Practical Applications of Mnemonic Techniques

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#1 6 September, 2013 - 14:27
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Practical Applications of Mnemonic Techniques


I have been perusing this site for quite some time looking for new or creative ideas/applications and recently decided to join due to the perceived lack of utility for the techniques I have seen. For me personally, this is disappointing because card memorization and the like while not bad, is not of any great utility. Alternatively, there are a lot of very useful applications for these techniques. I wanted to lay out a few of the ways I use them for my work in particular, and personally as well. I also figured I should contribute rather than stalk... I am by no means an expert, and would probably not do well in any memory championship, but I suspect I use these techniques in real life more than most of the people in the championships. That is obviously a subjective assessment though.

Let me first say that I have noticed a lot of people prefer loci to memorize things. As far as practical applications go, and for me personally, I do not use loci often. In fact, I find them a hindrance in many cases because they require too much structural preparation beforehand. My impression is that many people spend more time just building their memory palaces than actually memorizing information. Your brain works based on connections, and trying to “compartmentalize” that information means working against the grain in my limited medical opinion. I prefer to use variations of the peg system and link method. A note about that: in the peg system, pegs are loci, but allow for easier numbering of ordered items. You don’t have to worry about forgetting where you put something if you're old enough to count, and the pegs are also useful for anything else with numbers. More importantly, it is great for on-the-fly memorization and still provides more structure than loci. It’s practically infinite compared with loci because you don’t have to focus on having enough “space” in a palace versus having an individual object based on the major system (which I use to make my pegs - ties everything together). I recommend Harry Lorayne’s books to anyone interested in the practical side of mnemonics. He is probably the most famous pioneer of practical utility for mnemonics. His very first book, “How to Have a Superpower Memory” despite the cheesy name is a great read and can be found for free online.

Now, for the practical applications. I use mnemonics for a lot of things at work and at home. In addition to names, faces and personal information for people I meet, I use mnemonics on a daily basis to remember many things already mentioned on this forum such as license plates and their respective vehicles/types, directions, safe combinations, phone numbers, and foreign vocabulary to name a few. Probably one of the most unique purposes I use mnemonics for includes conversation. My job involves a lot of talking to people and it helps to know where I want conversations to go. Generally speaking, this means determining a direction for the conversation beforehand. I use mnemonics to memorize the major points I want to hit on during conversation. It means conversation is smoother, and the mnemonic cues help me move from topic to topic seamlessly. It is also helpful in reverse: I can remember what people tell me by linking mnemonic images as major points. As Harry Lorayne points out, your natural memory will fill in the blanks and make natural associations. Trust it. You only need to draw the outline. And, here’s a free tip to those of you interested in the topic of elicitation: people like talking about themselves (hence I'm still writing here). It’s human nature. If you can memorize a few flattering facts about someone before speaking with them, then guide the conversation to those topics; usually the other person will do all the talking after that. The book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is one of the best references for anyone who wants to know more in that regard.

One final note: contrary to popular belief, mnemonic techniques are not for initial long-term storage. They can be used for that with adequate review, but work better when you let your “non-mnemonic” memory do the work and eventually absorb the information you retained using mnemonics. Mnemonics are only a way to hold information a lot longer so it can be absorbed and become more readily available for learning or recorded in some other way. In that respect (and also contrary to popular belief), it is very useful for learning new things. I notice a lot of people want to memorize books etc. using mnemonics. I’m sure it can be done, but I have yet to see a mnemonic technique effective in accomplishing it. Understanding the principles mnemonics are based on is key to knowing how to use them. This is my two cents, take it for what it's worth.

Hopefully some of this info is helpful and can stimulate some discussion. Anyway, I'd love to hear any feedback. Also, I love this site and have very much enjoyed spending way too much time reading through the forums. Thanks to everyone for making this site so great.

