Memory: Making Your Influence Last


a simple mnemonic device

A.    Why is memory part of rhetoric?

1.     Before technology—even paper and pencil—made it easy to record words, speakers had to memorize long speeches.

2.     Therefore, speakers developed memory schemes to help them and included these techniques as one of the canons of rhetoric.

B.    Why is memory important today?

1.     Think about how much we still rely on memory. How can you teach a 3 year-old a non-sequential list of 26 abstract items?

2.     Even though we have ready access to recording technology, we still need to make ideas memorable, not only for ourselves, but also for the audience.

3.     In fact, one measure of an influential message is whether or not the audience remembers it.

a.      Around 75 A.D., the Roman rhetorician Quintilian wrote: “For our whole education depends upon memory, and we shall receive instruction all in vain if all we hear slips from us.” The Institutes of Oratory, XI, II, 1

b.     The comedian Father Guido Sarducci used to tout “Guido Sarducci’s Five-Minute University ” where he could teach in five minutes everything the average college graduate remembers five years out of school.

c.      Think of message that have had an influence on you. What made them memorable? Include those same elements in your messages.

C.    A Brief History of Memory

1.     For ancient oral cultures without any written word, memory was a critical tool in maintaining a culture. Almost intuitively, people in these cultures remembered long stories and important events by connecting them with rhythm, rhyme and vivid sensory images.

a.      In the early 18th century, Giambattista Vico realized that ancient human beings “were poets who spoke in poetic characters. [W]ith our civilized natures, we moderns cannot at all imagine and can understand only by great toil the poetic nature of these first men [sic]” (The New Science §34).

b.     Memory for these ancients was not necessarily verbatim repetition.

Ancient theory and practice focus on the memory of things or arguments associated with topoi, not on the verbatim memory that we often associate with the term. “Topics,” according to Frances A. Yates, “are the ‘things’ or subject matter of dialectic which came to be known as topoi through the places in which they were stored.” Her outline of memory technique provides the basis for my argument that memory does not necessarily require the verbatim recitation that modern preconceptions demand.  (Lentz, p. 93)

c.      Memory was tied to the culture. Speaking of early, oral Greek culture, Lentz says (pp 6-7):

Memory functioned as a dominant or equal partner in all aspects of the culture. Instruction in the schools remained largely oral, with students learning great works by heart. Most students studied grammar for only a short time, many merely learning to recognize the letters that represented the sounds of the alphabet. The singers and reciters of literature remained a vital part of the culture, and amateur performers recited to one another for purposes of both persuasion and entertainment. The Greeks thus carried their cultural identity complete within their memory, and educated individuals could talk about shared literature and maxims with confidence and ease. Composition took place orally, and authors recited works to scribes who put them in writing to preserve them. The character of individuals vouched for the accuracy of written depositions in court, and the introduction of written evidence did not shorten the time allowed for oral presentations. The Greeks still preferred to hear the witnesses’ own testimony and to judge those individuals by the concrete details of their vocal and bodily action. he witnesses’ own testimony and to judge those individuals by the concrete details of their vocal and bodily action.
The powerful memories trained in these situations were important in maintaining the lengthy philosophical discussions of the day. Furthermore, accurate memories and concrete examples remained vital to the epistemologies that were the culmination of the awareness of abstraction. Plato, Isocrates, and Aristotle all recognized the power of the spoken word. Finally, writing never completely broke away from the sound of the human voice. The Greeks never read written words without speaking them aloud. Silent reading was possible, but the Greeks never considered it necessary or desirable to separate compositions completely from their spoken form. Writing was the sign for the spoken word, not its replacement.

2.     Memory was first included as a part of rhetoric in the Rhetorica Ad Herenium, 84 BC, by an unknown author. In this treatise, the discussion of memory focused on exercises for retention of the matter and arrangement.

