Mnemonic Startup Guide
This mnemonics beginner’s guide is designed to be like a mini-course for anyone who is interested in accelerated learning.
The course is in eight lessons, each one of which teaches an important skill for accelerated learning. By the end of the course, you’ll be fully armed to learn almost anything you want to learn, faster than ever.
Lesson 1: Mnemonics
I’m going to state a very obvious fact: Our brains have a very easy time remembering things that are memorable.
For example, if you were to wake up on a park bench tomorrow morning and see your childhood home being torn apart by an enormous two-headed platypus, you probably wouldn’t forget that event as long as you lived.
But if I tell you a phone number, a historical date, or even a few lines of poetry, you’re not likely to remember those as well. Why is that?
Quite simply, your brain doesn’t like those things as much. This isn’t meant as an insult, but your mind simply isn’t wired to memorize quotes when you hear them, to keep historical facts on organized mental shelves, or to store numbers permanently as soon as you come across them.
Not yet, anyway.
But we can change that, and it all starts with recognizing the fact that the brain doesn’t like boring stuff.
What we have to do is actually change information into interesting, memorable stories and images.
The image of your house being torn apart would stay in your mind forever because it was strange, impressive, and related to things that are personally important to you. So what if all important information was like that? What if we could turn bland, boring facts into stories that are so memorable that they are immediately put into long-term memory?
Getting started with this is our task for today. Turning non-memorable information into memorable information is called mnemonics, and it’s a skill we’ll be developing in these eight lessons.
In this first lesson, you’ll work on some of the essential principles for creating effective mnemonics, plus you’ll start building your own mnemonic toolbox that you’ll use in every accelerated learning project.
First exercise: What do you find memorable?
Let’s do a little self-exploration to discover what it is that we find memorable.
We all have memories, so obviously we are able to memorize. But what sorts of things is your brain telling you that it actually likes to remember?
Think back through your life, both in the past year and to your distant childhood. What events stuck in your mind? Which aspects of those events are most vivid in your memory?
Here are some ideas to fuel this exercise. Spend a little time exploring each of the following:
– The first birthday party you can remember celebrating.
– A piece of furniture in a house you’ve lived in.
– Funny habits of a friend you haven’t seen in years.
– Your favorite gift you’ve received.
– The moment in your life that you were the most startled.
– A location from your childhood that you only visited 1 or 2 times (a park, a relative’s house, etc.)
Really explore the details in your head. Make a few notes as to which details you remember and which details simply don’t seem to be in your memory.
These details are gold. Here’s where your mind is telling you what it actually likes to remember, without even trying. If we can replicate this with learning projects, the sky is the limit as to what we can remember!
Let’s start applying this.
I want to go ahead and apply these mnemonic principles as quickly as possible. This will not only convince you that remembering boring information intuitively is truly possible, it will also give you some of the first mnemonic tools that you may use in your learning projects for the rest of your life.
Perhaps the best place to start is numbers. Aren’t they the most boring, abstract things in the world? But I’m about to prove that they don’t have to be.
If we find a way to associate every number with something more interesting, we can remember numbers without even trying very hard. For example, for me, the number 82 is a fan. Any time I need to remember the number 82, which is abstract and non-memorable, I can instead think of a fan, which is tangible and visual.
So we’re going to start associating numbers with objects in our mind. In fact, we’ll eventually have an object for every single number from 0 to 99.
Let’s make this as easy as possible. The point is that when you see a number, you should immediately be able to read it as an object.
When you look at the digit 3, your mind might simply try to interpret it as the abstract idea of “threeness”… which is not naturally very interesting. But let’s use some imagination when looking at the shape of the digit. The two curves of the number 3, pressed together as they are, could be interpreted as pursed lips. And lips are something physical, something we see and experience in the real world, unlike the abstract concept of the number 3. That makes the idea of “lips” more memorable than the idea of “three”.
In fact, we are going to turn all the digits, from 0 to 9, into body parts. For this lesson, let’s stick with 1, 2, and 3. Imagine 1 as a single finger (maybe a jabbing index finger), and with some imagination, you can picture 2 as a nose.
Now, when you have to remember a random number, you can picture a body part. For example, let’s say you’re at a small-town hotel and you’re staying in room 2C. If you turn the 2 into a nose and the C into a cat, you can nickname your room “the cat’s nose” (2 = nose, C = cat). Or if you’re staying in 3A, you can imagine kissing an apple (3 = lips, A = apple).
Unfortunately, this has limited practicality when you want to memorize longer numbers. Imagine you have to remember the number 123312231. It’s a bit repetitive to have to remember “finger, nose, lips, lips, finger…” and so on. Using body parts like this is great if you have to remember one digit at a time, but for longer numbers, there’s actually a whole “language” of numbers that you can use. We call this language called the Mnemonic Major System.
