How to Learn Anything
Shortcuts to Knowledge and Understanding

4. Improving Your Memory

Content Guide

What is Memory?

The 7 Ways to Improve Your Memory

The Place System

Mind Games

Peg Words

Memorizing Poems, Speeches and Songs

Remembering People's Names

Exercise Your Mind

improving your memory

Memory Map

In today's world someone who has and uses information well is more powerful than someone who does not. This time period in the history of the world is often called the Information Age because of our focus on information. If information equals power, then memory is a tool to master that power.

There are seven main ways to improving your memory. They are:

PRACTICE Using Your Brain,


Looking for WONDER,

CREATIVELY Using All the Other 6 Ways in This List,

ORGANIZE Your Information,

Using all 5 of Your SENSES (sight, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching),

Constant Use of Memory TECHNIQUES.

How will you remember these parts to improving your memory? Think of this little story:

Picture yourself in your bedroom in the morning. You are a little tired and want to sleep in for a few more minutes, but you know you must get up so you leap out of bed with a glad cry and land right on your cat's PAW. Your cat is the boss in your home and you know your error is going to COST you big. It probably means you have to cook him his favorite meal on a silver dish for supper.

The key words are PAW and COST. PAW stands for Practising paying Attention and looking for the Wonder in your life. COST stands for Creatively Organizing and using your Senses and memory Techniques. Read the story and explanation two more times today and tomorrow and I guarantee you that you will remember these seven ways to improving your memory. The story is only a memory aid. It is quite likely that you'll soon remember the meaning of PAW and COST without needing to remember the story behind it.

Improving your memory is about improving your ability to remember facts, figures, names, and ideas. But it is more than that. Improving your memory is also about remembering stories, fond childhood memories such as your first trip, and the memories of life's lessons that you have learned from your parents, teachers and friends. It is also about creating new memories of happy times, loving times and times of learning to overcome difficulties.

There are ways to strengthen our memories, such as being in good health, daily practice of using our memories, and learning "tricks" of memory building. There are also ways to weaken our memories. We can weaken memory by ruining our health through over stress; abuse of alcohol and drugs; by living in a passive information world of television, radio and music; and by learning facts through rote memory or "tricks" without thinking about the information.

Pleasant life experiences strengthen our memories and serve us well during difficult times. Memories remind us of what is important in our lives. Visual memories of people, places and things can also help us relive moments of contentment, joy and peacefulness. For example, Viktor Frankl explains in his book Man's Search for Meaning how he used memories to survive the daily indignities and horrors of concentration camp life during World War II. People who have lost an ability to read, see or hear often speak about their use of memory to keep in touch with what is important in their lives. Memory lets you use your imagination and will power.

What is Memory?

There are many theories about what memory is, and is not. The following describes just a little bit of the controversy in this field of study. The rest of the material in this chapter will concentrate on practical methods of improving memory regardless of the actual mechanics our minds use to remember information.

Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher, was one of the first to write about memory. He described memories as facts learned, thought about, heard or seen; scientific facts, past experiences, remembering people, places and things, the passing of time, mathematical ideas and practical uses, and the process of thinking. In 86-88 B.C. the Romans had a textbook on memory techniques called Rhetorica ad Herennium. Some of those techniques are still used today. These include the place system and the exaggeration of "petty, ordinary and banal" things into the"exceptional, dishonorable, unusual, great, unbelievable or ridiculous". For example, to remember the names of North America's Great Lakes you remember HOMES (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior). But how do you remember that HOMES is the clue? Imagine a map of North America with the Great Lakes in the middle. Out of the map comes several huge HOMES growing and growing so that they actually fill the room you are sitting in. Out of the HOMES comes giant Sherlock HOMES (purposely misspelled) wearing his funny hat and cape smoking a pipe. He reminds you that the clue for the names of the Great Lakes are within the word HOMES. Ridiculous, perhaps, but memorable!

Research into memory has increased over the past decades but began thousands of years ago. The difficulty in understanding memory is that theories are constantly being developed and redeveloped using different information and are based on different assumptions. Much of this work has been done by psychologists who have often assumed that memory systems can be examined separately from other brain systems.

A standard belief is that memory happens in various stages. The first is getting information into our brain through our five senses. The second is keeping that information in our brains for later use. This stage is the most likely spot where we "forget" things depending on how important they are to us. The last stage is remembering that information when we need it.

Bolles, in his book Remembering and Forgetting, presents a recent theory that memory is an act of imagination and not a process of storing information in our brain for later use as described above. He uses modern research to support his view that we create memories over and over again whenever we remember something. To him, forgetting is a failure to recreate a memory rather than a failure to retrieve memory stored in our brain.

Some people believe that memory depends mostly on our emotions, our ability to pay attention to details and ideas, and our ability to understand what we are seeing, doing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching. These abilities, which are present in everyone to varying degrees, are lacking in computers and therefore the metaphor of the mind as a computer (or a storehouse) does not work.

Gillian Cohen summarizes the wealth of research findings this way: memory is an overloaded system. To be effective it must be selective and dynamic; link past, present and future; be able to construct hypothetical representations; be able to store both general and specific information; and recognize that memories are retrieved in different ways (spontaneous, calculated, serendipitous). She concludes that "considering how grossly it is overloaded, memory in the real world proves remarkably efficient and resilient" (p. 22).

If we have such a powerful memory, why do we forget so much? Ebbinghaus (a German scientist who was one of first to study memory from a scientific, versus a philosophic, perspective) came up with a forgetting curve. He determined this curve by studying himself and found that memory loss was 40% within 20 minutes; 58% in one hour; 62% in 8 hours; 64% in one day; 68% in 2 days and 75% in one month (Baddeley, 1982, p. 47). Others have put the numbers as 80% loss of new material within one day. Whatever the figures, it is obvious that we do not store verbatim everything we read or hear. We are selective, based on our immediate needs and our memory skills.

