ I think of hands making something, like out of clay, ‘improving products’ I see an item and then it getting replaced with better and better versions and ‘providing jobs’ I see more people lining up to start work and clock in with an old fashioned card slot.

Then at that first location I play with those images to make the sentence into an image story –

We have some image associations, now we want to make them make sense and represent the information.

Hands are creating (I notice with constancy of purpose – I see them doing it on purpose, sort of with attention) a product out of clay. This constancy of purpose is for improving the products (I see the products are improving because what started as rough clay lumps are now taking shape into clearer defined objects). It gets to a point where there are so many of these now neat clay products being placed that there are more people being provided jobs, I see them running up and lining up next to the hands and clocking on.

Really also see the story in the location you have chosen. Oh no! there is clay on my white couch!

You will notice there is not really an image for each word. It is usually not needed or even recommended to have image for every word as it gets confusing. Instead add quality detail to the story to add words (Ie the hands are creating with a constancy of purpose – this image is different to if they were just creating with gusto or vigour so see the quality in the image).

Check your progress –

Now read out loud the sentence while looking at the ‘story in your head’. Then try to look away and say the sentence while just looking at the images in your head.

When you stumble (which is normal) look down at the page. Repeat a few times, if you keep stumbling at a word as you repeat you may need to adjust your image a bit.

Also make sure the story is in order – it starts with create and ends with providing jobs. This will also assist with the sentence coming back to you.

Then onto location two and point 2 in the list to memorise. Repeat the process:

2. Adopt the new philosophy of change.

Do some word image association slowly reading the sentence –

What springs to mind? for me ‘adopt’ reminds me of the old movie Annie at an orphanage, ‘philosophy’ reminds me of a philosophical book l have and love (I can see the cover) and ‘change’ is a triangle symbol in Maths.

Play with those images to make the sentence into an image story at the next location –

I am standing at the second location, on a table. There is the orphanage from Annie, and Annie herself. I pull her under my arm like I will adopt her. I am proud of this orphan she is clutching a new philosophy book under her arm and is clearly thoughtful. She flips the book over and I see the change symbol – I believe we will both change to make our new family work together.

Check your progress –

Read the sentence and then see the images/story in your head. Look away and try to say the sentence seeing the images, any problems look back at the page. Repeat a few times until point 2 is solid.

REPEAT ALL

At this juncture I would quickly go back to the beginning of the palace and see if I can say the first two points (by going to the location and looking at the images in my head).

Then move to location three and point 3. and continue through until the 14 points are memorised.

A further few notes for once you have all the points solid in upcoming days.
  1. Reflect on what the points mean. Now the information is memorised deepen your memory and give meaning and understanding to what you have learned. You can also do this during the above process if you prefer.
  2. You can add more information and detail to what you have memorised. For example if each of these points had more text or explanation about them that you wanted to remember, you add on at that location. Like a little side story – this may interact with the first one or just be next to, underneath or above it.

Want to get good at memorising quickly? Take a look at my step by step Master Your Memory course. If you need a bit more guidance Master Your Memory Plus includes one on one coaching.

Neuroscience memory findings are right on target

Neuroscience memory findings are right on target

Now this is interesting reading. Neuroscientists are discovering more about what happens when our brain revisits a memory. Their findings are right on target with what memory athletes do on purpose when memorising.

We ‘deposit new information into folders’ – by creating a visual event that represents the information we are trying to memorise. The more exciting/unusual/provoking the event or story we create, the easier it is to remember.

Don’t get confused with memory palaces here. There are several techniques that memory athletes often use in conjunction.

Memory palaces are certainly like a file to store information but they are like the ‘main file’ (and work by scaffolding on new information onto something we already know). The ‘folders’ discussed in the article are more like sub folders under the main file – with each location within the palace and the image/event created to remember that information.

Have a read here: Scientist Alert – Neuroscientists Find Two Types of Brain Cells That Help Us Make Memories

And check out more about memory palaces in this blog

The inevitable decline of aging – just say no

The inevitable decline of aging – just say no

I’m turning 45 this year. I have 3 teenage kids. I often feel there are not enough hours in the week to do everything I want to do. Not enough time to spend looking after and nurturing myself.

I am fit enough, I eat fairly well and I can certainly remember information more quickly than the norm. But I feel like I am declining slowly, and it seems inevitable unless I change something.

