Memory Tips Archives | Anastasia Woolmer
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.

 

 

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.

  1. 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:

  1. Shape – Does the movement draw a shape in space?
  2. Shape orientation – When looking at the shape drawn is it vertical, horizontal, 2D or 3D?
  3. Pattern ground – Does the movement draw a pattern on the ground?
  4. Pattern other – Does the movement draw a pattern in another plane? (ie on a vertical wall)
  5. Feel – How does the movement feel? (smooth, sharp, zig zag, round)
  6. 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.
  7. Size change – Does the size of the shape change or stay the same throughout the exercise?
  8. Parts of the body – If several parts of your body move together are they simultaneous or does one lead and others follow?
  9. Speed – What is the speed of the movement?
    Is it slow, fast, continuous, or does it have a rhythm that changes.
  10. 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)
  11. Corrections – Is there anything with this step the teacher keeps telling me I need to work on?

 

  1. 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.
  2. The last step is to attach the image to the movement and its name.

 

Example 1

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.

1.         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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Pattern ground – The supporting foot draws a half circle (semicircle) on the floor as you turn.
  4. Pattern other – The kicking leg draws a 90 degree angle in vertical space up to mid body.
  5. Feel – First part feels smooth, the kicking feels quick.
  6. Size – Comes up at least half way on my body.
  7. Size Change – The size of the kicking leg movement (90 degree shape) stays the same.
  8. Parts of the body – There is consecutive movement, not all at once
  9. Speed – Rhythm changes throughout the movement.
  10. 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.
  11. Corrections – there are two : Make sure to kick directly to the side.
    Use a good flicking action with my leg.

 

  1. 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 the 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.

  1. 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.

How to improve your memory besides learning memory techniques

How to improve your memory besides learning memory techniques

The number one tip memory tip is to practice memory techniques that exercise your cognitive skills. Even 15 minutes of daily practice can make a major improvement in memory and cognitive ability.

But there are many other areas in our life that can have an important impact on our memory.

  • Move. Exercise has a surprisingly large influence, so don’t ignore movement if you want to improve your memory. Aim for at least half an hour of pulse-raising exercise most days. It needs to be aerobic to have a memory impact. Dance stands out as great for boosting brain function and memory.

  • Eat well and widely. The emphasis should be on whole food : vegetables, fruit, pulses, nuts and grains. Avoid foods high in saturated fats, as they have been shown to impair concentration and memory. Vegetable consumption is strongly correlated to improved semantic, or fact-based, memory, while higher whole fruit intake improves visuospatial and autobiographical memory. Berries such as blueberries are particularly good for improving both short and long term memory function, likely due to being high in flavonoid antioxidants. Unfortunately, strawberries aren’t a member of the flavonoid gang, but darn they are still tasty.

  • Get good sleep. For most this is 7- 8 hours a night. During sleep most of our memory consolidation occurs, so it’s the sleep after you memorise that is most important. If you are short on sleep, taking a nap after memorisation can help push recent memory storage from the more temporary hippocampus into the more permanent neocortex. If you have the luxury of naps, we all envy you.

  • Be social. Memory is stimulated when we have active social lives, with meaningful friendships and strong social networks. Studies show that highly socially engaged older people enjoy better memories, general cognition, health and happiness. On average they live a lot longer. What’s not to like?

  • Be attentive and practice mindfulness. This is a mental state where you focus on being aware of the detail of your surroundings, situation and your own attention levels. This improves concentration, memory absorption and later recall. You could even practice mindfulness meditation – a few months of this has been shown to improve concentration and recall.

  • Be happier and play. An improved mood has been shown to be associated with a better memory. Laughter really is the best medicine. This feeds into reducing chronic stress, which actively damages our brain health and memories. Meditation could help de-stress, and the other tips here are likely to help as well.

  • Minimise antibiotics, as they have been shown to have a significant detrimental impact on memory. Always follow your medical practitioner’s advice, of course, but steer clear where there is a choice.

  • Be well. By identifying and resolving health problems you avoid the cognitive impact of many diseases and their medications.

  • Aim for good gut health. When diverse good gut bacteria are not in place it hurts our memory, as well as our general health. We normally have 100 trillion bacteria working for us in our gut microbiome, and recent research is revealing the value of their contribution. A great start is all that good whole food, with its high fibre, plus dodging antibiotics.