Yet, an example of the untapped power of our memory is given by Georgi Lozanov. He writes of Brahmans who chose special students to memorize the ancient Brahman teachings by heart. Even just one of these Vedas has 1017 hymns made up of 10,550 verses or a total of 153,826 words. Added with the other three Vedas the students had a huge volume of words to memorize. This practice was to ensure that the ancient texts could never be lost as long as one of these students were alive to write them down again should all other texts be destroyed.

We come up with many memory aids to help us improve our memory. Some of these have included: shopping lists, first-letter memory aids, diaries, the place method, writing on our hand, the story method, mentally going over a sequence of events or actions (e.g. trying to find a lost wallet!), alarm clocks, cooking timers on stoves, the peg word method, turning numbers into letters, memos, face-name associations, alphabetical searching, calendars (on walls, by phone, day timers, etc.), the string around finger, and telling other people to remember for you.

The following material will present some of the more practical long-term methods you may be less familiar with. I hope they will help you improve your memories dramatically and wonderfully.

The 7 Ways to Improve Your Memory

You may remember there are seven main ways to improving your memory. They are:

PRACTICE Using Your Brain,


Looking for WONDER,

CREATIVELY Using All the other 6 skills,

ORGANIZE Your Information,

Using all 5 of Your SENSES (sight, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching),

Constant Use of Memory TECHNIQUES.

How will you remember these parts to improving your memory? Do you remember the story from the Introduction? To remember important things you need to practice paying attention to information and details and looking for the wonder in using your brain to its fullest. Here is the story again since repetition is one form of constantly improving your memory.

Picture yourself in your bedroom in the morning. You are a little tired and want to sleep in for a few more minutes, but you know you must get up so you leap out of bed with a glad cry and land right on your cat's PAW. You do not weigh very much so your cat is not hurt but a little ticked off at your clumsiness. Your cat runs the house and you know your error is going to COST you big. It probably means you have to cook him his favorite meal on a silver dish for supper.

The key words are PAW and COST. PAW stands for Practising paying Attention and looking for the Wonder in your life. COST stands for Creatively Organizing and using your Senses and memory Techniques. Read the story and explanation two more times today and tomorrow and I guarantee you that you will remember these seven ways to improving your memory.

Improving memory is just not about using special techniques, although they are important. Memory is about exercising your mind and enjoying using your brain power in ways that go beyond our normal range of experience. It's about having fun not about memorizing useless information. Let us look at these seven key methods. They are based on common sense and thousands of years of experience.


Any method to improve memory requires practice. Like all learning skills improving your memory involves trying new ways of doing things or improving your natural ways of remembering things. Some of the memory techniques we use are completely natural and I hope we will build on those strengths through the ideas described in this material. Other information is harder for us to remember because we do not like it, are forced to learn it or because we have not discovered a more creative way to remember it. The goal of this material is to help you practice improving your memory without reminding you of any boring or painful memory training you did in the past.


Whenever someone pays attention to something they like they remember it more easily. Children who do poorly in mathematics but who have an interest in sports may not be able to multiply 4 X 9 but will be able to tell you all the statistics relevant to their favorite sports star. They have great memories but not for things they pay little attention to. The trick is to help ourselves find ways to pay attention to information we may not necessarily be interested in. One of the best methods for that is to look for the wonder in it.


Wonder is both a noun and a verb. As a verb it looks at how we marvel, think, puzzle, doubt and question the things around us. As a noun it describes miracles, ideas, sensations, admiration, amazement and awe. Almost everything has wonder built into it. If you doubt this, go with a small child and examine how they view the things we take for granted every day. Things such as weather, grass, books, garbage, insects, birds, music, sounds, and so much more. Count the number of times they laugh everyday looking at the same things we do. People who can reclaim a sense of this wonder have excellent memories and they have more energy than most people.


Creativity is about doing the ordinary in an extraordinary way to make things more memorable and enjoyable. Combining creativity with practice allows for many fun ways to improve your memory. For example, do you remember how you learned to rhyme words? It was not in a stuffy creative writing class or in a grammar text. It was probably singing very simple songs with a parent or friend or listening to nursery rhymes. I remember much more about the physics of speed, accelerations, vectors, volume and laws of gases through taking flying and scuba diving lessons than through any of my science classes in high school. Doing things out of the ordinary helps make the information more interesting and long-lasting in your memory. The extra-ordinary can sometimes also be stressful yet full of memory building lessons. After taking three driving lessons my instructor told me he could teach me nothing more about driving I was ready for my test. The next day I crashed into our garage door. My father told me that now it was HIS turn to give me driving lessons. I remember so much more from his lessons than from my instructor. It was an extraordinary experience and very memorable. In hindsight, it was even an enjoyable memory of time with my father!


We must combine creativity with organization or else we have no way to know in what areas we want to improve our memories. Organization is about knowing where we put information that we have written down or read. Organization is about taking raw information and remembering only the parts that are important to our personal or professional development right now. It is about putting the information in some kind of priority system so you know what is most important to remember and what is least important to remember. Lastly, it is about being able to communicate what we learn to ourselves and to others.


Seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching are our five senses. It is through our senses that we receive information that our minds sort out into useful pockets of information. When we smell a certain perfume we may be reminded of a favorite elementary school teacher. When we taste a particular spice we may remember a visit to a wonderful place we went to years ago. When we hear a song we remember a joyful, or tearful, experience.