6 September, 2013 - 20:46
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Hi almasdar,
I'm very interested in the practical applications of mnemotechniques. I also agree with you that using these techniques in real life is more important and more interesting than just use them in competitions. But, I think method of loci is better than any peg system, because method of loci gives you the "location", and furthermore, the "space". Remembering something in your house is much easier than remembering the same thing in the dark (for example a remote place in the universe). Unless the pegs you have are very familiar with you, like parts of your body, they can't be effective as loci. But even if you have 1000 pegs through Major system, and they are very familiar with you, loci are still better, because you always have billions of loci inside your mind. Although loci don't stick with a number like pegs, we can absolutely give them the numbers by training.

I would like to ask you how you learn new vocabulary? I found some, but still want to know your way ^_^

P/S: Sorry for my bad english, I'm not a native speaker :)

6 September, 2013 - 23:17
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Hello 1324,

The whole idea behind the peg and loci systems is to use familiar items (association), so yes, the pegs must be familiar. An easy way to do this is to use the major system to make pegs. Also, I've heard others make similar arguments against the peg system, that it doesn't fully utilize spatial memory. I actually find that the pegs in images create their own space which helps tie the image back to the original memorized content. It adds context, and still utilizes spatial memory. My only advice would be try it then decide. :) As for language learning, as I am realizing from another post I just read, it depends on the language. Some languages are far more conducive to mnemonic techniques than others. I could give examples for Arabic and Spanish, but that might not be beneficial for the language(s) you are learning.

By the way, your English is very good. What languages do you speak and what are you learning?

7 September, 2013 - 02:13
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Thanks for your response, almasdar.
Indeed, I also use a peg system to remember things which require order ^_^. And when I use pegs, I always add spatial factors to the images. In the past, when I first read about mnemonic techniques, I got problems in memorizing a long sequence of numbers that I couldn't recall most of them. I found the reason is about space, and that's why I chose loci as my main memorizing tool. Otherwise, I presume I can flow on the journey of loci with a pretty good speed, which is hard when I use pegs. But recalling ordered things is absolutely the work of pegs :).

I speak Vietnamese. I'm learning English and French. But I only need English, learning French is just my taste ^_^. I tried learning new words using pegs, loci, random linking (link the meaning with a random place or image which is first appears in my mind). But as you said, mnemotechniques are perhaps not for long-term memory, so I had to read English books or use repetion tool (for instance Anki) to let words stay strong in my mind.

Expecting your response :)

7 September, 2013 - 12:24
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My personal experience using mnemonics for language learning has been for Spanish and Arabic so I don't know how useful my input will be for you, but it has made vocabulary retention a lot easier. The catch is that it still requires additional repetition, usually in conversation, to move the word(s) from "mnemonic memory" as I'll call it, to long-term memory for easier retrieval. For Spanish, I find mnemonic associations much easier given the language's proximity to English. I do it the same way most people on the forums do - for example the verb ensanchar means to widen or broaden. I imagine a guy with a really disgusting, wide mustache (sanchez) to recall the word.

In Arabic, I use a completely different method. Arabic is based on three-letter roots and many of the sounds in Arabic don't exist in English so I can't do things phonetically. As mentioned above, Harry Lorayne writes that we only need to jog our memory using mnemonics and let the natural memory do the rest. I create a mnemonic for the parts of the verb or word that can be formed in English phonetically, then let natural memory do the rest. Example: استعمل (pron: ista'amil) which means to use. The a'a sound doesn't have any English equivalent. Sometimes I transliterate it to an "a". In this case, I only remember ta'amil and picture a tamil tiger operating heavy machinery. When I need to remember the word, I remember the Tamil tiger and the rest of the word comes back to me automatically. I don't use pegs for language vocabulary. The goal is to recognize the word when I see it (memory by recognition), then use the word in conversation which cements it in long-term memory. For this, mnemonics works very well for me.