The decline is both physical and in mental ability. And I don’t want it.

I want to live a long, healthy and fulfilling life. Full of adventure and learning.

But I have a plan to stop this inevitability from happening.

In making this plan I considered what is missing and how I can fix it. I don’t think I am being regular enough in my physical and mental training. I don’t prioritise my own health enough. I need to fix this – increase the training and include specific short term goals.

There are things outside of our control in life, but to some extent that can also be an excuse. I don’t mind getting old, but I want to do it well with a mind and body still up for the challenges I want to enjoy. I refuse to just stop growing and learning just because I am middle aged and therefore its ‘time to be sensible’. Or, to put it bluntly, give in.

I am going to share this journey in my blog in case it helps you.

I will expand on my progress over the coming weeks and months but here is my initial plan. To build this plan I am drawing on my long experience as a physical athlete (a professional dancer), as well as the knowledge gained as a memory athlete.

Just a caveat if you decide to follow along. The points below are specific to me, but you can adjust them to where you are at in your life

  1.  I will do a memory training session of at least 30 minutes 6 days a week.
    This will likely be using Memory League.
    In upcoming blogs I will expand on this training so you can follow along. If you want to get going you can start by going to Memory League and trying out some of the disciplines. Use the tips and techniques in some of my other blogs to get you going. Names and faces is a good place to start.
    By the way I’m not affiliated with Memory League, but I am happy to promote it as a place hang out and train used by a lot of memory athletes and others trying to improve their recall.
  1. I will do a gym session 6 days a week.
    When injuries allow this will include at least 25 mins of running (ideally with a weight vest as I am a light lady) and weights training. I want to be really strong, not just moderately strong. And as I age even just keeping where I currently am requires me to increase what I currently do.
    I will include exercises that work on dexterity and coordination for mental acuity. And of course exercises that work the muscle groups we need as we age and in real life – such as balance, mobility, and grip strength.
    I will share some of these in videos/blogs as well.
  1. I will aim to eat more healthily, while still enjoying food.
    This balance means I will happily ‘break the rules’ here and there. I want to eat more whole plant-based food, with lots of fresh greens, legumes and grains. I personally have a high metabolism and so my goal is to try to eat more. I would like to gain at least a few kilos of muscle.
  1. Continue to learn new things.
    Ok this one is broad so let me try to be a bit more specific. I’ll focus on 3 things to learn this year outside of everyday work life.

    First, I want to make a stronger commitment to learning Taekwondo this year. I have been learning this for a couple of years now and am at Cho Dan Bo (a ‘probationary black belt’), and I would like to get to full black belt. This is not actually for the belt but for the learning and physicality it represents. I’m loving learning this martial art as it is both a physical and mental challenge, and I can do it alongside my kids. This makes for good parenting and efficient use of my limited time.

    Second, by my birthday this year I want to know the square of every number up to 1000 instantly. This is a fairly easy challenge using memory techniques, but it worth recording here to make myself do it.

    Third, I am looking for one more definable challenge with a clear objective –several spring to mind so I will likely play with a few until I settle on one. Stay tuned 🙂
    If you are following along I suggest you choose three learning goals with set timeframes – they can be small or big. Maybe a whole language or 40 difficult English words and their meanings. Make sure you nominate a timeframe. It would be great if one of them was learning a new physical skill (like yoga, martial arts, a musical instrument etc.)

  1. To help facilitate all this, I will say no more often.
    No to things that I don’t want or need to do. We all need to make time for ourselves.

 

Keeping your memory sharp – how to minimise age related memory decline

Keeping your memory sharp – how to minimise age related memory decline

As people age their memory often declines. But it is not inevitable. Here I discuss the problem, likely causes and suggested strategies to combat it.

Memory often declines with age

There is no doubt that memory generally declines with age. Aging is linked to reductions in memory functions and neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to form and reorganise connections).

Many studies have documented poorer memory performance in older people compared with younger age groups. Most researchers agree that memory decline occurs in more than 40% of people over 60.

But the good news is that studies suggest memory decline is not inevitable. Most of us can do something about it.

What memory problems are an expected part of normal aging?

Normal aging can impact learning new information and recalling information.  Common memory problems include simple forgetfulness, like misplacing the keys, and becoming slower to recall information such as names and events. The good news is that aging has less impact on our older memories, procedural memory (such as performing tasks) and semantic recall (general knowledge).