As important as our senses are, we tend to limit ourselves to the two most obvious ones: seeing and hearing. The other three senses are under used. Whenever you can find ways to increase their importance to your memory, you are more likely to combine creativity with your senses to help improve your memory.


Much of the information written in this material is about specific memory techniques. These techniques do not replace your natural forms of remembering but are meant to improve them. Some of the techniques may seem a bit difficult at first. That is where practice and creativity come into play. If you persist with only some of these techniques you will amaze yourself (and others) with your new abilities. Remember, however, that techniques without the other six key ways of improving your memory will limit your abilities a great deal. Combine all seven to get the most out of this material. After all, you already have to pay the COST of stepping on your cat's PAW so you might as well get all the benefits out of this material that you can!

Memory Tricks: The Place System

Memory tricks may be helpful in remembering facts, figures, and seemingly unrelated items on a list (e.g. grocery list). The "tricks" will serve you well when they shorten the amount of time you need to remember things. If the "trick" takes more time than simply writing down a grocery list, then save your energy for more meaningful study and use paper and pencil!

One of the most famous techniques for remembering was developed in ancient Greece (and later in Rome). It is called the place system. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) referred to it four times in his works on memory. In its Roman form, the place system uses two sets of images: (1) a series of places (e.g. houses on a street you are familiar with or rooms within a large house or building); (2) any list, sequence of thoughts (e.g. a speech, poem, song). Each fact or idea on this second list is matched to an image. You then place the second set of images, in sequential order, throughout your street or building. When you need to remember the information you mentally walk through the street or home and remember each fact or idea, in their correct order. You will be able to visualize the list of facts or ideas quickly and accurately every time.

The most dramatic example of the place system took place 25 centuries ago. The poet Simonides of Ceos recited a poem in honor of an athlete. His host's palace collapsed just after he left, crushing all of the many guests. Simonides could remember where everyone sat and was able to identify all the bodies for proper burial in their family plots. He did this by remembering where everyone was sitting when he recited his poem. As he went through the poem in his head again, he could actually picture his audience sitting in their proper places reacting to his words. He later thought he could use this system of place (space) with images (people) to improve his memory abilities.

Improving your memory

The place system is similar to a blackboard (the houses) and writing (the second set of images). You can use the same blackboard over and over again to remember new lists, facts and ideas. Using a street or rooms in a building allows you to examine the facts in any order without worrying about forgetting any of the points. For example, imagine a street scene with ten houses. Every house has ten rooms in five on the main floor and five on the second floor. Someone needs to memorize a list of 100 facts or ideas. Then someone else asks you to look at every fifth point in that long list. You look at the first room on the main floor and on the second floor of each of the ten homes to get your new list of 20 (every fifth one out of 100). It becomes as simple as that! People with exceptional skills and life-long practice have used this method with hundreds (and some claim even thousands) of homes on their street to remember very long lists of facts, long poems, etc.

How can you use this method? Try the following exercise.


The Place System

Draw a floor plan of your home below. If you have more than one story in your home, pick the one with the most rooms on it. Label each room on the plan.

Once you have your floor plan drawn out, color each room a different bright color. For example, the living room a bright red, the kitchen a brilliant water blue, etc. Write in black the number of the room beginning with #1 for the room closest to the front door.

Examine your floor plan, the colored rooms and their numbers, but this time with your eyes closed and imagining yourself walking through the main door into this floor plan. In your mind, walk through each of the rooms and see the bright colors you have picked out for each room. (If you lived in the White House in Washington D.C. this would be simple since the rooms are colored coded there!) Now imagine on the wall of each of these rooms the room number in a large black color. This will help you keep the rooms in the same order whenever you use them again.

Go back and imagine walking through this floor plan several more times always coming in through the same door and walking through the rooms in the same order.

Since I do not know how many rooms are in your design I will assume you have 7. Try the following ideas to see if they help you remember information.

1. Write out a list of 7 objects that you need to remember either for a short grocery list, things you need to pack for a trip, books you want to get at the library, or what ever. Now imagine those items in a very large size with one per room in your floor plan. For example you might imagine a huge white chicken in your bright red living room; a loaf of fresh baked bread sitting on top of your toilet in the bathroom, a razor blade doing dishes in the kitchen, etc. The more bizarre the image the more likely you are to remember this. Use lists like this to practice this skill for fun. In real life a quick note on a piece of paper may be enough. This is just for practice.

2. Imagine a paper you have to write for school, a presentation you have to make at work or a short "Thank You" you have to give to someone at a meeting you are attending. You have to make anywhere from 2-7 main points. You do not want to use notes so you try to remember the points, in order of importance. Write the main points, one per room, in your floor plan above. With practice you will not even have to write them out, but for now, physically writing them out will help your memory. Picture yourself walking through your floor plan seeing the main points written in six-foot letters against a wall in each of the colored rooms. Practice this several times and when it comes time to remember the points and in the right order you will be able to speak clearly and confidently. Excellent public speakers use this technique all the time and rarely lose their train of thought.

3. Once you have mastered steps one and two, you can add onto your floor plan. You can use another floor in your home or use similar floor plans from the homes of your neighbors. In this way you can develop your memory to the point where you can remember dozens of facts or ideas without using paper. You just start at your own home, go through the colored rooms, walk outside and into a neighbors home and go through their colored rooms and on and on and on until you have enough. Your neighbors will never know how helpful they have been.

Memory Tricks: Mind Games

Many of us have used mind games to help us remember information. The following are some examples that you may have used as a child. Use them as examples of what you can do with a little up-front energy to remember facts, figures and ideas that are important to you.


