The Dominic System: What It Is And Why People Love It

Dominc O'Brien Creator of the Dominic System Feature Image on Magnetic Memory Method BlogDominic O’Brien suffered from ADD and dyslexia.

But that didn’t stop him from winning the World Memory Championships… not once but eight times.

Memory accomplishments like these are not very common!

Even less common is going on to develop a memory system that changes the entire world.

Where does this ingenious system come from?

O’Brien developed the Dominic System after getting inspired by watching Creighton Carvello memorize a card deck on television.

O’Brien’s innovative mnemonic system has since become popular because of how it allows people to utilize their minds for accomplishing outstanding feats.

As a result, O’Brien is considered one of the world’s foremost memory experts. He has been reaching individuals, and helping them utilize their memories through his various books and training programs, for decades.

What is the Dominic System?

A mnemonic system, the Dominic System is utilized for remembering sequences of numbers that are similar to the mnemonic major system.

O’Brien built his approach on a core arrangement we usually call the Major System. You’ll learn more about that in a minute.

All such systems work by helping people associate numbers with something else. And a core innovation Dominic O’Brien brought to the game was focusing on individuals in place of objects. He changed this focus because individuals are much easier to remember than objects.

In this system, sometimes called “Hotel Dominic,” the mnemonist (i.e. you) converts numbers into letters. These letters are utilized to create people’s initials. Each individual’s name is then linked to an action.

How is it Different from the Major System?

The Major System is usually ideal for basing words on numbers linked to consonants. Like this:

Major System on the Magnetic Memory Method

For instance, the number 12 might be ‘tin’, which is harder to remember than ‘Al Bundy’. The number 84 could be ‘fire’ which means the sequence 1284 would mean ‘a tin on fire’.

Of course, one perceived weakness of the Major is that it only lets you encode two-digit numbers.

This is actually not a problem. For example, you can combine the Major with a number shape system, as I’ve done here with 358:

Major System Illustration of Mailman Shoving Envelopes Into A Snowman

A Major System Mnemonic Example for the number 358

In this example, a famous mailman is shoving the mail into a snowman. (In the Major, 35 suggests the word “mail” and 8 looks like a snowman.)

Notice that I am using a very specific mailman. (Let me know in the comments if you recognize him.)

Why?

Because the brain is much more likely to react to the increased level of specificity. That’s why I suggest you always selecting characters to link with a number on the basis of familiarity no matter what system you use.

Is It Worth The Time?

True, covering 00–99 with familiar characters and names will require effort and time.

But it will be worth it! Having any kind of system will help you save the struggle and time in the future when you want to remember a sequence of numbers. Numbers like:

  • Bank accounts
  • Credit card numbers
  • Insurance numbers
  • Birthdates of family members
  • Emergency numbers
  • Numbers involved in programming
  • Historical dates
  • Applications in memorizing music
  • Tools for learning numbers in foreign languages with greater ease

Simply put, it only makes sense to learn a number system.

But it’s worth repeating:

Be specific.

The mnemonic imagery of many beginners can be bland and abstract.

Avoid this mistake.

Boring imagery makes it too complex to exaggerate. That’s the major reason people struggle.

Why is such imagery so difficult?

The answer is simple:

It is not easy to associate an abstract idea with a vague image in a sequence. (Unless you have these visualization exercises.)

For instance “a pen fights with a bottle” will never be as memorable as “Thor fights with George Bush.”

Mnemonic Example of the Dominic System with Thor and George Bush

When utilizing specific individuals, your brain has the ability to visualize them in a more effective way. You can further enhance your ability of getting a mental image with the memory systems by performing visualization exercises.

The emphasis O’Brien placed on being specific when selecting the character has helped many people. memorize longer sequences of numbers.

However, this point is important:

This Is A P.A. System, Not A P.A.O. (Person Action Object) System

The Dominic System is a Person-Action system. If you want to learn a full P.A.O. please watch this video about creating your first P.A.O. list:

How Does The Dominic System Work?

In the Dominic system, you have to break long numbers into two digits. Each pair of digits represents an individual doing a certain action. The numbers are converted into letters for number by utilizing the rules mentioned below for easy remembrance:

  • The digit 0 is O
  • Initial five digits (1 – 5) become the initial five alphabets (A –E)
  • The digit 6 is S due to similar sounds
  • The digits 7 and 8 becomes G and H
  • The digit 9 becomes N due to similar sounds

With a little effort, you will be able to learn these substitutions, making it easier to learn this system. Here it is visualized

The Dominic System Visualized on a Graph

When you memorize this table, go on to learn the next step.

Determining Names for Digit Pairs

Start by noting down the numbers from 0 all the way to 99. Review all these numbers and mentally translate them into Dominic letters. Notice if any initials are suggesting anything. For instance, the digits 20 become BO. It might suggest a Buddhist meditating under a Bo tree. It might suggest something else to you.