  • Get some sun, especially if you are dark skinned. Low vitamin D levels create many serious health problems, including sizeable reductions in cognitive function. And low levels are very common – as an example, studies show that nearly half of all adults in the USA have a vitamin deficiency. If in doubt, consider a blood test. If it is winter, take a supplement. But getting your face in the sun is best, as it energises mood. Just keep that sun exposure to safe levels, especially in sunny latitudes.

  • Drink less alcohol. At least avoid ‘binge’ drinking, say more than 4 or 5 standard drinks in a day. This overload has a powerful and lasting negative mental impact, not the least because alcohol is a neurotoxin. Occasional moderate drinking is apparently OK.

  • Drink tea. Both black or green tea has the same effect on improving mental alertness and memory, likely due to their high concentration of flavonoid antioxidants.

  • Drink coffee. Sometimes. Recent research has shown that caffeine after learning helps consolidate memories. But watch out for that sleep 🙂

Exercise and Memory

Exercise and Memory

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.

References

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

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

https://neuro.hms.harvard.edu/harvard-mahoney-neuroscience-institute/brain-newsletter/and-brain-series/dancing-and-brain

How to remember a speech in a flash (without the flash cards)

How to remember a speech in a flash (without the flash cards)

Look forward to your next speech

Being confident to speak publicly from memory is an empowering skill. It isn’t hard to memorise long speeches, once you know how.

 

Remembering speeches or a block of writing simply requires the use of a few well-known memory techniques. In this blog we are going to look at how you go about giving a kick-arse speech, without notes or flash cards. And no, you don’t have to go over the speech endlessly, rote learning it. And yes, that is how you spell arse.

 

The techniques can be used for speeches and also for any prose you may want to learn, such as your favourite poetry, text or quotes for an exam. The basic methods are not new, either – Roman senators used them, back in the day. They worked for Cicero, why not you?

Overview of the method I use to remember a speech

 

Its actually very simple – I walk the talk. I use images and stories that I walk through as the speech is delivered.

 
  • Identify main headings and make images and locations to represent them, so you can learn the outline of the speech.

  • Go back and add visual detail and stories to each main heading to remember its sub points and key words of the text.

  • Make an impromptu ‘memory palace’ to locate each image in order, to avoid ‘mental blanks’ while speaking.

 

To recall the speech simply walk through the palace and describe each image and story. It is a lot like walking through an art gallery looking at each picture in turn, and each one is a thousand words. But it’s more interesting, unless you totally dig art galleries.

 

This is not word for word memorisation. We are ‘describing the story of the picture’ for each key point. After revision I find I do tend to learn the text nearly word for word anyway. If I keep missing one important word I add add it by simply adjusting my ‘image’ until the picture I see conjures up the correct word. Don’t worry if this seems abstract at this point, read on.

 

Of course practice makes perfect. Learning a speech is a great opportunity to test the patience of your friends and family.

 

Why is remembering a speech so valuable?

It makes you confident, and your presentation will be so much better.

 

I used to have a horrific and unfounded fear of public speaking. Even the thought of speaking in front of a group of people would make my heart beat fast and my palms would sweat like a teenage boy at a swimsuit party. So overwhelming was this fear that I rejected several excellent opportunities. Just in case I stuffed up. I wasn’t frightened of writing speeches, only giving them.

 

Now public speaking is one of my favourite things to do. I don’t find it stressful and quite look forward to it, seeking out opportunities to give talks. What made this difference?

 

Confidence.

 

Once I know that I can remember everything in my speech I feel empowered. Knowing the words makes all the difference.

 

Now when I am asked to give a talk, I spend the bulk of my time writing the speech to make sure it says what I want, because content is the key. Then I use the simple techniques below to learn the talk. A 20 min talk takes me no more than two hours to remember entirely, every point ready to deliver. And the method I use means the speech isn’t delivered in a wooden ‘reading voice’.

 

Even months after I have delivered a talk, with just a quick revision I am able to deliver the same 20-minute speech, with the same level of confidence as the day first presented. This is incredibly useful.

 

A bonus of learning speeches in this way is that the visuals and stories behind the words encourages lots of body language and movement across the stage. This is good for public speaking – check out my video below showing what I am thinking as I move.

 
 
 
 

Detailed how-to guide

 

OK, so I will assume you have whipped up a well-crafted talk or have some text you want to learn. Have a printed copy of it in front of you now, along with a pen.

 

Step One – Mark the headings

 

Read through your talk/text and get an idea for what it says and its structure overall. Make notes on the text where it moves from one main point to another. Jot down a key heading that describes what the upcoming text is about. This heading is not to read out, but just a mental tag.

