UPDATE: you can now download a newer getting started guide in our free ebook, Learn the Art of Memory. Be sure to also create an account in the Art of Memory Forum so you can ask questions! You can also read an outline for a Free Memory Course (self-study).
This is the old Getting Started Guide for newcomers to the world of memory. You can see the even older guide here.
- 1 What Is the Art of Memory?
- 2 Linking Method
- 3 Memory Journeys
- 4 Memorizing numbers
- 5 For those hungry for information
What Is the Art of Memory?
The Art of Memory is a collection of techniques and systems that help people retain more information in memory.
Humans are bad at remembering random, abstract data like lists of words, numbers, and cards, but we are excellent at remembering images and spatial information. Memory techniques take full advantage of humans' ability to remember spaces, stories, and images.
All you need to get started is a little imagination.
Linking is the simplest technique, upon which all others are based. You combine objects/images into stories, making them easier to remember.
A simple way to begin is to take a list of objects that you would like to memorize and chain them together into a story.
For example, if you want to memorize a list of grocery items on your shopping list, you can create a story that links them together. Here is a sample list:
They can be chained together with a story like this:
- Imagine taking some carrots (the first item on the list) and poking holes in a loaf of bread (the second item on the list).
- Then imagine using the bread (the second item on the list) to smash an apple (the third item on the list).
- Imagine the apples (the third item on the list) rolling across a table and smashing into some grapes (the fourth item on the list) like a bowling ball, knocking the grapes off a table.
- Imagine the grapes (the fourth item on the list) using lettuce (the fifth item on the list) as a parachute to safely descend from the edge of the table to the floor.
- Then imagine the lettuce (the fifth item on the list) parachute falling down into a pile of beans (the sixth item on the list) on the floor.
Review the story once more:
Imagine taking carrots and using them to poke holes in a loaf of bread. Then imagine using the bread to smash an apple. The apple then rolls across the table to hit some grapes as if they were bowling pins. The grapes fall off the edge of the table, using lettuce leaves as a parachute to descend safely to the floor. The lettuce falls down and lands on a pile of beans.
Now, turn away from this page and try to recall the story/list from memory beginning with the carrot. If you miss any items, mentally walk through the story above one more time.
You can check out another example of a linking story here.
Here are some random words to practice with:
You can also visit the memory training software page and click Random Words to generate some random word lists. Try memorizing 10 or 20 words using this method. Create and visualize a story, the more silly/random/loud/bizarre it is, the more memorable it will be. Go over it twice, then turn the tab and try to write down the 10 or 20 words. You will likely not have remembered all of them(depending on how much time you took), but you probably remembered a lot of them. Normally we can remember only up to 7 things using our normal memory.
You can continue trying to memorize 20 words as fast as you can and time yourself using a timer such as this one. After a bit of practice, the process of converting words to images should become much faster.
I recommend printing out a couple pages of random words(don't re-use the same ones). Make sure to pick a start location, such as your bed (change it every time).
Congratulations, you've learnt the first technique.
- Linking techniques comparison -- a comparison of different ways of linking things
- r30's Transformation Method -- an explanation of the transformation method where instead of interacting objects you transform them into each other.
- Mnemonic Link System
A Memory Journey is a way to store large amounts of information in your brain. Other terms for memory journeys are: Memory Palaces, Mind Palaces, Memory Spaces, Roman Rooms and the Method of Loci. They generally refer to the same technique, sometimes with minor variations.
To learn about memory journeys/palaces, see the How to Build a Memory Palace page.
What is a Locus?
A locus is a location where you store information you want to remember. It can be anything that changes the background of the image you will be storing there. So if you have a phone laying on an open notebook, you can store an image mentally zooming in onto the phone, and also by zooming onto the lined pages of the notebook, since they look completely different. Be careful about using things that look too similar, like always using corners or columns. Any change in the background is sufficient.
An example 10-loci journey: Mailbox, driveway, front door, lamp, table, fridge, sink, couch, desk, computer.
See also: How to Create a Memory Palace
To use journeys, you do the same thing as you did using the linking technique; connect images together. For most people, its best(fastest and least forgetting of images) to link between two and four images per locus. Higher number chains(multiple linked images) tend to break very easily, causing you to forget the latter images of a chain. Just make sure to connect the first image of each chain of linked images to the locus(for example, a banana smashing into the mailbox)
You can test how many images would be optimal for you by trying to store random words in loci. Create 3 journeys that are 10 loci(locations) long. Read FAQ #1 here for ideas for journeys if you can't think of enough. Go over the journeys in your imagination a couple times in order, to make sure you know where each locus is. Using this list of random words, print out a couple pages(or just read it off the screen) and memorize random words, first two per locus in the first journey(check how many you got right), then three per locus in the second journey(check again) and finally four per locus in the last journey(and check).
Did you do all that?
