Story Method: How to Learn Using This Unique Mnemonic Method

story method feature image of a woman in a book store used as a memory palaceWouldn’t it be cool if you could quickly come up with a simple story that helps you rapidly remember anything?

Turns out you can.

As a form of mnemonic linking, the specifics of the story method for learning faster are detailed for you on this page.

Don’t worry:

It’s not really about creativity or spending hours coming up with a detailed narrative.

By the same token, if you’d like to become more creative and connect in a deeper way with your imagination, this method is the ticket.

You just need to understand what the technique is and how to get it working effectively.

That way, you’ll be able to use it efficiently.

Ready to dive in?

Let’s go!

What Is The Story Method?

For many people, a story is easier to remember than a list of facts. According to one researcher, our brain is literally wired to pay attention to stories, specifically through oxytocin. In his co-authored study, Paul Zak found that people who say public service ads featuring stories, were more likely to respond to the messages in the desired way.

In order for the participants to respond, they have to remember what the messages were about.

When using memory techniques, people have seized upon using stories to either improve memory or have ideas remembered for a very long time.

For example, we know a lot of about memory techniques because stories about Simonides of Ceos that teach the technique are themselves highly memorable. In the most famous story about his legendary memory skills, we learn about how Simonides memorized names at a banquet hall.

However, shortly after the dinner ended, an earthquake destroyed the building, ending the lives of everyone inside. Simonides, had already left, however. When the authorities asked him to help identify the dead, he used the method of loci to name where each person was sitting.

The drama of the story makes it memorable, and helps you learn the core processes involved in the Memory Palace technique.

Benefits Of Using The Story Method

The story method is good for specific learning outcomes, typically lists of names, items, certain kinds of events and simple concepts.

At a more granular level, you can add story elements to other linking methods, such as a PAO System or the pegword method. Usually, I think of adding narrative elements as a kind of mnemonic vignette rather than a full story.

Beyond that, I find the story method quite limited compared to other memory techniques.

But if you need to memorize lists, it’s a solid option because stories can help you forge strong connections quickly.

How To Use The Story Method

Let’s have a look at how to use this method, followed by some examples and alternative approaches.

There’s no right or wrong, as such. Each person needs to experiment with the options and work out what I call a “mnemonic style.”

The more tools you have in your toolbox, the better.

Step One: Gather Your List & Optimize The Order

This step sounds kind of obvious, but it’s worth looking at some nuances.

For example, if you’ve got the main points gathered from a textbook, is it better to memorize them in the order you found them? Or should you order them in a hierarchy of importance?

I suggest taking a moment to reflect on your options.

The only time I don’t take time to organize information is when I’m memorizing names at an event. Or, in the case of memorizing a poem or speech, the information is already organized.

Anthony Metivier memorizing and recalling names at an NRG memory demonstration
Anthony Metivier memorizing and recalling names at a memory demonstration in Brisbane

Step Two: Add Story Elements

Let’s use the example of memorizing names at an event.

A few years ago, I memorized 32 names at a presentation I gave in Brisbane. The first two names were Haley and Allan.

My basic mnemonic images were Halley’s comet and an allen key. The story I added involved Halley’s comet crashing into a giant allen key.

To make the story even stranger, and therefore more memorable, I had Allen Funt hold the allen key.

The next person was named Sharon, so I had Allen use his allen key to adjust Sharon’s next. The story built from there and I was able to recall each and every name with 100% accuracy 15 minutes later during my demonstration.

meeting people and having drinks

Now, I mentioned that little or no creativity is involved, but that using the technique can make you more creative. Notice in my example that I didn’t invent Halley’s comet or allen keys. I just drew a relationship between the sounds of the names as they were mentioned to me and made a story out of these elements.

But even the idea that I “made” a story is a bit much. Rather, it’s better to say that I used natural possibilities to quickly forge a connection. Comets falls from the sky, for example. Although we don’t use allen keys to adjust the human neck, it is within the realm of possibility for those ideas to draw a connection.

It can take a bit of practice to get used to letting story elements connect to the target information, but you’ll be able to do it. I even did it live for Guru Viking by memorizing Shakespeare on the spot on his podcast if you’d like to see a realtime example of using the story method.

Step Three: Involve A Memory Palace

The problem with the story method is that it takes work to come up with long and logical narratives for any kind of list with a substantial amount of information in it.

That’s why using a Memory Palace and the mnemonic vignette approach is so powerful. It essentially involves lots of mini-stories laid out along a journey.

Here’s the Memory Palace I used for my TEDx Talk. It’s based on a neighborhood I used to live in called Kelvin Grove:

numbered memory palace example using a 00 99 pao

Each station or locus in this Memory Palace is numbered.