By the way, for any language other than English, the hands down best (free) language learning materials I have found, are produced by the U.S. government's (surprisingly) Defense Language Institute (DLI). They maintain a website called GLOSS that not only takes dialect materials and spells them out at every level from beginner to advanced, but even for some languages that aren't formally written (such as Levantine Arabic). That website is here: http://gloss.dliflc.edu/Default.aspx

8 September, 2013 - 04:13
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Okay I got it. Thanks a lot almasdar :).

6 January, 2014 - 08:39
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Hi Almasdar

I guess it may be a little late to be commenting on this post but I've only just joined this site!
I have started memorising in order to exercise my grey cells as at 65 a lot of things have started to go south and I'm determined to reverse the trend!
So I'm happy with both memorising say card decks and also with practical applications,although in general, without practical applications the whole thing must be a bit meaningless.
You gave me a smile when you talked about memorising license plates,vehicle types,directions,safe combinations,foreign vocabulary and phone numbers because I immediately pictured you as a 'wrong un', probably a safe cracker, and presumably you will need the foreign vocabulary for your retirement in Argentina!
I also started out with Harry Lorayne but I'm afraid I let it slide.
Really enjoyed your post and the applications you put these systems to.

gerrym

6 January, 2014 - 15:29
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GLOSS is great, thanks for the link!

Other great points that it was helpful for me to hear emphasized:
- "I use mnemonics to memorize the major points I want to hit on during conversation."
- "The goal is to recognize the word when I see it (memory by recognition), then use the word in conversation which cements it in long-term memory."

Cheers,
-Steven

12 March, 2014 - 10:01
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Quote:

One final note: contrary to popular belief, mnemonic techniques are not for initial long-term storage.

I can't see how exactly this is true, but I do have a related question for people with some experience storing info for a long-term memory: does it eventually ever stick "forever", say, after 10-15 repetitions during the year after the initial memorisation? Does it even work at all? Because doing spaced repetitions all the time to be able to remember everything doesn't seem that bad of a perspective.

Quote:

They can be used for that with adequate review, but work better when you let your “non-mnemonic” memory do the work and eventually absorb the information you retained using mnemonics. Mnemonics are only a way to hold information a lot longer so it can be absorbed and become more readily available for learning or recorded in some other way.

That interests me the most. Does this really work, this translation of the meaning of images in loci into a long-term memory, so you don't even need loci nor images themselves? Especially if remembering as good as words in native language isn't enough for you - we often forget some words and have difficulties remembering them.

16 March, 2014 - 00:33
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Hello Roi,

Regarding mnemonics and my comment about initial long-term storage: My experience has been that mnemonics do not aid in long-term storage without repititive review. Mnemonic associations fade like anything else and, while they do aid in storing information initially longer than through conventional methods without mnemonics, the associations themselves disappear over time. For this reason, spaced repitition is required in order to maintain those associations. Here's the question: is the goal to actually memorize the information, or to be able to "reference" it, so to speak, when you need it? Most people who are actually trying to learn something, would probably say the former. In that case, mnemonics are only helpful in the initial stages of learning because they serve as a bridge. The goal is to eventually remember the information itself, directly, not the mnemonic linking the info.

As I state above, transferring mnemonic images to long-term storage should always be the goal when learning is the objective. For those doing card memorization, or other temporary-storage feats, where learning is not the goal, this process is not necessary. Mnemonics are generally used as a tool (bridge) between something you want to remember, and the item itself. The mnemonic isn't what you want to memorize, it merely forms a bridge. For example, if I am memorizing foreign vocabulary, the goal is to eventually not need the mnemonic images to remember the foreign words. Why? Because using a mnemonic image is just one additional step if you're trying to utilize the word in conversation. For those who have spent any significant time learning a foreign language, you know that during conversation, you don't have time to recall a mnemonic image to help you remember the meaning of a word. Language should become seamless, without thought - that's when you are reaching real fluency. Using a mnemonic to remember vocabulary should only be the first step in acquiring a new word. And, sometimes you won't even need a mnemonic image if you are already being immersed - learning occurs automatically when you hear a word and are forced to use it in a sentence. In fact, this is probably the fastest, most solidifying way to remember vocabulary: through personal use. That's why I made the comment about utilizing the words in conversation because of the long-term effect it has on vocabulary storage. This also applies to listening/understanding. Just like anything else, the more senses you engage while learning [a language], the faster you will learn.

25 August, 2014 - 23:55
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almasdar wrote:

The goal is to eventually remember the information itself, directly, not the mnemonic linking the info.

