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If you want to know how to memorize numbers, you might be getting frustrated…
After all, there is a ton of confusing information about the main remembering numbers technique known as the Major System.
There’s also the question of just how many numbers can a person remember? Not to mention how you can use a memory palace to memorize numbers.
In this post, I will show you:
- The Major System that allows you to memorize numbers with letters and words.
- How to connect the Major System with a Memory Palace.
- How to expand the Major System into a PAO or 00-99 system.
Or you can just watch the video version of this lesson:
No matter how you choose to learn these techniques, this is important:
Your goal is to shift the burden of memorizing numbers to remembering fun and straightforward images.
This simple activity will reduce the cognitive load on your brain and make learning and remembering any number exciting and fun.
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How to Remember Numbers: Simple Mnemonic Examples
Have a look at this image:
This is a nun.
She represents the number 22 in the 00-99 Major System I use.
Every time I see 22, I bring this nun to mind (I actually imagine Mr. Bean dressed as a nun. More on why later…)
I do this because if I next see the number 235, I can see an animal, it’s easy for me to use the Major System (better described as the Major Method) to add another image.
When the nun interacts with the animal in an unusual way, I’m able to remember a longer digit with ease: 22357.
The Major System That Underlies The Technique That Helps You Remember Numbers
To get to the stage where you can use nuns and animals, you need to understand why 22 is a nun and 235 is an animal.
The Major System has different terms, including:
- The Phonetic Number System
- Phonetic Mnemonic System
- Number Consonant System
- Herigone’s Mnemonic System
- … and more.
The exact history of it is not known, but in Mind Map Mastery, Tony Buzan attributes it to Johann Just Winckelmann.
Others cite Aimé Paris and Major Beniowski, from whom we most likely take the name, Mnemonic Major System.
And that’s just in the west. The Katapayadi system goes back at least to 869 BCE.
Although there are many variations and you can make up your own, a large number of people use an arrangement like this:
0 = soft c, s or z
1 = d, t
2 = n
3 = m
4 = r
5 = l
6 = ch, j or sh
7 = k
8 = f or v
9 = b or p
In this way, I came up with Nun for 22, but perhaps you would prefer a piece of naan bread. Try to make sure that you have a vowel between the two consonants, but if that doesn’t work for you, a word like “onion” is also acceptable.
It’s really up to you, but I suggest that you avoid abstract concepts like “noon.” If you want to use “noon,” make sure it is a clock with its hands pointed at noon, and maybe include Gary Cooper who starred in High Noon to make it even more concrete.
Likewise with a word like “anon.” This word could make an excellent Magnetic Image for 22, but only if you make it concrete, such as by having James Woods with a particular book.
Why James woods? Because he starred in My Name is Bill W. about the origins of Alcoholics Anonymous.
I realize this specificity requires you to stretch your imagination, but its excellent brain exercise (better than any app) and is the secret of how to get a solid 00-99 working from the beginning. (Instead of having to fuss with it for years and potentially give up, as others sadly do.)
How To Expand Your Major System Into A Full 00-99 List to Memorize Numbers
To expand the rules that underly the phonetic Major System is easy. I suggest you take it 5-10 sets at a time.
But first, get a Memory Journal so you have a place to chart down your ideas on paper.
Overall, the best way to learn how to memorize numbers using this approach would go like this:
1. Get a Memory Journal for completing the creative task
2. On a new page, copy the start with 00 and write all the numbers up until 10.
3. Starting with 00, think of words that begin and end with ‘S.’ I personally use Thomas Szasz, but many use Dr. Suess.
Sissy Spacek would also work. Or a pair of eyeglasses built by Zeiss.
Many other options are equally concrete. If you choose Zeus, use the character from Planet of the Apes or a clear painting or cartoon of Zeus so you’re not relying on a vague concept.
4. Proceed to 01. For me, this is “sad,” and I see the tragedy mask worn by William Shatner in his performance of Oedipus Rex.
5. Keep going for about 5-10 minutes and take a break. It’s important to relax and revive your creative muscles.
How To Memorize Formulas For Physics, Chemistry And More
If you want to expand your skills and start memorizing formulas, you’ll want to expand your systems.
The five systems are:
- Memory Palace
- Alphabet list (you can use the pegword method)
- Major System or Dominic System
- Symbol system
- Recall Rehearsal
It might feel like a lot to cover, but most people can develop all of these systems over the course of a weekend.
How To Memorize Numbers Encoded With Images In A Memory Palace
First things first, you’ll need to know how to create a Magnetic Memory Palace. Here’s your ticket for that:
Next, start with your first Magnetic Station in the Memory Palace. If you used Dr. Suess, place him on the first Magnetic Station. If you used the sad tragedy mask for 01, place it on the next station.
You can do this in small sets or get more ambitious and work on larger sets. The critical point is that you use Recall Rehearsal to get the images into long-term memory.