“Oddly enough however, the skills of vocal narration were not diminished by this development. The public presentation of established, processed knowledge that had become encapsulated within writing was dependent upon those who could interpret the scripts to those masses who had not yet been initiated into its secrets. Story tellers became replaced by rhetoricians. Even with the invention of movable type and the onset of print culture, manuscript culture was slow to fade because of the widespread lack of the technical skills of literacy. The apparatus of oral tradition was remodeled by rhetoricians for their own ends. As such, memory became a rhetorical skill, an aid at cueing orators in the vocal interpretations of texts.”

3.     The Roman philosopher-statesman, Cicero, included memory in his text books on rhetoric.

A Greek by the name of Simonides was the first to teach this mental discipline, according to Quintilian. The story goes at Simonides was attending an athletic banquet when he was informed that two messengers on horseback wished to speak with him. While he was absent from the banquet hall, the building collapsed, crushing the guests so horribly “that those who went to look for the bodies of the dead, in order to bury them, were unable to recognize by any mark, not only their faces, but even their limbs.” Then Simonides by the aid of his memory, “pointed out the bodies to the friends in the exact order in which they had sat.” De Oratore ii. 86; 352

4.     Quintilian called memory, “the treasure house of oratory.” The Institutes of Oratory, XI, II, 2

5.     The essential rule recommended as a first requisite by Simonides, Cicero, and Quintilian was the association of words with visual images which could be remembered against some familiar background.

In practice, memory was used in mechanically augmented ‘gimmicks,’ by rhetoricians for the presentation of a lengthy, complex speech. An Art of Memory was devised in Classical times as a prosthetic device to extend that part of an individual’s oral memory skills which had been amputated due to the dependence upon writing to notate collective memories. This established Classical procedure has had a pervasive influence on the history of thought in our culture. However, it had been almost forgotten for centuries until relatively recently.

The Art of Memory, was said to have been invented by a poet named Simonides (according to Cicero). In a bit of ancient forensics, Simonides had been able to identify the remains of guests at a banquet by their seating places around a table, after a roof had fallen in upon them and obliterated them beyond recognition. In the Classical use of the art, abstract images of a somewhat bizarre (and therefore memorable) nature were conceived that would be linked to parts of a speech and then to a well-known architectural feature of the hall in which the speech was to take place. By scanning the variety of statuary, friezes, articulated columns, or whatever, within the hall, the rhetorician skilled in the art could remember all the aspects of his speech. The hall would provide the order and a frame of reference which could be used over and over again for a complex constellation of constantly changing ideas.

6.     However, by the time of the Renaissance, memory was considered to be less important. In the 16th century, Peter Ramus, a French academic, divided up the canons of rhetoric, giving invention and arrangement to logic, leaving style, delivery and memory for rhetoric. Thus rhetoric came to be associated only with style and flowery language.

7.     Concern for the study of memory did persist, however, in some forms during the Renaissance.

The Classical art of memory evolved in the Middle Ages into an Aristotelian form, in which the construction of a memory image could heighten human perception and therefore aid in the acceptance of a moral lesson which was being communicated. The Middle Ages had somewhat limited possibilities to support a refinement of ideas and observations which sustained the culture. However, with the discovery of the New World and the rediscovery of the Classical World, a sense of wonder was brought back into European thought. Exposure to new cultures and possibilities that existed outside the realm of understanding for Europeans, opened them up to the idea of exploring (as well as subjugating) the world outside of their known universe.

The near simultaneous invention of movable type, and mass printing, produced another technological refinement in the collective knowledge of the then ‘known world.’ Likewise, the skills of the rhetorician reached their developmental zenith which would then subside as printed knowledge became more available. Curiously, the use of memory systems did not become immediately obsolete with the invention of printing, but instead became elaborated into yet another form as a complex, Neoplatonic magic which would have a far reaching, though somewhat obscured, influence.

Within the hermetic ‘soup’ of the Italian Renaissance of the sixteenth century, the mnemonic images used in memory systems were believed to be the gateway to a transcendental and ideal reality. The mnemonist rhetorician assumed a role similar to the oral tradition poets, by assuming a position of being the chief interpreter of the nature of reality and the keeper of divine wisdom. By constructing their art accurately, the natural order of reality could be ‘recollected,’ and the magus/rhetorician would then ‘know’ the eternal mind of God.

