How to memorize numbers (an intro)


Want to improve your ability to memorize numbers? It’s not terribly hard.

The first step is to recognize is that the mind is simply not programmed to remember numbers. Your mind is good at remembering people, places, pictures, and stories, but there’s normally no good reason for it to remember strings of digits.

For example:

Memorize numbers

Hmm. Not very memorable, is it?

The fact is, you probably won’t remember this ten-digit string just by repeating the numbers to yourself over and over.

But check this out:

Memorize numbers by chunking

It’s now probably a little bit easier to learn if you break it into smaller chunks and think of it as a telephone number. For some reason, it seems like it’s easier to remember “sixty-five twelve” instead of “6512”. This is called chunking.

But what will help even more is if you can make the numbers memorable in some other way. Again, the mind isn’t programmed to remember numbers, but it is, obviously, programmed to remember things that are memorable.

So let’s turn the numbers into images and use a memory palace.

Start with a simple memory palace that has just three locations: Front door, living room, kitchen.

OK, so how do we tie the numbers to those three locations? A very elementary practice is just to be creative and see what those numbers automatically remind you of.

Location 1

To begin with 919, everyone knows 911, but 919 just repeats the wrong number at the end (it repeats 9 instead of 1).

Imagine that you’re standing on the front porch. The house number on the front door says “919”, and as you try to open the door you scratch your hand, so you almost want to call 911 but it’s not quite that bad.

Location 2

What do we do with 279?

Well, let’s put a fireplace in the living room (one of the most natural things to put there). To tie the numbers to that, we might think, “2 + 7 = 9.” Maybe the living room is 9 feet tall, with a 2-foot-tall fireplace plus a 7-foot chimney above it.

Memorize numbers using mnemonics

fireplace + chimney = height of room

Location 3

In the kitchen we have 65 12.

“Twelve” automatically makes me think of eggs. If you visualize the numbers 6 and 5, you might notice that 5 looks a lot like 6, except it’s broken on one side. So it’s almost like an egg hatching:

memorize numbers with visual mnemonics

So there you have it. Front door: 919. Living room: 279. Kitchen: 6512.

Yes, that’s a lot of work just to remember one phone number. Unless you really need to remember it for some reason, it’s more practical just to put the number in your contacts and not have to worry about it again.


More advanced number mnemonics

What if there was a more efficient way to remember numbers? What if you could remember phone numbers as soon as they were given to you?

What if you could look at this string of digits, and based on mnemonics you have created ahead of time for those digits, you could just commit them to memory almost immediately?

memorize long numbers

There is a way. There are actually multiple well-documented systems that many mnemonists use to memorize strings of numbers quickly, and pretty much anyone can learn how to do this.

For more about that, check out advanced number mnemonics.