The Memory HOWTO
- Version 1.0.1 -
Jamin Philip Gray
December 20, 1999 - December 23, 1999
everythingified by kaatunut
I am not a doctor, nor am I a
memory expert. I do not guarantee any of the methods in this
document. I am simply an individual who, as a hobby, trains his
memory, and would like to share the methods I have learned in the
hope that the reader may benefit from them. I also do not claim to
be an exceptional writer. I welcome any corrections to this
document, suggestions for modifications or additions, and general
comments. It should be noted that this is a work-in-progress.
Introduction and General Tips
If you are like most people, you complain about how poor your memory is.
Whether it be getting home from the grocery store and realizing you
forgot one important item out of only four that you were supposed to
get, or studying for hours for an exam and then drawing a blank when
the pencil hits the paper, or forgetting a phone number, or meeting
someone at a social gathering and five seconds after shaking his hand
you forget his name. But somehow he remembers yours. How
embarrassing! Regardless of how awful you think your memory is, it
can be improved. In fact, it can be exceptional. However, it won't
happen overnight. Memory training requires time, dedication, effort,
and interest. Some of the techniques I will share with you will have
an immediate positive effect, others will require more time and
effort, but the rewards are even greater when you master them.
The primary keys to developing a better memory are
interest, attention and observation, concentration, and
repetition. Let's look at each one in turn.
Without interest, there is no desire to learn or
remember what you learn. The things you remember best tend to be the
things you are most interested in. Have you ever met someone who had
an incredible capacity for remembering, say science facts, but when
it came to geography couldn't recall the capital of his own state?
This doesn't mean he is stupid. It probably means he has no interest
in geography and hasn't taken the time to thoroughly learn the
subject, and what he has learned he forgot quickly because of a lack
of interest in retaining the information.
and observation allow you access to more information
and thus increase the scope of what you can recall. If you are
listening to a speech and wish to recall all of the main points but
aren't giving your full attention to the speaker, chances are you
will fail at your endeavor. Likewise, if you wish to recall what
your friend was wearing at the party last weekend, but have poor
observational skills, the memory is probably weak at best and will be
difficult or impossible to recall.
All of the exercises in
this document require concentration, and the more the better.
It is best to not do these
exercises on a full stomach, as it is an impediment to concentration.
Study in an environment that most enhances your concentration. For
me, this varies. Sometimes I like to study in a quiet place with
little or no distractions. Other times, a noisy pub or coffee shop
is ideal. Do whatever works best for you.
if you want to memorize something long-term, you will have a much
better chance of success if you repeat it and study it
regularly. The techniques I will teach you will help you memorize
things faster and recall them better later, but you will likely still
need to review the things you memorize on a regular basis until they
become so ingrained in your long-term memory that you will likely
never forget them. That is the goal.
Association is the key to just about everything in this
document and for good reason. We automatically store and recall
memories through associations. One memory will remind you of
another. Sometimes we are aware of the associations taking place.
Perhaps a song will remind you of a specific person, place, or event
in your life. If you're old enough, try this one: Where were you
when you first heard that JFK was shot? Can you remember the
details? Whom were you with? What did the place look like? How did
it make you feel?
Learning to make natural associations stronger and to
form artificial associations when needed is the heart of the memory
training techniques in this document.
The first artificial association technique I'll teach
you is one of the ones that will give you practically immediate
results, and can be applied to just about anything you want to
remember. It is called "linking" and is very simple. You
associate two images by connecting them visually in a manner that
will be easy to recall at a later time. You can recall long lists of
these images by chaining the links together. i.e. link the first item
to the second, the second to the third, the third to the fourth, etc.
This may sound a bit confusing, so I'll demonstrate exactly what I'm
talking about. Let's suppose you need to do some shopping. You have
five items to purchase at the grocery store. They are:
Now visualize the first item on the list. To
facilitate recall make the images larger-than-life, funny, grotesque,
or just plain strange. So when you're picturing eggs, don't
just picture a regular carton of a dozen eggs. Make it different.