Using the first letter of a group of words is a common way to remember lists that do not change. For example, the colors of the rainbow in order.

ROY G BIV = red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet (or VIBGYOR).

To remember the Great Lakes in Canada and the U.S. (which hold 20% of all the fresh water in the world) you can use:

HOMES: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior. [Also use SHMOE = Jewish word meaning jerk, drip or naive twit.]

Do you remember what PAW + COST mean? Check the Introduction for the answer if you have forgotten. Repetition is the key, after all.


We often use a rhyming or melodic poem or song to remember facts as well. For example, to remember where the notes on a piano keyboard are:

"All the G and A keys

Are between the black threes,

And 'tween the twos are all the D's;

Then on the right side of the threes

Will be found the B's and C's;

But on the left side of the threes

Are all the F's and all the E's.

To remember the notes on written sheet music we learned that:

"Every good boy deserves fudge. FACE." This meant that the lines equalled the notes E,G,B,D,F from bottom to top while the spaces were F,A,C,E.

To remember how many days per month in the calendar:

Thirty days has September, April, June and November. February has 28 except every four years when it has 29. All the rest have 31 days.

The planets in order from closest to the sun to farthest can be remembered by:

Men Very Easily Make All Jobs Serve Useful Needs Promptly which represents: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto.

To remember the 8 fruits of the spirit (Galatians: 22-23):

Large aPpLe and KeG oF MeaT: love, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, temperance.

The first four hydrocarbons:

Mary eats peanut butter: methane, ethane, propane and butane.

The 12 cranial nerves (for medical or nursing students):

On Old Olympus' Towering Top A Finn and German Vault and Hop = olfactory, optic, oculomotor, trochlear, trigeminal, abducent, facial, auditory, glossopharyngeal, vagus, spinal accessory and hypoglossal.

Order of the Animal Kingdom:

King Peter Came Over From Germany Seeking a Fortune = kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, gens, species and form in that order.


In David Lewis' book he quotes an unnamed college freshman who came up with this story to remember the U.S. Presidents:

In Washington, Adams and Jeff made money. Adams went to Jacksonville to get a burr haircut and a tie for a polka. His tailor filled more. Pierced by a cannon, he linked on to John's grand Hazel in garden and field. As an author, he cleaved to hair and cleaved to magazines. He roasted taffy willy-nilly, but hardly cooled his hoofs, then rose and truly eyed his kin, John's next son. [NOTE: I have added the following to update the story Nix on us by fording a stream we carted our regal bush to Clintonburg.]

The bold words stand for:

1. Washington 22. G. Cleveland

2. J. Adams 23. B. Harrison

3. Jefferson 24. G. Cleveland

4. Madison 25. McKinley

5. Monroe 26. T. Roosevelt

6. J.Q. Adams 27. Taft

7. Jackson 28. Wilson

8. Van Buren 29. Harding

9. W.H. Harrison 30. Coolidge

10. Tyler 31. Hoover

11. Polk 32. F.D. Roosevelt

12. Taylor 33. Truman

13. Fillmore 34. Eisenhower

14. Pierce 35. Kennedy

15. Buchanan 36. L. Johnson

16. Lincoln 37. Nixon

17. A. Johnson 38. Ford

18. Grant 39. Carter

19. Hayes 40. Reagan

20. Garfield 41. Bush

21. Arthur 42. Clinton

43. Bush

Hand Tools

Use the knuckles of your hand to remember how many days there are in each month of the calendar. Begin with the first knuckle (do not use the thumb) for January (long month) followed by hollow for a short month. When you get to the fourth knuckle you go back to the first knuckle. This corresponds to July and August both having 31 days. This method is widely used in Greece, Finland, Russia, China, Tibet and most of South America.

Teaching the 9 times table in arithmetic. Hold up both palms facing towards you. Begin by numbering each finger from left to right beginning at 1 for your left thumb and ending in 0 for your right thumb. Now pick any number from 1 to 10. Whichever number you pick, bend that finger down toward your palm. For example if you pick 9 times 4 then bend your left ring finger (#4) down toward your palm. To the left of your bent finger count the number of remaining fingers. In this case 3. To the right of your bent ring finger count the number of remaining fingers. In this case 6. The answer to 9 X 4 = 36. Try this with the other fingers. Note that if you choose 1 there will be 9 fingers to the right of your left bent thumb. If you choose 10, there are 9 fingers to the left of your bent right-hand thumb and you just add a zero. When children do this often enough of course they will just naturally remember their 9 times table without having to use their fingers at all.

EXERCISE #2 Mind Games

A. Here is a list of the seven management principles I use in teaching management courses. Choose any mind-game method described above to help you remember these 7 principles of managing people effectively. I have used bold lettering of some key words that may help you.

Management A Simple Perspective

The principles of management are simple, although not always easy, to implement. Whenever you have difficult management decisions to make, think about the "simple" solutions before making the situation more complex than is necessary.

1. Have a personal and predictable VISION and style.

2. Have clear expectations of what your staff should be doing and well understood methods of praising and criticizing their performance.

3. Provide people with real choices (3 or more) whenever possible to give them a sense of control.

4. Incorporate and encourage the use of humor and fun at work to help create positive work memories for your staff.

5. Understand that everyone, including you, is doing what they think is best for them and best for others with the information and skills they have right now.

6. Understand that people only hear or read 20% of what anyone, including you, say. They forget 80% of that within 24 hours. Therefore, repeat important instructions, and use verbal and written backups.

