Memory Training

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How often have you heard somebody complain that they have a terrible memory? Unfortunately, it is a reasonably common complaint. People seem willing to accept that their memory is bad and that there is nothing that can be done to remedy the situation. This commonly held view is one which I will challenge. I believe that memory can be improved. In the paragraphs below I am going to examine a simple technique that will help you to remember a list of objects in sequence. The technique will only take a moment to learn but will significantly improve the effectiveness of your memory.

“The true art of memory is the art of attention.”
Samuel Johnson

An often overlooked aspect of memory is that of attention. We remember those things that have gained our attention. If you walk out of your front door and are hit by a few drops of rain you will quickly forget the rain. If however, you walk out your front door and are nearly drowned by a torrent of water you are likely to remember the situation. The latter scenario is memorable because the situation has forced you to pay attention. Often we wander through life on autopilot rarely paying attention to the world that surrounds us. In this state very little is committed to memory. For example, when meeting a new person, it is quite common to forget their name even though you were introduced only moments before. The problem here is not that you have forgotten their name but rather that you have not learnt it in the first place. You were simply not paying attention when introduced. Attention is truly the key to memory.

The link method is a technique for memorizing a list of objects in sequence. For this technique to be effective it is necessary to visualize the objects to be memorized in an exaggerated way. Exaggeration focuses the minds attention in much the same way as the drowning example above. The exaggerated images that you visualize are linked by having each object on the list doing something that uses the following object. This continues until all the objects are linked in a continuous chain. At this point you will have successfully memorized the entire list in sequence.

I’ll now work through a five item list so that you can better understand the technique. The items to memorize are as follows:

1. Chicken
2. Cigarettes
3. Newspaper
4. Hot water bottle
5. Light bulb

You can of course memorize lists of any length. This list is short solely for the purpose of illustrating the link method. We begin by visualizing the first item on the list. I exaggerate the image by imagining a human sized chicken (item 1). My chicken is wearing a top hat and a monocle. The chicken is smoking a cigarette (item 2) with one of those long cigarette holders that you see in old films. Suddenly, the cigarette leaps out of the cigarette holder, grows to giant size, sprouts arms, and picks up a newspaper (item 3) which it begins to read. The newspaper eventually breaks free from the cigarette and grabs a hot water bottle (item 4) which it then hops in to bed with. Finally, I see the hot water bottle get out of bed, stand on a chair and begin to change a light bulb (item 5).

The link method forces the mind to pay attention to the objects to be memorized. This gives the mind a chance to enter the items into memory. With a little practice anybody can successfully use this technique to help improve their memory. You have nothing to lose by trying this technique with the exception of the paper that your grocery list is written upon!

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