You’d like a bunch of mnemonic strategies that help you learn faster, right?
Whereas nearly every article on the Internet is going to give you a bunch of weak techniques like “keywords,” here’s the thing you need to understand:
Using the keyword method as a mnemonic device is not a strategy. It’s a tool.
A strategy, on the other hand, is how you design your life so that you can use memory techniques.
So if you want proper mnemonic training, buckle up because we’re going to give you some mnemonic device examples, and in a way that doesn’t muddy the waters.
Here’s what this post will cover:
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What Is A Mnemonic Device And How To Use One Strategically?
A mnemonic device is anything you use to help you remember something. That includes everything from rote learning with flashcards to using a Memory Palace.
If you want to use flashcards strategically, then you need to add a mnemonic element. For example, instead of showing yourself the same card repeatedly and hoping the information will stick, to use flashcards strategically, you will combine a mnemonic technique like elaborative encoding with active recall based on a spaced repetition pattern.
For example, I’ve used elaborative encoding to make the German word Bereich (area) more memorable:
This approach is strategic because:
1) I used my hands, colors and a non-digital tool I could easily revisit both physically and mentally.
2) I did not cheat by including the target information anywhere in the mnemonic device. This forces me to at least try to use active recall.
3) This drawing is linked to a Memory Palace that enables mental spaced repetition based on a few principles (Primacy Effect, Recency Effect, and Serial Positioning Effect).
Although I am not a great artist (and you don’t have to be), this approach is so much faster and effective than spaced repetition software. I was inspired to start drawing my mnemonic examples in this way by language learning expert Gabriel Wyner. His book Fluent Forever is incredible.
To sum up before we dig deeper, mnemonic devices are not strategies.
The device is the association of Bender from Futurama with the German word Bereich. It means “area” and in my imagination, Bender is in Berlin’s Tegel airport.
The next next device I’m using is association through imagery.
Actually, it’s not “imagery” in the way we normally mean it. I actually don’t see a picture of any of this in my mind.
Instead, I’m operating more on the level of observation and sound. You see, “Bender” starts with ‘be” and so does “Bereich.” And if you look at my drawing again, you’ll see there’s a drummer in the image.
That’s Steve Reich, a very important drummer in the history of percussion. Be + Reich = Bereich.
Easy, right! Yes, but most people fiddle around with the “keyword” method, an agonizingly inadequate approach when you’ve got real memory tasks to conquer.
Another strategy I deploy is to have multiple words in the Memory Palace, but to focus only on words.
Now, when you’re learning a language, you definitely want to memorize phrases, but you have to start somewhere.
So my strategy is to start by memorizing 5-10 words and then add phrases. This works because it’s always important to not put the cart before the horse.
Finally, the main device I draw upon in strategically revisiting this location in the Memory Palace. There are quite a number of ways you can make this work, but it’s important to:
1) Revisit the memorized words forward
3) Out of order
There are more patterns you can deploy and I cover them in Memory Palace Mastery. Why not grab your seat now? I’ll show you exactly how to build a Memory Palace in the most effective way.
And focusing on effectiveness is important because it’s the path to ease and efficiency. To help speed up the process, you do want to keep a record of what you’ve memorized, and you do that in a Memory Journal. Then, when testing your memory, you need to use active recall in order to generate the memories.
That means using a fresh piece of paper or a testing Memory Journal where you have no access whatsoever to the target material. (In this way, each of these two Memory Journals are also kinds of mnemonic devices.)
For example, when I have memorized long Sanskrit passages, I do it purely from the books I’m reading that feature texts like you can hear me reciting here:
Later, I write out what I’ve memorized from each session. I do my best and only after I’m finished do I check the record. That’s also how I tested my memory of the TEDx talk itself: I wrote it, memorized it and then wrote it out by hand without the original record anywhere in sight.
The Most Highly Effective Mnemonic Strategies & Techniques
This might surprise you, but it actually doesn’t matter which is the most effective for me or some other memory expert.
The best mnemonic strategies are the ones you’re actually going to use.
And to figure that out, you need to try a few on for size. To do that, here’s what I suggest:
- Do your research. The market is filled with all kinds of memory trainers. I suggest you find the one who has accomplished what you want to accomplish.
For example, I’ve learned languages, given speeches and completed a PhD. If you want to do those things, chances are, I’m your guy.
But, I’ve only done moderately well at memory competitions.
Personally, I like memorizing cards, but the idea of memorizing endless digits, words and abstract shapes I’m going to forget immediately after the competition is over… I just have no interest in that.
However, a lot of people love memory competitions and I’ve interviewed a lot of the best memory athletes on the Magnetic Memory Method Podcast.
Seek them out. Many have books and courses of their own. Just be realistic about who has done what. There’s a big difference between using these techniques to forget what you’ve memorized after the games are over and the ability to hold on to the information for the long term.
- Stick with the program. Too many people get started and then fall off the horse. If that’s you, forgive yourself and then go through my mental strength free training. It will help you keep on track.
How long do you need to study the mnemonic strategies of the memory master you’ve chosen?
I’d suggest at least 90 days. I haven’t plucked that number out of thin air. Many studies show it is the bare minimum for lasting habit formation. Dr. Richard Wiseman has gathered a bunch of them in his book 59 Seconds, and you’ll see similar data repeated in any good book on the science of success.
- Have a vision. One reason people can’t practice the mnemonic strategy of their choice is because it isn’t embedded in a clear picture of what a realistic accomplishment looks like.
Again, I have zero interest in competition but that doesn’t mean I don’t “compete” against time. I was once invited to teach memory techniques in Guilin, China.
I had less than 3 months to study the language, but I made a very specific vision: That I would have a 300-500 word vocabulary and basic abilities in the language.
Because I was clear (and realistic) about the vision, I wound up at the school and my teachers were blown away! I even wound up meeting a beautiful woman who later became my wife. And then I rapidly memorized a song in Mandarin to sing at our wedding.
- Practice frequently.
Listen, I’m not the greatest singer in the world, and I don’t want to torture your ears. But there’s a reason why I recorded this video while washing the dishes. And that reason is to demonstrate how I take every possible opportunity to practice:
- Let go of the outcome.
This mnemonic strategy is counterintuitive, but it is the ultimate secret of success.
A lot of people try to “force” the techniques to work. Sure, that can create success sometimes, but we actually need to create flow around them.
So when I practice, I mentally give myself permission to make mistakes. I don’t try to get it right. I just visit the Memory Palace and allow the imagery to come back.
If I haven’t been specific enough with the associations or the Memory Palace creation was sloppy, I’ll definitely feel it.
But I don’t allow myself to get frustrated. I just note any mistakes or struggles and analyze what’s going on so I can improve it rationally instead of from a place of negative emotion or need.
Once you put these strategies together in one tight package (with frequent practice), you’ll find that the memory mnemonics you use make your mental life a much finer journey to experience.
Savor it and let me know in the comments if there are any strategies I missed.