7. Understand that people learn up to 7 new things at a time (therefore don't overwhelm them with information). People learn best through experience (50%), through role models and relationships (30%) and through formal education (20%). As a manager you can provide a learning environment where success and mistakes are used as a learning experiences.

Once you have learned these well the first time through, copy them out onto a separate page and hang them by your desk, refrigerator, bathroom mirror or other visible spot. For the next few days, use your mind game to continually go over these principles. Within a week you will know that material and be able to apply it professionally and personally.

Pick any two of the mind-games described in this unit as a method of learning some important information for your profession. It may be a list of important items, ideas, concepts, or principles that you should have in your memory but usually have to look up to make sure you have it right. Use the two mind games from above to help you practice remembering these facts. After a while you will notice that you no longer need to use the "trick" to remember the information. As in Part A of this exercise, you may want to write out the answer on a card and hang it on your desk, home refrigerator or bathroom mirror to help you remember the information until it is firmly in your mind.

Memory Tricks: Peg Words

Peg words are often used to remember lists of information that you do not need to keep in your memory for very long. These peg words always stay the same. The idea is to link the peg word in a picture with whatever you are trying to remember.

First memorize the peg words. You might use the old song "This Old Man Came Rolling Home".


one = thumb two = shoe three = tree

four = door five = hive six = sticks

seven = heaven eight = gate nine = wine

ten = hen

Now take a list of ten ideas, items, facts. For example the names of Canada's ten provinces in order from west to east. The territories of Yukon and The Northwest Territories are easily remembered since, for now, there are only two of them.

1. British Columbia 2. Alberta

2. Saskatchewan 4. Manitoba

5. Ontario 6. Quebec

7. New Brunswick 8. Nova Scotia

9. Prince Edward Island 10. Newfoundland

Read the following story several times and imagine the pictures in your mind. Note the peg words are typed in CAPITAL letters. The words that sound like the provinces are typed in Bold print.

You are a captain of the large sail boat. For the people standing on shore your ship looks like a large THUMB with a British

Union Jack flag handing from its mast. The people cry out in joy: "Look it is the second coming of Columbus". You have come to explore this strange land called CANADA. Wearing hiking SHOES the size of Big Al and Bert's feet combined, you walk across the Rocky Mountains. You get lost among all the TREES so you look for somewhere to get directions. Finally in a clearing you find someone to ask at the Chew-On Inn. The lady dressed in a long practical dress invites you through the DOOR to listen to the man play his tuba. As interesting as this is, you follow her directions to continue on your walk across the prairie plains. As the land changes shape from plains to hills you accidentally step on a bee HIVE that makes you run on air screaming eeh oh!. You keep running and running until you cannot run any more. You must sleep. You gather some STICKS to make a fire and warm yourself. You think back to jolly old England to your girl Kay Beck of the London Becks. It is a HEAVENly dream of remembering her in her new brown wicker chair sitting on the porch. You walk up to her front GATE and see the radiance of her nova star gaze that reminds you of your honeymoon in Scotland. When you awake you realize you must hurry to get to the east coast. You have slept long enough. You have an appointment to drink WINE with his Royal Highness Prince Edward on his Island off the coast. So you find the first 6-foot HEN that comes your way and ride off, at full speed, to the New found land you know as Canada.

A strange, bizarre story isn't it? Read it twice more and try to tell it to someone else. Do not tell them why the story is about learning Canada's provinces. Add or subtract from the story to make it your own. Using the peg words to help you ensure that the story is going in the proper order.

You do not need such an elaborate story for all lists. For example grocery lists, business supply lists or items that need to go into a report may just need a quick visual image tied to the peg word. For example a list of 6 business supplies you have to pick up this afternoon:

1. thumb pressing down on FAX paper,

2. shoe filled with carbon paper,

3. tree made of paper clips,

4. door opening onto a warehouse of laser printer cartridges,

5. a bee hive filled with bees sewing legal-sized note pads together,

6. sticks drumming out the beat on blank video cassettes.

Again you could probably write this list faster now than thinking up these images but the idea of this exercise is to get so good at it that it improves your memory naturally and enjoyably over time. These easy exercises will make memorizing more complex lists or ideas much easier later on.

Instead of using the suggested peg system above you may want to personalize one for yourself. You could use the names of family members and friends (always in the same order) and visualize them doing something bizarre for each item on a list. You could also come up with your own peg that rhyme with the numbers 1 to 10, or even 1 - 20.

Memorizing Poems, Speeches
and Songs

When you talk to older people who learned to memorize poems, speeches or songs as children, you find that they remember so many of them 60-70 years later. They can quote long passages by heart. I asked some of them why they bothered to memorize. Many of these people told me that memorizing keeps their minds fresh and alert. It also helps them when they can no longer read or see very well or when they are bed-ridden. They go back into their memory and recite long passages of meaningful poems, songs, religious verses, or speeches of people they admired. They say that no matter what else is not working in their bodies they can always go back to the beauty of words and memories. These are some of the same comments made by prisoners of war or people who survived concentration camps.

The post-1950s generation did not spend a lot of time memorizing because we thought it was a waste of time. We thought, if we really want to know something we can just look it up again in the book. Perhaps the problem was more what we were expected to memorize versus learning memorization as a skill. Maybe my generation should think again about the value of memorization and learn its secrets from our elders.

The following are some basic suggestions for memorizing any text. Remember these suggestions are based on PAW COST so practice, pay attention and look for the wonder in the words you choose to learn.

1. Read the whole piece out loud once. Repeat any parts you find particularly enjoyable.

2. Write out the piece. If it does not have indents or breaks between paragraphs add some to make it visually easier to learn.

