Broadly speaking Mnemonics are a group of memory aids, or mental ‘slights of hand’ that facilitate the quick and easy assimilation of information of all kinds. Facts, figures, names, faces and events, all can be learned and recalled far easier by using the techniques outlined in our articles than by using the conventional means of rote learning and repetition.

Mnemonics use the imagination in conjunction with all of the individuals senses, in order to transform a dull, dry piece of text into a firm and vibrant memory that is not just easy to remember, but difficult to forget!

Mnemonics gain their power by making use of the way our minds absorb information. For memories to be formed the following events must occur:

introduction to mnemonics


For an event to be committed to memory, it must first be observed. This might seem self evident to you, but you must understand that seeing is entirely different from observing.


All memory is based upon association. To remember one piece of information, we invariably associate it with another already committed memory. This is usually done without our conscious awareness.


Strong memories are memories that are visual in nature. A quotation that you read is not as easily recalled as an event that you witnessed. Text is dry, but images are vibrant. Mnemonics continually makes use of this fact.

How your memory operates

Firstly let me begin by telling you that your memory is excellent. Yes you read correctly. I did say excellent! What do you mean you don’t believe me? The plain and simple fact of the matter is that it has been proven, with the aid of such techniques as hypnosis, that everything that an individual sees, hears, thinks, or does in his or her life, leaves some trace (no matter how small) somewhere in their brain. And unless someone’s brain suffers some kind of physical trauma – for example an haemorrhage, tumour, or some other form of injury or disease that results in the permanent destruction of certain regions of the brain. Then the memories will leave some record for the rest of their life.

Now at this point you are probably asking yourself that, if everything that you have experienced in your life is stored away somewhere in the depths of your brain – then why is it that you appear to forget things?

mnemonics and how memory operates

Well there are a number of reasons why people seem to lose memories (or forget) and the primary ones shall be discussed in the next article. However for now, I will offer a simplified explanation for how human memory operates. I will do this with the aid of a simple analogy.

Imagine if you will, that your memory is an enormous multi-floor library. Now visualise each one of your memories as but a single paragraph, on a single page, of a single book, in this vast library.

In the untrained memory these books are not indexed, and in fact they are not always placed on shelves with books that contain similar memories. So unless you have made a note of which floor and which row ‘specifically’ you placed a particular book, and upon which page of that book the required memory was written. Then finding any piece of information in this labyrinth of shelves, becomes a next to impossible task.

Now I would like you to consider for a few moments, a particularly rare kind of human being. Namely someone who possesses total recall, or to use the generic term – a ‘photographic memory’.

There are not many such individuals around. Also, of the few people that are gifted at birth with a photographic memory, most loose it by the time that they reach adulthood. But nevertheless, enough of them do exist to carry out research with.

So, going back to my library analogy. It would seem that in a photographic memory (or library), the books of memories are both indexed and catalogued. Each book is also placed in a section and sub-section, with books of similar content.

As a result of this, memories from any part of such an individual’s life are immediately accessible to them. Now I will be the first to admit that my analogy is (to put it mildly), a little crude. However, it does serve to illustrate that , an organised memory operates far more efficiently, than does a disorganised one!

The process of remembering

The process of memorising information can be split into four distinct stages. These are:

1) The registering of information by the five senses – sight, hearing, smell, touch and/or taste.

2) The interpretation by the brain of the impulses that are generated by the five senses. This is what is termed understanding.

3) The temporary storage of the information in the so called short-term memory.

4) Finally, the transfer of the information from the short term, to the long-term memory. This is where a (theoretically) permanent record of the memory is stored.

All of the above stages are important and all of them can be used by most people far more efficiently than they generally are. This efficiency may be accomplished with the aid of the many mnemonic techniques.

The biological basis of memory

One of the widest held explanations of how memory operates, is that impulses from different areas of the brain and from the senses, enter the limbic system (situated in the central area of the brain), and are then passed through the mamillary body. These memory impulses then travel around the fornix, to terminate at the hypocampus and the cingulate gyrus. These limbic structures are the ones that it would seem are responsible for the recording and the retrieval of memories. It also has been found, that damage to these structures is the cause of many of the more acute forms of amnesia.

Here is a video intro to memory training.