Typically, the pairs have no associations or meetings. However, there are some exceptions.

For example, 07 can be associated with James Bond, 13 can be associated with bad luck, 100 can be associated with a century, 16 can be associated with sweet sixteenth birthday, and so on.

Always utilize whatever the first link is formed in your mind when you look at the pairs as this will be the most effective way to continue this system.

Assigning Actions to Names

The character you select must also have an associated action, which is unique throughout your list of 100 names. Therefore, if you have utilized Serena Williams for 60 then avoiding using Andre Agassi for 11. Since for both you will associate playing tennis as an action.

The Dominic system distinguishes actions from characters in order to remember longer numbers. Therefore, the action you select must be “performable” by other selected characters. Therefore, select the actions that are obvious and distinctive for an individual.

How Do You Make This Memory System Work?

In order to make this system work for you, it is best to create the list of names with a mixture of celebrities, your friends and family members.

There would be certain letters that will give obvious solutions. For instance “Ho” suggests Santa Claus riding his sleigh.

If you get stuck thinking of characters and associated actions, you can look at sample lists for ideas.

However, keep in mind that it is better to create your own names and associations. Copying someone else’s list would be difficult for you to remember, unless the list includes famous characters and associated actions that you are pretty familiar with.

Here is a list of possible characters you could create using this technique:

  • 00 (Olive Oyl) – going on a date with Popeye
  • 22 (Bugs Bunny) – stealing a carrot
  • 86 (Hans Solo) – on his spacecraft

You can assign names to each digit and then associate a relatable action to help you remember.

For more, check out the 3 Most Powerful Memory Techniques for Memorizing Numbers.

Memorizing Two Digits

So, if you want to remember the house number of your friend which is 86, all you have to do is imagine Hans Solo piloting his spacecraft to your friend’s apartment’s roof. It crashes on the roof or laser cannons are being shot to save the people from an alien invasion. This will make it rather easy for you to remember the house number.

Memorizing Three Digits

You can easily memorize three digits by linking the image you have created for the initial two digits with the shape or rhyme of the third digit. For instance, 244 could be something like Bugs Bunny stealing a carrot.

For the action, Bug could be running away using two “dingy” style boats (one under each foot). Just imagine the glee on Bugs Bunny’s face as he successfully sails his boat with a carrot in his mouth.

Memorizing Four Digits

You can memorize four digits by simply splitting the numbers in pairs. Utilize the image of the character you have assigned to the first digit with the associated action for the second digit. For instance, if you want to memorize the sequence 8042 (Santa Clause) and (David Beckham), you can picture Santa Clause trying to help David Beckham score the winning goal!

Memorizing Longer Numbers

Memorizing longer numbers is easy too since you can simply break them down into pairs and a single digit, if any is left over. You can utilize a sequence of a character, associated action, character action, and then form a story through these images in mind.

For instance, you want to remember a café’s phone number 68221656. There here: 68 will be Sherlock Holmes, 22 (action) will be Olive Oyl (dating), 16 will be Arnold Schwarzenegger, and 56 (action) will be Scissorhands (cutting bushes).

You can now form a story with these images that can be linked to the phone number of the café. For instance, Sherlock Holmes is sitting in a restaurant dating Olive Oyl and Arnold Schwarzenegger enters the café with Edward Scissorhands and starts cutting off the plants in the café.

Who wouldn’t remember such a story?

Pitfalls You Must Avoid

Believe it or not, people search the internet for a Dominic system generator.

But that’s not the real skill here.

The skill is to use the system to match what you already have in your memory with a phonetic number system that allows you to translate numbers into letters.

Put in the work and you will receive the benefits. Otherwise, you risk deskilling your creativity and locking yourself outside of the very same skill you’re trying to develop.

Dominic O'Brien with a deck of playing cards

Dominic O’Brien about to memorize a deck of playing cards

Memorizing a Deck of Cards

While the Dominic system is utilized to memorize longer numbers, you can also use it for remembering other sequences like deck of cards.

This works by systematically associating numbers with cards.

For instance, if you associate the nine of clubs with 39 then you can associate Chuck Norris (3+9) in a story where he is using 9♣ in an active way.

This is definitely a powerful memory technique that you can use to your advantage if you have any of these 13 reasons to memorize cards.

But of course, you will have to invest a good deal of time and effort to prepare the sequence beforehand to fully benefit from the Dominic system.

It might be the right memory system for you, however, so get some training materials and learn how to complete a memory course with these tips.

Can You Use “Hotel Dominic” with a Memory Palace?

Absolutely.

Imagine that every Magnetic Station in your Memory Palace has a number.

That number would be your character based on the alphanumeric system.

