The following information, ideas, and thoughts arrived too late to be included in the main body of this short course. Future updates will include this material. These ideas have been used as examples of how you can use your memory.
It might not be too surprising to note that there is a significant link between good nutrition and a powerful memory. After all, the building blocks of the brain are organic, the electrical signals are produced from the body. The results are that the better you eat the better you are able to perform.
This goes the same for water. Carla Hannaford, Ph.D., in Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All In Your Head; says that the brain is between 75% and 90% water! Which means that if you get dehydrated your memory and attention will suffer. And don’t wait until you are thirsty - by that time it is too late! If you want to be at peak fitness, drink 6 pints minimum a day.
And that whole thing about coffee draining your water supplies when you drink it? Your body will get used to it so if you enjoy coffee, from a water point of view, at any rate, its fine. I am not saying this is the case from every point of view and coffee does have other nasty effects.
In a controlled study co-written by Gordon Winocur, Ph.D., a senior scientist at the Rotman Research Institute in Toronto and a psychology and psychiatry professor at the University of Toronto, rats who were fed a diet consisting of 40% fat--similar to what many Americans eat-- showed reduced cognitive function. "[The reduced ability] was widespread, and it ran the spectrum of cognitive functions--memory, spatial ability, rule-learning and so on," says Winokur, whose study was published recently in the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. Rats that ate a diet high in saturated fat suffered more impairment than those who ate mainly unsaturated fat. (psychology today, July 2001)
So lets produce a nutrition list.
- Red grapes
- Red apples - Kale
- Brussels sprouts
- Alfalfa sprouts
- Red bell peppers
- Brewers or nutritional yeast
- Nuts and seeds
- Wheat germ
- Dairy products
- Lean meat and poultry
- Whole grains
- Spinach and leafy greens
Source: MSNBC research
Having done some further research on the matter, the first appearance of using placement to secure memory items seems to have come by a Greek poet named Simonides in 477 BC. It was this poet who was the only survivor when a roof collapsed that killed all the guests at a large banquet he was attending. Location, therefore, became an important key to memory Roman generals used the same techniques to remember the names of their soldiers and villagers - Cicero notably being one of them.
But don’t think that memory is an easy thing. If you have bought this book in the hope of a quick fix, you may well be disappointed. Remembering the early numbers and lists is easy, however, the greatest grand masters of memory on the earth spend hours a day, preparing and practicing.
It isn’t so much the recalling process which takes the time but rather it is the encoding and decoding of images, and in main competitions, you need to do so VERY quickly. They practice and train in the same way as an Olympic athlete would do and take it as seriously. However, at not much more than £3000 prize money, you wouldn’t make a living from it. However, you can make a living once you win and then secure a book deal! The alternative is that you incorporate memory techniques into your everyday life, or even better in your stage performances. A little later are some ideas for performances.
Obviously, it would be impractical to include here a full list of all the words that you might want to learn in any language, let alone all the languages in the world, so I am afraid you will have to buy your own vocab book! - I recommend one which breaks down vocab into groups. So why vocab? Well vocabulary words are the building blocks of language. A lot of time is spent in schools teaching correct grammar, however, it won’t help you to know the structure of a foreign language if you don’t know the words to use. And once you have the confidence to speak the words it is amazing how quickly grammar follows with a little practice.
Your brain before teenage years is very adaptive, especially towards language. During the teen years, the neural pathways that are necessary for language and susceptible to new sounds in language have become established. The result is that it is hard after about the age of 18 to learn a foreign language without overlaying your own accent. It also suggests that it is harder to learn another language in later years - BUT NOT IMPOSSIBLE!
Most language is learned as children, and it is learned by repetition - one could say that language emerges from random sounds. For a child who is having difficulties language development techniques advise parents to repeat back to the child what he or she has said. However, once a language has developed then this is a very ineffective way of learning anything. As has already been mentioned, and will be discussed a little later on, repetition and keeping the ‘word on the lips’ only reinforces the word in short-term memory and doesn’t place it in long-term memory
where it belongs.
The normal techniques for language learning are based on repetition, they are ineffective, they are slow, and they don’t deal with genders!!!! So how many words can you hope to retain? Well, the average human being has a vocabulary of around 12 thousand words, though there is no official figure for to get a proper answer you would need to interview all people from all cultures and find the average. For a foreign language, you may be talking around 5000. You can hope to learn competently around 20 to 30 words a day.