D.    The Mechanics of Memory

1.     The brain stores memories in physical connections between neurons.

Now what is astonishing is this: as far as our mental life is concerned, that story I just told you about neurons is the entire causal basis of our conscious life. I left out various details about ion channels, receptors, and different types of neurotransmitters, but our entire mental life is caused by the behavior of neurons and all they do is increase or decrease their rates of firing. When, for example, we store memories, it seems we must store them somehow in the synaptic connections between neurons.

Searle, John R. The Mystery of Consciousness. New York: New Your Review of Books, 1997. pp 27-28.

2.     Therefore, memory is an active recreation of connections.

“Memory for Edelman [a scholar who has written on memory] is not just a passive process of storing but an active process of recategorizing on the basis of previous categorizations.” When the brain receives a stimulus, it processes the experience as maps of connections between neurons. The next time it gets a similar stimulus, “it recategorizes the input by enhancing the previously established categorization. It does this by changes in the population of synapses in the global mapping. It does not just recall a stereotype but continually reinvents the category of [the stimulus].” Searle continues, “This conception of memory seems to me one of the most powerful features of the [Edelman’s] book because it provides an alternative to the traditional idea of memory as a storehouse of knowledge and experience, and of remembering as a process of retrieval from the storehouse.

Searle, John R. The Mystery of Consciousness. New York: New Your Review of Books, 1997. p 44.

3.     Therefore, memory is not simply recall, but reconstruction of the past.

On Rosenfield’s view, then, memory must not be understood as a storehouse of information, but as a continuing activity of the brain. You see this most obviously in the case of images. When I form an image of some event in my childhood, for example, I don’t go into an archive and find a preexisting image, I have to consciously form an image. A sense of self is essential to memory because all of my memories are precisely mine. What makes them memories is that they are part of the structure that is part of my sense of self.

Searle, John R. The Mystery of Consciousness. New York: New Your Review of Books, 1997. p 184.

E.    Connection: The Essence of Memory

1.     All memory schemes reflect the biology of the brain: memory comes from connections.

a.      Examples

i.       In the movie, “The Parent Trap” a young girl smells her grandfather’s pipe smoke and peppermint, feels his tweed jacket to “make a memory.”
ii.     The alphabet: the arbitrary symbols are attached to a memorable tune.
iii.   Learning the names of notes of the staff: “Every Good Boy Does Fine”
iv.  Sometimes you see ads on TV for memory programs that claim to enable you to memorize entire books. Jerry Lucas, the NBA hall-of-famer, now bills himself as "Doctor Memory" selling such programs. The secret of these memory programs is connection. Those who memorize entire books picture an easy-to-remember grid over each page and connect the words to the grid.

2.     Because it involves connections, memory is tied to several related studies.

a.      Memory is related to poetry. Not only does poetry connect ideas to rhythm and rhyme, but it also uses condensed, concrete images that stick in the mind.

i.       The ancients thought poetically, according to Vico. Understanding their attitude is difficult for us. We don’t think like they did. They saw as concrete what we have made abstract. They made into magic what we see as science. At the most, we see poetry as truth adorned with words, they saw it as truth itself.
ii.     Instead of following a rational linear development of topics as we do in western culture, ancient wisdom texts organize themes aesthetically, employing connections that do not follow logic. True to its non-western character, wisdom discourse does not shave its ideas with Occam’s razor—there is no “collection and division” here—but pulls them together using what Verene calls “Vico’s magnet,” (106) finding hidden connections open only to the poetic mind.
iii.   See Byron E. Shafer, “Introduction,” Religion in Ancient Egypt: Gods, Myths, and Personal Practice, ed. Byron E. Shafer (Ithaca, New York: Cornell UP, 1992) 3 and Frankfort, Egyptian Religion 124-25 for a discussion of these difficulties in our understanding ancient Egypt.