The first thing that comes to my mind is giant walking eggs. So
I picture a grocery store in my mind's eye. Running full-speed down
the aisle are a bunch of giant walking eggs! Now it's time to
link the first item with the second. The giant walking eggs are
running too fast to stop and they crash into a wall filled with glass
bottles of milk. The reason I picture glass bottles is so that
when the eggs crash into the bottles, the bottles fall to the ground
breaking into a thousand pieces, milk and glass flying everywhere.
Now to link the second item to the third. Get the first item out of
the picture. Try to keep only two items in your picture at any given
time. So now all you're concerned with is linking milk to bread.
After the jars are broken, I picture the milk flowing like a river
down the aisle towards the bread. The bread looks so delicious.
It's freshly baked, golden and crusty. Mmmmmmmm! The river of
milk crashes into the freshly baked, golden and crusty bread
making it soggy and nasty. It's so soggy that it all falls to the
floor forming a big pile of mushy, soggy dough. Along walks a noisy
chicken. It steps in the soggy pile of bread and gets stuck. It
starts squawking loudly as it tries to escape. Hearing the cries
from the noisy chicken, someone tosses the chicken an ice-cold
mountain dew thinking that will shut it up. The chicken grabs
the ice-cold mountain dew and starts gulping it down.
This process may seem very strange and perhaps a bit
difficult, but with practice it will become second nature. When you
want to remember a list of items, you'll find that you can link them
quickly and imaginatively. Perhaps you aren't convinced that this
actually works. Why don't you try it right now? I'll give you a
list of ten items. Your task is to memorize them in order using the
method of linking. Remember to make your images and links vivid.
Both are important factors. If each image is incredibly vivid and
easy to recall, but your links are weak and difficult to recall,
you've got a weak chain and will have difficulty recalling the entire
list. Okay, here are your ten items:
Linking the items together is almost like creating a
story. I'll briefly summarize the story as I see it. A black
top-hat rests on the ground. A hen jumps out of the
hat and walks to the right where it finds a big ham. It pecks
on the ham and causes it to roll to the right. The ham rolls into a
sleeping hare which wakes and darts off, charging down a hill.
Now all I see is the hill until a giant shoe drops from the
sky landing on the hill. The shoe slides down the hill and hits a
cow which is at the bottom of the hill minding it's own
business. Startled, the cow darts off and runs into a beehive,
knocking it into an ape. The ape is quite upset and so it
charges off into the nearby woods for cover.
There really is no right or wrong way of doing this.
Whatever works for you. Try creating your own story or use mine if
that helps. After creating your links, review it and see if you can
recall the entire story. Then without looking at this document see
if you can write down the ten items from the story on a piece of
paper. You might just be amazed at how easy it is to recall them.
If you do have trouble, don't despair. Go back and review the items
and visualize the links. Note the weak points in your chain and
strengthen them by making them more vivid. You'll get better and
faster at this with practice.
The method of linking is ideal for remembering ordered
lists of any sort: grocery lists, lists of things to do, books you
want to read, the major points in a speech, the presidents of the
united states, the states in alphabetical order, and so on. I'll
give more examples later on and show you how to use linking to do
amazing things with your memory. The possibilities are endless.
The ten items you memorized earlier were not chosen
randomly. They have a specific purpose which you will learn about
later. But first it is time to really amaze yourself. Think you can
remember 100 items in order? Give it a try. You don't have to
memorize these all at once. If you're busy, break it into chunks.
Try 25 today. Then add to your story tomorrow by linking the next
25. Or if you're feeling as daring as I did tackle them all right
now. However, no matter what time-frame you choose to work in, the
end result should be the same. You'll have 100 items linked together
in order. Spend some time making the links and images vivid since
these are an important 100 items. You'll likely use these again and
again in your life. I memorized this same list over nine years ago
and still use it. Here is the list (the first 10 should look
Once you have the list of 100 items memorized, give
yourself a pat on the back, but don't stop there. There is so much
you can do with this list. To insure that these 100 items stay with
you for years to come, review them on a regular basis, going through
your "story" in your mind, writing down each item. Then
check the chart above and see if you wrote the entire list without
mistakes. Now let's learn what you can do with these 100 items.