That means that to get to a language that you can consider yourself fluent in you will be looking at around 6 to 12 months of daily work. That seems an awful lot, and the scary thing is that what happens if you forget all the preceding work? When I was younger trying to learn French that was often the problem - I would learn the vocab for the vocab test, and get full marks. But I would have forgotten it all by the time I got to the summer exam so flunked! That's because I didn’t use a system but tried the repetition method. I was so good at repeating it that I found that I could recite it onto the test paper.
The first thing to do is to recognize that a foreign word, unlike the words of our native language, are similar to numbers in the fact that they are sounds that don’t make a lot of sense to us. What we need to do is to turn those sounds into recognizable clues to the foreign word we are learning. This means finding substitutions. It sounds complicated and the instructions below may seem a little long-winded, but your brain works at lightning speed and will get the hang of it soon enough.
Lets take the French word for window, fenetre. This is how you do it: break it down into its phonic (sound) parts .... Fan-ate-raw. Simply imagine a giant fan eating raw meat. Another French word - La tete - meaning head. Now I know that the state is a gallery, so I put a header image, giant-sized, in the state gallery.
That’s all well and good, but what about all these genders. That is where your location map comes in - and you should use a real town that is well known to you for this one or else develop a very strong virtual map. Divide your town up with clear areas, and choose one for feminine, one area for masculine, and (if needed) one area for neuter, and one area especially for verbs. Instead of just imagining the key phrase you should place it in the area of your town. So La fenetre would appear in the feminine part of town.
Take for example my home town of Blackburn. There is the shopping center, the cathedral area, a park, and an indoor market. The shopping center is male, the cathedral female, the market neuter, and all the verbs are rooted (scuse the pun) in a very fine park. What makes this system so effective is that for review purposes you can simply stroll around your town spotting all of your words that you have stored during the course of the learning session. And once a week you can recall all the words you know so far. Sometimes the word changes as it is conjugated or pluralised or whatever. Simply add a short story to your image.
And spelling? Oddly, this is how in school we are often taught to learn but for this, we can go back to childhood. Spelling doesn’t really get sorted out for 7 years or so - especially in English! There are so many rules you can be swamped. One thing at a time, learn the words. And then once you have them under your belt you can begin to understand their spellings. This is where it is useful to have a little knowledge because many European words, for example, have the same origins, it is just that they are spelled differently as they have evolved in different countries. So the sounds are similar though spellings aren’t the same.
Set yourself a target, get a vocab book and go for it - 20 words (start easy) a day for the next month. This system though can also be used for medical or vet students who need to learn latin names for bones etc!
Remembering Names and faces.
This is the something which many people struggle with. Or rather think they have trouble with. How many times do you hear, or experience people saying ‘I have forgotten their name’. Interesting - because people rarely forget a face! You know, perhaps years later after meeting a person just the once, that you have met them before.
Names, like foreign words and numbers, have something of the intangible about them. So we use the substitution method again. But first, there is something that you can do even before you start to make changes to people’s names.
A name is perhaps the most precious thing that someone will give you. It permits you to stay in contact perhaps or invokes a sense of formality or informality. They deserve you to listen to it. But how can you take that a stage further? Spell the name. Focus on it. And spell it. Out loud. ‘Let me get that right ... Gray - is that with and a or an e?’ Chances are the person will not be offended because you are taking an interest in his or her name.
And it will help you to remember it.
Secondly, without sounding as though you have lost a marble or two, repeat their name. Use the doubling in time rule to recall their name. When you say goodbye, say ‘goodbye Mr Gray’ as one last reminder to yourself. The next stage is for you to decide what to do with the name. Is it obvious to you, or do you need, like in a foreign language, to make a substitution. With my name, Gray, it is easy. Pretty mono- chrome. But for my wife - she is Flaxman (well was anyway). Flax is a cotton, a flaxman would gather the flax. So imagine someone gathering in the cotton.