The opening line of the speech is:

How would you like to completely silence your mind?

The story I used involved Howie Mandel using wood to hit the “thumbs up” button on a YouTube video. Here’s the breakdown of how the parts of this story helped me memorize the line:

  • Howie = how
  • wood = would
  • Youtube button = you
  • like button = like

Little words like “to” did not take an image. But if I needed one, I would probably involved someone like Desmond Tutu in the story. For the “completely silence your mind” part of the sentence, I didn’t involve a story. That’s because this was the theme of the whole talk and not in need of memorization.

For the rest of the talk, I carried on through the Memory Palace. Each station took as many mini-stories as was needed for me to memorize the entire speech.

Anthony Metivier TEDx Melbourne Presentation

As an additional memory aid, I scripted the talk itself to contain a story.

This leads us to an alternative story method options that you may want to consider using: Using a story itself as source for a Memory Palace.

Powerful Alternative To The Story Method:
Use A Story To Memorize

To use this version of the story method, pick a movie or novel and make an inventory of locations you can remember. Ideally, you will not base the Memory Palace on every little last detail — instead, I suggest you work with just a few story locations that come naturally to mind.

A wall of hacker code, much like the movie The Matrix used. You could use locations from The Matrix to use the story method.

For example, in The Matrix, I readily remember these locations:

  • The hotel
  • Neo’s apartment
  • The dance club
  • The interrogation room
  • The desert of the real
  • The bridge of Morpheus’ ship
  • Neo’s chamber
  • The Oracle’s waiting room
  • The Oracle’s kitchen
  • The subway
  • The hallway with the final showdown between Neo and Agent Smith

While I was writing the list, I remembered even more, such as the street with the woman in the red dress, the dojo, and more. Just going through one movie makes for incredible memory exercise!

To use this version of the story method, mentally arrange these locations to suit your learning project. Using the chronological order as you experience them while watching the movie makes the most sense, but you could also arrange them alphabetically or in whatever way feels right for you.

Next, start to “link” your information inside the story. Now, unlike your home, this kind of Memory Palace comes “pre-loaded” with all kinds of imagery to work with.

For example, let’s say you want to memorize a phrase like meliora sequimur. This is the Latin motto for Brisbane, which means, “We aim for better things.”

You can take the mess hall on Morpheus’ ship and have Mouse complain about the “meal’s aura” “meliora” and have a giant second-hand from a clock ticking over his head. From there, you have many choices, such as using locations from The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings.

A Hobbit house from the set of The Lord of the Rings movies. You could use Hobbiton as your location for the story method.

Should You Use The Story Method?

As you can probably already tell, I don’t find that story memory technique is the greatest method for speed, efficiency, or even effectiveness.

I haven’t talked to every memory expert under the sun, but so far I don’t know anyone who works this way. That said, Idriz Zogaj mentioned something like a virtual story method when speaking about a memory competitor he knows. Unfortunately, his explanation is second hand and therefore a bit vague.

That said, a close parallel is the use of video games. I’ve used Donkey Kong and have heard of people using the Legend of Zelda, Skyrim, and all kinds of fantasy locations to help them learn faster and remember more.

At the end of the day, it’s up to you to learn and practice the techniques. I hope exploring the core technique and some variations has helped you out.

Need more help? Grab my FREE Memory Improvement Course here:

Free Memory Improvement Course

It will help you master these concepts further so you can get out there and remember just about anything.

Enjoy and please let me know how you find using this technique for your learning goals!

2 Responses

  1. Hello Anthony
    I am a psychology student and recently I have purchased a book called DSM-5 and it is all about diagnoses of mental disorders and its difficult than a usual textbook, it consists of various codes for mental disorders and I want to know how can I memorize them and the symptoms of the disorder by using memory palaces?

    1. Thanks for this question.

      I would suggest selecting small sets of the most important terms and memorizing one per room in a Memory Palace until you can do this reliably.

      Then, if you want to be able to pack in more per room, consider some of the more intermediate and advanced techniques (covered in the MMM Masterclass).

      As discussed on this page, I would suggest using the story method in a much more strategic way. For words and definitions that have codes, you’ll want to consider the vignette version along with a number system, such as a 00-99 PAO.

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Anthony Metivier is the founder of the Magnetic Memory Method, a systematic, 21st century approach to memorizing foreign language vocabulary, names, music, poetry and more in ways that are easy, elegant, effective and fun.

Dr. Metivier holds a Ph.D. in Humanities from York University and has been featured in Forbes, Viva Magazine, Fluent in 3 Months, Daily Stoic, Learning How to Learn and he has delivered one of the most popular TEDx Talks on memory improvement.

His most popular books include, The Victorious Mind and… Read More

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