Memory Tips Archives | Page 2 of 3 | Anastasia Woolmer
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. Read more about how aerobic exercise improves your 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 🙂

     

  • Interested in improving your memory and learning memory techniques? Check out my online Master Your Memory course.

    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.

    Interested in improving your memory and learning memory techniques? Check out my online Master Your Memory course.

    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 memory 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 it’s easy to lose where 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?

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    How to remember a list of words

    How to remember a list of words

    A long list of words is probably the best place to start when beginning memory training.

    While it might appear too simple, practicing this technique is a great exercise for sharpening your memory abilities. Remember that people train in Pilates or Yoga because it makes them strong and flexible, not because they want to be able to a downward dog in a shopping center. Besides, being able to nail lists of words is a useful thing. Think shopping, or language vocabulary.

    There are several different techniques used to remember lists. Best to start practicing the right way up some or all of them you will have a prodigious memory.

    But I wont mislead you and say it is no effort. You will need to work hard for a while to learn the techniques. Quite apart from knowing that these techniques exist, the initial work needed stops most people from learning these skills, even though we all can. But once you have the tools and practice them you will learn nearly everything far faster than the next person for your whole life.

    Sound worth the initial hard work?

    As you practice visualisation and storytelling you will find that using mnemonic tools to remember new information becomes easier and automatic. I now can quickly remember new word definitions that used to seem impossible (like the word prosopagnosia!) so keep at it and you will get better and faster.

    So how do you actually do it? Its all about being creative.

    Here is my most common technique for remembering words – pictures in a story.

    It’s a two step process for each word.

    Step one – Make living images

    Each word in the list gets turned into a picture. A memorable image.

    For example, if the first word was ‘bike’ you would visualise a bike. But not just a stock image. The more real you can see this in your head the better. Maybe it is red and shiny and has a ribbon tied to it because it is your birthday. The best way to remember an image is to include as many senses as possible. What would it feel like? Smooth… Smell like? New paint… Taste like? Can you hear your mother yelling not to lick the bike? That ridiculous concept may well fix the bike forever in your memory.

    If you can, use images that you already know. Eg your own bike or the dog from your childhood or a movie you loved and watched three times. If you don’t know the item, what does the word make you think of? However ridiculous, use the first thing that comes to mind, because it will also be the first association you make later on.

    Step two – Make a story For a list of words, you need to link the items together by making a story. The story serves two purposes – it links all the items so you don’t skip any, and it also gives you the items in order. Knowing lists in order is often an important requirement.

    Without linking the items together, it is easy to forget an item on the list, but once they are linked in a story it becomes easy to remember everything. For longer lists we would use ‘memory palaces’, which is a location you know well that you can walk through in your imagination. For a detailed guide read how to make and use Memory Palaces.

    This story must not be boring. Go for slapstick comedy rather than Shakespeare (apologies to the Bard). The more outrageous, loud, rude and funny your story is, the more you will remember the list.

    An example

    So lets get started with an example. Here is a short list of words that are easy to visualise. Over time you can work up to longer lists and more difficult words.

    This random list of 10 words is a mix of items to buy and things to do:

    • Bike
    • Pick up pizza
    • Toothbrush
    • Walk the dog
    • Olives
    • Bananas
    • Tim Tams (an Aussie favourite – the world’s most delicious chocolate biscuit)
    • Juice
    • Brush
    • Honey

    Step one – Images Select an image for each of these items in the list above. For the bike I will use the red bike that caused so much trouble when you licked it – that metallic taste will be with you forever. Go through the list now and make your own vivid image for every item before going onto step two. Re-read the list and picture each image to make sure you have them all.

    Step two – Story In this example we will use my story, but attached to your images. As you read, really picture this story in your mind, like a short video clip. The more detail you can see, feel, smell or taste the more likely you are to recall the story later.

    My story for this list

    Remember – add your images as you read, and it is meant to be a bit mad.

    You have your shiny new bike (maybe we are a kid again), happy as anything you are sitting on it eating delicious pizza when you drop it. Quickly pick up the pizza (1 second rule). It is still hot and juicy so take another steaming bite…wait a minute??!! You bite down on something hard to see that the order is wrong and there is a toothbrush on top of the pizza! Your stomach drops, you feel sick.

