How To Increase Memory By Watching Movies and TV Series

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C’mon, admit it. You think that learning how to increase memory skill and ability is going to be a drag. You’ve seen all those pictures of memory champions with their sound cancelling headphones and nothing could seem more boring.

But the truth is that you can improve memory ability simply by using something you already do almost every week, if not every day.

That’s right: Merely by watching a movie and thinking about it in a few deliberate ways afterwards, you can exercise and improve memory by an impressive margin.

Here’s how:

Use The Power Of Intention

But intend to do what, exactly?

Intend to pay attention for the sake of your memory. Harry Lorayne makes the point again and again in his books that memory ability begins and ends with our attention. After all, you simply cannot remember anything to which you haven’t consciously attended.

Pay attention to the next movie you watch with the intent to remember more and you’ll already give yourself a cutting edge memory increase beyond belief.

Reconstruct The Story

You probably haven’t done this since you were a kid. You watch a movie and then immediately get on the phone and retell the entire story to a friend.

At least, I remember doing this as a kid and I loved hearing my friends recount what they had seen. Back then, after all, if you missed a movie at the theatre, it could be six months to a year before it appeared on videocassette. And even then, there was no guarantee that a video store in your town would carry it for rental.

“A Story Told Is A Story Shared”

The exercise here is to watch a movie and retell the story to someone. If you cannot find someone to relate the narrative to, tell it to a pet. Speak it into a recording device. Or even just write it down. Who knows? You could wind up becoming a great film reviewer and critic and memorizing what happens in movies for a living.

For bonus points, do both: verbally recount the film and write your description down. This will exercise more parts of your memory and improve recall in a deeper way, especially of you make this a regular affair.

And keep in mind, this description doesn’t have to be super-lengthy. When I recall the plot points of a movie in writing, I can usually squeeze it all on to a mid-sized index card, the kind that is about half the size of a sheet of paper. If you’re interested in more about memorizing plot points, you can check out this episode of the Magnetic Memory Method Podcast on memorizing plot points.

For extra extra bonus points, listen to someone else tell back the story of a movie they’ve seen. There will probably be some back and forth as they revisit the story from memory, but just let them talk it through. Commit to memorizing at least three major pieces of information.

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Hold On To The Names Of Characters

My girlfriend at the time and I had been watching Deadwood. If you like Westerns, this is a great series.

Anyhow, in season two a new character showed up and we both immediately recognized the actress. “What was her name in Breaking Bad?” my girlfriend asked. “Skyler,” I said immediately, “Skyler White.”

How did I remember this character’s name so easily and my girlfriend did not – even though we had watched the entire series together, episode by episode?

I deliberately paid attention to character names, that’s how.

Now, to be fair to this former girlfriend, she never liked Skyler much and doesn’t have the same ten year plus track record that I do as a Film Studies professor.

Plus, she didn’t work on memory development using movies the way I do. Or learn how to enhance vocabulary with a Breaking Bad Memory Palace like you see in this video:

In this case, it’s not so much that she couldn’t remember Skyler’s name, but that she found it too unimportant to hold in memory. And perhaps her active dislike for the character (who is admittedly dislikable), actively deleted the information from her mind.

It would also be hard to say that I would have remembered her first name of I hadn’t actively paid attention to it. Her husband, Walter White, is easy. It’s alliterative, for one thing, which is a simple aid to memory.

Plus, “Walter” brings so many character-associated traits to mind: he’s old-fashioned, conservative, cantankerous and it’s easy to see him becoming an old man sitting in a rocking chair on the porch of The Walton’s.

Finally, “White” makes you think of the white hat of the good cowboy and innocence is a constant theme throughout the series as Walter White transforms episode by episode into the monster Walter Black.

Anyhow, even though Skyler’s name is not as easy to place thematically and has no mnemonic alliteration like the W. W. in Walter White, it was still easy to instantly memorize.

How? By associating it with other information worth memorizing to build fast familiarity with the story and increase memory with this simple exercise.

For example, I noticed that the story takes place in Albuquerque, New Mexico. There’s almost always a blue sky in this part of the US – at least as seen on the show. Thus, a simple memory association locked the name instantly into place. I also happened to have known a First Nations person named “Calm Sky” when I first started my higher education at Okanagan University College. Bringing this simple fact together strengthened the association even further.

Doing Your Homework Has Never Been So Much Fun

Your homework is to pay attention to character names in the movies you watch and create associations. Are the names obviously constructed to be memorable and thematically rich like “Walter White?” Or are they more abstract like Skyler?

You can also create a simple rhyme. For example, Skyler rhymes with Tyler, so you could see her kissing Stephen Tyler from Aerosmith and say it in your mind as you picture it: “Skyler kisses Tyler.” Maybe you’ll even hear an Aerosmith love song as you do this, strengthening the memory by adding color and emotion to the extended context.