What causes memory decline?

Aging associated memory decline is widely understood to be associated with changes in the hippocampus. These are two areas of the brain that have important roles in consolidation of short term memories and in spatial memory. Age dependent changes include the hippocampus losing neurons and size, changes in hormone levels, reductions in brain blood supply and accrual of oxidative stress.
These impacts on the brain are in turn caused by many factors, often treatable and reversible. These include :

  • Depression is common in older adults, and interferes with concentration, organisation and getting things done. This can mimic the signs of memory loss, so there are positive impacts on your effective memory from identifying, treating and reducing depression.
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency can damage the brain, sometimes permanently. B12 protects neurons and is vital to healthy brain functioning, and age reduces our rate of absorption. Smoking and alcohol increases the risk further. The earlier a deficiency is treated the better the chance to reverse the memory impact.
  • Thyroid problems can significantly impact your mind, as the thyroid gland controls metabolism. Medication can often resolve this.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption leads to memory loss, and over time may increase the risk of dementia. Experts advise avoiding alcohol or limit your daily intake to 1-2 standard drinks.
  • Dehydration is common in older people. Severe dehydration can cause confusion, drowsiness, memory loss, and other symptoms that look like dementia. So stay hydrated – drink around 2 litres of water per day.

What about Alzheimer’s disease or dementia?

Memory loss as we age is not inevitably associated with dementia. However aging is often related to decreased cognitive function and increased risk of brain diseases including dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is most common in people over 65, and one of the first area of the brain to suffer damage is the hippocampus. Because of this Alzheimer’s is a major contributor to memory decline in otherwise healthy older people. But the memory loss and thinking problems seen in mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s or other dementia are not normal aging.

Can we keep our memory sharp as we age?

In many cases, yes. Studies suggest that memory decline is not inevitable.

Addressing the factors listed above is a great start. Research also shows that regular exercise can be key to reduce and delay age-related cognitive and memory decline, especially aerobic exercise. Walking at least 10 kilometres a week has also been found to support preventing brain shrinkage and memory loss. Exercise can alleviate aging related structural and functional changes in the brain, reducing the risk of neurodegenerative disease. Exercise also enhances the adult hippocampus neuron production that is critical for memory functions. Read more about it in my blog Exercise and Memory.

Alongside exercise, try to resolve illnesses to reduce their impact on your memory and the effect of any associated medication. Aim for good blood pressure and cholesterol, don’t smoke, avoid excessive alcohol, keep your weight trim, and eat well – focussed on a wide variety of whole plant-based foods with plenty of antioxidants. Reduce stress and get enough sleep. While you are at it, maintain strong social engagements (volunteer, join clubs, party!). Studies show that highly socially engaged older people enjoy better memories, general cognition, health and happiness.

Whew. Sounds hard. But keeping a healthy, social and happy life must be worth it.

But wait, there is more you can do if you’re really keen to keep sharp.

Brain exercises to combat memory loss

Keep your mind exercised as well.

Researchers testing cognitive training in trials have found significant benefits. In one trial, sessions in memory training, reasoning and processing-speed improved participants’ mental skills in those areas and the benefits persisted for two years.

Engage in activities you already enjoy and know. And learn some new skills – maybe start learning a language, master a new cuisine or learn a musical instrument. Foster a growth mindset – new skills and experiences are not just for the young. You are never too old to learn new things and enrich your life.

And by using memory techniques you might surprise yourself at how quickly you can learn.

At any age you can directly improve how quickly you can retain new information by learning and practicing memory skills. This can improve your brain health and directly combat memory decline. Learning a memory technique and practicing it for even 10 minutes a day is a great start.

How can you begin? Check out my blogs on memorising;

Please note the above blog is not medical advice and you should always first consult your medical practitioner regarding your personal circumstances. 😊

 

 

 

Reference links

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaneurology/fullarticle/778704https://personal.utdallas.edu/~tres/memory/LTP2/foster.pdf

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11826-memory-problems-what-is-normal-aging-and-what-is-not

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/alzheimers-dementia-aging/age-related-memory-loss

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6296269/

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/regular-exercise-changes-brain-improve-memory-thinking-skills-201404097110

Making the jump from simple lists to useful stuff

Making the jump from simple lists to useful stuff

Using Memory Techniques to actually improve your life.