b.     Memory is related to metaphor, the principle tool of poetry, since metaphor makes connection between things that appear dissimilar. This is the ancient sense of topoi or “places” with which a wise person will associate a thing to remember it. Topoi for Vico was “the art of the middle term,” by which the wise person will make connections that the unwise will not see (Verene, Origins 98).

c.      Memory is related to the imagination and creativity and ingenium—the ability to make connections, as Vico defines it (See Donald Verene, Vico’s Science of the Imagination 103). It is out of his or her memory or imagination that a wise person finds the materials to make connections to then give the fitting response to a situation (def of wisdom).

d.     Memory has long been associated with wisdom. Ancient oral cultures used connections to make proverbs memorable. The wise person remembers the past and does not repeat its mistakes.

e.   Memory is different than mechanical memory in computers. Roszak emphasized the confusion that occurs when we assume that human memory is the same as machine memory.

Memory is the key factor here; it is the register of experience where the flux of daily life is shaped into the signposts and standards of conduct. Computers, we are told, also have “memories,” in which they store information. But computer memory is no more like human memory than the teeth of a saw are like human teeth; these are loose metaphors that embrace more differences than similarities. It is not the least of its liabilities that the cult of information obscures this distinction, to the point of suggesting that computer memory is superior because it remembers so much more. This is precisely to misinterpret what experience is and how it generates ideas. Computers “remember” things in the form of discrete entries: the input of quantities, graphics, words, etc. Each item is separable, perhaps designated by a unique address or file name, and all of it subject to total recall. Unless the machine malfunctions, it can regurgitate everything it has stored exactly as it was entered, whether a single number or a lengthy document. That is what we expect of the machine.

Human memory, on the other hand, is the invisible psychic adhesive that holds our identity together from moment to moment. This makes it a radically different phenomenon from computer memory. For one thing, it is fluid rather than granular, more like a wave than a particle. Like a wave, it spreads through the mind, puddling up here and there in odd personal associations that may be of the most inexplicable kind. It flows not only through the mind, but through the emotions, the senses, the body. We remember things as no computer can—in our muscles and reflexes: how to swim, play an instrument, use a tool. These stored experiences lodge below the level of awareness and articulation so that there is no way to tell someone how we drive a car or paint a picture. We don’t actually “know” ourselves. In an old bit of folk wisdom, the daughter asks her mother how she bakes such a good apple pie. The mother, stymied, replies: “First I wash my hands. Then I put on a clean apron. Then I go into the kitchen and bake a good apple pie.”


3.     Therefore, to remember something, simply connect it to something you know and can remember easily. gives three basic principles behind these connections:

a.     Association

i.       Association is the method by which you link a thing to be remembered to a method of remembering it. Although we can and will suggest associations to you, your own associations are much better as they reflect the way in which your mind works.
ii.     Things can be associated by:
1.)   being placed on top of the associated object
2.)   crashing or penetrating into each other
3.)   merging together
4.)   wrapping around each other
5.)   rotating around each other or dancing together
6.)   being the same color, smell, shape, or feeling
7.)   etc.
iii.   Whatever can be used to link the thing being remembered with the image used to recall it is the association image.
iv.   As an example: Linking the number 1 with a goldfish might be done by visualizing a 1-shaped spear being used to spear a goldfish to feed a starving family.

b.     Imagination

i.       Imagination is used to create the links and associations needed to create effective memory techniques - put simple, imagination is the way in which you use your mind to create the links that have the most meaning for you. Images that I create will have less power and impact for you, because they reflect the way in which we think.
ii.     The more strongly you imagine and visualize a situation, the more effectively it will stick in your mind for later recall. Mnemonic imagination can be as violent, vivid, or sensual as you like, as long as it helps you to remember what needs to be remembered.

c.      Location

i.       Location provides you with two things: a coherent context into which information can be placed so that it hangs together, and a way of separating one mnemonic from another: e.g. by setting one mnemonic in one village, I can separate it from a similar mnemonic located in another place.
ii.     Location provides context and texture to your mnemonics, and prevents them from being confused with similar mnemonics. For example, by setting one mnemonic with visualizations in the town of Horsham in the UK and another similar mnemonic with images of Manhattan allows us to separate them with no danger of confusion.