You noticed that using more objects per locus you obviously could store more information in less locations. You could store 20 words in half as many loci if you stored them 4 per locus as opposed to 2 per locus. But, you probably also noticed that you forgot a lot more words when you stored 4/locus.
And that's it
Memory palaces are simply locations in your mind where you store images to remember information. They can be real or you can use video games, images, or even completely make them up. Someone on this forum once said:
Real Places> Places with a visual aid> Imaginary locations
Check out this page for some frequently asked questions about memory palaces. The forum user gavino wrote a forum post about stacking memory palaces, having a palace to hold other palaces, as a way of organizing information here(and here's part 2 of that).
Here are some tutorials that will help you get started:
- Learn how to memorize the order of black & red in a deck of playing cards
- How to memorize pi
- An introduction to memorizing numbers
Remember when we memorized bunch of digits of pi in the beginning? I didn't come up with those images on the spot, I already had a complete list for all numbers 00 through 99. If you are ready and willing, you should create a list of 100 objects for yourself. It's best to come up with your own images, as they are most personal and therefore most memorable for you, but you can also use some images from other people.
You will be using the major system, which we had seen earlier. It works on sounds. For example: 6 is the sound "CH", which can be made by several different spelling of letters. Here are some examples: John, DRiver,CHeetah, Shot, Gel, etc. Follow the link to learn it. It'll become automatic to you very quickly. For our 100 object list, we will be using two major system sounds per every number, like this: 32 is the sounds M and N. We fill in the gap with vowels, we can also add vowels before or after the consonants. MooN, MaNe, MaN, MaNa, et cetera. We can also add consonants that aren't used in the major system(and therefore have no value), for example h and w: huMaN, woMaN.
Creating your list
Open up an Excel Spreadsheet, or a Google Doc, or even a notepad and do this for every single number between 00 and 99. You can use words that have more than 2 consonants, you'll just be using the first two. For example, CeNtipede can be 02, even though the whole word would be 02191 in the major system.
Just start with 00, think about it for a couple seconds, sound it out, sooos, ceeeseee, CeaSar! SauCe! If you think of a couple, pick whichever one you like best. If you can't think of anything after 15-20 seconds, move on to the next one. By your first pass, you'll have anywhere from 40-75 of the objects(depending on how much time you spent on each one). You can rest a couple minutes, or just keep going. Start from the first number that isn't filled out, and try again. You'll probably have 70-90 of the objects filled out by this second pass. Then just...
Fill in the blanks
You should always come up with your own words, personal objects work best, but if you find it difficult to come up with some numbers, you can look at what words others have come up with. This list contains objects for every number from 0 to 9, from 00 to 99, and from 000 to 999. This means that if you look at that list, you will have 11 options for every single number that you are missing. Just click here to see it.
For example, if you are missing the number 22, you can look at that list and look at 220 through 229, and you have 10 options: NuNs, NeaNderthal, NaNny NeoN, NiNe Iron, NuN Chucks, NiNja, NuNlet, hoNeyaNths, and NaNobot. You pick whichever one you can imagine best, for example NeoN, you imagine a neon sign. Or a nanobot, you imagine a tiny robot. A Ninja, dressed all in black with a sword. Pick whichever works best and you can use it to fill in whatever gaps you may have in your list. One weird quirk: that list has 5 and 7 flipped. That means, if you are looking for the number 54, you will have to look in the 740's. If you are looking for 75, look at 570's.
There are also a couple other complete PAO lists on the PAO System Examples page.
Congratulations, you should now have a complete 100 object list for every number from 00 to 99.
I recommend putting the list in a journey(or separate it into a couple journeys) so you can review it whenever you want to. It'll take a while before the translation from number to object is automatic, but practice will make it second nature.
Try it out, memorize 100 random numbers(from the memory training page). You can have the list in front of you as you have just created it. Make a ~20 loci journey; for example your route to work, or just inside your home. Look at the first two numbers, remember what the sounds are, then look at your list, and connect the first object to the first locus. Look at the second two numbers, and link that object to the first one. Connect the third object to the second. Then move on to the second locus. It will take you 17 loci to complete 100 numbers.
Since it's your first time, you'll need to review after you finish the fifth locus, so go back and try to remember the three objects for each locus. If you can't, look at the numbers and figure out what the objects were. Reinforce those images. Review at 10 loci, and then at 15. Once you are done with all 17, get a sheet of paper and write down what the 100 numbers were. There will be mistakes, but with practice those will disappear, and you will become much faster very quickly.
For those hungry for information
This is a collection of posts that contain tons of information and you can check them out for more information about memory techniques.
This is a post detailing an private message exchange between the forum user Bateman and a new user. The new user asks a multitude of questions, the answers to which might be useful to some.
This is a post wherein a certified memory champion answers random questions from new and experienced memory athletes alike.