Harder names - Dimbleby. Dim - bull- bee. A rather thick bull, who is being irritated by a bee perhaps. Again, use your own links and ideas. A couple of tips. As you get used to using this system, don’t worry about using the same image for the same name each time. When you come across a name which similar sounding don’t worry about using a simple image - So Richard and Richards will have the same image, but you will find that because of the fact you have recalled just one bit of information the crucial differences will follow. If you have a name like Jameson, then use an image for James (A pair of pajamas springs to mind!) and because it is the son of, have a smaller pair of trousers next to it! The more you practice, the better you will become.
The next step .... Attaching a face to the name. Now that you have the key name worked out, you need to attach it to that face. What you need to do at this stage is to get used to looking at faces. Each face is recognizable because of the ways it is both proportioned, shaped aged and marked. Learn to observe those points. So if someone has a cleft chin, take the picture of their name, and link it dramatically to that feature - perhaps have whatever your picture pouring out of their chin like water coming from a rock. Learn to spot the most noticeable feature and use that as a link. But that is only the start.
As you get to know the person more they will reveal certain traits of their character. Add these to your image so if they are a person who laughs loudly, imagine your image perhaps shaking with laughter. Or if they are a stormy tempered person, then your image should have a storm involved in it. And if they reveal any other information about themselves, that too should be added to the image in a humorous way If you get really good at this you could take it to the next level. Next time you have a meeting with 50 or more people, take time before the meeting starts to say hello to all of them. Then just as the meeting starts to ask all of them to stand and then proceed to recall the names of all the people present.
A date trick
This is fun to do. Claim to your audience that you have memorized the whole of a year's dates and the day of the week on which they fall. Ask people to call out any date of the year (make sure that you have provided a suitable calendar first) and month, and then tell them the day of the week. This seemingly impossible task is not as hard as it sounds, and it takes just a little preparation on your own part.
Consider first that each week begins on a Sunday, and then proceed to list all the dates of the first Sunday of each month. Now, break this long number - 266315374264 will apply for the year 2005 - down into groups of 3 or 4 digits into the phonetic peg words that have been used, or even pairs. To work out the day, you know the first Sunday dates of each month, so you can work out all the other Sundays in that month just by adding 7’s, and then counting forwards from that date. Take for example 15th may. In the number sequence the first Sunday in may is the 1st, add 7, 8th, add another 7, 15th! So the 15th of may is a Sunday.
You can twist this around again so that next time you are without a convenient diary and someone wants to know the date of the third Tuesday in September, for example, you can go through to your ninth digit - which is 4th, you know that the first wasn’t a Tuesday ; Sunday to Tuesday is 2 days, so the first Tuesday is the 6th. Now add 2 weeks (14 days)to end up with the 20th September in 2005 as the 3rd Tuesday in September. All you have to do is a quick bit of mental arithmetic and a ridiculous claim and people will be amazed.
Remembering playing cards
This is another neat trick, but is fairly simple in operation. Cards are of course somewhat ambiguous (you will by now be getting used to the fact that this is true for much in our world being like that) and so you will have to give them some sort of solid imagery.
Thankfully the world of the mnemonist has come to our rescue here, and there is a well-established system. Because they are so simply and logically created you will find that you will be able to hold the information with around 30 minutes of study. The system combines the phonetic letter and number system together with the first letter of each
of the suits to create a new word and therefore memorable object. Just a word of note before I divulge this secret: the court cards.
The jacks are simply pictured as the card suit that they are. So the jack of hears is a heart.
The queens Apart from the queen of hearts (which is simply a queen) the letter of the suit has been substituted for the first letter of the word queen, and then the closest rhyme used. It's clumsy but it works!
The kings Similar to the queens, the only anomaly is the king of clubs, which again is the word, King. See over for the full details.
As usual, decide for yourself as to your own imagery. So here are a couple of fun things to do with this. First, you can memorize whole lists of cards, but to really do well you must do this in under 5 mins, which is considered average, and under 3 minutes to stand any chance against the grandmasters. But hey, 5 minutes is still good!
It is quite simple, go through your fave peg list, and associate each card in shuffled order with the peg word. But how about card counting - that is remembering what cards have already been played in a game so that you are more readily able to calculate the odds of a certain hand being possible.