4.     Here's a simple mnemonic device to remember up to ten things.

a.    To use this device, make a picture in your head relating each item you want to remember to the matching image in the list.

b.    Here is the list

1.    One is a bun. (Make a mental picture of the thing you need to remember in a bun or on a bun. Then, to remember the first item, think "one," then "bun," then the picture of the thing.)
2.    Two is a shoe.
3.    Three is a tree.
4.    Four is a door.
5.     Five is a hive.
6.    Six is sticks.
7.    Seven is heaven.
8.    Eight is a gate.
9.    Nine is a vine.
10.    Ten is a hen.

F.     Ways to make your message memorable.

1.     Connect the ideas to something your audience already knows.

      While I was a school principal, I had to teach the parents a new pattern for driving in and out of the school each day to drop-off and pick-up their children. The school was in a residential area close to a major road, connected by two streets to the school property. The parents were to drive in one street and out the other. If they came in the wrong way, we could have had a major traffic jam.

      To help them remember the new pattern, I came up with a simple connection. The at the corner of the inbound street was a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. At the corner of the outbound street was a Taco Bell. I told the parents, "We don't want any of our students to chicken out. So remember, in with the chicken and out with the taco."

      The parents remembered. We had no traffic jams.


      Think of the connections we use to explain a new technology. To explain electricity, something you can't see, scientists borrowed words from the movement of water through pipes--flow, current--to explain the movement of electrons through a conductor. To understand the internet, we use terms that refer to tangible objects--net, web.


2.     Connect your ideas to a story.

      Think about the parts of a message you usually remember best--most often it's the stories.

      Instead of listing the features of his product, a salesman could tell a story about how someone used it.


      In September of 1952, Richard Nixon's spot on the Republican ticket as Dwight Eisenhower's vice president was threatened by revelations of a "secret" fund set up by business friends of Nixon's. As pressure mounted for Nixon to step down, the V.P. candidate broadcast a direct appeal in an informal speech airing right after the very popular Milton Berle Show. In what became known as the "Checkers" speech, Nixon gave an accounting of his and wife Pat's finances and denied accepting gifts of any kind, except for a little dog named Checkers from a supporter in Texas. The appeal to voters was a grand success, as the Republican Party was swamped with telegrams urging that Nixon stay on the ticket. Listen to the story here. (Franklin Roosevelt used his "little dog, Fala," as a similar speech topic.)


      Russell Conwell, preacher and founder of Temple University, was best know for his famous lecture, "Acres of Diamonds," which made him America's foremost platform orator. By the end of his life, in 1925, he had delivered the lecture more than 6,000 times in town after town throughout this vast land. It was heard by millions from pulpits and public platforms, and by radio, and today others are still reading his practical, optimistic essay and hearing it on cassettes.

      The speech was essentially a collection of stories about people that found success--their "acres of diamonds"--right in their own backyard. When he gave the speech in a new town, Conwell would arrive early and learn local stories that fit his theme. He'd then add these to his message to give it greater relevance to his audience.

      The title of the speech comes from his opening story about a man, Al Hafed, who asked a mysterious old priest where he could find the precious diamonds the priest had told him about.

      "Well," said the priest, "if you will find a river that runs over white sand between high mountains, in those sands you will always see diamonds." "Do you really believe that there is such a river?" "Plenty of them, plenty of them; all you have to do is just go and find them, then you have them." Al Hafed said, "I will go." So he sold his farm, collected his money at interest, left his family in charge of a neighbor, and away he went in search of diamonds.

      The story is compelling and memorable. If you want to see how it turned out, you have to read Conwell's speech. You can also read more about Conwell and his work.

