Memory. That thing we used to have before the Internet.
I agree: remembering by heart seems outdated. We have access to Google 24/7, and school is over for most of us.
The thing is, our brains are rotting. Look: I can’t remember my brother’s phone number, and I forget your name about 2.7s after you said it. Sometimes even faster.
Why is that?
And no, it’s not because I’m a self-centered A-hole. I’m not saying that I’m not, but it doesn’t affect my memory. Plus, I’d love to remember your name, in case I need to call you to borrow money.
We forget everything we hear because we can. Everything is recorded and accessible from anywhere.
But this illusion of brain decluttering has a major drawback: it impairs our ability to think.
See, the more you know, the more you’re able to connect the dots. If you start from scratch every day, the odds of having a breakthrough idea are really slim. That’s because you don’t internalize enough data to link it all together and innovate.
Remembering is the premise of creating.
I’m going to introduce you to a method developed by the memory grandmasters.
First, make sure you know how to reach tremendous focus. Searching for purpose and interest will prime your mind to remember anything. Once you took care of that groundwork, you need a method.
Memory includes two components: remember and remember to remember. I call this:
- the POK: the piece of knowledge
- the NOK: the network of knowledge, or neural pathways connecting the POKs. It’s one thing to learn one piece of info, it’ another to have the ability to access it at any given time.
Let’s dive in.
Short-term memory: enlarge the POK
This method will appear very odd at first.
So here’s the drill:
You have to transform the item (or POK) you want to remember into a moving image. I employ “moving” here in two ways:
- create motion with your image;
- be emotionally moved by its exuberance and unicity.
It’s known as the SEE method:
- Sense: use your different senses, by trying to remember how it would feel to touch, smell, see, hear, taste the POK
- Exaggerate: make it stand out in your mind
- Energize: put a movement to it, don’t let it stand still. Put the POK into action.
Let’s take an example:
Lately, I’ve set a challenge to myself to learn five new English words a day. Let’s study one of my latest discovery: parapraxis (meaning a slip of the tongue). If you already knew that word, kudos, you’re a vocabulary nerd like me. Otherwise, you’re welcome.
Let’s apply the SEE method to it. And again, this is my crazy mind working to remember the word. Hopefully, your visual imagery will be different.
If you’re fluent in Greek, you’ll know that:
- para means next to;
- praxis means action;
Hence “next to the action,” meaning something said that wasn’t quite what was happening. Or a slip of the tongue.
But let’s assume you don’t speak Greek, but only Latin and English. Let’s get creative:
Let’s say a military parachutist is practicing to jump out of a plane. Here is the catch: the other parachutists licked the entire jump deck of the plane. Why? To make the exercise more difficult. It smells like dried drool all over the plane. The sight of the parachutists licking the floor is pretty uncommon. If this sounds familiar to you; please invite me to your next birthday party.
Drool, as we all know, can make things slippery. That’s debatable. But that’s not the point.
Of course, our parachutist will slip on the floor and fall into the sky. Whether he has a parachute on or not is up to your twisted imagination.
I applied here the SEE method:
- Senses: the smell of the drool, the sight of the parachutists on their fours
- Exaggerate: if you know a boot camp that trains like that, please stop reading my article and call the United Nations
- Energize: the movement of the parachutist slipping on the drool and falling off the plane.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I already can hear you say: it’s going to take ages to remember any single POK! And retaining this POK imagery seems harder than remembering the actual POK itself. If those are your doubts, I invite you to read the next two chapters of this article.
But in a nutshell: we are visual beings. We remember images better than words.
What are words? A collection of letters. What about letters? A code that we invented to transcribe our stories onto paper and pass them on to our fellow human beings. Codes are hard to remember because we are not wired to do so. We are wired to remember stories and images. When I write “pink elephant,” you visualize a pink elephant. You don’t think of the letters P-I-N-K-E-L-E-P-H-A-N-T.
The SEE method reverse-engineers this process by putting the word back into our familiar and most natural language: imagination.
