Chances are, you have heard this somewhat mystical word before. But, what are mnemonics? Simply put, they are techniques and strategies that aid memory. These amazing techniques allow mere humans like you and me to vastly improve our memory power, and reliably memorize a large number of facts or other information fast- The word mnemonic is derived from Mnemosyne, the Greek goddess of memory who also happened to be the mother of the nine muses. (The father was Zeus)
The Method of Loci:
Indeed, the Greeks and Romans made wide use of mnemonic techniques to give speeches lasting for many hours completely from memory. They achieved this remarkable feat by mentally placing the key points of their speech in locations along a familiar route through their city or palace. To remember a key point, they represented it by an item they could visualize, and imagined this item being connected to, or somehow interacting with a particular location. While giving their speech, they just mentally walked along their journey and retrieved the key points from these locations. This technique is called the Method of Loci and to this day widely used by students preparing for exams, sales people giving a presentation, and memory performers doing amazing things like memorizing 100-digit numbers and complete decks of cards.
How do mnemonics work?
Are they magic? Yes, somehow they are. Are they artificial or even harmful? Nothing could be further from the truth. They just rely on the basic principles of our memory and make very effective use of them:
- They add meaning to information and thus connect it to things we already know.
- Most mnemonics also organize information allowing us to recall it in a systematic manner. Mental filing systems do this in such an efficient way, that they can be used to memorize and recall hundreds, if not thousands of items in order.
- Visual mnemonics (like the Method of Loci) exploit the fact that we tend to remember images much better than words. A large part of our brain is reserved for processing visual information and visual mnemonics tap into this resource. Here is an article to learn the Method of Loci. The Keyword Method is another example of a visual mnemonic. It allows you to learn foreign language vocabulary and its meaning, terminology, and facts.
Let me introduce you to Roy G. Biv. Say it loud, Roy G. Biv. Do you remember the name? Well, it is actually an acronym, a very simple mnemonic, and allows you to recall the colors of the visual spectrum (=the colors of the rainbow) red, orange, green, blue, indigo, and violet in the order of their wave length.
How long would it take you to get all 7 colors in the right order by rote memorization?
By making acronyms, you are creating words, phrases, or even sentences to impose an order on a list of items you want to remember. I recommend memorizing lists of items in order, even if the order doesn’t matter! That way you know exactly how many items you need to remember and when you have recalled all of them.
Here are 6 reasons why you should learn mnemonics:
- They allow you to reliably memorize large amounts of information fast.
- Many things we have to memorize (e.g. definitions, foreign language vocabulary etc.) initially don’t have any meaning and are difficult to remember.
- They make it easy to remember lists of items in order.
- You can give a 1-hour speech or presentation completely from memory
- Remembering the important parts of a book, articles, and procedures becomes a breeze.
- By learning and using mnemonics systems, you can vastly improve your memory for names, numbers, passwords, appointments etc.
Mnemonics are easy to learn, highly effective, and fun. Taking some time to learn them will open a completely new world for you.