Step Two – Add an image and location to each heading

 

Create a strong visual image that represents each heading. Then, and this is important, clearly place each image in a location. Do this for every key heading, in order.

 

For an example let’s use a TEDx talk I gave titled Memory Fit – How I learnt to exercise my memory.

 

My first key heading is ‘Dinner party‘, as the talk starts with me at a dinner party three years ago. So for my image I visualised people sitting around eating and drinking convivially. I used my outdoor table as the location.

 

The second key heading is “My memory today“. It refers to several sentences discussing how my memory has improved and that I hold several Australian memory records.

In my image I am standing proudly flexing my muscles like I am strong mentally, while holding out my memory medals. For the location, note that the previous heading has left me at my outdoor dinner table. Since my BBQ is right there next to me I climb on top of the BBQ for my next location. My guests look a little startled, but hey it’s my barbie and I’ll stand on it if I want to.

 

The images should be as vibrant and interesting as possible. Make it move, add sound and smell, have fun with it. My guide How to remember a list of words has more detail on this.

 

Sometimes the location is intuitive – it makes sense to have a dinner party around an outdoor table. At other times you will need to come up with a location that is less obvious, but as long as it makes sense to you it will work. If a location needs to be somewhere far away because that makes sense to your image, this is also fine. Just go right there like magic. Let’s say Sweden was my next logical place. I would literally imagine jumping up high and landing in Sweden. This giant leap somehow makes sense to me, because Australia is at the bottom of the globe and I jump up to Sweden near the top. Remember, this is my reality in my head, where the physics of gravity, vacuum and atmospheric re-entry are not a problem for empowered sisters.

 

Just get creative and if it makes sense to you it usually works.

Step Three – Link the heading locations

 

Once you have an image and location for every key heading, re-read the key headings while reviewing the sequence of locations. This is building a Memory Palace, a place where you walk through images in a sequence. An example is your home.

For the brief example I have used you would visualise your dinner table with a party going on and then jump on top of the BBQ. Focus on the locations and how you get to the next one.

 

Walk through all of your key headings and their locations in sequence a couple of times until you know the journey. If you find this step hard at first, read How to make and use Memory Palaces.

 

Now do same without looking at your text.

 

If you find your are forgetting some steps – say the leap onto the BBQ – simply invent some reason to explain the sequence. The flambé set the tablecloth on fire and you had to leap to safety! You don’t need to visualise this extra story, just make up a reason during revision. Going through that thought process once is normally enough for me to ensure on the next revision I go naturally from the dinner table to the BBQ (without having to see the smoke etc). Our minds are remarkably good at remembering pathways travelled, so with a good reason for moving to the next location you will remember it without having to revisit the logic you created the first time.

 

Step Four – Mark the detail

 

The next step is to go back over your entire written text and underline key words that you need to say in the speech.

 

For example, here is the detail I underlined for the first key heading in my TEDx presentation, ‘Dinner Party’. I have underlined the words that I wanted to say.

 

Three years ago if you invited me to a big dinner party, let’s say 10 people, I wouldn’t have remembered the names of nearly anyone around the table. I wouldn’t have remembered the facts from the interesting stories they told, and so if I wanted to retell any of those stories, I kind of couldn’t without those credible details. And I really didn’t try to remember any of it. Because I knew I had no chance.

 

I, like many of us, had an average memory.

 

Fast forward to today and it moves into the second key heading, ‘My Memory Today’.

 

Grab your speech now and underline the key words you must remember for just your first heading.

Step Five – Add images in a story for the detail

 

With our key words now identified for the first heading we can go back and add detail images to them in a story, in order. The easiest approach is to add detailed images for one sentence at a time, then revise that sentence. Or revise halfway through for longer sentences.

 

Here you can choose if you want to know the speech word for word or with allow it to slightly change each time you speak.

 

Add detail images Refer to the example underlined speech above. Originally I just visualised a dinner party for the first key heading. But now I look closer and see that because it was three years ago, I did not have my new tableware. I then saw it was a big dinner party – there were 4 of us on one side of the table, 4 opposite and one at each end. A party of 10 people.

 

Revise I then re-read this first half sentence while imagining this new picture with added details. Then I look away from the page and say out loud the first line while visualising the images.

 

Add detail images

Next, I see myself sitting at the table on of the long sides with 3 others I am rubbing my head a bit flustered because I did not know anyone’s name. Someone at the end of the table is telling an interesting story and I laugh along with the others while thinking “I won’t be able to remember the details” and so couldn’t re-tell any of it. I sip my wine and decide not to even try to remember any of it, because I know I have no chance.