3.     Connect your ideas to a vivid image, word or phrase.

      Think of memorable ad campaigns and slogans, like "Where's the beef?"


      On June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan spoke at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin. This speech was delivered to the people of West Berlin, yet it was also audible on the East side of the Berlin wall. Referring to President Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech, Reagan used a short, vivid, memorable phrase to capture his audience's attention and set the tone for the years to come. Read the whole speech here.

      General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!


      Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech used the image of cashing a check to emphasize a point. Listen to excerpts. Read the text.

      In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

      A memorable image can, of course, be visual. When I was a private school principal, I created a simple chart that showed that the school tuition did not cover the total costing of teaching a child. You can see the graph here. The image made an impression. The president of the parent-teacher organization later told me that whenever he would think about the needs at the school, he remembered the picture of the little girl and the red bar the went on above her.

4.     Use metaphors and other figures of speech that leave a fresh impression.

      In his speech to a joint session of Congress after the September 11 attacks, president George W. Bush painted a vivid word pictures of the kind of hatred that drove the bombers. Read the text of the speech. Read an analysis of the speech.

      We have seen their kind before. They're the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century. By sacrificing human life to serve their radical visions, by abandoning every value except the will to power, they follow in the path of fascism, Nazism and totalitarianism. And they will follow that path all the way to where it ends in history's unmarked grave of discarded lies.


      On July 9, 1896, William Jennings Bryan spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago arguing against the gold standard. Few remember the issue on which he spoke, but the closing image he used is still vivid. Read the whole speech here.
      You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.


5.     Follow Orwell’s rules for style. Read more about style for more examples.


6.     Cut the clutter. Keep ideas short and simple. “Brevity is the soul of wit.” See notes on style for examples.


7.     Use alliteration and assonance if it flows naturally. Don’t force it.

      In his first State of the Union address, George W. Bush used an alliterated parallel sentence to emphasize his response to state-sponsored terrorism. Read the full text of the speech here.

      The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons.

      Vice President Spiro Agnew told a 1970 audience in San Diego, "we have more than our share of the nattering nabobs of negativism." He went after "pusillanimous pussyfooters" and "vicars of vacillation" and "the hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history." Read more about Agnew from Time. and PBS News.


8.     Use rhythm and meter.

      Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done. President George W. Bush addressing a joint session of Congress, September 20, 2001.


      The only thing we have to fear but fear itself. Franklin Roosevelt's First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933.


      Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961.


      "Did somebody say McDonalds?"--or any advertising jingle.


9.     Repeat big ideas and key phrases.

      "I have a dream." by Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963. Listen to excerpts. Read the text.


      Find the memorable features of this famous speech by Abraham Lincoln delivered on November 19, 1863, at the dedication of a cemetery at Gettysburg, Pa., for those killed at the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War. The main address was delivered by the renowned orator Edward Everett (1794-1865) and lasted two hours. Lincoln's brief speech, honoring the Union dead and the principles of democracy and equality they died for, lasted two minutes. Soon recognized as an extraordinary piece of prose poetry, it remains the most famous--and perhaps the most memorable--speech ever delivered in the U.S.

      Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

G.   The Memory Fallacy from

1.     Most people believe that their memories get worse as they get older.

2.     This is true only for people who do not use their memories properly: memory is like a muscle - the more it is used, the better it gets. The more it is neglected, the worse it gets.

3.     While in education most people have to use their memories intensively - simply to remember facts and pass exams. When people leave full time education, they tend to cease to use their memory as actively, and so it starts to get flaccid.

4.     How Memory Works

a.      Memory works by making links between information, fitting facts into mental structures and frameworks. The more you are actively remembering, the more facts and frameworks you hold, the more additional facts and ideas will slot easily into long term memory.

5.     Why Memory Doesn’t Work!

a.      Another reason for memory getting apparently worse is that outside academia information tends not to be as clearly structured as it is in education. The clear presentation and organization of a good lesson or training course provides a structure that is almost a mnemonic in its own right. Where information drifts in as isolated facts, it will normally be forgotten simply because it is not actively fitted into a mnemonic.

