The human brain is a very complicated ‘machine’ capable of performing billions of floating point operations per second (FLOPS). The brain consumes 20% of the body’s energy and is comprised of over 100 billion cells. To date nothing is known to outperform the brain’s processing power. As a side note, it is estimated that we will see supercomputers reaching human-like speeds by the year 2013. So if this is true, why is it so hard for me to remember what I did last weekend or the top ten most important talking points for my next presentation?
Well most of the brain’s processing power is focused on the interpretation of our senses to help us thrive, stay safe, and interact with our surroundings. Memory is really made up of a group of systems each playing a different role in creating, storing, and recalling information. What may seem like a simple memory to your brain is really a complex reconstruction of imagery, function, and form. For example, the concept of a “tree” is stored in different areas of the brain and reassembled on demand when needed using a very complex and orchestrated biological process.
Scientist now know that one of the most powerful ways to improve our memory is by leveraging other memories through relationships attached to familiar ideas, personal experiences, or physical senses.
Has anyone ever forgotten how much it hurts to get stung by a bee or to get burned by a pot of scalding hot water? It seems as though memory can easily be recalled and stored by linking them to other memories – as if to create a chain made of interconnecting links of ideas or experiences.
A number of quick and easy memorization techniques have been developed over thousands of years based on this concept. The most effective and powerful techniques that exist today are geared for remembering ideas, objects, lists, or numbers. Some of the most popular techniques include: (1) Mnemonic System, (2) Link Method, (3) Story Method, (4) The Method of Loci, and (5) The Peg System. Later articles will discuss the details of each methods and the advantage and disadvantages of each.
Mnemonics are techniques for remembering information that is otherwise quite difficult to recall. The idea behind using mnemonics is to encode difficult-to-remember information in a way that is much easier to remember. One common mnemonic for remembering lists consists of an easily remembered acronym, or phrase with an acronym that is associated with the list items. For example, to remember the colors of the rainbow, use the mnemonic “Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain” or “Roy G Biv”.
The Link Method
The most basic strategy to improve memory is called the link method (or “chaining”), which is best suited for memorizing short lists. The technique involves making associations between things in a list using a series of mental images. It’s a form of visualizing, but with this system you must link the items together by thinking of images that connect them.
The Story Method
The Story Method is very similar to the Link Method except you link items together in a story. The flow of the story and the strength of the images give you the cues for retrieval.
The Method of Loci
One of the oldest mnemonic systems is the method of loci [LOW-sye]. A “locus” is a location, “loci” is the plural. The method of loci uses locations of a familiar place (imagined in memory) as a framework for memory retrieval. To use the method of loci, you associate items you wish to remember later with locations of a familiar room, building, or street. Then, to retrieve the information, you mentally “stroll down memory lane” and visualize the same locations. If the method works, the information you stored in various locations will come back with the memory of the location.
The Peg System
Peg systems are probably the best known of all memory systems. In these systems, items to be remembered are pegged to, or associated with, certain images in a prearranged order. The idea behind the peg system has been traced to the mid-1600s, when it was developed by Henry Herdson, who linked a digit with an object that resembled the number (for example, “1 candle”). The system gets its name from the fact that the peg words act as mental “pegs” on which you can hang the information that you need to remember.
The Takeaway: The more associations and links you can incorporate into your memories, the more likely you are to remember them.