There is a common pattern I see with many people first learning memory techniques – joy followed by despair.

First there is a honeymoon period where learners feel they have stumbled on the elixir of memory.

Joy.

This is followed by a sense of despair – from not knowing how to move from simple lists to information useful in study or at work.

Sadly, this is where many drop out.

Their story often goes like this :

They hear a fantastical story about someone who had an average memory and who can now remember pages of information perfectly at astonishing speeds.

They then learn about a very useful tool called a memory palace. After remembering a shopping list or 6 they feel like they can become the next memory prodigy. But, then what? Without assistance they let the superpower of mastering memory techniques slip through their fingers.

This happens because there isn’t much guidance around how to take basic memory technique learning to the next level.  And taking it to the next level can be a different process for each individual.

Using a memory palace is more than just about trying it out a few times. You get better and more efficient at using them with practice. Two areas to master are:

1. The number of items at each location : new students may place one simple word at a location, while those well versed in the techniques can place a paragraph or more of exactly worded text.

2. Using imagery and storytelling to store info : this is a skill you need to practice and improve at to transition from basic to advanced information.

Don’t despair, there are some simple ideas to make sure that you do master these life altering skills.

Recommendations :

1. It takes practice with trial and error to learn.

The three rules of memory training are – practice, practice, practice.
Memory League is a great place for this practice.

2. Set yourself a training schedule and practice lists (of simple and hard information) on a regular basis.

Ok, so you can remember a list now well. That is fantastic. Now push yourself. Aim to remember two ‘simple’ lists (such as grocery items or easily visualised items like ‘elephant or sock’) and one ‘difficult’ list (such as all the towns in your state). Every day for at least 3 weeks.  Don’t beat yourself up if there are errors when you test your results in these lists. Ask yourself why. How could you have made your images better. 3 weeks is not much to commit to gain a life altering skill.

These skills are valuable, if they were easy to attain (at a level of higher than a simple list) everyone would have them. You can acquire them, just do the work.

3. Push your timing scores for remembering a list.

Remember the lists within a set time frame and over the days/weeks shorten the timeframe (again Memory League is great for this).

If you are ambitious, approach this training like a physical athlete. Record your results and push yourself to remember more and faster each day.  Keep in mind that just like the physical athlete you may do several weeks of training with little improvement and then see a jump in your scores. Don’t let the hard training that comes before the improvement stop you. Celebrate your win, no matter how small.

Remember that like athletes you will have bad days, don’t use them as an excuse to dump the training. Come at it again the next day with a fresh attitude.

4. Do not to get hooked up in detail. I can’t stress this enough. It is VERY common for overthinkers to, well, overthink.

If you come up with an image that ‘might do’ give it a go and move on down the list. Pushing yourself with the time limit really helps this (and made big differences to my scores).

Sometimes you will learn just as much about your brain and what is working by looking at what you did not remember and analysing why (and how you could have made that image better). So push yourself to go with the image you have and move on.

With these recommendations, and with a bit of hard work, you will accelerate your journey into using memory techniques in your life and study. Joy!

Memory Palaces – Long term vs Short term

Memory Palaces – Long term vs Short term

Recently I was on the ABC podcast “All in The Mind” with Sana Qadar. You can listen to “The making of a magnificent memory” here.

One of the topics we touched on was learning for short vs long term using memory techniques.

In this blog I expand on some differences in using memory palaces to keep in mind (pardon the pun) when remembering for the long term.

This is a common need, for example when learning a language or a poem.

 

Learning long term

 

Memory places are the key to long term memorisation of large amounts of information. You can read about them in other blogs on this site.

So what is the difference in how we use a Memory Palace when we want to learn for the long term?

1.  Choose a palace that has a relationship to the information. This makes it easier, but it isn’t essential.

2.  You can build the palace on the way

3.  Periodic revision is required on a spaced schedule

 

1. The palace is selected with a relationship to the information

 

Choosing a palace relevant to the information makes for easier recall. Making these obvious connections allows you to jump straight to the start of the information, rather than searching your memory until you find some association or hook. This becomes ever more important as the number of long term palaces you have increases.

For example, Taekwondo terminology is kept at the training dojang. You might have to get creative…want to learn cooking terminology? Maybe place them in the kitchen of a friend who is a good cook.

Any palace can also be associated with your subject matter by simply placing an icon or trigger at the start of it. For example, French recipes may be in a palace that is a normal house, but you put a big croissant at the front door that you need to step over it every time you revise.

