Practical Memorization: Part 3 – 10 Ways to Trick Your Brain into Memorizing Anything


This is part 3 of my series of articles on practical memorization.

As the old saying goes, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” But what if you could? What if there were ways to trick your brain into memorizing anything? Believe it or not, there are.

Today, I will help you remember any boring fact using compelling images that will literally jump from your brain.

Let’s see how to do that…

How to capture the attention of your hunter-gatherer’s brain

To understand how to improve your memory, let’s see what got our attention ten thousand years ago. This was the time of hunter-gatherers. We lived in savannahs and forests full of predators like lions and crocodiles. We were hungry all the time and had to hunt prey or find juicy berries. Our attention was mainly on detecting cues in the vegetation around us. For example, a moving shrub, the smell of honey or the noise of a distant twig crack.

Now guess what? If you put a hunter-gatherer in our modern world, they would be completely lost. They would be especially confused by the written symbols we use or this odd habit we have of measuring time. Of course, we have learned the meaning of these abstract notions. But our brain did not evolve much to adapt to abstract things. It is still the brain of a hunter-gatherer. That’s why all the symbols we use are not nearly as compelling as things we can smell, hear and visualize.

The lesson is that anything abstract is not remarkable to our brain, and thus, not easy to memorize. To make abstract ideas compelling, we need to ground them into physical reality.

10 ways to create vivid images in your brain

In practice, any information you want to memorize should be converted into:

  1. Something more concrete
  2. Something more noticeable

Let’s say we want to remember the quote: “Failure is success in progress”, attributed to Albert Einstein. This can be done by making powerful images of each of these 3 abstract terms.

First, we convert each one of those 3 words into concrete objects.
For example:

  • a band-aid for failure
  • a medal for success
  • a stairway for “in progress”

Then we associate them into a compelling story, like a band-aid receiving a medal in a stairway. And we make this even more noticeable, using the following 7 effects:

1) Humanize. Sure, objects are more interesting than ideas, but talking objects are even more compelling! In the story we made, we imagined the band-aid as a person. Now it can walk in the stairway with its legs and smile while receiving a medal!

2) Movement. Just as movement attracted hunter-gatherers’ attention in the forest or savannah, we find moving things much more remarkable than static ones. That’s why I made the band-aid walk in the previous image. Now, let’s make it *run*, and the image will be even more compelling!

3) Exaggerate. Bigger things are more noticeable than smaller ones. Let’s tweak our story to use this effect: imagine a giant golden medal. It has stairways. And the band-aid can walk into those golden stairways.

4) Multiply. Yes, a gold medal is impressive. But Michael Phelps would tell you that 23 medals are even more impressive. Even better, what about thousands of gold medals! In our example, we could imagine the band-aid being showered by a rain of gold medals while it is running in the stairway.

5) Emotional figures. You can also make things more compelling by adding emotional figures. For example, you can add a puppy, a baby, your mum, or your girlfriend/boyfriend to the picture. In our image, let’s imagine that your mum is running in a stairway. She has a gold medal on her neck and the stairway is on top of a gigantic band-aid.

6) Violence. Violence is one of the most noticeable effects as it must be detected for our survival. To make things more noticeable in the images you create, just add some blood. Or you can add spectacular violent practices like beheading someone. I know it can look psychotic, but it’s ok, that’s your imagination at the service of a noble cause: memorization. For example, in our example, let’s say someone is shooting the band-aid with a machine gun, and blood is pouring from it while it is running through a golden stairway.

7) Sex. It’s probably not a surprise for you to find sex in this list. Sexual things are always compelling because of our reproduction instinct. Maybe you can picture your favorite actor/actress in their underwear while walking in the stairway. They have a band-aid stuck on their chest. And they are walking on stairs made up of gold medals.

8) Disgusting things. Disgusting things are important to notice as a survival mechanism to avoid getting sick. For example, we are deeply compelled to avoid all kinds of bad-smelling trash or feces. To make our image more compelling, we can make a person vomit while walking on a golden stair. Vomit is great to portray the idea of failing, so we can remove the band-aid from the picture if we like.

9) Mouth-watering things. We are also highly sensitive to big rewards such as a tasty strawberry or a roasted chicken. You can use your favorite dish to make something memorable. In our example, let’s say the band-aid walks on a stair, and on each stair, there is a juicy strawberry to eat. Notice how we removed the use of the gold medal here as strawberries can already convey the idea of success.

10) Brightness. Last but not least, it helps to stimulate our senses. This can be done for our five senses. For the sight sense, just make something colorful or very bright to make it noticeable. In our example, it’s easy to do: just make the medal very shiny.

As you may have noticed, you can use several of these 10 effects in your story to maximize their impact.

Your brain is a powerful tool that can be used to memorize anything with the right techniques. What gets your attention today is basically the same things that got our attention 10,000 years ago when we were still hunter-gatherers. That’s why these 10 effects work so well to create vivid images. They are all great techniques to improve your memory and help you memorize anything. Give them a try and see which ones work best for you!

Featured photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash.

About the author 

Alex Philippe

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