It is not as hard as remembering every card in play, instead a bit of reverse psychology is used. When a card is played you imagine it ‘destroyed’ in your mind. Now you can do this with imagery - for example, run over it in a steamroller, burn it, eat it, tear it up, freeze it, feed it to a tiger, or stamp on it. Just so long as you distort the card each time. Now, if you are waiting for a certain card to appear instead of having to go through the whole deck or remember a long list of cards, just ask yourself if it has yet been destroyed. If your card is still clear of damage then you perhaps have a winning hand. If you play a number of hands, you may find that it would get confusing to use the same distortion method. So the recommendation is that you should use a different distortion ‘method’ over the course of 7 hands, before returning to the first method. This way you will keep most information in your scratch memory.
A similar trick would be for the audience to remove 5 cards from a shuffled deck. Now go through the whole deck and mentally destroy the cards. Once done lay the cards to one side, and simply go through the deck in SORTED order in your head. Each time you come to a card that you have not mentally ‘destroyed’ you can shout it out. If however you can get this last stage to below 20 seconds (which is doable - the imagination can work quick and sift images rapidly) then it is possible to go through the cards, identify and place the unburned cards into a simple 5 place peg system, and then after 20 seconds reveal all cards at one time. In this way, you could claim that your mind has organized the cards and then ‘thrown out’ the results in one go. Heighten the tension with some suitable clock countdown music.
There are other various things you can do with this. For example if you use a stacked deck you can create your own individual stack, and no one would be the wiser. Here is a nice trick. Work with a partner on the other side of a stage who knows the system, perhaps even blindfolded. Ask a volunteer to shuffle your deck. Then proceed to switch (using your fave method) the deck for your own stacked deck.
Have someone in the audience call out a number between one and 52. You could do this with a thrown ball, which bounces around a bit. Make out that this is so that it is a truly random selection and that you could have had no influence on the deck at all. The volunteer on stage then counts down the cards to that number. They are asked to look at the card, concentrate on it. You will not look at it so that you cannot be seen to be cheating.
On the other side of the stage your blindfold partner calls out (after the usual strain!) the card. They know the card of course because it was the number called out by the other volunteer from the audience. Another .... First, use a fan or other method, cards face up, to show that all the cards are different, but personally you are memorising the 3 cards, and order, BENEATH the top card. Palm off by any lift technique these 4 cards and pass the deck to a volunteer for a good shuffle. Take the pack back replacing the cards on the top of the deck. Place the deck on the table and have the volunteer cut the deck into 2 smaller decks, then tell him that you will take one deck and ask that they touch one. If he touches the deck containing the top 4 cards thank him for choosing the deck and allow him to keep it. If he chooses the other deck then remove it from the table. However you do this, the volunteer must end up with the portion that contains the top 4 cards Now ask your volunteer to remove the top card and place it in the middle of the pack of cards. Finally, ask that they carefully remove the next three cards and place them on the table. As you know these cards you can use them in another illusion, or else reveal them in whatever way you prefer.
And another ... Pre-order a packet of any 20 cards and memorize the order of the cards - in this case, it is important to use a CIRCULAR STORY METHOD to memorize the order of the cards in that the last card image links back to the first. Now you are ready.
Place a pack of cards on the table and ask a spectator to cut the cards, but not to complete the cut. Next to remove the card they have cut to and place it to one side. Next, they should complete the cut. What this does is to keep the order of the cards still in the story order, except for the one removed. Have the volunteer look at the card and remember it, and then without you touching the pack to place the card back anywhere in the pack.
Because you memorized the pack in a circular story, it doesn’t matter where the first cut is made because the order of the cards will, in a circular sense, remain the same. The removed card, however, should have fallen to the top of the pack in the story, but of course, it will now be out of order. So, to identify the chosen card simply go through the memorized pack in order from the first card and see which card doesn’t fit the story. The quick way of course is to realize that card, IMMEDIATELY BEFORE THE CARD NOW ON THE BOTTOM in the memorized sequence of the cut deck is the missing card. If you wish you can just glimpse the base card to name the missing card. Try this trick out with a simple deck of all the hearts in order backed onto all the clubs in order, and watch the movements of the missing card. So in this example, if the bottom card is the 2 of hearts, you will know that the moved card is the ace.
