How good are you at remembering numbers? Perhaps you have a knack for recalling telephone numbers. Maybe you can remember Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) but birthdays and anniversaries let you down. You might also be interested in learning how to memorize jokes.

We seem to be ever more surrounded by numbers and increasingly we are expected to memorize them in the form of PINs and codes for credit-card security or for accessing special accounts on the internet, or entry codes to offices. Numbers are ubiquitous, telephone numbers, train timetables, weights and measures, bank statements, population statistics, election results … Wouldn’t it be great if we could file away all these numbers for instant and reliable retrieval on demand? You might also be interested in memorizing appointments.

I do not have an innate talent for remembering numbers, but I do have a trained memory which allows me to memorize a sequence of up to 2,000 digits within one hour. How is this possible?

I give numbers a special code which translates them into meaningful, memorable images. This is what I refer to as the language of numbers.

THE NUMBER-SHAPE SYSTEM

The Number-Shape System works by translating a single-digit number into an image resembling its shape. For example, the number 8 with a small stretch of the imagination has the shape of a snowman. So, to remember that oxygen has the atomic number 8, picture a snowman wearing an oxygen mask.

The number 6 could resemble an elephant’s trunk. The number 7 has the shape of a boomerang. To remind you that you have a number 67 bus to catch, imagine an elephant standing at the bus stop throwing a boomerang with its trunk: a somewhat unlikely scene but certainly one you won’t forget. Now, suddenly, numbers come to life. They become animated, take on a unique significance and are instantly more memorable.

Let’s look at another example. How would you memorize the four-digit PIN 1580? Perhaps this is a PIN for a cash dispenser, in which case you could stage the scene at your local bank. Imagine walking into your bank carrying a gigantic pencil (a number shape for 1) – perhaps you are about to draft a business plan. Inside the bank there is a seahorse (a number shape for 5) queuing up at the cash desk. Behind the window is a snowman (a number shape for 8) bouncing a soccer ball (a number shape for 0) on his head. Run through this scene in your mind a few times and you shouldn’t forget the PIN in a hurry.

Tools : A Pictorial Vocabulary

What shapes do single-digit numbers evoke for you? 0 a ball; 9 a balloon on a string?  Make up your own.

Exercise : Number-Shape Memorization

Try to memorize the following 20-digit number using the Number-Shape System. Convert each number into its equivalent shape (use either your own number shapes or mine) and connect them together using the Link Method. So to start, I imagine throwing a boomerang at a balloon on a string. Now you continue by connecting the balloon on a string to a ball, and so on.

7 9 0 4 6 2 1 3 5 8 5 9 9 4 0 1 3 2 7 6

You should now have created a story involving a chain of 20 linked number shapes starting with a boomerang or a cliff edge and ending with an elephant’s trunk or a golf club. Now try to write down the sequence of numbers in your notebook.