Everyone would like to have a stellar memory. In PART 1 of this series, I offered strategies on how to improve memory, focusing for that post on how to remember spelling of similar or unusual words. In PART 2 last week, we dove into how to improve memory for names and faces, building on the same foundational strategies from PART 1. If you haven’t yet read those posts, I believe that doing so now may be the best 10 or 15 minutes you invest today, since they will offer a framework for today’s tips.
In this post, I want to visually show you how to improve memory for words and facts. But before we do, I want to remind us all why memory is important to communication. Thursdays here are, after all, “Communication” days.
In my very first official post here, we explored exactly what communication is – a form of mind reading. Written and spoken words exist to allow us a means of transferring images and sensory information between minds. That is, I experience or think something that is clear to me; and language allows me to convey my experience to you.
An effective communicator must continually be adding tools in order to make sure that our message is sculpted like the David, and not merely passed off like a hunk of clay. In addition, those same tools allow us to be able to receive the mental masterpieces being put on display by other fine-tuned minds, through being able to fully envision what we see and hear. The tools we must continually be adding are new vocabulary, phrases, figurative expressions and world knowledge of facts among many others. The thing is, not everyone remembers things easily, so adding to your arsenal is slow going, a chore at best.Make sure your message is sculpted like <The David>, not merely passed off like a hunk of clay. Click To Tweet
I’m here to tell you that you already have an excellent memory. You just don’t yet know how to flip the switch to get it to do what it’s designed so well to do. Don’t worry: I’ve got you covered.
Today, we’re going to build on the last two posts with skills to improve memory for words and facts. When I say “words,” I mean new words. New vocabulary. It’s been established without doubt that the scope of a person’s vocabulary is directly related to their income, and that makes sense. Words are power.Words are power. Click To Tweet
The basic components of a new vocabulary word look like this:
WORD – DEFINITION
That may not strike you as new news, but it will come in handy in a moment to see it in its simplest form.
A new fact takes the same basic form as a new word and its definition:
WORD – INFORMATION
For the sake of combining these two similar structures, we’ll use this image to represent the basics of any new vocabulary word or fact:
Notice that there is always a SHORT piece (the WORD) and a LONG piece (the INFORMATION, which may be a definition). Notice also that I’ve color coded the pieces. This non-verbal, right-brained cue will help as we continue the discussion, so pay attention to the purple and green coloration of icons as you go.
OK, here comes the fun part. I’m going to visually show you how to attach the WORD with the INFORMATION. I’ll explain the process first, and then we’ll look at application through some specific examples. Don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense right now. It will. Remember, though – if you want to improve memory (or do pretty much anything else worthwhile), you need to engage. Don’t just be a passive reader. Join in. Think. Process. Grow.
First, we’re going to start with the INFORMATION portion (the longer purple part). That is because it is the easiest part from which to build a mental image. The goal is to represent the entire concept conveyed in the INFORMATION without including or trying to remember any of the words. (Remember, words are stored in the left part of the brain, which isn’t designed for quick storage to long-term memory; we want to use the right brain, which has superpowers of memory – but can’t store words, only images and sensory information).
The WORD part will be more abstract: a new vocabulary word, a person’s name, a date, etc. So next, we’re going to LISTEN TO that word and find something concrete (very important!) that it sounds like. It’s possible that it already sounds like something you can picture (like the name “Abraham Lincoln”). But most often, you’ll have to play around with the sounds. If nothing jumps to mind, try making some unvoiced sounds voiced, or voiced sounds unvoiced. For instance, “j” is a voiced sound (your voice is ON to say it). If you whisper it, it becomes “ch” (unvoiced). Nearly all consonants have a voiced and unvoiced combination (e.g., B and P, D and T, V and F, G and C, etc.)
Once you’ve listened to the word and found a concrete sound-alike, form a clear mental image of it. So, if you were learning a new fact about Abraham Lincoln, you’d make a clear image of him (perhaps in his sitting position at the Lincoln Monument). As illustrated in my last post on remembering names, I turned the name “Jess” into an image of a “jester” and added “chess” for good measure.
Finally, we will find a creative way to blend the two images: the image I formed for my WORD sound-alike, and the image I formed of my INFORMATION. This image can be as ridiculous as you like (in fact, the more bizarre, the more emotional impact will be added to solidify that right-brained memory). The key is to be sure that the images you form are concrete. A good way to check whether your image is concrete is to ask yourself this: “If I showed my mental image to 10 people and asked them what they thought it was supposed to represent, would 8 or 9 of them immediately shout out the word or information that I’m trying to remember with this image?”