With this I agree.

27 August, 2014 - 19:02
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I think you don´t really need to chose between loci and pegs; you can remember some stuff with pegs and some stuff with loci depending on what you want at that moment and how easy is for you to generate more pegs or more loci at that moment.

I use mnemonics for a lot of practical stuff. Names, phone numbers, adresses.. all the often mentioned things. I learned the mental calendar and it´s very useful (and gives a lot of opportunities to surprise someone). I also use mental agendas to keep track of the things I have to do and the things I want to do, and also use peg systems to organize my materal as a magician (techniques I want to practice, tricks I know, tricks I know very well, tricks for a given kind of situation routines, etc.) Also, I often make chains with all the things I have to do before going out. I´m also an actor and even when it´s not good to use memory techniques while interpreting a character, they are very effective as a bridge before direct memory of the content, produced by repetiton and consciousness of the connection between what the character says and the context. This has something to do with some other stuff that was discussed here: using the techniques as a bridge until you don´t need them. I find that if I use a given palace, or a given peg system, to memorice only one content and never use it to memorice anything else, I can remember that for a very long time, with only very spaced repetitions needed for some of the elements. And, obviously, when I give a course on mnemonics I memorize the class.

26 September, 2014 - 14:33
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Great Post

21 November, 2014 - 08:32
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Yeah honestly I've never forgotten PEMDAS, and many of the mnemonics I'm learning aren't going away. Perhaps it's the vividness by which I'm imagining them? I've found the more detail I can give to the story the more firmly rooted the memory is.

The other week I used "Lion Shush" to remember 52.66, and I imagined the Lion with a muzzle, and me running my fingers through his mane, and how the hair was matted and thick and tangled, how the muzzle was a thick smooth leather with brass rivets pressed tightly against his fur. I put him in a room and tried to imagine the room he was in, and the cold marble floor he was laying on how that must have felt on the lion's belly.

I think the reason why you're struggling with long term retention is you don't have enough detail for your mnemonics.

22 November, 2014 - 00:48
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Potatoesy,

I agree that the vividness of the image contributes to the longevity of the memory, but the goal for learning is to access the information itself, not the pointer/image. Making images vivid can be difficult, especially for abstract data. For that reason, I rarely try to retain images anyway. I want to learn, not be forced to access a mnemonic journey or spatial location every time I need the info. That's my two cents anyway.

6 December, 2014 - 20:23
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Nerto,
Thanks for your post quite a while ago. I'm trying to memorize phone numbers and addresses using a memory palace ( Rooms in a library with an upper portion and lower with about 15 stations.) For the phone numbers, living in the U.S.., there are area codes and pre-fixes for the first six numbers to associate the person with a town. When I make each number into an image through the major system, I get repetitious images: 215-292 ( My sister Deb:--- hunts (21) lions (52) with Paul Neuman ( 92) But, you see, so does my brother in law and nephew do such as well. Certainly, the rest of the number distinguishes my relative but I was wondering whether you had another system.

I am curious whether it is simply a matter of making my images more vivid to make them stick and how often do you use spaced repetition to refresh your mental address book and phone numbers.

Thanks for your thoughts.

4 February, 2015 - 23:33
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I agree with @almasdar for many points.
On how mnemotechnic is mostly giving it a longer than average short term memory and repetition is needed to reinforce it into long term memory. Although I'm sure we all have from one time to another, encode something that is so distinct that it end up in long term memory on the first try. It is often the balance between "Effort in encoding" and "longevity of the memory without revising", often I came across an association that is tooo taxing to create a proper image and just opt for subpar image + future revision.

Memory Palace is nice. But contradict to what many mnemonist echoing, it is difficult to have enough palace. I, unlike other people, don't have a good inborn spatial awareness. I couldn't map my way to school after spending 5 years there. I get lost all the time when playing first person shooting game. Granted my spatial awareness improved after practicing 3 months with memory palace, but I still wouldn't consider "palace" as a resource easy to come by.