For example, on Magnetic Station 22 in a Memory Palace, you could place Bugs Bunny, or perhaps B.B. King. He would be another great example of a figure you could use with this system:

Mnemonic Example of B B King for 22 in Hotel Dominic

Mnemonic Example of B. B. King for 22 in Hotel Dominic

As you can see, it’s a simple matter to place any figure on any numbered station in a Memory Palace.

Why set up a Memory Palace in this way?

Although it might not always be worth the effort, it essentially combines linking with space, creating a double-whammy when you need to memorize a list.

Don’t know how to create a Memory Palace? Let me help you out:

Magnetic Memory Method Free Memory Improvement Course

Obviously, adding characters based on numbers to each Magnetic Station in a Memory Palace is an intermediate-advanced memory skill.

But why not start building up to that level of proficiency now?

And it’s not just about Memory Palace deployment. You can also link your characters to mind maps as well.

Should You Use The Dominic System or The Major System?

Now that you know the difference, you have more insight that will help you choose.

But, at the end of the day, it’s entirely up to you.

I personally find the Major a more direct method of creating relationships between numbers and letters that leads to more solid word and image creation.

Yet, I’ve heard from many people who absolutely love the Dominic System. Some people are even able to use O’Brien’s images without creating any of their own. David Thomas is one example I’ve heard from. He broke the Guinness World Record for memorizing Pi in 1998 (22,500 digits) using “Hotel Dominic” virtually unchanged.

That is not only utterly amazing.

It’s also a demonstration of just how powerful O’Brien’s contribution to the art, craft and science of memory improvement this number memorization system has been.

 

Recommended Readings

O’Brien, Dominic. (1994). How to Develop a Perfect Memory. Trafalgar Square

O’Brien, Dominic. (2000). Learn to Remember : Practical Techniques and Exercises to Improve Your Memory. Chronicle Books

O’Brien, Dominic. (2003). How to pass exams. England: Duncan Baird Publishers.

O’Brien, Dominic. (2014). How to Develop a Brilliant Memory Week by Week: 50 Proven Ways to Enhance Your Memory Skills. Watkins Publishing

O’Brien, Dominic. (2016). You Can Have an Amazing Memory: Learn Life-Changing Techniques and Tips from the Memory Maestro. Watkins Publishing

4 Responses to " The Dominic System: What It Is And Why People Love It "

  1. Patricia says:

    Thanks for sharing this with your family all over the world.
    I just went through this episode and I am going to take my time for this.
    First,I am going to explore how abstract my major s. List is…I do struggle sometimes with associations.
    Maybe by using your “2 systems comparison table” , I can see what the difference, or even the hybrid version would mean for me.
    To be clear, I’m planning first and foremost to ENJOY the process.
    So it can take a while, yes, but hey…..there are so many things I HAVE to do,
    This is something I WANT to do for myself, and who knows, it might take me to higher hights, happy and soring like an eagle.
    I’ll keep you posted.

    Thanks again Anthony, for this great opportunity!

    Grtz from Belgium, Antwerp
    With love,
    Patricia

    • Thanks for these notes, Patricia. Always great to hear from you.

      I’m excited to hear that you’re going to look at the current state of abstraction you’ve designed.

      If you look in the MMM course on numbers, you’ll see all my 00-99 images with a full discussion of each and how I “evolved” them over time to be more concrete.

      This is definitely something that is worth all the time it takes, but also something that takes on a life of its own. You’ll love how it grows with you and changes over time.

      And never forget:

      Most of my images were abstract in the beginning too. I had to learn how to make them more concrete by trial and error and made mistakes others can avoid by seeing things in comparison.

      Thanks as always for your comments and look forward to another one soon – with warm greetz back at you from the balcony in sunny Aussie!

  2. Garrett says:

    I don’t understand. How does this image translate to 244?

    “For instance, 244 could be something like Bugs Bunny stealing a carrot. For the action, Bug could be running away using a boat!”

    I thought Bugs Bunny is 22. And boat would be a 2. Where are the fours?

    • Thanks for your question, Garrett.

      I’ve updated this to clarify that I had a “dingy” in mind. 4 = d in this system.

      Note that I don’t actually use the Dominic System, but base my 00-99 on the Major System as described in this post.

      My 22 is always Rowan Atkinson dressed as a nun. N + N = 22.

      I would then tack on a sailboat to represent the 4.

      Also note that Bugs is 22 as a suggestion only. Using this system, yours could be Bob Barker or any other B.B. initials.

      I feel this focus on initials is one of the limitations of this system, but for some people also its strengthen.

      For myself and many others, the Major is freer. Its weakness (if it has one) is that many people wind up choosing words that are too abstract. That is easily solved, but often people discover the error too late in the game.

      Have you worked with the Major before?

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