How to improve your memory
Part 2

Marcus Loane

17th Jan 2010

 Anyone can improve their memory by changing how they remember things. There are lots of tricks and processes that have been known about for centuries but do not seem to be taught in educational establishments.

 Our brains are best at remembering images especially if they are unusual or if they evoke some emotional response. This can be used to remember uninteresting but useful information like

credit card numbers,
online bank logon information and
PINs

so you no longer have to go scrambling for your wallet or notes for this information. The system which follows is called the peg system and I was introduced to it by Derren Brown, a popular entertainer in the UK. The peg is a mental coat hook on which to hang items to be remembered.

The peg system

 In order to use the system and reap its practical rewards you will have to do some remembering of the system itself but this is not that difficult. I will start with the task of remembering a bank PIN (personal identification number). The first thing to do which only needs to be done once is to remember a letter which is to represent each number 0 – 9 (for now). The letters are as follows, and if they seem unusual choices you will understand why later.

Number

letter

explanation

0

z or s

z is for zero and s sounds like it

1

L

Small L looks a bit like a 1

2

n

Small n has 2 verticals

3

m

Small m has 3 verticals

4

r

r is at the end of four and sounds like four

5

v or f

v or f sounds like the last bit of five

6

b or p

Small b looks like a 6 and p sounds like b

7

T

Capital T looks a bit like a 7

8

sh, ch or j

These look a bit like the gh in eight. Also dg in edge.

9

g

Small g looks like a 9

 

You need to learn these and this is probably the hardest part of the whole system. Once you have learned them they can be used again and again.

Now let us take the example of learning a PIN number to access a cash dispenser. Let’s say the PIN is 0734. (I used a random number generator to get this). First we match the numbers to the letters we have now memorised.

0 is s or z.
7 is T.
3 is m.
4 is r.

 This gives us stmr or ztmr. Then we insert vowel sounds to make stmr or ztmr into a word or words which we can visualise and remember easily. The words which I came up with were Zoo Timer. We need a clear image in our minds to remember this. The more bizarre and detailed the image the easier it will be to remember. We also try to include in the image something to do with using the bank card. Imagine you are at the zoo and you are frustrated to find you are short of cash. You check every compartment in your wallet. Your young son and daughter are tugging at you demanding ice cream. Suddenly you spy a cash machine and you make your way there just past the monkey house. Above the Zoo cash machine is a huge clock or Timer. This thing is about 2 metres in diameter and looks like an old fashioned alarm clock with bells on top. As you are trying to remember your PIN to type in, suddenly the second hand on the Zoo Timer above you clunks into place and a deafening alarm goes off. The children put their hands in their ears and the monkeys in the nearby monkey house start jumping around, chasing each other and screaming. After a minute of this it stops and there is an announcement, “The zoo timer has spoken. This zoo will be closing in ten minutes. Anyone using a cash machine or shop, please finish their transaction. The zoo timer must be obeyed.” Now this is a silly story but the sillier it is the easier it will be to recall. The next time you are at a cash machine and struggling to remember your PIN you can recall the cash machine in the zoo with the screaming monkeys alarmed at hearing the ridiculously large Zoo Timer suspended above the cash machine. Then you extract the consonants out of Zoo TiMeR to get z,t,m,r. You have memorised for all time that z is 0, t is 7, m is 3 and r is 4 so your PIN is 0734.

 This may seem rather complicated but it is extremely powerful and I have used it to remember online bank logon details for several accounts and also my credit card number with expiry dates and security code. It may take a few seconds to extract the letters from your words and translate them into numbers but so what. You will not forget them. You can memorise a few useful telephone numbers too for those times when you do not have access to your mobile(cell)phone number list. This could be most useful in an emergency.

 When you have mastered that, we can make the peg system more powerful so that any list such as a shopping list, to do list, or the main points of a presentation or exam revision can be memorised.

 First we will have to memorise (once) words for each number instead of letters. If you have already memorised the letters in the table above then this will be easy because the words all contain them plus some vowels or h.