For many people, this step will not be necessary because they can deduce like Sherlock Holmes what their images are by relying on the Major System.
For example, I didn’t learn my 00-99 using a Memory Palace. I only needed to think about the Major for each digit and track back to the image I chose.
The Major Mistake I Made When Creating My
First Phonetic Mnemonic System
When I created my first list for math based on the science of mnemonics, many of the images were not concrete enough.
To this day, I keep strengthening them and find many opportunities to do so. For example, I use to have a very generic idea of “fire” for 84.
But I later evolved this image to Chuck Norris in Missing in Action 2 with a flamethrower. I did not have to invent this image because there is a classic scene in the movie where he burns down a bridge with a flamethrower.
And that is the beauty of using the Major Method to memorize numbers. By letting its rules set you free, your imagination will come up with many powerful associations. It is also a great way to strengthen your ability to make associations if you need the developmental exercise. (Many people do.)
How To Extend Your 00-99 to A Person Action Object System
So far we’ve talked about giving each digit an image from 00-99.
Many people like to have a triple-whammy effect by having at least three different elements going on for each digit.
To be honest, I have never found this necessary or entirely useful in everyday life. However, in the world of memory competition, it is a must.
That said, my own method of working often includes most of Person Action Object criteria.
For example, the 01 tragedy mask is both a person and an object: It is the tragedy mask (the object) worn by William Shatner (the person). To add an action would be easy: he could be soaping it up with suds.
Although I would be making a leap of the imagination by turning “suds” into a verb, this could work very well.
To take another example, I have Jim Carrey with a lyre (stringed instrument) for 54. I could have him using it to “lure” something or someone to add an action, but I don’t need this specificity for my personal memory practice.
The reason I don’t have a full PAO (sometimes falsely lumped in as a Mnemonic Peg System) for each digit is that I prefer flexibility. In real life, you do not have to beat the clock the same way you do in a memory competition.
You are also using numbers you want to memorize for the long term, like banking info, phone numbers and passwords. These are not random digits heard or read at an event that you’re going to forget minutes after submitting your results.
To that end, I prefer to choose how my Magnetic Images interact with each other on the fly.
Obviously, this approach is different than the Dominic System (or Hotel Dominic) or the system Ben Pridmore uses, etc.
And at the end of the day, that’s the incredible and mind-blowing truth:
Tony Buzan was right:
The rules will set you free. Especially if you follow his approach to mind mapping.
Each person always uses these techniques individually. And although ultimately you must find your own path, you are free to do so by leaning on the classic techniques and paying attention to the Magnetic Memory Method principles of being specific and concrete. And of course there’s more to learn in How to Memorize Math, Numbers, Simple Arithmetic and Equations.
And now that you know the options available to you, you can easily learn how to remember numbers quickly. Because…
Using Mnemonics to Remember Numbers Is Easy And Fun!
Now that you have these strategies, I suggest you listen to my interview with Brad Zupp. He explains his story and perspective from the realm of competition and practical use of these techniques as a mental passwords manager.
How do these approaches to remembering numbers strike you?
If you have any experiences you’d care to share or have any questions, post them below.
You got this!
Hi, are you using Mr Bean, William Shatner etc in connection with numbers only because you associated them with words corresponding to numbers? So for example nun reminds you of Mr Bean therefore you imagine Mr Bean, but wouldn’t it be confusing since letters in Mr Bean have no connection with the number? b=9 and n=2. What does What if you associated Mr Bean with other images?
Similarly what does Oedipus Rex have to do with a number 01? Is William Shatner linked to 01 only because of the mask?
The explanation on this page confused me.
I would like to start to using this system but want to do it correctly without mistakes from the beginning, so would please explain these connections or point me to a more thorough explanation on your site?
Thanks for these questions, Pawel.
First, Mr. Bean has every possible connection to 92 because of the Major System. He’s chosen for that reason.
A lot of people wonder what will happen when they re-use Magnetic Imagery. Provided your Memory Palace strategy is intact and you create your imagery properly, there will be no problems whatsoever.
The Oedipus Rex reference comes from making the word “sad” more specific. I went from s and d with reference to 0 and 1 from the Major System to the word “sad.” From there, I thought of a specific object – the tragedy mask. Then I asked, which tragedy?
Oedipus Rex – one of the most famous.
But which Oedipus Rex? The one in which William Shatner appeared and I’ve seen from beginning to end.
A major error many people make is to rely on abstract words for their 00-99 PAO systems. That is bound to cause trouble and will indeed make you confuse your images.
That’s why for best results, you must push every single word beyond the conceptual and abstract to the specific.
For the most thorough explanation of all this, the MMM Masterclass includes a course on memorizing numbers and equations. In it, I go through an entire 00-99 PAO to discuss each and every intricacy. Please let me know if you need more information about the training.