The Phonetic Alphabet and The Peg
What I am about to teach you takes a bit of time to
learn and to become proficient at but is arguably the most useful of
all the techniques discussed here. The Phonetic Alphabet is a method
for converting numbers into objects that can be easily visualized.
Initially we'll use it to recall any of your 100 objects by number,
but as you'll see later it can be used for many other purposes
including remembering long-digit numbers, dates, addresses, phone
numbers, playing cards, and the like.
I'm going to give you 10 consonant sounds for each of
the digits 0 - 9. Along with each I'll give you a helpful way to
remember the sound. With time you won't need the hints, but they
will assist you initially in quickly memorizing the code. Here it
0. Z or S (first sound of the word "zero")
1. T or D (the letter T has 1 down-stroke)
2. N (n has 2 down-strokes)
3. M (m has 3 down-strokes)
4. R (final sound of the word "four" is
5. L (roman numeral for 50 is L)
6. J, sh, ch, or soft g (the letter J turned around
is similar to a 6 [J 6])
7. K, hard c, or hard g (the letter K looks like
two horizontal 7's put together)
8. F or V (a cursive f has two loops like an 8)
or B (the number 9 turned
around looks like a P)
None of the vowels have any meaning at all, nor do the
letters W, H, or Y (think of the word WHY). Memorize this list,
keeping in mind that it isn't the letters that are important, it is
the sounds. For example 'kn' in the word "knife"
would translate as a 2 because it has the N sound. Here is an
exercise that you can use many times throughout the day to learn this
list thoroughly so that it becomes second nature to you. Whenever
you see a number, take each digit and convert it to it's respective
sounds. For example if you run across the phone number 453-3498,
you'd convert it to (R)-(L)-(M)-(M)-(R)-(P or B)-(F or V). And
practice going backwards. Take words and convert them to numbers.
The word "chicken" becomes 672. "Matter" becomes
314. "Document" becomes 17321. If you are having trouble
seeing this, look at the words in this form:
CHicKeN MaTteR DoCuMeN
6 7 2 3 1 4 1 7 3 2 1
If you haven't noticed it already, the 100 items you
memorized follow the phonetic alphabet code. Look back at the list.
The 89th item is FoB. The 73rd item is CoMb.
The 2nd item is heN. Now I want you to practice
something. I'm going to give you a number. See if you can recall
what item it corresponds to (no cheating, trust your memory and the
phonetic alphabet!). Here's your first number: 47. Think of the
sounds in that number. You have an R and a K or hard G. Put the
sounds together. Did you come up with RaKe? Try it with a few
With practice you will be able to recall instantly the
corresponding item when you think of a number from 1 to 100. This
isn't just a fun game, this has enormous impact on what you can do
Think of each of your 100 items as a peg (to hang
something on) or a cubbyhole (to put something in). They are storage
devices. And now you have random access to any of the 100 storage
devices. Allow me to demonstrate. Let's memorize a list of 10
items. Instead of simply linking the ten items together as we did
with the grocery list, we're going to place each one on a peg. Here
are the 10 items:
probably immediately figured out that these are keywords that
represent each of the 10 commandments (Exodus 20 for your reference).
Now let's place each of them on a peg. The first one is "gods."
We want to associate that with "hat" which is our first
peg. Use whatever association strikes your fancy. I'm picturing
Zeus, Aphrodite, Cupid, and others descending from heaven. And guess
what? They're all wearing silly top-hats. For the second I picture
a hen bowing down in front of an idol. Note that weren't not linking
each of the commandments to each other, we're linking them to the
corresponding peg. For the third I picture a big ham with a name-tag
that says in bright bold letters, "BOB." My ham now has a
name. For the fourth I picture a hare all dressed up, going to
church. Number 5 is a rather silly image but hard to forget. My
parents are rolling down a hill ("Aaaasssss yooouuuuuu
wisshhhhhhhhhhh!"). For number 6 I
imagine myself killing a shoe. I'm stabbing a knife repeatedly into
it yelling horrible things. The seventh is, well, an amusing image.