Believe me, you can think about these questions, answer them and do rhyming exercises while watching a movie without skipping a beat of the story. And it’s great mental exercise that will show you how to increase memory while you’re doing it. It’s also a wicked amount of creative fun.

Pay Attention To Where The Characters Live And Where They Go

The mind has an incredible ability to map its surroundings, especially when buildings are involved. Although buildings in movies and series are less distinct than the ones you experience in real life, you can still use them to increase memory power.

For example, think of a favorite show or movie. The Lord of the Rings as a whole is fairly indistinct to hold in the mind, but you can probably reconstruct a fairly accurate image of what Bilbo Baggins house on the Shire looks like on the inside – assuming you’ve seen the Peter Jackson film.

Same thing for the home of Walter and Skyler White in the Breaking Bad house. You might not remember the exact layout, but in effect, there is the master bedroom, the baby’s bedroom, Walt Jr.’s bedroom, the heating closet where the cash is later hidden under the floor, the washroom, the kitchen, the dining area, living room, patio, pool, fence and driveway.

These are all clearly defined areas throughout the series. And if you think about it, you can probably reconstruct the different places that Jesse lived, Hank’s house, Mr. Fring’s
restaurant and laboratory and more.

And if you can’t bring all of these places to mind at even a superficial level based on the stories I’ve mentioned, then it’s easy to get started on using them to improve memory.

Do These Steps To Exercise Your Spatial Memory

* Watch a movie or series episode
* Pay attention to the layout of a main home or building
* After watching, reconstruct the building in your imagination
* Draw a quick floorplan to reinforce your memory of the location

And you can take all of this one step further by using the materials from this memory exercise and turning them into a Memory Palace for use with the Magnetic Memory Method Masterclass.

Also, if you go to movie theatre, you can use that location as a Memory Palace too. But that’s a topic for another time, so please do make sure that you’re subscribed to the Magnetic Memory Method for more training and ideas like these.

But Wait! There’s More …

In the meantime, there’s so much more you can do to improve memory by watching movies and series. For example, you can try to hold the clothing of a character in mind as you move them through the location you’ve mentally reconstructed. It’s almost like playing with Barbie dolls or GI Joe figurines to develop hand-eye coordination. Except in this case, you’re doing it entirely in your mind.

Throw drawing into the mix, and about 300 physical muscles will join the game, exercising your brain, your memory and small but critical parts of your body all at the same time.

And although there will be more work involved, you can extend all of the techniques you’ve learned to novels. You just need to fill in more of your own details, which as Stephen King talks about in On Writing, you’re probably going to do that anyway instead of following what the author says by the letter. And if you are going to use your own visual imagination as you please, why not do so deliberately and experience memory improvement as a result?

It all comes down to the same old truth. You make improvements by taking action. So get out there and watch some movies! 🙂

Further Resources

Complete lists of characters from Breaking Bad and Deadwood. Use them in your memory practice.

Cool plan for a movie theatre

8 Movies About Memory Manipulation And How They Inspired Real Neuroscience

10 Responses to " How To Increase Memory By Watching Movies and TV Series "

  1. xyz says:

    hello You ! 🙂

    verbal narration is difficult, I’m searching some information about how to train myself, watching a movie and retelling the story is very difficult for me, what can be more simple exercices for training that you are aware of :).
    I’ve stumbled on this video about “Charlot Masson narration or active retelling exercices

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7zahk1vKcjg
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JpE7tjiOSoA

    bye and tchuss 🙂

    • Thanks for this question! It’s a very interesting one and I really appreciate that you listed these videos.

      One of the suggestions she gives in the first video involves asking questions in a more sophisticated way. You could use those kinds of questions to prompt yourself.

      For example, I watched a film last night called Heat (directed by Michael Mann and starring Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro). If I were to recount the story to you verbally and found myself saying “and then what happened is” quite a bit, I could take her advice and ask myself instead different kinds of questions. For example, “After Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro meet in the cafe, what happened?” Then I would press myself to answer starting with the same words, i.e. “After Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro met in the cafe, they talked about how they felt about each other and their conflict as police detective and criminal. The scene ended with them essentially telling each other that although they had mutual respect, they would not hesitate to take each other down.”

      Another thing you can do is start with shorter films and music videos that have stories. Instead of starting your description verbally, write it down and then speak it. You can also pause the film to make note of the story in your mind and think about how you would represent it in words. For example, if you were to take this film:

      http://youtu.be/4YAYGi8rQag

      … you could pause it every minute and describe either in writing or by speaking out loud what you noticed about the story. Take care to use the kinds of phrases suggested in the first video you sent. So instead of saying, “And then the two men started running around in circles and then they got more and more aggressive,” you could write or speak more like, “After sitting peacefully, reading their papers, two men find themselves in conflict. This leads to an increasingly aggressive series of exchanges which are exaggerated by the filmmakers stylistic conventions. The film concludes when …”

      You can also talk about their clothing, the houses in the background and what they were like and make other observations about the background. And please do not miss out on the opportunity to stop the video to study individual frames and work on describing them. This approach is just as valid as watching a film in real time without pauses. Films are just photography sped up and each still can be appreciated the same way we look at paintings.