 

Revise

Again, I repeat seeing this image while re-reading the text. I then close my eyes and say the sentences again while reliving the visual story.

 

Add detail images

Finally, I see myself looking around the table and noticing that perhaps others also were not remembering these things, I see myself thinking I have an average memory, like many people. As I visualise ‘fast forward to today’ I see a 1980’s cassette tape (now I’m showing my age) being fast forwarded while moving sideways to my next location. And we are suddenly on top of that BBQ.

 

Revise

The same re-read and then test.

 

Repetition and checking where you deviated from the script will reveal where you miss any important words. Simply add a strong image for that word into the correct part of the story.

Step Six – Revise this heading in detail

 

Now you have finished adding images for all sub points for this heading, we want to see how much we can remember of the full first heading story and its key words. This will firm up what you have learned and offer a chance to add in any missing detail.

 

Close your eyes and visualise that heading’s entire story and say as much of the text as possible. Then read the text again to find missing words or where you deviate from the text. Add images or make them stronger as needed. Repeat.

Step Seven – Link the headings

 

Once you are happy with the detail of your first heading go back to your text and repeat step 4, 5 and 6 for all of your remaining headings. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

 

Step seven is to now confirm that each heading image in its location links well to the next heading image and location. Making these links strong in your story stops you going blank in the middle of your talk.

 

Close your eyes and walk through your whole speech, speaking out loud, while journeying through the locations and stories. Do you get stuck remembering the next location at any point? If you do, stop and repeatedly mentally walk from the previous heading to the next until it is clear. Add supporting stories for the transition if needed.

Step Eight – Walk the talk

 

Now the text is all mapped out the final step is just revision of your story.

 

As you revise ensure you strongly visualise the stories and images. The speech itself is simply you describing what you see.

Don’t be afraid to use body language to help describe what your mental images as you talk. Moving and gesturing energises a speech and captures attention.

 

This revision should include standing and walking as you will when you give the talk, moving on the stage as you move to the next location in your head. This is usually a few steps in the direction of your next location as you are finishing off the last line of your previous location But don’t be afraid to stride entirely across the stage – it’s your moment, after all. Changing your position helps you know what comes next (as you get to know the pathway traveled) and also looks good, like you are a calm natural speaker.

 

Practicing pathways when rehearsing a speech has saved my arse a number of times during the real talk. When the lights are on you and the crowds are staring it’s natural to feel nervous, and its easy to lose wherze you are up to in the text. When this happens I calmly think “Where am I?”and the location and story bring it back right away. And it is OK to pause while you speak – it looks natural.

 

The most amazing aspect of learning a speech this way is how confidently you recall the detail. You will not forget a lot of what you learned the very next day, like most of us do with rote learning. Just journey through the locations and see the stories.

 

Test your speech the next day without the text and review the text afterwards, checking for words that you missed or added. Adjust the images as needed. When smooth, practice your delivery on your colleagues, friends and family and invite constructive criticism. Adjust and add to the stories with any changes you make.

 

Within a couple of days you should be feeling confident and word perfect!

 

Time to walk the talk.

 
 

How to make and use memory palaces

How to make and use memory palaces

In this blog we explore memory palaces, their usefulness and how to make them. Memory palaces are one of the most powerful memory techniques, are fun to use and are surprisingly easy to make.

What is a Memory Palace?

A Memory Palace is a place you know or can imagine, and is used to store information. It can be a house, or a street, or any place that you can travel through. They are sometimes called Method of Loci (Latin for Locations), a Memory Journey or Mind Palace. Whatever the name, you use visualizations within your spatial memory to quickly and accurately store and recall information. You walk through the palace in your mind and ‘place’ an image into one location after another. Those images stay in that place and remind you of the information when you next imagine a walk through that palace.

Normally you use somewhere you know well such as your home, work or school but anywhere will do. Even imaginary locations work for some people.

What are they for?

When information is big or complex In my blog How to remember a list of words Memory Palaces are described as particularly useful once the size of your information is too large for one big story, and for more complicated learning challenges. They allow you to file away large amounts of data, such as lists, numbers, text and speeches, and even exotic material like mathematical logic.

When information is in order They also rock when the order of the information you are learning is important, eg for a speech or a list of countries in Africa in order of GDP.