Now let’s proceed to answer your legitimate questions.
Medium-term memory: connect THE POK
I find it hard to remember that I remember.
Let me explain:
I know the word parapraxis, and I’ve learned in the same fashion a bunch of other words to shine in society. Let’s select 5 of them. If those words seem trivial to you, I beg for your mercy as a native French speaker living in NYC. But enough of those self-indulging remarks, and let’s get to it:
Here is a summary of each of the visual imageries I created. Many of them rely on the fact that I’m bilingual, which comes in handy for creative thoughts.
|arete||aggretate of qualities||“art et thé”, art & tea in French, watching an amazing Picasso with a cup of matcha latte.|
|bane||something that spoils||bane, “baigne”, or “to bath” in French, oftentimes the end of the party when I was a kid. Actually, bathing is the bane of most French people.|
|bromide||platitude or trite saying||bro = brown, brown as a berry
ide = bride, blushing bride
==> brown as a blushing bride. Imagine a bride that turns brown when she blushes, because of some liver problem.
|deadwood||useless person||logs that froze to death, and therefore useless, screaming in the middle of night IIIIIIIIKEA. That was a stretch. But who cares?|
|highfalutin||pompous||high five + “lutin” = imp in French, so when you are making fun of a “lutin” by trying to high five him way too high, you’re sooo height-pretentious|
Now we are going to remember the list itself. You might find it easy right now, but that’s because you added that list to your short-term memory. To make it to your medium-term memory, you need to attach your POK to your long-term memory.
Let’s assume you know your body by heart.
We are going to attach each of these visual imageries to a part of your body, starting with the feet.
- I am walking on a Picasso with a cup of matcha latte.
- I was having fun, but as I got dirty from the fresh paint, I had to stop and “baigne” (=bathe) myself.
- Doing so, I got my flower crown wet in the water, and the paint dyed it brown. I’m infuriated and blush out of anger.
- I decided to pout in my bath, and the water got so cold that my arms turned into frozen screaming logs.
- My arms were so heavy that I couldn’t even high five an height-challenged person.
NB: Please don’t show that to my shrink.
And here you are:
We created a story that attached newly acquired information (words) to long-term knowledge (your body). You witnessed the birth of a NOK: a Network of Knowledge that associates vivid images together in a natural order to create a story that (kind of) makes sense.
Remember (no pun intended), we are story animals.
Long-term MEMORY: review the nok
Now that those POK made it to your medium-term memory, how can you make sure you remember them forever?
Keep reviewing that story. Repeat it forward & backward, at longer and longer intervals. 10 min, 1 hour, 1 day, 3 days, 1 week, 2 weeks, 3 weeks, 1 month, 2 months, 3 months. And then, it will be in your head forever.
Memory is not innate. It’s a muscle that can grow.
While memory doesn’t equal intelligence, it’s the cornerstone of developing an intelligent mind.
By learning more and more by heart, you start internalizing what you learn. You start being able to live the information you’re ingesting.
If you rely on nothing but Google & Wikipedia to answer all of your questions:
- you don’t grow your brain capacity;
- you don’t allow connections to happen consciously or subconsciously.
We are wastrels. Abundance made us this way. The abundance of resources and knowledge. But evolution has not designed humans for this. We are designed to learn. That’s how we grow.
Stop learning, and start wilting.
“We all love to win but how many people love to train ?” – Mark Spitz
The only resources that you shouldn’t be worried wasting are your brain abilities.
You’re not a hard drive with limited storage. The more you learn, the more you can learn. Even Dropbox can’t beat that.
Remember those names when you go to networking events. When you remember people, they make a point at remembering you.
“Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is a natural consequence of applying basic fundamentals.” -Jim Rohn
Go back to the basics. Learn by heart. And see how far it takes you.
Did you like this post? Prove it in 3 simple steps!
- Clap til your hands bleed
- Follow me. But not in a weird way
- Share. Sharing is caring. Unless we are talking about pancakes. In that case, don’t touch mine. Order your own ones.
Also published on Medium.