All Memory (Trained Or Untrained) Is Based On Association
All memory, whether trained or untrained, is based on association. But that’s stating it too simply. You will be taught many systems of association on this website, but it goes much deeper than that. You see, when people say, “I forgot,” they didn’t, usually—what really happened was that they didn’t remember in the first place.
How can you forget something that you didn’t remember, originally? Turn that around, and you have the solution to remembering—if you do remember something originally, how can you forget it?
That brings you to forcing yourself to remember originally.
How can you do this? The simple systems of association you’ll learn here will do it for you, automatically!
One of the fundamentals of a trained memory is what we call Original Awareness. Anything of which you are Originally Aware cannot be forgotten. And, applying our systems of association will force Original Awareness. Observation is essential to Original Awareness—anything you wish to remember must first be observed. Using association will take care of that, too.
But how in the world do you associate something that’s intangible or abstract? That question leads to another fundamental of trained memory. It is always easier to remember things that have meaning than it is to remember things that do not. You’ll see, as you get a bit deeper into our methods, that nothing is abstract or intangible so far as the systems are concerned. You will learn how to make any intangible thing, any abstract piece of information, tangible and meaningful in your mind. Once you’ve mastered that simple technique, all remembering and therefore all learning will be easier for you for the rest of your life.
We’d like to insist right here that virtually all learning is based on memory. Educators don’t like to admit it, but they know it’s true. And any student knows that the more he remembers, the better grades he’ll get from the teacher who likes to put down “memorization.” We believe that there are three basic learning skills:
1) the search for information
2) remembering the information, and
3) applying the information.
The search is up to the educators and the sources of knowledge, the application is up to you. We’ll take care of step 2.
Let’s begin with association. First of all, you should realize that you’ve used association all your life. The problem is that you’ve usually associated subconsciously, without recognizing the association for what it was. Anything you clearly associated, even if subconsciously, is sure to have been easily remembered. But since you have no control over your subconscious, association has been a hit-or-miss kind of thing all your life.
Here’s a basic memory rule: You Can Remember Any New Piece of Information if It Is Associated to Something You Already Know or Remember.
Do you remember the lines on the music staff, the treble clef, E, G, B, D, and F? If your teacher ever told you to think of the sentence Every Good Boy Does Fine, then you do remember them. Your teacher was following that basic memory rule, probably without realizing it. He or she was helping you to remember new (and abstract) information, the letters E, G, B, D, and F, by associating them to something you already knew, or at least understood—the simple sentence Every Good Boy Does Fine. Obviously, it worked.
Teachers in the early grades have been telling their students for years that it’s easy to remember how to spell piece if you think of the phrase “a piece of pie.” Since most young students already know how to spell pie, associating that old knowledge to the new—the spelling of “piece”—solves the problem. Again, the basic rule has been followed.
Very few people can easily remember the shape of Russia, or Greece, or any other country—except Italy, that is. That’s because most people have been told, or have read, that Italy is shaped like a boot. There’s that rule again—the shape of a boot was the something already known, and the shape of Italy could not be forgotten once that association was made.
These are common examples of association, subconscious or conscious. And so it goes: medical students use mnemonics (a technique for improving the memory) to help themselves remember the cranial nerves; other students picture homes on a great lake to help themselves remember that the five Great Lakes are Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior; others picture a quartet being stabbed (stab gives you the initial letters of soprano, tenor, alto, and bass) to remember the four voices in a quartet. People have remembered that Mount Fujiyama is 12,365 feet high by associating it to a calendar (12 months, 365 days in a year).
The trouble with such examples is that they work only for those specific things; they’re limited. The systems of trained memory you’ll learn on this website are applicable to anything. They are limited only to the extent that your willingness to use them is limited. The point is this: If you know how to consciously associate anything you want to remember to something you already know, you’ll have a trained memory. It’s as simple as that. And you can learn to associate anything you like—quickly and naturally.
The trained-memory systems you’ll be taught on this website are not unnatural in any way; they merely systematize, or patternize, a natural process. Many times during your life you’ve heard or seen something that caused you to snap your fingers and say, “Oh, that reminds me.…” And, usually, the thing that reminded you of something had nothing to do with what it reminded you of. Somewhere back in your mind an absurd or random association had been made.
Why, when the orators of ancient times could use their own homes as “loci” to remind themselves of the thoughts of a speech, did they search for other buildings to give them more “places”? It wasn’t that the same home or building couldn’t be used over and over again—it could. (“The loci,” said one thinker, “are like wax tablets which remain when what is written on them has been effaced and are ready to be written on again.”)
No, the problem was that the “home” loci became too familiar after a while—after all, a staircase is a staircase, and a foyer is a foyer. But an important memory principle simply never occurred to the ancient orators: It isn’t necessary to associate the thoughts of a speech, or anything else, to places—the thoughts may be associated to each other, so that one thought will remind you of the next thought.
That simple idea is the basis of the Link system of memory. First, we’ll show you how to use it to help you memorize tangible items. Later on, when you’ve learned how to picture thoughts or concepts, you’ll see that the idea can easily be applied to intangibles.
Right now, let’s apply the basic association rule to remembering ten unrelated items. But we’ll change the rule, slightly, by adding one important phrase. The revised rule: In Order to Remember Any New Piece of Information, It Must Be Associated to Something You Already Know or Remember in Some Ridiculous Way. The addition of that simple four-word phrase accomplishes quite a few things. It will force the Original Awareness that’s necessary to remember anything, it will force you to concentrate and use your imagination as you never have before, and it will force you to form associations consciously.
Assume you wanted to memorize these ten items, in sequence: airplane, tree, envelope, earring, bucket, sing, basketball, salami, star, nose. All right, picture an airplane in your mind. There’s no way to apply our memory rule yet. But now we come to the next item: tree.