6.     Again, as people grow up they are trained out of spontaneous, imaginative behavior: most peoples’ jobs depend on them being predictable and reliable far more than on them being imaginative. An important feature of memory, though, is the imagination that allows you to construct the strong mnemonic links between things to be remembered and the cues for their recall. Of course be reliable, but keep your imagination fresh at the same time!

7.     So memory in most people does get worse with age, but only because it is allowed to. By continuing your education throughout your life, by cultivating your mind and keeping it open to new experience, by actively fitting facts into clear and flexible frameworks, and by keeping your imagination working, your memory can get better and better as you get older.

8.     Doing this not only gives you a better memory: think how many times you have heard this message in connection with other self-improvement methods! An important thing to realize is that different people learn in different ways. The way in which people learn is often a factor determining the subjects they choose to study, instructors they relate to, and careers chosen in life.

H.    Using Mnemonics to Learn More Effectively from

1.     When you are creating a mnemonic, e.g. an image or story to remember a telephone number, the following things can be used to make the mnemonic more memorable:

a.      Use positive, pleasant images. The brain often blocks out unpleasant ones.

b.     Exaggerate the size of important parts of the image

c.      Use humor (perhaps linked with point 2)! Funny or peculiar things are easier to remember than normal ones.

d.     Similarly rude or sexual rhymes are very difficult to forget!

e.      Symbols (e.g. red traffic lights, pointing fingers, etc.) can be used in mnemonics.

f.       Vivid, colorful images are easier to remember than drab ones.

g.      Use all the senses to code information or dress up an image. Remember that your mnemonic can contain sounds, smells, tastes, touch, movements and feelings as well as pictures.

h.      Bringing three dimensions and movement to an image makes it more vivid. Movement can be used either to maintain the flow of association, or can help to remember actions.

i.       Locate similar mnemonics in different places with backgrounds of those places. This will help to keep similar images distinct and unconfused.

2.     The important thing is that the mnemonic should clearly relate to the thing being remembered, and that it should be vivid enough to be clearly remembered whenever you think about it

I.      Memory Tips from

1.     Using Mnemonics for Exams

a.      A very effective way of structuring information for revision is to draw up a full, color coded of the subject. This will enable you to see the overall structure of the topic, and make associations between information. A good color coded Mind Map can be an effective way of remembering information in its own right.

b.     Using Mnemonics

i.       The problem with this is that you can forget the label on a line on a Mind Map. A more reliable method is to take your Mind Map of a subject, and break it down into a list of important points and facts on a large sheet of paper. This list can be ordered into general subject areas. This list should be numbered. Beside all the important facts you can note down associated and supporting information.

c.      Coding exam subjects into Mnemonics

i.       By associating items on a list with a peg such as a number, we can check that we have retrieved all items held by a mnemonic. This numbered list can be remembered using some of the mnemonic techniques explained in Mind Tools:
ii.     For simple, short lists, use a simple peg system, such as:
1.)   The Number/Rhyme Technique
2.)   The Number/Shape Technique
3.)   The Alphabet Technique
iii.   For longer lists we can use The Journey System, remembering key facts at each stop in the journey. Supporting facts can be associated into images or sub-mnemonics triggered at these stops in the journey system, or can be loosely associated in general memory to be retrieved by the cues of the main facts.

d.     Using Mnemonics in Exams

i.       By using mnemonics, retrieving all the facts necessary to answer an exam essay question becomes as simple as running through the mnemonic in your mind, jotting down the retrieved facts that are relevant to the question. Once you have written these down, you can apply any sub-mnemonics you have coded, or jot down any associated facts and connections that occur to you. This should ensure that you have all possible information available to you, and should go a long way towards producing an essay plan.

