Someone recently sent me this interesting article on memory tricks to get my two cents on it.
I hope you don’t mind, but…
I’ve got more than two “Magnetic” cents to give.
More like ten dollars.
Memorization Techniques Are NOT Tricks
First of all, I’ve always disliked the notion that mnemonics are “tricks.”
I’m an amateur magician, and “tricks” are what happens when someone causes you to look in a different direction in order to execute a move that the magician doesn’t want you to see.
Some people call this “misdirection,” but it’s actually better termed “focused attention redirection,” because that’s exactly what happens.
Your focus is not only redirected, but the focus itself is grossly amplified in that new location (if the magician is any good).
Illusions, on the other hand, happen when you are able to look directly at the scene and view a visual transformation that you cannot explain by sleight-of-hand.
Or, if legerdemain is the only conclusion, then the sleight is executed in such a way that knowledge of the move does not detract from the illusion.
As you can see, neither of these definitions have a whole lot to do with mnemonics.
If anything, when you are “showing off” your memory skills, you absolutely want to focus attention on “how the trick is done” in order to help others acquire the skill.
And you are certainly never creating illusions. If you can rattle off the alphabet backwards or use sophisticated vocabulary because you’ve done the groundwork using mnemonics, then that is real magic.
And if you have aphantasia and use memory techniques to get over it, all the better.
Why Mnemonics Are Real Magic
In fact, mnemonics are probably the closest thing to magic that exists, and that’s Magic with a Magnetic capital ‘M,’ the kind that never resorts to tricks or illusions.
I find this limitation odd because each and every one of the other tricks becomes doubly powerful when they are stored somewhere in our minds.
For example, take trick/skill number one in the article: rhyming. The author gives the example of “in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”
Fair enough, but you have to get to “blue” in order to remember that 1492 ends with 2 … what about the 14? Perhaps “14 oceans were blue in 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean true” might be another option for those who struggle with this rhyme.
Either way, the rhyme has at least a few visual characteristics.
Rhyming Memory Technique Magic
But what if we want to use rhymes to memorize vocabulary?
For example, let’s say you’re learning Italian right now and want to remember that “ganascia” can mean either “jaw” or “cheek” depending on the context.
Now, I would never actually do this, because it strikes me as a rather weak method, but I could use a rhyme: “ganascia has a jaw like a geisha.”[You can hear how “ganascia” is pronounced by visiting its listing on Forvo.]
Notice that I’ve made quite a visual image from this rhyme, and that could be useful.
And like the Columbus mnemonic example, I actually have to get to the end of the phrase to trigger the beginning.
Add Mnemonic Devices Progressively
Perhaps “Geisha has a jaw like ganascia” would be better with an image of Gandhi kissing a geisha to go along with the rhyme and help trigger the “ga” sound.
But adding more details like this, you’re increasing your chances of recall. I call this process “Magnetic Compounding.”
But here’s the rub:
No matter which way I shake my Magnetic Memory stick at a mnemonic examples like this one, the rhyme would just exist in the void of my head if I don’t stick it someplace. That’s why I almost always use the Memory Palace technique.
How to Use the Memory Palace Technique with a Bridging Figure
Why not use a ‘G’ palace and pop this little gem into order with some other “gan” words and use Gandhi as a Magnetic Bridging Figure?
Doing so creates even stronger memory connections. You can bounce into fluency much faster by operating this way – almost as if your Memory Palace were some kind of trampoline.
For more context, memory athlete and memory expert Nelson Dellis and I discussed this point recently on the Magnetic Memory Method Podcast.
I don’t always use Bridging Figures in my practice, but do like to always have a Memory Palace so I can use Recall Rehearsal to get the vocabulary into long term memory.
I also like to continually compound by adding new details to the associations for as long as it takes to get the information to stick. Usually just one more pass is all it takes, even with tough vocabulary in Mandarin.
In sum, rhymes have potential, particularly if you can get something visual into the rhyme.
But I never rest on rhymes alone. Please consider locating the rhymes in a strategically predetermined locations. Just like as Magnetic Memory Method Masterclass has helped many successful students benefit from doing.
The article I shared at the top of this page has other good advice.
And all of it can be greatly assisted by coupling the mnemonic strategies with locations in carefully predetermined Memory Palaces. Make sure to give it a read and then think about how you can use the suggestions here to improve your practice.
And let me know if you use any of these strategies to memorize vocabulary with either great success, mixed results or none at all.
I’ll not only pass the word on to everyone, but we all have the opportunity to grow as a result. What you’ve learned is invaluable, so please don’t feel shy about writing in to share with others.
And the best part is that by explaining ourselves to others, we learn more about the process. Thanks to self-reflexive thinking, we’re able to improve much faster. I know that sharing my own memory practice has certainly helped me improve over the years in many ways.