Making the jump from simple lists to useful stuff

July 18, 2021

Using Memory Techniques to actually improve your life.

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

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


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

Sadly, this is where many drop out.

Their story often goes like this :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations :

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

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

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

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

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

3. Push your timing scores for remembering a list.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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