Number

letter

Peg word

0

s/z

Zoo

1

L

aLe

2

n

heN

3

m

haM

4

r

whoRe

5

v/f

hiVe

6

b/p

Bee

7

T

Tea

8

sh/ch/j

SHoe

9

g

Goo


 You could memorise these first and eventually learn words for higher numbers. I have learned peg words for the numbers 0 – 52 and I have shown the peg words for 0 - 52 here. Now you are ready to memorise a list of up to ten items and I will show an example of memorising a 10 item shopping list.

 Here is a shopping list which we can use our system to memorise.

1 eggs
2 milk
3 toilet roll
4 bananas
5 toothpaste
6 DVD for the weekend
7 bread
8 fish
9 tomatoes
0 Remember to post letters

 The next step is to associate the word for the number with the item at position number 1 in the list. We need a vivid image of ale (number 1) and eggs. Imagine going to the local pub and ordering a pint of their local ale and being intrigued and horrified at the barman breaking eggs into the pint glass first. He serves you up a yellow sticky mess and says, “This is how we drink our ale here sir.” You feel disgusted as it sticks in your throat. Note that the image is unusual, detailed and has an emotional response. This means it will stay in your memory. Next we do the same for item 2. The word for 2 is hen so we need an image to connect hen and milk. We could see ourselves going to the fridge for a pint of milk. When we open the carton a pure white hen squeezes itself out of the carton, tail first and it lets out an ear piercing squawk as its head and beak appears. We are very surprised at this and head off to tell our wife. We can work down the whole list associating the peg word for each number with the item at that number.

 Then to remember our list, we start at number one. The letter for number one is L which reminds us that the word for number one is aLe. Then we remember the sticky eggy ale the barman served so we have remembered our eggs. The letter for number two is n so we remember the word for number two is heN. We remember our surprise at the hen emerging from our carton of milk so we have remembered our milk.

 The beauty of this technique is that you can recall the list in any order. You can jump straight to item seven and recall what it was by remembering what image you made up involving tea (7 = T).

 If you have got around to memorising the peg words for 0 – 20 or 0-30 you will be able to use the system to memorise longer lists and be able to recall them forwards, backwards or in any specified order.


 The loci system and memory palaces

 As mentioned already the peg letter system (z/s,l,n,m,r,f/v,b/p,T,ch,g) above is useful for remembering long numbers, using the letters for each digit to make words which you can turn into vivid images such as the Zoo TiMeR.

 However the peg word system is best suited to lists which you want to remember for a short time (days). The reason for this is that if you want to use the system again you will be creating a new image for item number 1 (for example) involving ale so it is better if you have forgotten the images you used last week for last weeks list.

 So what is a good way to remember long lists of information for life? One way is the loci system building up memory palaces. The principle is to imagine yourself making a journey which is in a familiar place such as walking around your neighbourhood or walking around every room in your house or place of work. You then identify real places along the way such a particular bus stop, shop, tree, bicycle rack, door mat, front door knocker, hallway, living room sofa, living room mantelpiece, living room TV, shelf or table. Each of these locations is the “hook” on which you will hang the items to be remembered. You can rehearse this journey in your mind or inn reality so that you are clear about all the precise locations where you will be hanging the items to remember. It is good to work your way around each room in a clockwise direction. When you are clear about the journey and the “hook” locations you can start to add the items in your list - you start your journey and attach item 1 on your list to the first location on your journey making it bizarre/vivid/emotional to make it stick. Work your way along the route attaching each item in your list to the next location. For example if you start at your doormat and the first item to remember is “Canada” then you could picture a Canadian moose standing on your doormat staring aggressively at you and scraping its feet on the mat, blocking your path. When you need to recall the items you mentally undertake your journey stopping at each location along the way and remembering the image associated with it. You are at the doormat. Oh yes! There is a scary moose on it making me nervous and the moose is from... Canada.

 When you run out of space in your memory palace you can start to use homes you lived in in the past or places you worked. You can even create imaginary palaces but this is a last resort because you might start to forget their layout.

 Have fun. Any time you are bored (driving for example) you can be mentally wandering through your memory palaces retrieving interesting facts about the world.

How to improve your memory – Part 1

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Marcus Loane

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