Should Mnemonic Images Be Pleasant?

As I try to hardwire associations between images and numbers in my brain, I’m finding that I like to see certain numbers.

When I first took up memory techniques, I noticed that if my images were pleasing, I tended to be more intrigued by them. If the images weren’t interesting, I didn’t like to see them. I try to avoid inherently unpleasant images in my system, though the images can be doing unpleasant things when placed in memory journeys.


127 = Toucan

Here are some of my favorite numbers to encounter:

  • 127 = toucan
  • 101 = totem pole
  • 113 = Tiamat
  • 170 = tesseract
  • 322 = moon
  • 553 = lime kitten (memorable story)
  • 159 = typewriter
  • 320 = moose
  • 58 = wolf
  • 57 = elk

A lot of them seem to be animals. Other numbers, like 12 (opened can of tuna fish) or 201 (yellow sticky notes), aren’t as interesting to me, but I use them.  I don’t make images for people that I don’t like even if they are memorable (e.g., certain politicians or musicians).

Does anyone else try to choose pleasant images?

Photo of toucan © doug88888 under Creative Commons license.


  • Yup, when I was training for 2010, I went through my system and threw out the images I hated and replaced them with people I knew should be in there (more family members, ex girlfriends, etc.). It helped me build up speed and confidence since I was never encountering images that I didn’t really like. This was KEY to my improvement. Better to change the ones you dont like or find difficult to imagine now, rather than later. Trust me.

  • Ex-girlfriends? That might throw off my concentration. 🙂

    I usually don’t use people I know for my images (with just a few exceptions). I’m not sure if I am making a mistake, but it’s less strange for me this way…

  • Dominic O’Brien uses Adolf Hitler for number 18 (AH). I’ve always wondered about this. Yes, it is a memorable image, but is it a good thing to do? Tony Buzan suggests only images that are positive, that positive images are easier to recall. Also, he said that we can use loci and images to create a reality for ourselves (ala autosuggestion/neurolinguistic programming). Having Hitler in your unconscious mind can’t be beneficial. But for remembering, Hitler is a strong image.

  • I disagree, the point of images are for them to stick as easily as possible. Images that have strong emotions attached to them, whether they be happy and positive, or downright nasty and evil, NEED to be in your system if you want to improve. Josh, you said it’s “less strange” to not have them, but that’s precisely the thing you want to feel when you are memorizing because strange things are the things we don’t forget. As much as it sucks to see 659883 (my mom having sex with a frog), I’m comfortable with the fact that I know I will not forget that strangeness and uncomfortable image. I try to create images that constantly create erotic, violent, or humorous situations in my head. That’s just the nature of humans that we remember those types of things. Think of the most memorable things in your life from ages ago and I guarantee you they have a tie to one of those three subjects.

  • @Dan
    That’s interesting about using techniques to create reality. I was going to write a blog post about something along those lines.

    EDIT: I just expanded my reply to a new blog post here.

    I’ve read Dominic mentioning Hitler for #18, and also Alfred Hitchcock, depending on the book. Hitler is the kind of image I would leave out of my system. I guess it depends on what kinds of associations a person has with an image. For some people maybe it’s such a distant concept that it’s just a person on a TV screen.

    When I place my images, they are doing strange things, but the images themselves might be ordinary objects or things. I prefer to separate my images from my daily personal relationships. It may not be the best choice for competition, but it’s more comfortable for me.

    As an image, a car (744) has no inherent emotional attachment to me, but if I make it a specific car and give it a personality, it will become familiar through practice. I think my way of doing things is going to be a lot slower in the beginning, but I am patient. 🙂

  • Too many people create images for every single number. That means you’ll have 1000 images for 1000 numbers, 5000 images for 5000 numbers… This seems to me a waste of time and energy. Using my system means you’ll have ONLY 3 images for any number between 1000 and 9999. And you’ll have ONLY 4 images for any number from 10,000 to 99,999. Check this out.

    After 99, no more peg images for individual numbers. Instead, I created one image for the 100 group (100-199), then one image for the 200 group (200-299) and so on. Then I created one image for the 1000 group (1000-1999) and for the 2000 group and so on.

    So, for all numbers in the one hundreds (100-199) I’ll have 2 images: one for the one hundred group and then for the last 2 digits I use the standard peg images (from the 1-99 group).

    For all numbers in the thousands, I’ll have 3 images (thousand group, hundred group, standard peg).