If you can’t find a connection between the palace and the detail to be stored, don’t stress – just use a place or location you know well.

 

2. You can build the palace on the way

 

The second point about long term learning using memory palaces is you can build the palace at the time you place the information. You don’t have to take the time to first detail all the locations inside a palace. Instead you simply choose a relevant palace from your list of potential palaces and start at the front of that palace. Position the first piece of information, decide the next location, place the next piece there and continue. As always, resist the urge to insert the locations too far apart.

While building the detailed locations into the palace first is not normally needed, there are exceptions when you might pre-prepare a palace in detail. For example, when attending a workshop where you know you will come across lots of long term information that you want to place as you hear it.

During revision for long term memory palaces you need to not only check you can parrot back the detail but also take time to check you understand its meaning. Sometimes remembering information is so quick using a memory palace that you may skip this step, resulting in remembering more but with a decreased understanding. You can have both, but you need to do both steps while revising.

 

3. Periodic revision is required

 

Research has confirmed that if you want to learn information for the long term, spaced repetition or revision is required.

How much revision tends to vary somewhat between people, within a standard range, but it follows a pattern. I find that the following schedule tends to be enough for many students to hold a high percentage of the information for long term.

 

Example revision schedule for memory palaces

 

  • Immediately after creating the memory palace
  • on the same day
  • on the next day
  • a few days later
  • at one week
  • at one month
  • 6 months later

 

There is one immediate review plus six further reviews. This is a general guide so test yourself, record your results in Excel and confirm your own schedule.

Although this sounds like a lot of work, each revision may not take long – it often only takes a few minutes to visually walk through a palace. As always, if a term or detail isn’t sticking when you do the review, adjust that image or story, or even change it completely.

 

Revision schedule for other recall methods

 

If the information is not in a memory palace it still requires revision. Let’s say you are remembering words and their meanings but haven’t put them in a palace. The word can still be remembered using the image and story techniques, but is held ‘stand-alone’, without being in a palace.

Revision can be through keeping a written list that you refer to or through using flashcards. Automation works well here – the flashcard software called Anki allows automated revision schedules, and can be used from your phone. You can create a ‘deck’ of flashcards with a word on one side, and its meaning on the other side. The software offers up a set of words each day, and you indicate how well you recall it. Worse recall puts the word on a higher repeat priority.

Even if you drop your review schedule that doesn’t mean you are going to forget all the detail, you just lose some of the information long term.

After the first set of long term revision has been done, the details will fade over years, but review of the palace will bring all or most of the information back. This is an excellent benefit of memory palaces – your information libraries are never truly lost. So it is a good idea to have a long term learning list on your excel sheet with the palace and what information is in it.

 

Learning for the medium term

 

Often information is only needed for the medium term. An example of this would be a meeting presentation you need to give once, or a university exam in a few weeks for material that you don’t require afterwards.

In this scenario a memory palace is still normally the best tool, and some revision is still required. Choose a memory palace from your list of long term palaces, as without the full revision schedule this palace will be available for re-use on the long term list in a few months.

Revise this medium term list immediately after creating the memory palace, later the same day, the next day, in three days and again at a week. So the immediate review plus four. And then perhaps one more revision just before you need it, for example the night before the exam or presentation. After that you need never revise it again, so over time the details will fade from the palace and it will likely be able to be re-used in a few months without confusion the old information. Even with this disassociation from the palace over time, a lot of the details are likely to still be retained.

 

Learning for the short term

 

The key difference is the amount of revision.

For short term retention your ‘short term palaces often come into play. These are familiar, well-practiced palaces with rehearsed locations that allow you to quickly store new details. A set of such palaces should be in your memory arsenal – around five of them will likely be enough, each with around 30-40 locations. If your short-term data is longer, you can join two palaces together with a story.

The details are not revised past the initial learning session or two, so they fade quickly, and the palace normally can be re-used without confusion after a few days. As it will be discarded the subject matter also normally doesn’t need recording in your lists, although keeping a record of what day you used a short-term palace still yields useful data.

And a memory palace doesn’t have to be used for shorter lists – a series of images with linked stories will usually be enough.

So there you have it – long or short, you can build a home for your information.

Interested in learning more memory techniques? Improve your memory with my online Master Your Memory course.