    You hear an animal panting and whining at your feet land and look down to see your dog, looking expectant. He wants your toothbrush pizza! With a sudden pang of guilt you decide its time to walk the dog. As you start walking you suddenly see with horror that your dog has two heads that are giant olives. Even more ridiculous is that the heads have fancy tropical hats with bananas on top. You decide your dog must be distressed and maybe hungry so you place a large plate of Tim Tams in front of him and the olive heads gobble up the world’s most delicious choccy biscuit – what a waste! Maybe he is thirsty after all that deliciousness, so you pour juice over the top of the dog. As he starts to chow down you take a little pink brush and brush his hair to calm him further. You then deciding his hair needs conditioning so you massage sticky warm honey into it.

    Let’s hope this story doesn’t get told to the animal cruelty society : )

    Close your eyes and go through it. Do you have all 10 items on the list? Can you say them all aloud, in order?

    How many times should you review the list?

    I find that going through this story once or twice would give me the list for the day. Walking though it in my imagination three days in a row cements the memory for months, and then once a month for say three months should see me remembering this list for years.

    What next?

    This has been a simple list, but hopefully you can already see the possibilities. Practice will rapidly improve your learning speed, and you can quickly advance to longer lists and more difficult words. You can practice in this area by consciously visualising images and the story when you read.

    As you improve, you can use this technique to remember more detailed information. For example, each item on the list could be a dot point heading for something you are learning, then you can go back and add detail to each heading. This is extremely useful for anyone who wants to increase their vocabulary or learn another language. I discuss text memorisation further in How to remember a speech in a flash.

    From this simple example I am sure you can see we can all remember lists, with a bit of imagination.

    Just keep those crazy stories to yourself 🙂

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    2018 IAM Australian Memory Competition – What I learned.

    2018 IAM Australian Memory Competition – What I learned.

    Nov 28, 2018 | Memory Athlete, Memory Tips

    Sickness stopped me, and why its not all bad.

    I am going to get to learn lots of fun stuff, just because I can.

    At first I was really disappointed I couldn’t compete in the 2018 IAM Australian Memory Competition, held in November.

    About two days before the competition I was struck down with a particularly nasty flu. I could hardly remember my name let alone thousands of numbers and binary digits. As the weekend approached I worsened and knew that I would not be flying to Melbourne to compete.

    This was a bummer.

    Many 5 am wake-ups this year saw me training diligently for this competition and the hard work had been paying off with some great scores. I was confident of hitting more Aussie records and was shooting to hold the current Australian title for a 3rd year in a row.

    On top of that the Australian competition was strong this year which excited me. Last year I won by a mile which somehow I found a bit depressing. I was keen to have to work hard to win again.

    The truth is though that I have been burning the candle at both ends and I think my body just decided to say no. I have been working full time in finance, have 3 children and have a second job as a dance teacher. Memory training, speaking and coaching is something else I have been doing on the side.

    But as I lay on the couch in my bleary state I had an epiphany.

    Next year, rather than focus on training numbers and other competition events, I will use my skills to learn the things I want to learn. I love to learn new things – that is what attracted me to cognitive training in the first place.

    I remember first learning these techniques and feeling I could learn as fast as inserting a usb into my head (think the Matrix). It was thrilling and liberating and I started to feel like the clever person in the room. I felt excited that I could fit two lifetimes of learning into one.

    But somewhere along the way the competitive ballerina in me decided that I would become the best mental athlete, just for the sake of it. I would compete!

    Then last week I saw it. Sick as a dog, fever raging high, feeling that my year of study was for naught. I suddenly saw that I did not need to be the world’s best mnemonist to get the benefits that drew me to the sport.

    Mental athletics is just like physical training. You get to train your brain so you can get more out of life, like going to the gym for an hour a day. It makes you fit, happy and able to succeed at the things you do. But it doesn’t mean you need to train all day and win gold medals at the Olympics. I may well still compete, but now for enjoyment and to learn more from other athletes.

    Suddenly I felt elated. Next year I am going to get to learn lots of fun stuff, just because I can.

    Maybe a language or two or a whole dictionary word for word (geeky I know). It can be done. Maybe I’ll plan a long family adventure in Germany and learn German for the occasion, and chuck in a good amount of Spanish in case we decide to do that instead.

    I am also going to make sharing memory techniques and dance teaching my full time gig.

    Being fit mentally and also physically is just too fantastic a secret not to share with everyone.

    Lots of people know the benefits of physical fitness. I’d like to give others the freedom that comes with having a fit mind as well.

    Anyone can have an amazing memory – they just need to know how. Check out my online memory courses!