    For example: for the 100 group I use Danny Devito as the Penguin from the Batman movie. So that any number from 100-199 will have an image of the Penguin. The Penguin will tell me that the number I’m trying to recall will have the digit 1 in the hundreds column. For the last 2 digits I use a standard peg image. Therefore, 122 = Penguin/Mother Teresa (22 = nun) (which is then associated with whatever you want to remember). 162 = Penguin/chain (62 = chain)
    Same thing for the thousands. Each thousand group gets ONE image. For the 4000 group, I use Superman (there are at least 4 actors to choose from). So for 4162 = Superman (gives me 4000)/Penguin (gives me 100)/chain (gives me 62).

    4122 = Superman (gives me 4000)/Penguin (gives me 100)/Mother Teresa (gives me 22).

    9 images for each group (hundreds, thousands, ten thousands).

    The beauty of this system is that it makes no difference what story you create. You can NEVER mix up the numbers they represent, since each image stands for ONLY ONE place (thousands column, hundreds column, tens/ones column).
    This is especially effective when you want to remember phone numbers (or any kind of number). When you recall the images and want to translate them back into the number, each image can represent ONLY ONE place in the line. When you see King Kong (or whoever else you use for the 300 group) you AUTOMATICALLY KNOW that the 3 belongs in the hundreds column of the number you’re trying to recall. And anytime you see your standard peg images, you KNOW that they belong in the last two places (ones and tens columns).
    For phone numbers, I use only one image all the time to remember that the number I’m trying to recall is the area code and another image to remember the exchange. Example: for the area code 312, I make up the standard combination that I would use for 312 = King Kong (300)/Tin man (12 = t,n). Then I combine these two with Green Lantern, so that when I recall the imagery/story and see Green Lantern with King Kong and the Tin Man, I know this number MUST BE THE AREA CODE because the only time I use Green Lantern is to remind me that the number is an area code. For the exchange (the 3 numbers following the area code) I use another image all the time, so that I always know which group of 3 is the area code and which is the exchange.

    The little story or general image you create doesn’t have to be linear. You can put the Tin Man first, King Kong second, and Green Lantern third. When you “translate” or “reconstitute” the imagery back into a number, you ALWAYS put Tin Man at the end (the last 2 digits) because the Tin Man is ALWAYS your standard peg image for the last 2 digits of ANY number. You MUST put a 3 in front of the 12 because King Kong is ALWAYS your standard image for the three hundred group (any number from 300-399). In other words, you MUST end up with 312 all the time, no matter where in the story you place your images. And when you see King Kong and the Tin Man associated with Green Lantern, you KNOW that 312 MUST BE the area code.

    Using images in this way means that you NEVER have to remember a word for each number or a separate image for ALL numbers. You don’t have to translate the number into the phonetic alphabet, and then try to remember which word you used. Each place in the number (ones, tens, hundreds, thousands) will automatically conjure up the standard image you use for that place.

    For the number 7249385142, I’d first split it up. You can split it up many ways, but here’s what happens when you split it up into 2 groups of 5.

    72493 = Darth Vader (the 70,000 group); the Wolf Man (the 2000 group); Spider Man (the 400 group); an atomic bomb (93 in the phonetic alphabet gives me “b” and “m”, from which I get “bomb”.

    85142 = Jim Carrey in THE MASK (the 80,000 group); Doctor Octopus (the 5000 group); the Penguin (100 group); falling rain (42 = r, n = rain).

    On my left, I make up a story about Darth Vader, the Wolf Man, Spidey, and an atomic bomb.

    On my right, I make up a story about The Mask character, Doc Oct, the Penguin, and make rain fall on them.

    Putting them together gives me 7249385142. All from just 8 striking images. No doubt it could be done with fewer number of images with another system. (You could use one image for every 2 digits and create a chain, meaning only 5 images, but action figures seem to me better because they’re so vivid and they MOVE. Besides, when you practice, 5 images aren’t really that much faster to assemble than 8 images.)

  • Francesco Alemanno

    Another smarter system would be to represent 2-digit number as:
    P-A (Person Action)
    this way you only need to remember 20 elements to encode numbers from 0 to 99


    0 The Mask – Sweeping the floor
    1 Superman – Dancing Oppa Gangnam Style
    2 Duck – Eating
    3 Penguin – Farting
    4 Hitman (Agent 47) – Singing
    5 Hulk – Washing Teeth
    6 Hercules – Playing the piano
    7 James Bond – Using a shotgun
    8 Spock – Giving the middle finger
    9 Iron Man – Scratching his back

    now if you were to encode 27 64 10 98 43
    Duck using a shotgun
    Hercules singing
    Superman sweeping the floor
    IronMan giving the middle finger
    Hitman farting

    now it’s very easy to memorise this sequence of images in a Loci and thus remember the sequence of numbers