Think of how easy your job would be if you were able to easily memorize information that you often find yourself having to refer back to. For memory athletes, people who compete to commit long passages and number sequences to memory in a matter of minutes, the key to winning has to do with a type of training called mnemonics, which are strategies that leverage familiar associations to help your brain retain new information.
A recent study found that even people who have an average memory are able to improve it and rise to “super memory” status using these strategies and techniques. Here’s a look at how a few top mnemonic strategies work, and how to use them to your advantage.
A popular strategy used by memory athletes, the loci method takes a path you’re familiar with — whether it’s your commute to work or the walk from your front door up to your bathroom in your home — and has you visually associate each word you’re trying to remember to a certain spot along the way.
For example, let’s say that you’re trying to commit a grocery list to memory. On the list are eggs, milk, bread and apples. Using the loci method, you’d visualize yourself opening your front door to see a carton of eggs sitting on your front stairs. As you reach the top floor, you imagine milk spilling down the hallway leading into your bathroom. As you round the corner, your bathroom rug is now made of slices of bread. You go to turn on the bathroom sink, and apples are now where the faucet handles would typically be. It may sound silly — but if it works for memory competitors who are trying to commit 500 words to memory at a time, it can certainly help you keep track of what you meant to bring with you to work in the morning.
This one works well for number sequences — so if you’re trying to commit your company’s 2020 benchmarks, goals or budgets to memory, give the chunking method a try.
To use it, take the numbers you’re hoping to memorize and group them into chunks of around 2-4 numbers per section. For example, say that last year’s annual revenue was $1,832,957,329.09. To memorize this, break it out into 183 2957 32 909, so that reading the number feels less overwhelming visually.
This technique has actually been shown to help with patients with early dementia improve their working memory.
Bad with names? A little practice with the elaborative rehearsal technique will have you networking like a master in no time.
Elaborative rehearsal is a type of connection mnemonics that takes the new information you’re trying to commit to memory, like a name, and connect it with something you already know about the person or thing you’re trying to remember.
For example, let’s say you’ve just been introduced to a woman named Betty, who has bouncing curly hair. Commit an image of Betty bouncing up and down to memory, so that the next time you see her bouncing curly hair you remember to associate her name to that movement.
If you’re studying a new language, keyword mnemonics can be especially helpful to improve your vocabulary, allowing you to easily recall words. First, take the word that you’re trying to learn, and figure out what it reminds you of visually. Then, work to create a mental picture that cues you to remember that word when you hear it.
Say you’re trying to remember the Spanish word for butter, mantequilla. To commit this to memory, maybe you visualize a man drinking tequila standing next to a counter where butter is sitting. The next time you want to use the word butter when speaking Spanish, that visual will play in your mind and help you remember.
Keep in mind, mnemonic strategies can take a few rounds of practice before they help you retain the information you’re trying to memorize. Try these tactics out on a regular basis, and see how your memory improves.