Memory Tips Archives | Anastasia Woolmer
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.


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.

Memorizing terminology for movement

Memorizing terminology for movement

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:

  1. I first decide on a memory palace where I will place this group of terminology. Let’s say for my recent Taekwondo grading.
  2. 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).
  3. 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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Enjoy and annyeong!

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

Can I re-use a memory palace?

Can I re-use a memory palace?

Memory palaces are fantastic for toolkits for your brain, but for those who are new to them, sometimes they can be a little confusing.

I’m often asked: ‘How do you re-use memory palaces over and not getting confused with old information?’ and ‘How can I stop my memory palace filling up?’

Great questions!

First, its important to understand that there are two types of memory palace:
  1. temporary information (like a shopping list, a FedEx delivery, memory training or for a meeting this Friday)
  2. permanent information (like learning the names of all the Japanese vegetables).

You’ll find that memory athletes and those who use mnemonics a lot, have both. Mine range from upcoming meetings, to Pi, to the aforementioned Japanese vegetables!

If you’re unsure if memory palaces actually work – click here to read more:

Temporary memory palaces

  • Temporary memory palaces can be used once a day and reused over and over on subsequent days.
  • Each new day you just ‘replace’ the new images over the old ones.
  • New students sometimes worry that this won’t work, but once you get going it is fine.
  • If you still find you can ‘see’ yesterday’s information, then you can alternate each day with a different temporary memory palace.

Long term memory palaces

  • For long term learning, you choose a palace where only that information will live (at least until it is in ‘long term’ memory).
  • This is because for long term learning you will want to review the information periodically so that it moves from your short term memory into your long term memory.
  • The memory palace acts as a holding place to help you learn faster in short term memory.

I learn all the Japanese vegetables by mentally placing the appropriate images at my local sushi train. Occasionally, I go back through it to check I still know them all and fix any problem images. It is this review process that  moves this learning into ‘long term memory’. Once this happens I no longer need to see the images.

This does not preclude using other reviewing methods (like Anki) to go over individual vegetable names as well.

Keeping these two types of palaces separate should ensure that your palaces don’t ‘fill up’ or that you get confused.

Need to know more about how to use memory techniques to learn? Check out my course Master Your Memory course or Master Your Memory + Plus course which includes 1 on 1 training and assistance. 

What you want to remember, faster – The survey results are in!

What you want to remember, faster – The survey results are in!

The survey results have been collated for the upcoming workshop in October.

I asked what you would most like to remember faster – with 0 meaning no interest and 10 as yes please.

The results surprised me.

How to remember for work is the clear winner for the October workshop with a whopping 93.3% of respondents ranking this choice highly.

So I am excited to plan this workshop for you –“How to remember faster for work”.

Click here for more information or to secure your spot.

But something else really surprised me.

Respondents were asked if there was anything else they wanted to remember –  the answers were quite varied and covered many topics, as I expected.

But I was surprised to see that one group of answers could be grouped together. Many respondents wanted to know how memory techniques can be used to remember some kind of movement.

Remember, that movement does not need only be limited to obvious movement, like exercises, dance and martial arts. It can also be applied to learning an instrument, sign language, origami or any other skill that requires some element of physical movement and memory – no matter how small the movement the technique is similar.

I have discussed this in my blog post Movement and memory. I personally use mnemonic techniques all the time to learn movement because it is highly effective.

After seeing these results and exploring different mnemonic courses online, I can see that the area of remembering movement is thin on the ground.  What a missing link! The skills that memory athletes use can be readily adapted to learn movement faster.

Having been a professional dancer and a memory champion, it is natural for me to combine memory and movement. It speeds up the learning process and also adds a deeper understanding of the movement. So I am now developing a mini course of how to remember movement. You would learn exactly how I combine my two areas of expertise, to help you to remember any type of new physical information faster.  I will keep you posted 😊.

Meanwhile, keep training – mentally and physically – explore more of my blogs below, or click here to deep dive into one of my courses.


For those of you interested in remembering names and faces, I cover this in my blog post here: Remembering names and faces.

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

Movement and memory – how to remember movement faster

Movement and memory – how to remember movement faster

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.

Ask yourself:

  • 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.
  • Size Change – 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.