Many people complain about a terrible memory. Grocery lists, friends’ birthdays, stats for an exam – they just don’t seem to be in the brain. But the memory is not set in stone as you can imagine. With the right technique, you may be able to remember almost everything.
Nelson Dellis is a four-time USA Memory Champion and Grandmaster of Memory. His memories include memorizing 10,000 digits of pi, ordering more than nine shuffled card games, and lists of hundreds of names after hearing them only once.
With a little commitment, Dellis says that everyone can improve their memory. Here are five steps you can take to fill your head with information.
Let’s start with a pretty simple memorization task: the seven wonders of the world. In order to remember these, Dellis recommends first converting each of these elements into an easy to remember image. Some will be more obvious. For example, for the Great Wall of China, you might just want to imagine a wall. For Petra, you could instead take a picture of your own pet.
“Using such juicy mental images is extremely effective. They want to create big, multi-sensory memories, ”explains Julia Shaw, psychologist at University College London and author of The memory illusion: remembering, forgetting and the science of false memory. You want to strive for mental images that you can almost feel, smell, and see to make them as real as possible.
There is science behind it. “Pictures that are strange and maybe gross or emotional are sticky,” Shaw says. “Looking at the brain, the researchers found that the amygdala – a part of the brain that is important for processing emotions – encouraged other parts of the brain to store memories.” Therefore, strong emotions make memories more likely.
2. Place these images in one place
The next step is to place these strong mental images in a place that you are really familiar with. In Dellis’ example, he places each of the seven miracles on a path through his house, starting with a wall in his entrance area, and then Christ – who represents Christ the Redeemer – lounges on his sofa. “The stranger the better,” says Dellis. In the kitchen, one could imagine a llama preparing a meal.
This technique of linking images to places is called the Memorial Palace and is particularly useful for remembering the order of certain elements, Shaw says. “A memorial palace uses your existing memory of a real place. It’s a place you know – usually your home or another place you know really well. “
If it is a list of only seven items, this space can be relatively small. But when it came to memorizing 10,000 digits of Pi, Dellis had to expand its memorial to the entire hometown of Miami. He divided the 10,000 digits into 2,000 pieces with five digits each and placed them all in 10 different parts of the city.
“Neuroimaging studies have shown that people have increased activity in the [occipito-parietal area] the brain learning memories using a memory palace, ”says Shaw. “This means that the technique helps to involve more parts of the brain that are normally dedicated to other senses. The parietal lobe is responsible for navigation and the occipital lobe is associated with seeing images.”
3. Take care
Remembering seven strange pictures for the wonders of the world shouldn’t be too difficult, but if you remember 10,000 digits of Pi, you may need a little more motivation. “I would say this mantra to myself. I want to memorize that, I want to memorize it, ”says Dellis. “It’s a simple mantra, but it would direct my attention and focus on the task at hand and help me remember it better.”
4. Break things up
With very large numbers like pi – or a long series of cards – it also helps to break things up. Dellis turned every five-digit piece of Pi into an image that he could easily remember. “Words are simple, you see a word and it usually creates a picture in your head. But things like numbers, cards, or even names are a little trickier, ”he says. “And these have systems that we have developed and learned, so whenever we see a name, number, or card, we have an image preset for it.”