Use colored markers to highlight key parts. For example in the poem below I have used:

CAPITAL LETTERS for important words in a sentence or phrase to help you remember the rest,

BOLD to highlight words that rhyme,

underline for words starting with the same letter or sound (alliteration),

[ ] around sections that are repeated

{ } around words that have the same vowel sounds

You may come up with other words or phrases to highlight for different reasons.

3. Understand the meaning of the words. Look up any words you do not know in the dictionary. Then understand the meaning of parts of the piece and then the whole piece of text together.

4. Read it out loud again. Try to learn the chorus (if any) by heart having read or written the piece three times now.

5. Find parts of the piece that are the same or are repeated throughout and learn these by heart. This often means you have learned a good portion of the piece already.

6. Attach the piece to your refrigerator door, bathroom mirror or in your appointment book. When you pass by it, read the piece to yourself or out loud. Later while waiting at a bus stop, in a line up or before going to sleep, recite whatever parts of the piece you can. Do not worry if you cannot get some parts of it. Continue reciting the rest and look up any missed pieces later on.

7. ENJOY. Memorization for memorization's sake is boring and a waste of time. Memorizing things for the exercise, for the wonder of the words or because you are interested in the piece makes it a gift you give yourself for future use.

I have chosen the following poem for you to practice. It is written by A.P. Herbert (1890-1971) to the woman sitting behind him in a theater.

I chose it because many of us have faced this exact situation and have not found diplomatic language to deal with it well. Tell your family you would like to recite a poem to them over dinner. After they have stopped laughing at you, recite the poem and then they will join you in laughter.

"At the Theater (to the Lady Behind Me)"

Dear MADAM, you have seen this play;

I never saw it 'til today.

You know the details of the plot,

But let me tell you I do not.

The AUTHOR {seeks} to {keep} from me

The murderer's identity.

And you are not a friend of his

If you keep shouting who it is.

The ACTORS in their funny way

Have several funny things to say.

But they do not amuse me more

If you have said them just before.

The MERIT of the DRAMA lies

I understand, in some surprise.

But the surprise must now be small

Since you have just foretold it all.

The LADY you have brought with you

Is, I infer, a HALF-WIT too.

But I can understand the piece

Without assistance from your niece.

In short, FOUL WOMAN, it would suit

Me, just as well if you were mute.

In fact to make my {meaning} plain

I trust you will not {speak} again.

And may I add one HUMAN TOUCH?

Don't breath upon my NECK so much.

If you look at and remember the important words in capital letters you will remember what comes before them.

Remembering the rhymes may help you remember the order of the poem.

1. Madam play - today

2. Author plot - not

3. Actors me - identity

4. Merit Drama his - is

5. Lady Half-Wit way - say

6. Foul Woman more - before

7. Human Touch; Neck lies - surprise

small - all

you - too

piece - niece

suit - mute

plain - again

Remembering People's Names

For many people, remembering someone's name is one of the most difficult memory situations. For whatever reason, we remember people's faces but often forget their names. Here are a few basic techniques that will help you increase the likelihood of remembering names.

1. When you are introduced to someone for the first time, make sure to repeat their name out loud. For example, if you were to meet me for the first time and someone said my name too quickly for you to catch it, ask me to repeat it and show interest in the name.

"Excuse me. I want to make sure I have your name correctly."

"Harry van Bommel."

"How do you spell your last name?"

"van Bommel."

"Is that a Dutch name?" "Yes it is. I was born in Holland."

"Thank you Mr. van Bommel."

NOTE: I often end using their last name as a reminder of the name itself and as a sign of respect. People often then repeat their first name and ask me to use that so I end up practising both names!

This short, often repeated conversation that I have with new people tells me they are interested in who I am and what my name is. You cannot do that with every new person you meet but if it is important for you to remember their name it is important for you to learn it and use it.

2. For people whose names are important to me I add them into my address book or calendar along with the names of their spouse, children, organization they work for and any other information I think will be helpful. Politicians have whole databases of people's names, their interests, families, etc., to help them meet the needs of their constituents and get re-elected.

3. When I am likely to meet people again at their jobs, in social situations, or through telephone conversations I look up their names and any other information I have about them. This helps me appear competent and interested. People's names are very important to them and every effort you make to remember them will encourage them to do the same for you.

4. My name is not easy to remember so I help people remember it. I often introduce myself and, if the situation is informal enough, I tell them that my first name is easy to remember just by looking at my face. I have a hairy beard so they just have to look at my beard and remember my first name is Harry. My last name is harder. Again if the situation is informal enough I suggest that they imagine my beard driving a moving VAN dropping a BOMB over a large Mill. The image sticks for a while and, more importantly, they get the pronunciation of my name correct for the next time. See the memory map on page 3 as an example. Help people remember your name as well.

5. When you forget a name, ask someone else what the name is. Practice saying it and using it in conversations. If you cannot get that kind of help, ask the person to repeat their name for you. Most of us have a hard time remembering names so people are usually not offended if you tell them you have forgotten their name. They feel flattered that you want to remember it.

6. Some names are easier to remember because they represent something we already know. For example, names like Carpenter, White, Shoemaker, Land, Smith, McDonald, Wright, Forman, Hammer, Karr, Darling, etc., are easier to remember. They fall into some of the following categories:

Occupations Colors A famous name like Bogart

Descriptions Nicknames Places or Things

Names may also remind you of people you already know. For example, someone named Katherine may remind you of Katherine Hepburn. Or someone whose name ends in "witz" may remind you of Mrs. Horrowitz who lived down the street from you when you were a child. Use any and all linkages you can to other people to help you remember their name.