So the sequence would look like this all together:
Let’s try this out on a new word (even if you already know this one, follow along for the principle):
“A surfeit of food and fine wine adorned the tables at the fundraiser.”
“Auditions were extended an extra day due to the surfeit of hopefuls who applied.”
First, I’m going to make an initial picture of the INFORMATION (long purple) part. For now, I’m just going to picture a six-foot-high mound of sloppy burgers to represent “overabundance; more than is needed.”
Next, I’m going to LISTEN to the WORD (short green) part to see what it sounds like that I might be able to use in the next step to create a concrete mental image. To me, it sounds like “surf it,” so I’ll go with that.
I can easily FORM AN IMAGE for “surf” for step three, so now all I have to do is combine the images.
I’m now going to COMBINE THESE into an image of a stereotypical California surfer running for my pile of burgers with his surf board. He jumps up with his board and onto the top of the burger mount to “surf it.” (In my image, when he gets to the bottom of the “burger wave,” he turns around and nods, like “woah, dude.”) Now I have a combined image that connects the word surfeit (“surf it”) with its meaning of “more than is needed.”
Think that word was cheating? Too obvious? Let’s go for something more challenging, to prove that this technique works to improve memory of any word or fact:
Example sentence: “Molly was mortified at her husband’s lugubrious display when the parakeet died.”
Let’s start with converting the INFORMATION into an image. For now, I’m just going to picture the man in the sentence where I learned the word. He is a tall, thin man with sandy brown hair. He is kneeling on the floor next to an open bird cage, holding a stiff parakeet, belly up, in his upturned palms. He is red-faced and wailing loudly, his face contorted with grief. His wife, a shorter blond woman, is standing in the doorway with one arched eyebrow, shaking her head incredulously.
Now over to that long, weird word. I’m going to have to break that one down and LISTEN TO EACH PART. After saying it slowly a few times, syllable by syllable, I hear three words: “Luke coop Prius.”
I’ve checked to make sure that I can PICTURE each of these three words. For “Luke,” I’m going to see the most famous Luke I’m aware of, Luke Skywalker from Star Wars. For “coop,” I see a square wireframe cage with straw, feathers and broken eggs inside; it’s about half as tall as Luke. I have two friends who own a Prius, so that’s easy for me; the one I see is white.
Now to COMBINE it all with the image. Since “Luke” is now the star of my image, I’m going to replace my previous image of the man with the bird, and use the same emotion blended with my new images (often, replacing parts of your image like this as you go is necessary; the first image is just a starting point). So now, I see Luke in his white karate-like outfit bawling hysterically as he tries to push the coop into his Prius. It won’t fit, and he is throwing a tantrum. I’ve also added sad looking cartoonish chickens here and there, looking up at Luke, like they were really counting on going with him on this trip in his Prius.
LUKE + COOP + PRIUS = LUGUBRIOUS = EXAGGERATEDLY SAD
Let’s try one fact that is not a vocabulary word. Let’s say that you’re networking and meet a new contact who tells you that he loves to ski Attitash Mountain in New Hampshire whenever he gets the chance. You want to remember this tidbit, maybe as a starting point for connecting at a later time:
It’s pretty easy for me to FORM A MENTAL IMAGE of my new friend skiing down a snow-covered mountain, so I’ll start there.
When I LISTEN to “Attitash,” it sounds to me like “hat attached.”
I’ve checked to make sure I can PICTURE these words, and I can. I see a ridiculously long, red elf hat with a white puff on the end of it. It has stretchy rubber bands on both sides with metal clips on the ends to “attach” it.
When I COMBINE these images, I see my friend skiing down a snow-covered mountain, wearing the ridiculous “hat attached” to his ears with the elastic bands and clips. The hat is way out behind his head as he whips down the slope, but it is not flying off because the “hat” is “attached.”
Using these steps to turn abstract information into connected concrete pictures, you can improve memory drastically, consistently and unlimitedly. I’ve been doing this a long time – both using these techniques myself and teaching them to others – and I’ve yet to find something that can’t be committed to memory this way.
Remember, improve memory and you will also improve your communication power. More tools in the belt means more options for delivering your message with maximum impact for the intended audience and purpose. If you don’t believe me – that literally any word or fact can be learned this way – I invite you to present your “stumpers” in the Comments section below, and I’ll be happy to try my own hand (and brain) at them for you.