But here’s an important tip:
“Mistakes” will happen – but they’re not really mistakes if you learn from them. There is no perfectionism in memory training, so it’s important that learners not try to avoid mistakes. Embrace them instead. 🙂
Hello, for the 00-99 method, you have to memorise all 99 images. I had the idea of picking out 9 different colours and giving each a number. For example 1 is blue and 2 is red. And then you just have to get 9 images, again each image gets 1 number. So if 1 is a nun you could get a red, blue or green nun. Do you think this will work too?
A few things:
If you set up a 00-99 based on the Major, you do not have to memorize any images, certainly not 99. That’s the beauty of working with such a system.
Colors do present options for numbers. You may want to hear Dave Farrow on that point. I haven’t used such an approach myself, but if memory serves, he talks about his use of such an approach.
I would also recommend factoring in the Shadow, which Braden Adams clarifies very well. I’m thinking I might supplement how I use my “Magnetic” variation on the 00-99 PAO with this approach if I ever go after pi or some other purely number-based or card-based memorization goal.
Maybe this is addressed somewhere else or in a podcast, but with the PAO system, what do you do for an odd number of digits? Like if you need to remember 01925. You would have William Shatner and Mr. Bean, but then what about the “5”. You can’t use your image for “05” or “50”. I have seen some methods that say that you should have 1-9 in addition to 00-99, but that doesn’t solve the problem because…
With PAO you’re memorizing in 6-digit chunks. But then what do you do for 9 characters? You can do the first 6 but then you have 3 left.
Great question, Randy.
I use a secondary system for “hanging integers.” Most people who have a PAO also have some kind of 0-9 number-image system.
This does solve the problem if you have any number of chunks because it’s not necessary to see it as 3 left over in the example you’ve given. You can see it as 2 and 1.
I don’t use memory techniques for competitive purposes, but many memory competitors have come up with solutions for these things. I haven’t spoken with them all, but the ones I have talked to tend to isolate the final number as you yourself arrived at.
Conveniently, in my every day life, it seems that every number is conveniently arranged in an even spread. For this reason, I haven’t looked into it further, but I encourage you to reach out to some memory competitors and read their books for more ideas.
Thanks for the post and look forward to hearing from you here on the blog again soon.
Would your course be suitable for my 9 year old daughter? Whilst her school reports are reasonably good with good effort, she is lazy at home and doesn’t think for herself. She won’t concentrate when it comes to homework. She says she’s “bored” quite a bit. Her vocab is sensational thanks to the internet, which is why I have let her continue with it. I’d be interested in your comments.
Thanks kindly for asking about this.
I do know that some parents have gone through it with their kids, but generally, I’d say it’s a bit advanced for age 9.
Do you have the links to the podcast interviews with parents and their kids (both were age 10 at the time of the recording)?
In any case, I’d say it’s worth a try going through them with her, but my real suggestion for parents is to learn the techniques yourself and make it a family activity in the beginning.
Finally, I was a lot like what you describe when I was nine. As I talk about in my forthcoming book, The Victorious Mind, I think it was mostly due to the food I was eating. It might be worth looking into that for your daughter. Often restlessness and poor thinking habits come from nutritional issues. I also discuss in the book how even foods that are normally healthy can cause issues if there are sensitivities in the way.
I managed to clear the brain fog I experienced most of my life and wish someone had given me the dietary guidance I finally found as an adult when I was nine. I would have had a much easier life.
Hope this helps and please let me know if you have further questions.
As a student what which system would be better to remember for eg historical events or may be articles of the constitution?
I personally use the Major for historical dates.
If you search this site, you’ll find a post on memorizing material related to the Constitution and its amendments.
Hi Anthony, I appreciate very much your effort to spread these methods. It really makes a difference.
I am Greek, how could I implement these techniques into my alphabet ? Since I use a different language and alphabet.
Thank you so much 🙂
Thanks for your kind words and checking out this post.
I’m not sure, but I believe the Greek formulation is this:
1 = B, p, w
2 = C, k, z
3 = F, v
4 = G
5 = L
6 = M
7 = N
8 = R
9 = S
0 = T, d
Would that arrangement help you make memorable words for each set of 2-digit numbers?
I really like this system and all of the content on your site. I am currently studying medicine and I find the concepts you discuss to be interesting and useful. I am trying to remember various numbers with decimal points in them: 1.5 vs 15 Any suggestions on overcoming this? At first I thought of incorporating “qu” or making two separate words but it is not always conducive.
Thanks for this, Greg, and for your kind words.
To memorize decimals or any equation or set with a symbol in it, you just need to create a symbol system. For example, a decimal could be a dot from the Pacman games. An asterisk can be a star, a parenthesis a bulldozer shovel pointing in the appropriate direction, etc.
You can then readily use your symbol system in combination with your chosen number system.
Does this way of looking at this form of memorization help you out?