Both short or long term Memory Palaces work for the short term (exam tomorrow) or long term (learn Spanish). If it is a Spanish exam tomorrow, then you’ve got it made.

Looking at what they are good for, you will see that they are brilliant for exams.

Why do they work?

The reason they work so effectively is simple. Memory Palaces make use of our already well developed spatial and visual memory.

Memory Palaces simply attach new information onto something we already know (like the layout of our house or the path we would take to get to our bathroom). The new data that we want to learn is easily remembered when scaffolded on to this previously learned spatial map. This relies on our visual memory for images and pathways, a skill developed since the dawn of humanity, and not just since we developed language a mere 100,000 years ago.

They are not a new idea

Memory Palaces are not a new concept and have been used since ancient times. Ancient Greek and Roman orators used this memory technique to give speeches without the aid of notes. Memory Palaces were written about by the Roman Senator Cicero over 2000 years ago.

Do they really work?

Yes. As an informal guide I tested myself remembering using three different techniques. I had someone else create three lists of 50 random words in a foreign language, all with their meaning beside them in English.

The results speak for themselves.

Remembering 50 random foreign words and their meaning

Note : For the rote learning I actively tried not to use the memory techniques I have acquired.

Other benefits

Exams They are great for cramming! You can store long lists or texts and ‘dump’ them out in a test.

Long Term Storage Memory Palaces are also a great conduit to long term storage. With a bit of review of the Memory Palace the details can be kept near 100% indefinitely. For example, for me to commit the data to long term I review the contents of the Memory Palaces on day 2 and 4 and then on month 1, 2, 8 and 15 – this may differ for each person. I find that after a certain amount of revision over time the information in a Memory Palace moves into long term memory and I don’t need to walk through it consciously to recall the details.

For long term storage I create a new palace for each new information group. It is not as daunting as it sounds to create a new palace – we all encounter so many locations in our lives. They can even be imaginary. When I first started I could only think of 40 locations. Now I have an Excel spreadsheet with thousands of places I have visited, including places I stayed in for only one night – the location does not need to be really clear, just as a hook for you to build on.

Sleepy bo bos A further bizarre benefit? I have never in the past been good at getting to sleep, often laying awake thinking until all hours. These days I have discovered a wonderful side use of Memory Palaces – an aid to falling asleep. I can revise lists of information or text I have memorised and soon fall asleep, with the bonus of revising the detail at the same time!

Quick access Memory Palaces aid quick retrieval of information. By keeping information for separate topics in separate palaces, when you want to quickly retrieve information you know where in your head to look. No more blindly feeling about in the dark trying to randomly remember something.

They grow You can go back to your mind’s computer file at a later date and add more points or add detail to existing points. You can also link palaces to make larger storage sequences. This can be done while revising.

General memory improvements Another exciting result I have found is an increased retention when learning new information in general, even without applying memory techniques or using memory palaces.

Rinse and reuse And a final benefit is that you can make lists on the fly. I have certain palaces that I reuse for temporary information that I want to quickly learn, like a shopping list or a list of tasks from the boss. I repeatedly use these memory palaces for short term details and find I can re-use them once each day. The old details don’t stick because I haven’t reviewed and confirmed them in that palace apart from the initial session.

I can even re-use the long term palaces I have once that information has moved to my long term memory. This movement happens after several revisions over time, and then the information can be recalled without thinking about the palace. So then this palace is again available for use with new data.

How to make a Memory Palace

Alright already, you are convinced. I hear you say that Memory Palaces are the knees of bees, will make your life complete and you gotta have them. But how?

1. Choose a palace

Choose a location you know. This could be your home, work, supermarket or a hotel you stayed at last week. So suddenly your home is a palace! Just as long as you can visualise the palace well enough you can use it, but the more connected you are the better. Where possible make the palace relevant to the detail. For example, I start outside a bakery to remember the number Pi because that is where they bake pies : )

2. Choose locations inside the palace

Walk through the palace and choose locations as you go. This is where each image will be stored. Remember (or imagine) a lot of detail to make it as vivid as possible. Also, change the heights and angles of your locations – don’t always place the location just at ground or eye level.

Be efficient with your locations, as a common problem is spreading them out too far. You can cram them close together. Try to put as many locations as you dare in a room, thinking of any nooks or crannies you could use to place an image.

3. Place an image at each location

The last step is to walk through the palace and place an image at each location. The image must remind you of the detail you are remembering, of course.

Often the first image that springs to mind is best, even if crazy. In fact especially if it is crazy. Interact the image with the location as well if possible to strengthen recall .

