Mnemonics, Memory Principles & Techniques



The Background of Mnemonics

Even before modern brain science had revealed, neurophysiologically and psychologically, the extraordinary power and potential of the human brain, the Greeks had discovered that mental performance could be enhanced enormously if certain techniques were used.

The Greeks developed fundamental memory systems called mnemonics, a name derived from their worship of the Goddess of Memory, Mnemosyne. These mnemonic techniques were based on fundamental principles, while being both easy and enjoyable to apply, were profound in their effect on memory improvement.


The Three Memory Principles

The Greeks discovered, by introspection, discussion and exchange, that memory was in major part based on ASSOCIATION; that is worked by linking things together. For example, as soon as your brain registers the word ‘kiwi’ it will remember (link) the colours, tastes, textures and smells of that fruit, as well as the experiences, friends and occasions connected with it.

In addition to Association, the Greeks realised that, for something to be remembered, it had to be a wonderful and multi-sensory IMAGE.

The third principle was LOCATION. In other words, for your brain to remember something that it has imagined and associated, it must have that memory/imagination in a special Location.

A library serves as a good analogy here. If you walked into a library that had a million books and wished to find a specific one, would it be easier if all the books were piled up in the middle of the floor and you had to randomly search, or if all the books were beautifully and elegantly catalogued and ordered?


The 12 Memory Techniques

There are 12 special techniques that can assist your memory in using Association, Image and Location. Take the first letter of each of the 12 key techniques, you will find they spell the phrase ‘SMASHIN SCOPE.’ This is appropriate because applying the 12 techniques does give a ‘smashin scope’ to the vista of your memory.


1. Synaesthesia/Sensuality

Synaesthesia refers to the blending of the senses. Most of the great ‘natural’ memorisers, and all of the great mnemonics, developed an increased sensitivity in each of their senses and then blended these senses to produce enhanced recall. In developing memory it was found to be essential to sensitise increasingly and train regularly your:

a)Vision

b)Hearing

c)Smell

d)Taste

e)Touch

f)Kinaesthesia - your awareness of body position and movement in space


2. Movement

In any mnemonic image, movement adds another giant range of possibilities for your brain to ‘link in’ and thus remember. As your images move, make them three-dimensional.


3. Association

Whatever you wish to memorise, make sure you associate or link it to something stable in your mental environment.


4. Sexuality

We all have a good memory in this area. Use it!


5. Humour

The more ridiculous, absurd, funny and surreal you make your images, the more outstandingly memorable they will be. Have fun with your memory.


6. Imagination

Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution." The more you apply your imagination to memory, the better your memory will be.


7. Number

Numbering adds specificity and efficiency to the principle of order and sequence.


8. Symbolism

Substituting a more meaningful image for an ordinary or boring image increases the probability of recall.


9. Colour

Where appropriate, and whenever possible, use the full range of the rainbow, to make your ideas more ‘colourful’ and therefore more memorable.


10. Order and /or Sequence

In combination with the other principles, order and/ or sequence allows for much more immediate reference, and increases the brain’s possibilities for ‘random access.’


11. Positive Images

In most instances, positive and pleasant images are better for memory purposes, because they make the brain want to return to the images. Certain negative images, even though they apply all the above principles, and though they are, in and of themselves, ‘memorable,’ may be blocked by the brain because it finds the prospect of returning to such images unpleasant.


12. Exaggeration

In all your images, exaggerate size, shape, colour and sound.


Now that you have the three major principles and the 12 techniques, review the following Planet Story to help learn the following planets in the following order using a Linking System and Imagination to create a linked and fantastic story:


1. Mercury(small)

2. Venus (small)

3. Earth (small)

4. Mars (small)

5. Jupiter (big)

6. Saturn (big)

7. Uranus (big)

8. Neptune (big)

9. Pluto (small)


Imagine that in front of you, where you are currently reading, is a glorious SUN. See it clearly, feel its heat, and admire its orange/red glow. Imagine, next to the Sun, a little (it’s a little Planet) thermometer, filled with that liquid metal that measures temperature: MERCURY.


Imagine that the Sun heats up, and eventually becomes so hot that it bursts the thermometer. You see all over the desk or floor, in front of you, tiny balls of that liquid metal Mercury. Next, you imagine that rushing in to see what happens, and standing by your side comes the most beautiful little goddess. Colour her, clothe her (optional), perfume her, design her as you will. What shall we call our little goddess? Yes, VENUS!


You focus so intently on Venus with all your senses, that she becomes almost a living physical reality in front of you. You see Venus play like a child with the scattered mercury, and finally manage to pick up one of the mercury globules. She is so delighted that she throws it in a giant arc way up in the sky (which you see, as light glistens off it throughout its journey), until it hurtles down from on high and lands in your garden with a gigantic ‘thump’!, which you both hear and feel as a bodily vibration. And, on what planet is your garden? EARTH.


Because of the power of her throw, and the height of the arc, when the globule lands it creates a small crater which sprays earth (EARTH) into your neighbour’s garden.


In this fantasy, you imagine that your neighbour is a little, red-faced (it’s a little, red Planet), angry and war-like character carrying a chocolate bar in his leading hand! And who is this God of War? MARS.


Mars is furious that the earth has gone into his garden, and is just about to attack you when striding on to the scene, comes a giant so large and powerful that he shakes the very foundations (and you must feel them) of where you are. See him standing a hundred feet tall, and make him as real as you made Venus. He tells Mars to calm down, which Mars immediately does, for this new giant, with a giant cow-lick ‘J’ on his forehead, is your best friend as well as being the king of the gods, the fifth Planet: JUPITER.


As you look up to the hundred-foot-high Jupiter, you see the word ‘SUN’ emblazoned in flashing gold letters across the giant T-shirt on his enormous chest. Each of these gigantic letters stands for HWT first letter of each of the next three big Planets of the Solar System: SATURN, URANUS, NEPTUNE.


Sitting on Jupiter’s head, barking his little heart out with a humour because he thinks the episode has been hilarious, is a little (little because the Planet is so small) Walt Disney dog by the name of PLUTO.


Re-run this fantasy in your mind and you will find it is very difficult to forget the Planets!


Post based on work by Tony Buzan

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