7. Many last names do not easily fit into any of the categories listed above. With these names you need to be more creative, which takes some time and practice. Look back to the story of how we can remember the names of Canadian provinces. Names like Saskatchewan, Quebec, Manitoba do not easily come to mind for people who have never heard them before. With a little effort, though, you substitute words that sound like the ones you are trying to remember and all of a sudden you have words or phrases like "ask at Chew-on Inn", "man at tuba", "Kay Beck (of the London Becks)" or even a "HAIRY beard driving a moving VAN dropping a BOMB on a huge Mill".

EXERCISE #3: Remembering Names

Look at your address book, your business contacts and/or a recent list of people attending a conference with you. Choose 10-15 names you need to remember to help you improve your effectiveness at work. Pick some relatively easy names that correspond to categories listed in #6 above. Then pick some more difficult names that fall within category #7 above.

Using some of the techniques described in this material come up with visual ways to remember their names so that the next time you meet them you can address them by their correct name without hesitation. Write out your visual clues below:

Pick 20 first names of people who you come into contact with regularly and whose names you cannot remember. They may include some of the people in the exercise you have just completed. Perhaps you think someone looks like a David you once knew, but their name is really Duncan. Write out your visual clues below. Try and use the same visual for everyone with that same first name. For example, for everyone with the name Harry, try to imagine them with a bushy, hairy beard.

Exercise Your Mind

Improving your memory means exercising your brain. The more things you do with your brain muscle, the more you will improve your memory, your creative skills and your enjoyment.

There are many good books in your library that teach children and adults alike memory magic. These may be books specifically on math tricks, card tricks that involve using your memory, slight-of-hand magic tricks and others. There are puzzle books, mathematic problem-solving books, mystery novels that require you to remember things you have read, and books on tricking your brain into working harder than you are used to. The Reference section of this material gives you a random sample of only some of these books. Use them to improve your memory and entertain your friends and colleagues.

The following are some mind games that stretch your intellectual muscle and memory.

Math Magic

You will need two pieces of paper or recipe cards. On one piece of paper you will write three 20-digit numbers. Give someone the list of numbers and tell them you have memorized all three 20-digit numbers and would like their help in testing your memory skills. Ask them to tell you which number they would like you to write down on your piece of paper or recipe card (e.g. the first, second, or third number). When you have written it down, pass your paper to them to make sure you have done it correctly.

I will give you an example of one such number and you will write out the other two for yourself. My number is:

29,101,123,583,145,943,707. Can you figure out how I came up with this number?

The trick is to pick any two numbers for your first numbers. In my case they are 29, for my birthdate. Add those two numbers together. If the total is 10 or more just write down the last number. In this case 2 + 9 = 11 so write down 1 after the comma 29,1. Continue to add the last two numbers to continue until you get 20 numbers. Add along with me:

2 + 9 = 11 29,1

9 + 1 = 10 29,10

1 + 0 = 1 29,101,

0 + 1 = 1 29,101,1

1 + 1 = 2 29,101,12

1 + 2 = 3 29,101,123,

2 + 3 = 5 29,101,123,5

3 + 5 = 8 29,101,123,58

5 + 8 = 13 29,101,123,583, (keep going to 20 numbers)

Once you understand my number you can pick your own two. Of course you can pick numbers that are longer or shorter than 20-digits.

Longest Word Memory Tester

Do you know the longest word in the English language? If you grew up in the 1960s you might think it is


(from "Mary Poppins", the movie) but you would be wrong. For a while many of us were going around thinking we knew the longest word was


(28 letters) which meant people who opposed the disestablishment of a church or religious body. This word was used in the 1860s in Ireland when Gladstone disestablished the Irish Church (Protestant). Isn't trivia fascinating?

The actual longest word, according to Webster's Eighth Dictionary is:


which is pronounced:

NOO mon oh UL tra MY cro SCOP ic SIL i co vol CA no CONE ee OH sis. This practically useless word will impress your friends and doctors especially when you say it knowingly and correctly. It means a lung disease caused by a tear (CONIOSIS) of the lung (PNEUMONO) that miners get when they breathe ULTRAMICROSCOPIC particles of sand (SILICOn) as they dig through VOLCANO rock.

The second longest word is more practical to end this section. It is:


This word (29 letters and so just beats out antidisestablish-mentarianism) means deciding something is worthless! Have fun with both of them.


How would you summarize this memory unit? Do any stories of jumping out of bed and stepping on your cat's PAW COSTING you a favorite meal ring any bells?

PRACTICE Using Your Brain,


Looking for WONDER,

CREATIVELY Using All the other 6 ways in this list,

ORGANIZE Your Information,

Using all 5 of Your SENSES (sight, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching),

Constant Use of Memory TECHNIQUES.

Do you remember the story (more or less) of teaching someone the 10 Canadian provinces in order from West to East? Or how about what HOMES stands for? Do you remember my name and how you remember it?

Improving your memory is a skill that can be lots of fun to share with your whole family. Helping children remember boring facts is something you can spend some of your travel time doing together. Playing math games or helping others be more observant of their surroundings are other ways you can make exercising your brain more fun. Remembering why the poet was so upset by the woman behind him in the theater is just one of many ways to get your mind going at peak performance.

Improving your memory and creating new memories both involve humor, laughter and playfulness.

Write to me if you come up with some unique memory aids that I can pass on to other learners.


Whenever you finish learning new information it is helpful to take a moment or two to evaluate what you have found most useful and what you would like to do with that information. This process can be very useful whether you write out the answers or just think about them.