AND YET ANOTHER .... Palm any 3 cards from a deck and place them in your pocket (though you can do this without the palm and simply place 3 cards in your pocket before the show starts). Ask a volunteer to shuffle the pack as much as they want to and then to deal 4 cards face up onto the table. Ask them to look with you at the cards on the table and to choose just one card, but not to touch it or to give the game away in any other way. As they are doing this take some time to explain that Derren Brown uses suggestion methods to make people choose the card he wants them to, or else is able to ‘read’ the choice of a person by their body language - they must do all they can not to move and you will not influence their choice of card at all. Secretly however during this time of ‘drivel’ you are memorizing the order of the cards top to bottom. Once they have made their choice you should collect the cards IN THE ORDER IN WHICH YOU HAVE MEMORISED THEM and place them in your pocket ON TOP OF THE CARDS YOU SECRETLY PLACED THEIR EARLIER. Now ask the volunteer to concentrate on their card ... As they do so remove one of the originally placed cards in your pocket - one of the three - and look at it, then place it back in the center of the pack saying, ‘not that one’.
Do the same for the next two cards. Everyone now thinks that you have just one card in your pocket whereas in reality you have the 4 cards dealt by the volunteer, and of course one of them is the choice of the volunteer. Now, with a mystical grin (or a knowing one if you can’t do mystical!) ask the volunteer for their choice of card. As soon as they tell you count down to the correct choice in your pocket and reveal it with a flourish.
3 cards done like this is pretty good .... But how about trying 9 cards in the pocket and asking for 10 to be dealt! The hardest part is not the memory of the cards, but rather the counting of cards in your pocket. To aid counting makes sure all the cards lie long edge upwards in your pocket, and each time you place your hand in your pocket pause as if feeling for the right card. In reality, you rotate the 3rd card of the volunteer's choices in your pocket by 90 degrees I upwards) - on the second ‘dip’ count a further 3 from this rotated card and rotate the sixth card, and on the third time count 4 and rotate the 10th card. This makes identification of the spectator's card smoother than counting through all 10 as you will be able to quickly identify your marker cards.
More information about how memory works ....
This will hopefully be of interest and will point you in the right directions for further development of your memory skills. Researchers at Northwestern University in the states believe that we think with the same parts of the brain that we use to perceive objects and that a vividly imagined scene or event can leave the same ‘brain trace’ as a real or experienced event. We all know just how easy it is to remember experienced events, and if we recall that event on an even vaguely regular basis the result is that we will remember it. But what exactly is going on with remembering?
Well, certain memories are just that - real engrained chemically strong bonds that operate at a purely subconscious level. Driving a car would be good example - or even talking. Talking and reading are interesting because they use iconic memory and iconic recognition. Its almost like the working memory of a car. Useable data is brought out of long-term memory and into short-term memory and then used in whatever the task is required at the time. For example reading. Each word is recognized as a whole and translated into data, then the word goes back into long-term memory. This happens automatically but only because of years of practice. It has been found by researchers that children with speech difficulties also have memory problems, and this iconic memory may be the victim.
Researchers have also found that recognition is infinitely more powerful than simply recall alone. What we are doing with a memory ‘system’ is not recalling information in its truest sense of the word. What we are doing is attaching an easily recognizable systematic key to ambiguous lists and items. As soon as you come across a word, it enables a recognition attachment to another object. That information alone should help you in the development of your own systems.
Having a good memory though could in the end save you time. An experiment was conducted in America between two sets of first graders - American and Chinese. In a timed test, the Chinese children completed 3 times more problems than did the American children. It seems that the reason for this was that they repeat basic skills more often, which meant that they knew the answers to basic problems without needing to recalculate them each time.
This frees up space in the brain for sorting through the other areas of the problem, which makes the brain overall more effective. This principle is how a genius would think, as they would learn to apply solved problem from one area of life to another area with little thought. If you practice your memory, some mnemonists suggest, you will find that you are able to encode and decode almost at a subconscious level - all information you hear, see or read. I have yet to meet the person for whom this is true.
Oh, and those 1st graders? By the third grade they were so way behind that they never caught up!
Training in observation.
This technique may help you if you find that you have difficulties in being able form images or concentrate on
material. I have found that people tend to fall into one of two camps before they start to develop memory. Either they are people who concentrate very well on material but are unable to create imaginative links with a material; or else they find their mind wandering at precisely those times when they would prefer to be concentrating.
Both of these situations is of course unacceptable and unwelcome!