The rule can now be applied, if we make the assumption that you already know, or remember, airplane. The new piece of information that you want to remember is tree. All you need to do is to form a ridiculous picture, or image, in your mind’s eye—an association between those two things.
There are two steps involved. First you need a ridiculous impossible, crazy, illogical, absurd—picture or image to associate the two items. What you don’t want is a logical or sensible picture.
An example of a logical picture might be: an airplane parked near a tree. Though unlikely, that is not ridiculous, it is possible therefore, it probably won’t work. A ridiculous or impossible picture might be: A gigantic tree is flying instead of an airplane, or an airplane is growing instead of a tree, or airplanes are growing on trees, or millions of trees (as passengers) are boarding airplanes. These are crazy, impossible pictures. Now, select one of these pictures, or one you thought of yourself, and see it in your mind’s eye.
We don’t, of course, mean to see the words airplane and tree. You are to actually see the action you’ve selected—and most ridiculous associations between any two items will be actions, like the examples given here.
See that picture, that action, in your mind for a split second. You’re not doing anything unusual; you’ve been seeing pictures in your mind all your life. Actually, you can’t think without seeing pictures. Aristotle said it, centuries ago—one of his books opened with this sentence: “It is impossible even to think without a mental picture.”
Seeing pictures, or images, in your mind is almost like having a movie screen in your head. If you read the words husband, child, car, etc., you cannot think of any of those people or things without “seeing” a picture of them—even if it’s only for a split second. Try not to picture an elephant; don’t see an elephant in your mind. What happened? It became impossible not to see, or picture, an elephant!
All right, then. Choose a ridiculous association between airplane and tree, and see it in your mind’s eye, right now.
Once you’ve tried to do that, stop thinking about it. The “trying,” however, is quite important. We tell our students that even if our systems don’t work, they must work! That sounds silly, but it’s true. Just trying to apply the systems must improve your memory, whether or not they really work. The fact that they do work, and work beautifully, will improve your memory to an unbelievable degree.
The next item on the list is envelope. We’ll assume that you already know, or remember, tree. The new thing to remember is envelope. Simply form a ridiculous picture, or association, in your mind between tree and envelope. You might see millions of envelopes growing on a tree, or a tree is sealing a gigantic envelope, or you’re trying to seal a tree in an envelope. There are many other suggestions we could give you, but all you need is one ridiculous picture. Select one of these, or one you thought of yourself, and see it in your mind’s eye for an instant.
You needn’t labor over seeing that picture. All it takes is a fraction of a second. It’s the clarity of the picture that’s important, not how long you see it. So see it, clearly, for just a second.
The next item to be remembered is earring. The thing you already know is envelope. Form a ridiculous association between envelope and earring. You might see yourself wearing envelopes instead of earrings, or you open an envelope and millions of earrings fly out and hit you in the face.
You’re much better off, incidentally, thinking up your own pictures. When we suggest the ridiculous pictures, we’re taking away some of your Original Awareness. We’ll keep on giving you suggestions, but whether you use ours or your own, be sure to see the pictures clearly.
Select one of our associations between envelope and earring, or one you thought of yourself, and see it in your mind’s eye.
Bucket is the new thing to remember. Associate it to earring. You might see yourself wearing buckets instead of earrings. Or a gigantic bucket is wearing gigantic earrings. See one of these pictures in your mind.
The next thing to remember is sing. (This is not an object, not a noun, and it’s here only to show you that this doesn’t matter—an association will still remind you of it.) Associate sing to the last thing you already know—bucket. If you see a gigantic bucket singing, that will do it. Or you might see yourself singing with a bucket over your head. That’s not impossible, but it’s certainly ridiculous. Just be sure to see your picture clearly.
The next item is basketball. Associate that to sing. Picture a basketball singing. Or someone is singing and millions of basketballs fly out of his mouth.
Salami. Picture a gigantic salami playing basketball. Or a basketball player (Jerry Lucas, who else?) is dribbling a salami instead of a basketball.
Star. Picture a gigantic salami twinkling in the sky. Or you’re slicing a star, instead of a salami! See the picture.
Nose. Picture someone with a twinkling star on his face instead of a nose. Or a star has a large nose. See that picture.
If you’ve tried to see all the pictures, you will know all ten items. The first item is the only one you may have trouble with, because you didn’t associate it to anything to remind you of it. This will be straightened out for you soon enough. If you know the item, fine. If not, it was airplane. Try to think of the items before you read them in the paragraphs to follow. Now, think of airplane for a moment. What does that remind you of? Tree, of course.
Think of tree—that reminds you of … envelope. Think of envelope, which should remind you of … earring. Think of earring, and it will remind you of bucket. What silly thing was the bucket doing? Singing, of course—and that reminds you of sing. What else was singing? A basketball. Thinking of basketball for a moment will remind you of … salami. Salami should make you think of … star. And, finally, star will remind you of … nose.
How did you do? You should have known all of them. If you had trouble with one or two, if you think you forgot any, it’s probably because you read the word here before you had the chance to think of it. You didn’t “forget” it at all. If you’re convinced that you did, then you didn’t really remember it in the first place—go back to that item and strengthen your association. That is, be sure the picture is ridiculous, and, more important, be sure to really see it in your mind.
If you take paper and pencil and try it now, on your own, you’ll see that you can list the ten items, in sequence, without missing any. Try it and see. Now, try it backward! Think of nose; that will make you think of … star. Star will remind you of … salami. That reminds you of … basketball. Basketball to … sing, sing to … bucket, bucket to … earring, earring to … envelope, envelope to … tree, and tree to … airplane. Try this with your own list, and you’ll be proud of yourself —you’ll be able to remember any list of items, in sequence, backward and forward.