Here’s an example image I use:

I remember the Spanish word for Monday, ‘Lunes’, by thinking of a madwoman (lunatic) running around on the moon while jumping over sand dunes (as ‘dunes’ ends with ‘es’ to remind me of the spelling at the end of the word). To remember this image means Monday in English I just notice to myself that moon day reminds me of the word Monday.

Make the image strong. It works best if you involve more senses, so add movement, sound, smell, and texture. You are unlikely to forget the image if the woman leaps high in the light moon gravity (which is of course only 16.6% of the Earth’s gravity), yells gibberish and smells like moon-cheese. Its also very effective to add other side stories that occur to you while you are making it. In my case, I also think “I understand why she was running around crazy because it’s Monday!”

An example Memory Palace

Let use your house as the palace. I don’t know its layout so I will generalise as we go.

Really try to see the images and stories in your own house as you read the text.

My example is a simple list that my daughter Shirley urgently needed to learn for a junior high school test. It is the ancient Egyptian social structure, ranked from highest to lowest. The list is:

  • Pharaoh
  • Viziers
  • Nobles
  • Priests
  • Soldiers
  • Scribes
  • Merchants
  • Craftsmen
  • Peasants
  • Slaves

We used the following Memory Palace, locations and images. Remember, crazy is good.

Starting in front of your door place the first item – Pharaoh. For this word my mind right away conjures up an image of a Pharaoh in a gold-plated mask on my front door step. I then add a lot of detail to cement it, and to confirm why it is first. Maybe there is a crazy person knocking at my door in this mask? Or, why is the leader of Egypt knocking loudly on my door? And, oh no my doorstep is so dusty and he is so shiny and gold. The knock on the door is so loud because all the gold is so heavy.

Walk into the house and look up in the corner above the door to place the second item – Viziers. Again you need a relevant image – I suggested to my daughter a viser (like on the front of a cap) but she had never heard of this word before. She’s not a Star Wars fan or we could have gone with Darth Vader’s visor. But all is not lost. The sound of the word reminded her of a Vase, so now we have something to work with. We placed vases (plural) in the corner of the room. But as it is Viziers we put a big Egyptian looking eye in the middle of each vase one to remind us of the two i’s. We had these vases with their one eye each looking at each other blinking with concern then looking down at the Pharaoh in the doorway.

Now move to the couch and place the third word – Nobles. My daughter was lucky – her school teacher is Miss Noble, so that was a done deal. For the image, we pictured several clones of her teacher looking noble and lounging about looking with disdain towards the doorknocker at the door. You choose the image that first springs to your mind or makes the most sense to you.

Onto the fourth word – Priests. Here, one of the nobles leans over to pick up a coffee from the coffee table to take a sip and finds a priest swimming around in the cup! And then he does a double take to see he was wrong, there are three Priests swimming in his coffee. This was to remind my daughter to write ‘Priests’ with the plural in the test.

And for the fifth word – Soldiers. The Noble is so shocked and angry by the priests having a bath in his coffee that he calls out in a booming voice ‘SOLDIERS’, and two soldiers jump down from the cabinet, capture the Priests and march them off.

Onto Scribes.

I hear a scratching sound coming from under a chair and look to see several Scribes frantically scribing what they have just witnessed into stone tablets. They are getting dust all over my floor and as they write there is a terrible scraping sound.

I now go into my bathroom to freshen up from the dust and see several Merchants selling their wares in a temporary market they have set up in my shower. At least they are not dusty like the last group, but they are splashing water all over the place. To remind us that the word is Merchant and not some other words like ‘sales people’ I would add some little trick to remind me of the word. I see the word ants at the end of the word Merchant, so I imagine ants running all over their goods. I also have my Mum as one of the merchants to give me a hint the word begins with m.

Things don’t improve when I go to sit on my toilet to see some men creating arts and crafts…. great I think, now I have Craftsmen too. And in the toilet! Call the pest removers.

I look up to my window sill to see Peasants lounging around on the sill, looking with some humour at my ablutions. ‘Peasants!’ I yell at them, like I think I am a Pharaoh on my royal throne.

I drag my sorry self towards the door to get out of the bathroom, to see a line of Slaves in chains going through first. I feel bad for their sorry condition.

Done! We now will be able to recall all of the Egyptian social structure list, and in order.

Go back yourself through your Memory Palace and look at each location, to see if the images let you list the items in order.

You are standing near your front door, there is a loud knocking….who is there?