As a youth worker, I have often played a game called ‘kims game’ which will be familiar to you. A large number of objects are placed on a table or on a tray and the players are asked to remember as many of the objects as possible. Without a memory system this task is very difficult.
Before we go any further I would like you to play this game. Find a part of your house which has a large number of items - cluttered dressing table for example! - or if not find someone who can gather the objects for you-you need
about 20. You could get your own, however it may influence this quick experiment.
Now, spend just two minutes trying to remember all these items. DON’T USE ANY MEMORY SYSTEM! NOR
SHOULD YOU TOUCH ANY ITEM. JUST USE YOUR EYES. Now, close your eyes and try to recall as an image in front of you all those items. How did you do? Chances are you were only able to recall 25 to 50% of all the items. Of course by now if you were to use a memory system you would expect to be able to recall 100% of the items, but that is not the point of this little test. What we are looking for is the type of brain you have - do you concentrate or are you a dreamer.
Please realise however, that one is not preferable to the other. Infact you need a balance of both to succesfully
memorise. By way of explanation, lets take a look at the two different types of thinker. if your mind wanders whilst trying to undertake study, then you will not be able to hold and study the information completely, distractions will always spoil your study time and memory formations. And your own imagination is your worst enemy! You dream your study time away, and possibly procrastination (putting it off) is the way it shows itself.
If you are able to concentrate you may find that you are able to have a very productive session of study and be able to accurately recall the information you have studied .... For a time at least. But this information has no solidity about it - as you have learned so far linguistic information is insufficient and to be retained you must create an image which is memorable and solid. Otherwise, you will not be able to link it to other information.
So which are you? The previous experiment will have shown this.
As you tried to remember the objects did you find yourself able to concentrate, but then had difficulties recalling the information? If that is the case then you are a focused individual - but your creativity needs a boost. If as you tried to remember the objects you found your mind flickering backward and forwards from sounds, other thoughts, cares of the things going on in your life - even only short other images - you are a dreamer. Perhaps you got (or get) into trouble at school or work for being distracted. Perhaps you have been told you are a dreamer in a negative way. This is a great asset however! Your creativity means that you are able to create memorable images, think in a way which is creative and great for solving problems. But your concentration needs a boost.
Please now repeat the experiment. You may use the same items. But this time work around the objects from one,
moving in an orderly fashion to the next one. Concentrate on where the objects are, and this time touch them, tap
them (do they make a sound). Also, what purpose do they have. Imagine yourself using the object. Don’t be
distracted by other thoughts if you can help it.
Your recall may still not be 100%, however it will now be much greater. Without using any memory systems you have improved your memory. Those who concentrate will have used creativity in being able to imagine using the items, picturing the items in their minds; those who are able to be creative but have problems concentrating, the actual act of picking it up WILL HELP YOU TO CONCENTRATE because you are engaging more of your senses.
There are some techniques that will help both sorts of people.
Firstly, take some time out a few times a day to really be! By that I mean to concentrate on the here and now, without focus shifting to other thoughts. This should start once a day with trying this for 5 minutes, although for the rest of the day this would probably be impractical and just a few moments will be sufficient.
Find a place where you can be comfortable. Do not permit yourself to think of anything else apart from the here and now. Notice the five sense working - smell, sight, sound, touch and taste. What can you sense around you. What are those sounds. Keep focusing, not judging or evaluating any of it. By that I mean not deciding if you like it, don’t like it, or what it could be. Just recognise it. At first, you may only be able to do this for a few seconds, this is not unusual, and with practice, you will be able to increase this time. On the other occasions throughout the day try to repeat the procedure, but not for as long.
Secondly, take some time during the day, perhaps even with the same moments as noted above, to recognize that around you and the to be creative with it. Is that sound that you can hear a car, what kind of car is it? Would it be a car you would like to own ... What would it feel like to drive such a car! Where would you travel? This is the exact opposite of the concentration exercise. Partnering these two exercises will
1. Encourage you to be able to concentrate on your work at hand
2. Be creative with those images and form creative memorable links and ideas.
At the end of the day recall as many of these experiences as you can - hopefully you will be amazed. When it comes to using your memory systems, whatever they are, they will benefit from your ability to imagine, and create memorable scenes and images, as well as be being able to concentrate on the formation of those images without being distracted by other thoughts. This mind work out a few times a day will strengthen this ability.