I'll leave it to your imagination. For number 8, we have a man
stealing a beehive, running off with it. For the ninth I'm picturing
and ape with a nose like Pinocchio's, growing longer and longer. And
for the final commandment, I'm picturing myself coveting a friends
woods. I've always thought it would be a joy to live in the forest,
so this isn't hard to visualize for me. So there you have it. These
are just suggestions. Please use whatever images most strike you and
are easiest for you to remember. If you have some trouble making the
associations, think BIG, GROTESQUE, HUMOROUS, and just plain WEIRD.
You can probably come up with much better images and associations
than the ones I mentioned; these were just the first things that came
to my mind. Now if you want to recall the 5th
commandment, think of your pegs, and you'll recall the number 5 is
hill. You'll then see your parents rolling down the hill (or
whatever image you choose), and you'll remember that the 5th
commandment is to honor your mother and father. You may be concerned
that once you've used your first 10 pegs for the 10 commandments, you
can't use them for anything else. Not so, my friend. The human mind
has an amazing capacity for keeping things straight. You can use
your first 10 pegs again for another list. You'll be able to keep
them straight and the images won't be cluttered. Practice these
techniques and you will be amazed. You can now name off items in a
list in order, out of order, by number, or even in reverse. Want to
name the 10 commandments in reverse order? No problem. Think of
your tenth peg. Woods. Coveting woods. Then recall your ninth
peg, ape. Ape with a nose like Pinoccio's. Thou shalt not lie! And
the phonetic alphabet combined with linking you can quite easily
memorize strings of numerical digits. There are hundreds of
practical uses for this (and reciting pi
to 200 decimal places makes a great party stunt). For me the most
practical of all is the memorization of phone numbers. Keep in mind
everything is done through associations, so make yours powerful.
When memorizing a phone number, I create a few images that represent
the number. Then I associate the first link of the chain with the
person (or entity) to whom the number belongs. I'll give an example.
I would use phone numbers that I have actually memorized before, but
I'm afraid you would slashdot them, so we'll keep it fictitious.
Let's suppose I have a friend named Ralph. The thing that strikes me
about Ralph is that he loves baseball. I'll use that fact as a
starting point for my link. His phone number is 471-2398. First
thing that comes to mind is "ragged gnome beef." So I
picture Ralph at the baseball game as he is wont to do, kicking a
ragged gnome doll all
around the field which happens to be covered with huge mounds of
of us (including myself) could stand to improve our memory of names
and faces. I cannot count the number of times I have met someone and
within seconds of hearing his or her name, I have somehow managed to
forget it. The truth is that I do not have a poor memory of names.
Usually when I "forget" a person's name, I never actually
committed it to memory in the first place. In fact, I probably
didn't even fully hear it! Therefore the first step to improving
your memory of names and faces is to be intentionally observant about
the matter. Make a conscious effort when you are introduced to
someone to look at the person's face and hear the name. A good
practice is to spell a person's name when you meet them. If you
didn't hear the name the first time, or are unclear on how to spell
it, ask them to repeat it or spell it for you. Not only will they be
honoured that you actually care, but you will be practicing several
of the key elements of a trained memory that we discussed in the
beginning paragraphs of this document. If you have the opportunity
to converse with the person you have met, use their name during the
conversation, when appropriate.
extend your observations to the physical characteristics of the
person. Study the face, nothing details such as eye-color, forehead,
chin, nose, cheeks, facial hair, complexion. Make a special note of
any peculiarities, blemishes or otherwise outstanding features.