2.     Remembering Names

a.      Remembering names requires a slightly different approach to all the others explained so far in this section, however is relatively simple when approached in a positive frame of mind.

b.     The following techniques can be used:

i.       Face association
1.)   Examine a person’s face discretely when you are introduced. Try to find an unusual feature, whether ears, hairline, forehead, eyebrows, eyes, nose, mouth, chin, complexion, etc.
2.)   Create an association between that characteristic, the face, and the name in your mind. The association may be to associate the person with someone you know with the same name, or may be to associate a rhyme or image from the name with the person’s face or defining feature.
ii.     Repetition
1.)   When you are introduced, ask for the name to be repeated. Use the name yourself as often as possible (without overdoing it!). If it is unusual, ask how it is spelled, or where it is comes from, and if appropriate, exchange cards - the more often you hear and see the name, the more likely it is to sink in.
2.)   Also, after you have left that person’s company, review the name in your mind several times. If you are particularly keen you might decide to make notes.

c.      Summary

i.       The methods suggested for remembering names are fairly simple and obvious, but are quite powerful. Association either with images of a name or with other people can really help recall of names. Repetition and review help it to sink in.
ii.     An important thing to stress is practice, patience, and progressive improvement in remembering names.

3.     Remembering Words, Lines and Speeches

a.      There are two main techniques for remember quotations and lines:

i.       Repetition
1.)   Professional actors are said to learn lines most effectively by rereading a play or parts in a play many times over a short period. As an example, they may read something to be remembered 5 to 10 times a day over 4 days.
ii.     Keyword/Journey System
1.)   An alternative approach using mnemonics is to use the journey system, with a stop for each line.
2.)   At each stop you can either code the key images or words, or can adopt a technique where you associate each word in the line.

4.     Remembering Numbers

a.      Using mnemonic systems, remembering numbers becomes extremely simple.

b.     There are a number of approaches, depending on the types of numbers being remembered:

i.       Short numbers
1.)   These can be stored in a number of ways:
2.)   The easiest, but least reliable, is to use simple Number/Rhyme images associated in a story.
3.)   A simple peg system can be used, associating numbers from e.g. the Number/Rhyme System, organized with, e.g.. the Alphabet system.
4.)   More accurately, they can be remembered as one or a few images using the Major system, or as e.g. one image in the Dominic System.
ii.     Long numbers (e.g. Pi)
1.)   This can be remembered using the Journey System. At a simple level, numbers can be stored at each stop on the journey using e.g. the Number/Shape system. The amount of digits stored at each stop can be increased initially by using either the Major System or the Dominic Method, and enhanced still further by using simple techniques to Expand Memory Systems.
2.)   Using all the simple techniques in concert, there is no reason why you should not be able to store a 100 digit number with relatively little effort. Using the more powerful systems, holding it to 1000 digits might not be too much of a challenge.

5.     Remembering Telephone Numbers

a.      These can be remembered simply by associating numbers from e.g. the Number/Rhyme system with positions in a peg system such as the Alphabet System, or the Journey System, and by further associating these with the face or name of the person whose number is being remembered.

b.     For example, to remember that Kathryn’s phone number is 735345, I can imagine myself traveling to her flat: with my destination firmly in mind, I envisage the following stops on my journey:

i.       Front door: the door has sprouted angels wings, and is flying up to heaven! (7)
ii.     Rose bush: a small sapling (tree, 3) is growing its way through the middle of the bush.
iii.   Car: some bees have started to build a hive (5) under the wheel of my car. I have to move it very carefully to avoid damaging it.
iv.   End of road: a tree (3) has fallen into the road. I have to drive around it.
v.     Past garage: Someone has nailed a door (4) to the sign. Strange!
vi.   Under railway bridge: the bees are building another hive (5) between the girders here!

J.     Resources

1.     Frances A. Yates’s works on the subject of the Art of Memory are a starting point for any contemporary study of it, even one as facile as this. They include:

a.      Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1964 & New York: Vintage Books Paperback, 1969).

b.     The Art of Memory (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1966).

c.      Theatre of the World (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1969).