For practical use:
Learning German -> Image-link method. I have no idea how to use palace to memorize word.
Medical management flowchart -> Memory palace.
Numbers(bank account, credit card) ->Major systems
Everything that can put into list -> Peg with my one to ten image.
I use free-association for many things, which works wonders(sometimes) and very inexpensive (little effort) to use.
Story method for me is use as a supplement to strengthen other methods. I never set out intending to use story method. I think it is dangerous as a broken link in the middle means game over.

Currently I am testing the idea of reusing my "one to ten" image for different medical flowchart. I am going to just add the image of the disease to my "one to ten" image, before linking both of them to the pointer in the flowchart.
If it turns out to be reasonably un-confusing, I may never need to find another palace ever again!!

17 January, 2016 - 08:02
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I totally agree with the author.

As far as I've enjoyed building my own memory palace I've hardly get any benefit from using it. Building and maintaining the whole framework just takes to much from you. In my opinion the best place to store the information is a kind of personal wiki. Either at your computer disk or using software tools in the cloud (One Note, Evernote). We live in the age of information. Rather than worrying about storing data we should keep our focus on its synthesis, manipulation & packaging (pictures, mind maps, lectures). Then the repetition would do the trick.

The things I would NOT use mnemo-techniques for:
• phone numbers - many people say about those but are they really using it in practice? I doubt. There is a natural place to store this data and this is your phone... This is why you have in the first place. If you are not loosing it couple time per year then I see no reason remembering the data in it. Just keep a save copy somewhere in case. The only usage I would think of is when you ask a number from a new person. Then you can really surprise him/her by not noting it anywhere. Afterwards you disband you can safely store it on our phone.
• addresses - this could have couple benefits but in my opinion pinning a person to address is a wrong approach as a person can change address many times (see below)
• card/account numbers - this one really disturbs me :) is there someone who really gives another person his account number from top of his head? This is simply reckless.
• TODO list - just write it down. It's easy. It's fast. It's convenient. If you don't have a pen with you take a quick peg and note it down whenever you have change to.
• Mental Calendar - same as above. Why not using Google Calendar or sort? It can synchronize between devices, has built-in alerts. Why waste your mind resources for that?

Now the things I found REALLY handy:
• Quick Pegs. When I don't have a pen or access to my wiki I just pin the idea to the prepared peg lists. Personally I use 2 list leveraging alphabet letters. One by sound, second by shape. I hardy ever go beyond E before flushing it to the paper/wiki.
• Names. Memorizing people names comes very handy. I've prepared a list of names linked to their meanings beforehand and then just link the image with person. Super effective.
• Real-life Pegs. This is an answer for address problem. Instead of binding the person with address I bind a geographical location with the image representing the address. Then I just recall where person lives and I got the address. There are many others usages of this like Streets names (just linking streets meaning to each other and places located on them), Club names, Tram/Bus schedules (just link the bus stop with couple leave-times you are interested in) and so on. Basically populating your surroundings with images.
• Cryptography techniques. I'm using the Major System with conjunction of my own techniques to code passwords. You can then place them anywhere - even next to your computer - and there is very little chance someone would crack them.

Let me know your thoughts!

Thanks,
drixt

21 January, 2016 - 10:28
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I didn't quite understand this part, but it sounds interesting:

Quote:

Real-life Pegs. This is an answer for address problem. Instead of binding the person with address I bind a geographical location with the image representing the address. Then I just recall where person lives and I got the address.

Can you give us an example?

23 January, 2016 - 04:15
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Hi cybrown,

This is fairly easy. When I want to remember a street in the city I live I just take its name and create an image from it. Then I link this image to the street characteristics (like specific buildings, topography) or/and to the other streets that corssing it if I know them already. This creates a natural map of terrain. Then If my friend happens to leave on one of those streets I link the image representing the apartment number to the image of the street . Here the Major System do the work.

You can use it many other ways. If I'm using the same bus/tram frequently in the similar hours I memorize the part of the schedule using Major System. Then I link the images either to the bus stop directly (by adding interaction between image and the bus stop) or to the image of the street.

Hope this clears it out :)

Thanks,
drixt

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