Observe the type of clothing he or she wears, the height. Does the
person speak with an accent? Note any observations about their
personality you may gather while listening and watching. Later you
can discard any extraneous observations that are irrelevant.
order to remember the person's name when you seem them at a later
date, associate the person's name with his or her features. This is
a lot of fun. :) It's sort of my private game I play when I meet
people. I get to eye them, observe them, find something odd or
distinctive about them, and then associate that feature with the
name. If I met a man named John Webster who has bushy hair and
piercing eyes, I might picture him cleaning toilets (john) with his
bushy hair. His hair might also remind me of a web. Then I couple
that with his piercing eyes which stare at me. Web-stare...sounds
like Webster. This whole process sounds insane, and it is. There is
no right or wrong way of doing it. Whatever helps you remember.
Here are some tips on how to find a tie-in to the features:
the name of the person with someone you already know or a famous
the name with an object (as I did with John - toilet)
the name with sound alike words or rhyme
is just the tip of the iceberg. I hope to extend this section at
will now show you how to calculate (rapidly with practice) the day of
the week for any given date from September 14th, 1752 (the
day the Gregorian calendar was made official in America and England)
to the indefinite future. Here is the system:
days of the week are numbered:
you must memorize a key value for each of the 12 months. You
could use the peg system, or any other system to memorize these 12
the final set of values you will have to remember are the century
Now you will be keeping a
running total of a series of numbers. First, take the last two
digits of the year as your initial number. Divide that number by 4
and discard the remainder. Add the result to your initial number.
Then add the century value. Next add the key value for
the month in question. Then add the day of the month. Now divide
the grand total by 7. The remainder is all that counts.
we want to know what day of the week December 25th, 1999
Last two digits of
Divided by 4 (discarding
Century Value: 5
Key Value for
of Month: 25
by 7: 22 with a remainder
Our answer is: 0 (Saturday)
Now for some shortcuts which will speed up the math. Observe that
all we are concerned with is the remainder after dividing the total
by 7. Since we're adding a sum of numbers, we never have to add a
number greater than 6. Any time we are adding a number, we can
subtract the largest multiple of 7 that is not greater than that
number. And any time our running total reaches a number greater than
6, we can again subtract the largest multiple of 7 that is not
greater than our running total. Knowing the multiples of 7 up to 98
will greatly improve your speed. If you know your multiplication
tables, you know the multiples of 7 through 84. Now just remember
that 91 and 98 are also multiples of 7 and you're set. Let's do the
previous example using this shortcut to our advantage.
EXAMPLE #2 (#1 with a shortcut applied)
we want to know what day of the week December 25th, 1999
Last two digits of
year: 1 (98 is a multiple
of 7, so we subtract it from 99)
Divide year by 4
(discarding remainder): 3
(21 is a multiple of 7 so we subtract it
running total is now 9 which is 2 more
multiple of 7, so we'll just use 2 as
running total: 2
Key Value for
of Month: 4 (21 is a
multiple of 7 so we subtract it from 25)
by 7: 1 with a remainder
Our answer is: 0 (Saturday)
The next shortcut is obvious, but practical. I typically calculate
days of the week for the year I am in (and often for the next year).
I do this often enough that I unintentionally memorize the first
three steps. The first three steps are year-specific. If you cache
the result of the first three steps, you'll never have to do the math
for that year again. For 1999, the result is 2 (see the first three
steps of example #2. So in practice, if I wanted to know the day of
the week that Christmas falls on this year I wouldn't have to do any
math for the first bit. I'd just start my running total with 2, then
add 1 and 4 to it to get 7. Then the day of the week is apparent
about Leap Years:
If the last two digits of a year are divisible by 4 with no
remainder, they are a leap year, and you must subtract 1 from the key
values for January and February. Other months are
unaffected. Years ending in 00 (the last year in a century*) such as
1800, 1900, and 2000 must be divisible by 400 in order to be a leap
year. Thus 1800 and 1900 are not leap
years, while 2000 is. Even though such years are the last year in a
century technically, for our purposes we are not dealing with
centuries, but rather with sets of 100's such as the 1800's and the
1900's. Therefore 1900 should be treated as an ordinary year (not a
leap year) in the 1900's.
