Mnemonics – your own chain of memory hooks

Names and surnames of newly met people, codes, passwords, shopping lists as well as important dates, word lists, physical formulas, proper names of all African countries, or types of tissues in the body - the number of information we have to acquire during our lives is unbelievable. Fortunately, there exist techniques which help to memorize them and even make learning fun.

Mnemo... what?

Mnemonics is a system of basic solutions which help to memorize everything which is difficult to memorize. Even in ancient times people observed that it is easier to memorize information which evoke associations or emotional reactions rather than try to memorize dry facts. Our brains are evolutionally adapted to memorizing very complicated models of information made up of multidimensional images. In the case of an important memory we are easily able to remember emotions, colours, smells, or sounds accompanying it. It is far more difficult to memorize written down dull facts. The key to memorizing new packets of information is associating them with a vivid image created in our minds. These visualizations are governed by a couple of simple laws:

  1. It is easier to memorize positive things. When it comes to unpleasant images our mind may not want to remember them. 
  2. Vivid, colorful, images full of sensual impressions are easier to remember than those which are boring and dull. 
  3. Everything which is exaggerated, over laughed and referring to sex is easier to memorize because it causes emotional reactions. 
  4. Symbols which are deeply rooted in our consciousness may also be used to code complicated information. 

To sum up, there are three important elements in mnemonics: imagination, associations and context. 

Examples of mnemonics

The linking technique – one of the easiest methods of memorizing lists of information or objects. It consists of linking consecutive items from the list through vivid associations, and creating an unbreakable chain out of them. One variation of this technique is the narration method in which instead of simple associations we construe a short story by using items from the list. Sometimes simple associations are not enough. For example, when we try to memorize a shopping list containing milk, apples, wash-up liquid, coffee, cola, dog food a short story made up of these items may sound as follows: 

Once there was a cow which ate green apples which is why she gave green wash-up liquid instead of milk. One day she ate some coffee beans and instead of liquid she gave Coca-Cola. The farmer didn’t need such a cow so he turned her into dog food. 
The plot of this story is absurd, however, this is what makes it easy to remember. In forming associations it is best to use words and phrases which have a personal meaning for us. If a story is too complicated mnemonics will be of no use. The linking technique is also useless when we have to memorize precisely the sequence of events. 

The hook method – this mnemonic has been created to memorize information in which the sequence of events is important. It requires a little more effort than the linking method but it results in that it is very hard to mix up the sequence of memorized facts or omit one of them. The first step is matching images with successive figures and numbers. This may be achieved through rhymes or visual representations. A list from one to 10 may look in the following way: 1 – stick; 2 – swan; 3 – breast; 4 – chair; 5 – hook; 6 – cherry; 7 – scythe; 8 – snowman; 9 – balloon; 10 – sword and shield. These are our hooks by means of which we will fix information to consecutive numbers. Let’s assume that we need to remember the planets of our solar system beginning with the one lying closest to the sun. 

1 – using all the strength we have we hit a small ball with a sign “Mercury” on it with a big bat; despite of force of the strike, the ball falls very close
2 – the beautiful Venus is flying through outer space on a swan;
3 – Mother Earth is hugging us to her breast;
4 – grandpa is sitting on an old chair with a marsian look on his face
5 – the huge planet Jupiter is hanging on a tiny hook in outer space;
6 – there is a stalk with a leaf growing from the center of Saturn; the planet changes into a big cherry;
7 – death reaped Uranus with a scythe and its ashes are kept in a urn;
8 – instead of snow a snowman is made of two balls of sea water, it’s a snowman of the god of water and the sea Neptune; 
9 – the dog Pluto is holding a rope in his teeth, on its there is Pluto floating in the air like a balloon. 

 These are only two out of many techniques. Mnemonics is a vast field encompassing such methods as the alphabet method, the travel system, the system of Roman peace and many other. Some mnemonics make use of acronyms (each letter in the abbreviation is the first letter of a word which we have to remember) as well as replacing numbers with words made up of a given number of letters. Many of them have been founded in ancient Greece and Rome – even great philosophers had trouble with their memory. Playing with mnemonics is not only a method of memorizing difficult data sequences, it’s also a good activity helping our mind’s capacity.

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