It is time for the second chapter of How to become a Memory Champion. The last time we spoke about the method of loci, with which we created an Elephant Path. Today we will talk about how to use it and create a story worth remembering. It is all about the right associations. Learn what you should do and what you should leave out.
Step 1: Imagine it, Hear it, Feel it!
It is the most valuable lesson in memory sports: Imagine your stories before your inner eye. You have to SEE your stories become alive. It is a huge beginners mistake to create a story to remember but not visualizing it. When I started with memory techniques, I just spoke the words of the story in my mind, but I lacked figuring it out in all its details. This process doesn’t necessarily need a lot of time. But you have to be there yourself if you create any kind of tale for memory purposes in your mind.
Einstein credited his discovery of special relativity to a mental visualization strategy of “sitting on the end of a ray of light”, and many people as part of decision-making talk to themselves in their heads.
Some people prefer to use other sensory channels. Although I just used four different visual words to describe this task, you can also try to hear or feel what’s happening in your story. Try out what’s working best for you. If I remember correctly, former German Junior Champion Katharina Bunk used a card system with auditory associations. Since she memorized a deck of cards in 45.8 seconds, it seems pretty affective for her. You can also combine all the different channels to get a great overall sense for your story. By the way:
The other two senses, gustatory (taste) and olfactory (smell), which are closely associated, often seem to be less significant in general mental processing, and are often considered jointly as one.
Step 2: Think out of the box!
Let’s assume your first station in your path is the kitchen table. Your goal is to memorize random words. This is one of the easiest disciplines in a memory championship, because you don’t need anything else than your ready Elephant Path (or Journey, how most of the English speaking athletes call it) and your creativity. The first word you have to memorize is the word “banana“.
What would be your first thought for a possible association? I guess you would imagine putting the banana on the table. I can assure you, that this idea is definitely the worst you could come up with. If you are going to memorize dozens of words this way, in most of the cases you wouldn’t remember much. You would just recall, that something was lying on the table. But why is that? Why can’t we remember that story?
The answer is trivial: because it is boring! It never made its way to the long-term memory. Since our brain is getting millions of data every second, it has to filter everything by relevance. If something seems irrelevant, our mind wont keep that information (some neuroscientist believe that we keep every single data we ever experienced, but even so, we can’t remember it at will). Although we made the first step and defined the location to look for the information in the little universe in our head by using a path, we still can’t remember.
But it is easy to change that lack of relevance: we just use our creativity!
So let’s come back to the banana and the table: What can we do instead of simply putting it on the table?
- We eat the banana and put a forth of the peel under each leg. Now we can use the table like a Skateboard and slide through the room.
- We coat the table surface with the mushed banana. It feels great now!
- We turn the table and use the banana like a pistol – “We going straight – to – the Wild Wild West”.
- What would King Louie do? He would build a throne out of the giant banana – right on the table. That way he can be higher than his fellow apes.
But careful: Be sure you just use ONE banana in your story. Otherwise you would remember the word “bananas” – and that would be wrong in a championship!
Step 3: Use your emotions!
Try to think about your past life: What events do you recall first? How clearly can you remember them? You will recognize, that the best memories in your head are always full of emotions, like birthdays, Christmas, your first day in school, your first kiss, marriage, the birth of your children. If you are asking any person about what they did on the 11th of September 2001, they can tell you every detail about it – but they have no idea what they did the day before.
So what you should do is, to fill your stories with emotions. Be happy or sorry for any living creature in your invented tales. Feel empathic for everything what’s happening in your mind as long as you are memorizing data.
Step 4: I like to move it, move it
Do you remember, what we did with the table, after we put the banana peel under the legs? I guess you do – and not just because we thought out of the box. The fact that there was a certain movement in the story, increased its relevance dramatically. I can assure you, that all the images I create include any kind of animation. Especially my numbers are full of motion because I use a Person-Verb-Object-System. But I will come back to that in another episode of How to become a Memory Champion.
Step 5: EXAGERATE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
One of the greatest tools when creating an image is to hyperbolize it. It will jack up your stories a lot. One thing I do with most of my images is to increase or decrease the size dramatically. Why should I remember an elephant on my sofa with its real dimensions? It would probably kind of difficult to imagine, because the elephant is far too big for the couch. But if you shrink it to the size of a puppy, it will be adorable and funny. You can’t forget it anymore.
Step 6: Use sexual fantasies!
I don’t think, that I have to explain it to you, but just for the integrity I do: There is no stronger impulse in a human being than sex! Even survival often comes after that biggest of instincts. So we can and will use that drive to push our memories on to a new level. If you are too conservative to take that chance of improving your memory, you will miss a huge chance. My advise: bite the bullet. You have nothing to loose, because it is your own mind and nobody can criticize you about it.
Of course this is strongly depending on the subjects age. If you are teaching these techniques to children, you should certainly leave this part out. They should be teenagers at least before this makes any sense to them.
Step 7: Colourize it!
Well, your brain is always cheering out loud, when it comes to beautiful colours. What do you remember more: A gray and cloudy day in fall or a sunny day on a flower field? It speaks for itself. Use it for your images. You don’t have to dye every single association you are creating – that would probably overdo it. But especially if you are creating your paths and systems (for numbers, cards, abstract images), you should use many colours to help yourself establishing a proper image in your mind. It will also help you afterwards to recall your images, because a colourful story is more interesting.
Step 8: Repeat, repeat, repeat…
Actually, this last step falls out of the previous advises. Repetition is less necessary for the perfect association but hugely important for any kind of memory. In memory sports, a rollback of the images you just created can stabilize your stories dramatically. But it is a twisted sword: If you are going for an enormous amount of data in a short time, you probably wont have enough time to repeat. In that case you will have to trust your associations you did only once. But most of the athletes are repeating their images at least once. Some memory athletes like MemoryXL-President Boris Konrad are iterating their images several time. That means, that he is relying more on repetition, than on the perfect association (correct me if I am wrong, Boris). His old world record of 106 words in 5 minutes (recently broken by Katie Kermode with 109 words) speaks for the effectiveness of this method.
So you see, there is a lot of improvement you can do with your associations. If you are using these advices and combine them with your own preferences and experience, soon you will become one of us – a Memory Athlete!