      You can also apply this same activity to paintings. Look at one painting, work at holding it in your mind, then close the book and write a description of it. You might not be creating a narrative, but your observations will help you formulate statements about what you’ve seen that can be applied back to describing films.

      This reminds me of the interesting way that Heidegger wrote about a Van Gogh painting. There’s an article about that with a quote and the image of the painting here:

      http://harpers.org/blog/2009/10/philosophers-rumble-over-van-goghs-shoes/

      I hope this helps and please let me know if you have any further questions or if there is anything further I can do for you. 🙂

  2. John says:

    What do you think of Microsoft HoloLens and its possible use in creating memory palaces? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aThCr0PsyuA

    • Hi John,

      Thanks for posting this video. It’s very interesting.

      There are certainly possibilities here. Actually, there’s an earlier episode of the Magnetic Memory Method Podcast called Tap The Mind Of A Ten Year Old Memory Palace Master. In it, the young Memorizer I interviewed talks about using Minecraft to develop Memory Palaces and her plans to use it for memorizing the Periodic Table of The Elements. I think you’ll find it interesting if you haven’t already heard it.

      Myself, my personal and pedagogical preference is for people to at least try to learn the technique unassisted by technology. One reason is that I think that using technology will be so much more successful if you can understand it on its own, especially in terms of structuring a journey and using associative-imagery. But what we see in the video you shared is certainly different than what this app has offered:

      https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/mind-palace/id703545976?mt=8

      The app is interesting and I hope to interview its creator. However, the difference between it and the Google presentation is striking. In the Mind Palace app, he invites you to use existing locations as Memory Palaces. The HoloLens would enable you to replicate your home and use it as a digital Memory Palace.

      I’d really have to try it out and see what I think, but I’m all for people using technology with mnemonics if it gets them results – especially if those results make their unassisted performance better.

      But it’s very interesting that you raise this point now. Tomorrow I have an article coming out on another site about learning mnemonics and memory techniques now so that you have them at the ready should an apocalypse wipe out our current access to technology. Stay tuned!

      And thanks again for sharing this great video. 🙂

  3. Patrick28 says:

    Rather than starting with the intimidating task of attacking a full length on a single viewing, I started on three favorite tv series.
    I really care about the subject, I can fill in the gaps, hone the process with confidence and pleasure. Expand the detail while out walking.
    Critique and amend my process and performance.

    e.g.
    PBS News Hour
    Time after Time
    Prime Suspect

    BTW: I’ve gained a fresh appreciation for attention and intent in my daily living for a richer life. At age 86, that’s wondermous bit of serenity.. Thanks!

    • Thanks for these thoughts, Patrick! I’m glad to hear that serenity has been achieved. That is truly the ultimate goal of having advanced memory skills.

      I think it’s great that you’ve chosen to start with series and included a news show. I don’t watch the news myself, but I can definitely see how that can be an equally powerful memory exercise, if not a superior one in many ways. So I’m going to give the news a try thanks to you mentioning it and see what happens.

      One very cool thing I can think of immediately is that you begin to focus on and imagine different parts of the world in a different way and think about public figures differently. Perhaps they and their actions will be easier to understand by using the kinds of mental activities suggested in this podcast.

      Thanks again and talk soon! 🙂

  4. keh1016 says:

    Great tips! I love at the end where you said “Reconstruct”. However, in my experience I did not pay attention to buildings, names or retelling the story-I paid attention to faces rather than names (because I am terrible at names). Most recently, I have found I can recall looking from film to film about 10-20+ years back at a time just by recall.

    For example, I found two British women similar to each other in real life (who have actually worked in the same film Nanny McPhee named:Imelda Stauton and Celia Imrie) and I almost confused one for the other thinking that one was the mother in the 1997 Borrowers when she was not. Then, I traced them both back back from 1994-1997 when Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994)-The Borrowers (1997) came out and confirmed it later with imdb.com database showing filmography. Whereas one person usually might associate one for the other giving the similar faces spotted in a similar timeframe.

    In conclusion Wow-You really made some good points, great insight! I found it was because I paid attention and reconstructed the faces, drew people on paper (in this case I didn’t draw them, but normally I draw people while watching tv), that I was able to backtrack about 20 years, in this case 22 years back to 1994, looking at the difference of face shape that I was able to pinpoint who was who rather than having a false memory, confusing and associating one for the other. I have done this before, but you have shed light on this greatly. Thanks for your post on memory.

    • Thanks for taking the time to share your experience with remembering names. It’s great that drawing is incorporated into your process. All arts are another fabulous way to tap into the vast resources of our memory.

      We have so many means of tracking one tendril to another if we can just find a point of entrance. Thanks again for sharing one of yours! 🙂

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