This is a great way to memorize a list of up to twenty or thirty items. You can apply similar principles to any number of things that you might want to remember, and as you use it more and more you’ll get faster and faster.
Let’s say you need to remember a list of groceries, which might include: baked beans, butter, ham, milk, wooden spoon, frozen peas, ice cream, pizza, apple, banana…
The trick (and it’s no secret – it’s been around for centuries) is to think of a route through a building that you know really well – such as your own house – or a journey that is very familiar to you. Then you link each room, feature or place to a bizarre visual image – the more absurd, the better, as you’ll remember it more easily. As I don’t know my way around your house or your familiar journey, you’ll have to bear with me and follow my example: the way I would walk if I were going into our village.
First I need to cross the road. To remember the baked beans, I am going to visualize a crazy, unstable footbridge constructed entirely of leaking cans of baked beans.
As I get down off the bridge (to remember the butter) I imagine slipping in a great big slimy butter patch and having to stagger to my feet.
Then my route takes me past my neighbour Frank’s front door, and I imagine I have to clamber over an immense pig which is emerging from the doorway. That’s the ham.
Tethered to the iron gate (the next landmark), I visualize a quaint cow wearing a bonnet. The cow is being milked by an eighteenth century milk maid who is singing a quaint eighteenth century milking song.
Just after the gate there are some brick steps that lead to Susan’s house. I imagine Susan and her family, half way up the steps, struggling to mix a huge Christmas pudding mix using a ten foot wooden spoon.
Jim’s house has a big porch around its front door, and I visualize a giant green pea wedged in the porch so that Jim can’t get out.
Then there’s a place where there’s no pavement (sidewalk) and Jim’s car is usually parked so close to the wall that it can be difficult to squeeze through. This time an ice cream van is parked there instead of the car. I have to climb through its serving hatch, and I purchase an ice cream cornet, with optional flake, as I go.
The going gets hard as I find myself trudging with skis through a deep-pan pizza, which slows me right down, especially as my Antarctic sledge is snagging on the anchovies.
At the corner of the road I am momentarily dazed as an apple falls on my head and I discover the laws of gravity, before slipping and sliding on a very long banana skin…
So that’s it. I could go on, with a longer list, but the point is that if I know the route, I can link each place with a ludicrous image of each item on my list: baked bean bridge, butter patch, pig, cow, huge spoon, enormous pea, ice cream van, deep-pan pizza, apple, banana…
And if I think of going the other way, I can easily recall the list in reverse order: banana, apple, pizza, ice cream, pea, spoon, milk, ham, butter, baked beans – effortless!!
Tom Morrell is a teacher and internet marketing consultant.
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