1. What general concepts, ideas or techniques have you learned?

2. List at least three techniques from this chapter that you could use immediately.

3. What other concepts, ideas or techniques do you want to learn?

4. Is there anything you have learned that you could pass on to your colleagues, family members or friends?

5. Do you have any further comments or ideas you want to record based on what you have learned?


The following references are only a few of the many useful resources that you can find in your local libraries, within your school library, and in your local book stores. Look for further books but also for journal articles, magazine reports, films, videos and audio cassettes. Also keep in mind how much you can learn from experts in the field, including people in your school.

For more intensive research, read the suggestions in the chapter "Writing and Researching Papers".

Austin, Benjamin Fish. (1894). Rational memory training. St. Thomas, Ontario: The Journal. 124 pages.

Presents a turn-of-the-century approach to moral and ethical memory development using examples of well-known people with exceptional memories. Disputes grandiose claims of those teaching mnemonics but demonstrates some simple mnemonic techniques for those who require this "crutch". Examines theories of memories and classical memory techniques.

Baddeley, Alan. (1982). Your memory: A user's guide. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson. 222 pages.

A visually-oriented guide to improving your memory and a book most suitable for a college introduction text on memory: background, development, research and practical techniques.

Bolles, Edmund Blair. (1988). Remembering and forgetting: An inquiry into the nature of memory. New York: Walker and Company. 315 pages.

Bolles strongly believes that memory is not a process of storing information in our brain for later retrieval. He sees memory as an act of imagination and uses recent research by psychologists, brain scientists, and clinical doctors to prove his points. He summarizes the effects of emotional memory through looking at John Dean's Watergate testimony; factual memory through Shereshevskii's limitless memory abilities; and interpretive memory through the writings of early 20th century French writer Marcel Proust.

Carruthers, Mary. (1990). The book of memory: A study of memory in medieval culture. New York: Cambridge University Press. 393 pages.

Detailed examination of the importance of memory in medieval society. Uses examples of how medieval writers such as Hugh of St.

Victor, Dante, Chaucer and Thomas Aquinas used memory development to develop their communication skills. Presents the medieval view that human learning is based on memorization rather than the present view of learning through the communication process.

Cohen, Gillian. (1989). Memory in the real world. London: Lawrence Erlbaum. 247 pages.

Academic review of recent research into memory including an analysis of the limitations and advantages of the naturalistic approach to memory. Presents models and conceptual frameworks to help explain and interpret research finding and observations.

De Bono, Edward. (1985). De Bono's thinking course. London: BBC Books. 156 pages.

De Bono's series of books on thinking including his lateral thinking books highlights creative ways of perceiving information, using that information and remembering it.

Eysenck, Michael W. (1977). Human memory: Theory, research and individual differences. New York: Pergamon Press. 366 pages.

Academic evaluation of memory as part of the International Series in Experimental Psychology. The book explains current (1970s) information-processing accounts involved in human learning and memory and the second part of the book deals with individual differences in learning and memory.

Frankl, Viktor E. (1959). Man's search for meaning. New York: Simon and Schuster Pocket Books. 226 pages.

Frankl describes life in a concentration camp and the methods people used to survive the ordeal. Also presents an introduction to his logotherapy theory.

Kellett, Michael C. (1977). How to improve your memory and concentration. New York: Monarch Press. 166 pages.

Explains the basic principles of memory and concentration, how to listen, and specific factual memory techniques.

Larrowe, Marcus Dwight. (1896). Assimilative memory: How to attend and never forget. New York: Funk and Wagnalls. 170 pages.

Writing under the name Professor A. Loisette, Larrowe presents various memory techniques popular at the time including methods for remembering names, numbers, using the senses, prose and poetry, and facts with many specific examples.

Lewis, David V. (1973). The miracle of instant memory power. West Nyack, NY: Parker. 200 pages.

Examines specific techniques, attitude, and use of senses to improve one's overall and specific memory.

Lorayne, Harry. (1988). Memory makes money. New York: Signet Books. 252 pages.

Memory techniques adapted for use in the business world including remembering people's names, and keeping your day calendar in your mind rather than on paper.

. (1985). Page a minute memory book. New York: Ballantine Books. 161 pages.

Summarizes various proven techniques for improving memory including the substitute word system, the link system, and the peg system.

Lozanov, Georgi. (1978). Suggestology and Outlines of Suggestopedy. Translated by Marjorie Hall-Pozharlieva and Krassimira Pashmakova. New York: Gordon and Breach.

Bulgaria's Lozanov defines suggestology as the science of the art of liberating and stimulating the personality both under guidance and alone. Suggestopedy is suggestology applied through teaching. This work is one of the first modern texts leading to modern developments in accelerated learning.

Luria, A.R. (1968). The mind of a mnemonist. (Translated from the Russian by Lynn Solotaroff). New York: Basic Books. 160 pages.

Professor Luria taught psychology at the University of Moscow. He studied the almost limitless memory of a "Jewish boy who, having failed as a musician and as a journalist, had become a celebrated mnemonist. His study of Tovarisch Shereschevskii over nearly 30 years examines his methods (especially the place system) and the use of all his senses but also his weaknesses: his inability to forget and his passive reaction to life.

Norman, Donald A. (1976). Memory and attention: An introduction to human information processing. (2nd ed.) New York: John Wiley & Sons. 262 pages.

Academic summary of information on memory and attention. Includes such topics as the learning information, short-term memory, mnemonics, and practising specific skills.

Sorabji, Richard. (1972). Aristotle on memory. Providence: Brown University. 122 pages.

Sorabji's translation of Aristotle's works on memory De Memoria et Reminiscentia. Emphasis is on the philosopher's view point which the translator views as fuller than later-day British empiricists and therefore, he believes, a better introduction into the subject of memory.


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