* (2001 is the first year in the 21st century and 3rd
millennium. This is due to the fact that that there is no year 0 in
the Gregorian calendar. It went from 1 B.C. to 1 A.D. So the first
century was from the 1st year of our Lord, to the 101st
year of our Lord.
Now let's do an example of a date that is affected by the leap year:
EXAMPLE #3 (Leap Year)
Last two digits of
year: 5 (91 is a multiple
of 7, so we subtract it from 96)
Divide year by 4
(discarding remainder): 3
(21 is a multiple of 7 so we subtract it
running total is now 8 which is 1 more
multiple of 7, so we'll just use 1 as
running total: 1
Century Value: 0
Key Value for
February: 5 (subtract 1
since February is a month affected by the leap year.)
of Month: 5 (7 is a
multiple of 7 so we subtract it from 12)
by 7: 1 with a remainder
Our answer is: 4 (Wednesday)
will now show you how to memorize the order of a pack of cards. You
will also be able to recall the exact position of any card in the
deck. This doesn't have any real practical application that we are
aware of, but it makes a terrific stunt. And the system can be
applied to just about any game in which knowing what cards have
fallen is advantageous. The system is simple enough, but requires a
fair amount of practice and dedication in order to master it. Each
card in the pack (of 52 standard playing cards) is given a picture.
The system for the cards Ace through 10 of each suit is as follows.
The word begins with the sound that the suit begins with and ends
with a sound that matches the phonetic alphabet. For the Jacks, the
word begins with the sound of the suit and rhymes (or nearly rhymes)
with "jack." For the Queens, the word begins with the
sound of the suit and rhymes with queen. And for the Kings, the word
is simply the suit itself. This may be a bit confusing but should
make sense as you look at the chart below:
Clubs Hearts Spades Diamonds
Ace Cat Hut Suit Date
2 Cane Hone Sun Dune
3 Comb Home Seam Dam
4 Core Hair Sore Door
5 Kill Hail Sail Doll
6 Cash Hedge Sash Ditch
7 Cook Hog Sock Dock
8 Cave Hoof Safe Dive
9 Cob Heap Soap Dope
10 Case Hose Sauce Dose
Jack Crack Hack Shack Deck
Queen Cream Heroine Spleen Dream
King Club Heart Spade Diamond
Learn this chart well. Practice it until you can quickly see the
image for each card. To apply this substitute the card itself with
it's associated image. If you're going through the deck to memorize
it, you can use the link system to link your 52 images together.
When you're done going through the deck you'll have the entire thing
memorized in order. Even more impressive is to use the peg system.
Stick each card in the appropriate cubbyhole (remember those 100 pegs
you memorized?). Start by sticking the first card in hat, the second
in hen, and so on. Then you'll be able to name the position of any
card in the deck, or recall which card is at a given position.
Conclusion and call for your input
for taking the time to read my essay. I hope that the techniques
I've shown you will help you to improve your memory and will prove
useful. I welcome any comments, including spelling/grammatical
changes, suggestions for additions or modifications of any kind, and
anecdotes about your personal experience with memory training. Feel
free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright, Credits, and Suggested further reading
Copyright 1999 by Jamin Philip Gray. Feel free to
distribute this document provided you leave the copyright and
Most of the techniques presented here were not
developed by me. I highly recommend reading the following books for
more information on the exciting subject of memory training:
How to Develop an Exceptional Memory
Morris Young, M.D. And Walter Gibson.
Wilshire Book Company. 1962.
How to Develop a Super Power Memory
by Harry Lorayne. Fell Publishers, Inc. 1990.
Kevin Trudeau's Mega Memory
by Kevin Trudeau. William Morrow and Company, Inc. 1995.
Super Memory, Super Student: How to Raise your Grades in 30 Days
by Harry Lorayne. Little, Brown and Company. 1990.