Let’s start with the number 3. If you turn the number sideways, it kind of looks like an M. So from now on, every time you see the digit 3, you can think of either pursed lips or the letter M.
Next, let’s take a look at the number 2. If you turn it sideways, it almost looks like the letter N. (Use a little imagination.)
So, for example, if you read the number 32, you can read it as “MN”. That’s impossible to pronounce, of course, without vowels (the letters A, E, I, O, and U), and mnemonists have decided that vowels don’t have number vowels attached to them. They can simply be used freely in between our numbers. So we’ll add some vowels in and around the digits to turn 32 into the word “menu” (32 = MN = “menu”). Similarly, we can turn the number 22, which would be “NN”, into “onion”. And the number 33, “MM”, becomes “mummy”.
Now, every time you see 22, imagine a smelly onion. Every time you see the number 33, imagine a dead body wrapped in cloth.
Now let’s move on the number 1. This is a bit more complicated. Since 1 is the most common of all of the digits, we’re going to give it multiple sounds. Visually, the number seems to stand tall, like the letter T, so that will be our main sound. But we’ll also include the closely related “d” sound and “th” sound. All these sounds are made with your tongue in the front of your mouth, so we’re grouping them together in the number 1.
So for example, the number 11 is going to be associated with a “tooth”. The first 1 turns into “t” and the second 1 turns into “th”, but it’s not too hard to get used to this.
To review, here are all the number words to memorize for today. Remember that when you see a single digit, you can turn it into a body part, but when you see two digits together, they’ll turn into a word using the Major System.
3 Pursed lips
As you look over this list *visualize* the items. Really observe these objects in your imagination. This is a great exercise in improving your memory.
Since it is very important for you to remember the association between these numbers and the associated objects, I have created a series of online flashcards for you to help you memorize them.
It probably won’t take too long, but try to make sure that as soon as you see one of these numbers, you remember its object…
…and (this is very important) that you can also remember the numbers from the objects. You need to have it both ways.
All right, assuming that’s all good, let’s try this out!
Mnemonics in real-life situations
What are some situations where you might have to remember a number? There are lots of situations.
Let’s say you’re staying at a hotel and you don’t want to have to keep looking up the number before going back to your room. Or maybe it’s the address of a place you’re driving to, or even a friend’s phone number that you don’t have time to write down.
We’ll try each of these situations out with a narrative demonstration.
You’re going to a business conference, and you’ve just checked into your hotel. Your room is on the ground floor, room 2. As you unpack your bags, hang up your clothes, and settle in, you imagine that a gigantic snotty nose is oddly lying on your bed! How gross… but memorable.
You walk out the door and make a quick mental check: What’s my room number? Ah yes, the snotty nose on my bed! Bingo, the number 2.
Next you go down to your rented car to drive to the restaurant where some other early arrivers are having a meetup. You punch the address into your phone, 2233 east 11th street, but as you go through the slow traffic, your phone starts running out of battery. No worries! To remember the street number, you just imagine running over a tooth (11). To remember the building number, you imagine an onion eating a mumy. (22-33)
But here something goes wrong. You turn onto 11th street and start searching for the restaurant, when suddenly you can’t recall the number! Even though you created a mnemonic, you can’t seem to remember what it was. But then when you see that all the building numbers start with 22, you remember the onion, and you also remember that it was eating a mummy. Phew, saved.
What happened here? You had a mnemonic, but you didn’t have a good trigger. A “trigger” is the thing that causes you to remember your mnemonic.
But it’s OK, you learn as you go along. Next time, you’ll imagine that the onion eating the mummy is actually happening at the restaurant as you drive up. That way, when you think of the restaurant, you remember the number. (Note: We’ll talk more about triggers in the next lesson.)
You park and make a mental note that your parking meter will expire in two hours, at 11:33. So you associate the parking meter’s pole with the number 11 and its screen with the number 33. It is easy: For 11 a tooth and for 33 again a mummy. We’ll imagine that there are hundreds of disembodied teeth stuck into the pole of the parking meter, and then to remember the minutes, (:33) we’ll imagine the mummy pounding on the parking meter glass from the inside. (The mummy pounding and yelling will make this more memorable.)
Finally you go in and start sharing an appetizer with a few friends. Someone new is in the crowd and wants to share contact info… but unfortunately, your phone is dead. No worries, you can commit the number to memory using your new best friend, number mnemonics.
Make sure to practice your numbers:
Then, once you’ve conquered that: