Practicing Memory Techniques

by thememorypage

1.5 • Practice Makes Perfect

Where to Go From Here

At this point, you’ve learned a bunch of techniques for memorizing things more effectively: forming pictures and making associations, making vivid or funny pictures, converting numbers to picture words, “linking” items in a long chain to form a list, and pairing items with peg words to memorize numbered lists. These are the basic techniques. If you read a book or different web site on memory improvement, you may find different terminology or a different presentation, but the basic ideas are the same.

By now, you actually know most of what you need to know! Probably, though, you have a specific memory application in mind that wasn’t covered here, such as memorizing mathematical formulas for school. To help with this, I’ve provided the “Tips & Tricks” section of this web site. Each section focuses on a specific application. There is no magic “right” or “wrong” way to memorize something; the idea is simply to take the information and techniques you’ve already learned and adapt them to the specific problem.

What you have already learned you can apply to your life right away to help you remember things better, but if you are really serious about improving your memory a lot, then I suggest studying more about memory. In addition to the two other tutorials on this web site which cover more advanced memorization techniques, I encourage you to find a book on memory or perhaps simply check out a couple of other web sites. You can find some resources on the“Enhance” page.

Practice Makes Perfect!

But above everything else, I encourage you to practice memorizing things every day. As a metaphor, consider this: If someone teaches you how to drive an automobile, and you study the car’s Owner’s Manual carefully, and learn perfectly everything there is to know about driving a car, that doesn’t mean you can jump in a car and start driving flawlessly in downtown New York City! You know what you need to do, but it’s awkward at first because you’ve had no practice.

In the same way, you ought to keep practicing the memory techniques you’ve learned. Right now it still may be taking you some time to think of picture words for things, and you haven’t learned yet what pictures work better for you than others. Look around your world and find things to memorize, such as your cousin’s telephone number, your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, the call letters of your local TV stations, the vocabulary words in your school science textbook, the few phrases of French you’ve always wanted to memorize, your license plate or driver’s license, etc.! Go for it! If you have trouble, don’t give up. Say to yourself, “If I keep at it, I know there’s a way to memorize this, and I’m not going to give up. I will work at it until I succeed!”

To end this tutorial, I would like to give you some more encouragement and motivation to practice. Someone from South Africa was boldly going forth to use the memorizing numbers technique to memorize telephone numbers, and he wrote to me with some questions. I noticed he wasn’t doing it perfectly. But who cares! That’s how you learn! I was impressed just by his motivation to even try to dive into a memory problem like this. The text prefixed with “>” is what was written to me; the other text is what I wrote in response. (Note: The telephone number given in the person’s example and the corresonding picture story has been altered slightly to protect the person whose phone number it is; the new number represents no one in particular.)

Reader Question:

“Will things like this make more sense to me in the future?  Can I safely assume that after using this technique for a while it will  become easier and easier?”

Yes, with practice, you’ll be able to do it more quickly, and you’ll make fewer mistakes, and you’ll have and idea as to what works and what doesn’t.

Reader Question:

“Here in South Africa we have cellphone numbers which go something  like this – 082 746 4071.  Taking this example I have broken it up  into pairs with accompanying letters : > >     08 – SF     Sniff >     27 – NK     Nike >     46 – RJ     Rich >     40 – RZ     Rizlas >     71 – CD     Card…Is this right?”

You’ll want to use different words for the first and the last numbers. The word “Sniff” actually forms SNF which is 028. Likewise, card is 741. You could use “Sofa” or “Safe” for 08, and “Cat” or “Cod” for 71. “Rizlas” is okay for 40… it actually is 4050, but if you always memorize everything in pairs, you’ll know it’s only two digits, so you’ll drop the extra digits.

Reader Question:

“Is the following a good example of remembering the number? “My friend walks into a shop and can Sniff the smell of new Nikes.  Seeing as she is not Rich and only has Rizlas she decides to use a credit Card to buy a pair.” — This seems a bit confusing.”

Well, that’s pretty good for a first try! If it were me, I’d want to emphasize what the key words are so I can be sure to pick them out… otherwise I might try to turn words like “Shop” into numbers. Of course, much is lost when you try to write down your memory picture in words. Actually, you’ll be thinking pictures in your head and will be seeing a kind of movie. Also, if you use mostly nouns for your picture words and not adjectives or verbs, it’s easier to form your movie. Usually I use adjectives and use verbs not as part of the picture but only to help link things together. This is something that I got only with quite a bit of practice.

So, as an example, I’ll do 08-27-46-40-71. Note that I’m using the words and pictures that work best for me; Your own personal experience will be different so different words/pictures will work better for you (by the way, isn’t that neat? You’ll come up with some picture movie unique to you that only you can appreciate in a very deep way because it reflects your own personal experience/likes/dislikes/ideas/etc!).

Sofa, Nike, rash, rose, cut. I picture the friend (whose phone number it is — important, since I need to link this person in with the story) entering his house. She opens the door and is surprised to find the house empty except for a single SOFA in the middle of the room. Then, she notices a very strong, terrible smell! She goes to the sofa, lifts one of the cushions, and finds a stinking pair of NIKES underneath (by the way, you might love Nikes as your favorite brand, but if you picture Nikes in this way it will be such a vivid picture in your head you’ll never forget it!!).

She drops the cushion down, but then she looks at her hand and sees a large RASH because apparently she accidentally touched one of the Nikes and got infected somehow. She goes to the bathroom to try to wash her hands, but instead of a bar of soap she finds a ROSE flower. She tries to wash her hands with the rose under the faucet, but it doesn’t seem to work. In fact, in the attempt she scratches her arm with the stem of the rose and gets a CUT. (As if the rash on her hand wasn’t bad enough!)

That’s a long story, but remember, a picture is 1,000 words, and I’m trying to picture this in my mind.

In reality I wouldn’t need to write down this story or even tell anyone about it (especially not the friend!!). There’s a definite sequence of events so it’s pretty clear what the order is of the five items.

Also, there are ordinary elements to the story (the house, the sink, the faucet, etc.) and then there’s some very unusual elements. Each of my five items is not a normal element but an unusual and even surprising element. So I can quickly think back through the script of events in my mind: SOFA viewing, NIKE discovery, RASH acquisition, ROSE wash-off-the-rash attempt, CUT wash-off-the-rash result. A silly story, but memorable!!

Reader Question:

“Can a person ever get to a point where such ‘story telling’ is no longer needed and when I hear a number I will be able to commit it to memory immediately without having to go the picture route?”

Not quite. Yes, you will still need stories for brand new phone numbers, though you might get faster with practice. BUT… if you keep recalling someone’s phone number over and over again, eventually you’re going to think of the number directly without having to use the picture movie. After this happens, you won’t need the picture movie, and the movie will gradually fade away (but not the number).

Reader Comment:

“Then again I suppose it’s better to take a few minutes to recall a number (in this case) instead of not being able to recall it at all.”

Yes, you are right!

Reader Question:

“Also, seeing as I am trying to remember someone else’s phone  number should I include that person in the image that I create  with the number?  I suppose there should be some link between the two.”


One more thing: Most likely South Africa has “area codes” similar to the United States. In other words, if you are memorizing the phone numbers for 10 different friends, they’re probably all going to start with “082”. In that case, you can just skip the “082” and memorize only the unique numbers. You’ll be able to guess “082” because probably “082” refers to some geographical region, and you know your friend lives in that region, so you can omit it from the story. You don’t have to, of course, but if you do, you’ll have a shorter story that will be faster to memorize.

You certainly seem to be on the right track! Don’t give up, and keep practicing, and I’m confident you’ll do well and perhaps even surprise yourself!

Hey! Now that you’ve completed this tutorial…

Test your memory right now with a quick Pop Quiz! You may be surprised at how well you do!


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