Associating New Information with What You Already Know
Associating or linking new information with existing information is the most basic technique of memory training and learning properly. You’ve already experienced initial success when you created a story out of words you wanted to remember. You also used the route method, where the objective was to associate the words with route markers you created.
The latter is comparable to the classification system in a large library. If a book has been placed on the correct shelf in the correct numerical sequence (route marker), all you have to do to find that book is to look in the right place. However, if you put it back in the wrong place, it will be very difficult to find again.
I’m sure you know that you are more receptive to information and better able to retain it if you already know something about the subject—in other words, if you either consciously or unconsciously associate new information with knowledge you already have. For example, suppose a friend is telling you about two films she has seen. You have never heard of one of them and don’t know any of the actors in it. You probably won’t remember what your friend had to say about this film. On the other hand, you’ve read good reviews of the other film, and you’ve heard of the lead actor. You will automatically associate your own images with what your friend says, and you will remember them on another occasion.
Most important, you remember facts in which you are interested. For example, if you read something new in the newspaper about a specific plant, you will probably forget about it right away unless you are a horticulturist, in which case your response to the article will be completely different. If you think about things you learned some time ago, related information you’ve just read about will come to mind as well. It is precisely this process that must be applied to your memory training. You need to practice your ability to establish links between old and new information. That is what we want to do in this chapter. Even if the following examples appear boring, simple exercises with tangible objects are really the best to start with. Later on, you will find it much easier to associate even more complex information in an amusing way and, in turn, etch it into your memory. As we all know, we need to start small. You’ll also realize that learning through visualizations can really be fun.
I would like to show you some examples and exercises using word pairs to give you ideas for relating words that are difficult to associate. When reading the examples, you may often ask what the point is and how it’s possible to relate such confusing pairings. But you do want to enhance your imagination, don’t you? Th is is why I decided not to choose terms that go together easily, such as candle and birthday, or New Year’s Eve and fireworks.
Try to see both words in a scenario that you can remember without difficulty. Following each pairing are two suggested alternatives for association.
A squirrel sits in your Christmas tree holding a Christmas decoration as if it were a hazelnut.
A squirrel has found its way into your apartment and now sits astonished before a Christmas decoration lying in a basket.
A bottle dances as if possessed over the keys of a piano, playing your favorite tune.
A pianist plays boogie-woogie with such unbridled enthusiasm that all the empty bottles standing on the piano fall to the floor with a crash.
You remember a friend’s apartment in an old building, in the bathroom, an open umbrella with holes in the material hangs under the ceiling light and sends peculiar patterns filtering down.
Your favorite umbrella is illuminated with a battery-powered light.
A small goldfish swims around in a gherkin jar in your fridge and looks at you with its large eyes.
You have a wonderful goldfish. During a party, a gherkin falls from a guest’s plate into your aquarium, and from that evening on, the only things your goldfish will eat are gherkins.
A car made out of a large cardboard box with a steering wheel and tires suddenly begins to drive off on its own, or you drive around in the cardboard car.
You open the trunk of your car and one cardboard box after another pours out of your trunk.
A big, powerful strawberry is a passionate cook and flips a pancake with a mighty toss.
You could imagine the strawberry and the pancake playing chess together in rowboat.
Give free rein to your imagination. Associations can be created between all sorts of words, and you will be able to do this easily after a little practice. Four basic methods can be used to form associations between objects. One is to have the two objects share an experience, such as the squirrel and the Christmas decoration or the goldfi sh and the gherkin. Another method is to imagine a specific scenario such as the umbrella in your friend’s bathroom. Reciprocal replacement is a third alternative, as when the cardboard box assumes the function of the car. A last, more difficult method is the personification of objects, which may not be the right strategy for everyone. Some people don’t want to see a bottle dancing or a strawberry flipping pancakes. There are, of course, many other techniques you can employ when relating pieces of information, but if you are unable to make an association on the spur of the moment, these four methods may help.
Try to form various associations between the following word pairs. Take your time in the beginning and enjoy the process of adorning each idea with as many embellishments as possible. Discover your gift for fantasy. See colors; remember smells, feelings, and most of all, happy moments. Keep in mind that the more unusual the images are, the better you will remember them.