As you learned about back in the post, What If I Wanted To Memorize 3000 Words?, there’s really no memorization challenge that cannot be overcome.
That said, there are a number of “painful truths” about memorizing that many people let get in the way of their progress.
Let’s look at some of these.
1. You will make mistakes. It’s a basic fact that not only will we make mistakes when memorizing material such as foreign language vocabulary, names, faces and even our dreams, but we need to make mistakes in order to identify problem areas and grow.
It’s an old cliche but a stubbornly correct one: we learn by failing. Or better put, it’s only failure if you refuse to learn from the mistakes. I think we’ve all probably had that experience of knowing that we’re doing something wrong, but going ahead and doing it anyway.
The trick is to stop, correct and then proceed along the newly corrected basis. And in doing so, we make the practice artful.
And, of course, I’m always talking about projects for memorizing stuff that’s important to you, like foreign language vocabulary, names and faces and poetry. But the same principles apply even if you’re into competition and feats of extreme memory. And yes, even memory champions make mistakes when their skills are on display.
2. You will be tempted to show off. Showing off is not such a bad thing, but the reason that it’s a painful truth when it comes to memory skills is that … you’re going to make mistakes. For many people, this is enough to turn them off of using memory skills or a dedicated Memory Palace network forever.
This is a shame because failure, slip-ups and all kinds of foibles happen all the time. And you can learn from them, simply by grabbing hold of yourself, letting yourself relax, apologize if necessary and then start again at a convenient place.
Just like Alica Crosby did in the Magnetic Memory Method Podcast episode, Tap the Mind of a 10-year Old Memory Palace Master. She made a tiny little error, caught herself and then corrected.
Like it was nothing.
Which it was.
So if you are showing off (and I hope that you do), don’t let a tiny little mistake shame you out of continuing with memory development.
And here’s a tip: demonstrate your skills to others in low stress environments. For example, do card drills in front of your dog or cat. Your pets don’t care if you get it wrong, but you will have the feeling that you’re demonstrating your memory skills in front of a sentient being.
Then scale it up to your mom, your dad or a friend you know will be chill if you slip up. You can even tell them that you’re a bit nervous about making a mistake, which is a cool trick because when you don’t make any mistakes, they’ll probably forget that you said that or just think that you were being modest before unleashing the miracle.
From there, you can increase the “social difficulty” as you please, always knowing that you can correct mistakes with a quick, “oh sorry,” like Alicia did on the Podcast and carry on.
3. You have to learn to relax. I include this amongst the painful truths of memory skills because, at least in my experience of helping many, many people build either their first or their one hundredth Memory Palace, usually the number one problem they have with memorizing information and recalling it is that they aren’t relaxed.
There are a number of reasons why relaxation not only helps, but will completely take things to a new level for you.
The first is that it helps over come the objections in the mind. I’m talking about that voice that says, “this is stupid,” or “this is crazy,” or “this will never work.” Many a person has this voice turned away from the gift of mnemonics. But if you memorize in a state of relaxation, you can dampen, lessen or outright eliminate this voice and work on improving your memory in peace.
The second is that relaxation enhances creativity. I don’t know if this is because you enter a more dreamlike state, but there’s a lot of scientific research which demonstrates a link between, for instance, meditation and creativity and I’m sure that your personal experience will demonstrate that this is true for you as well.
Meditation is a pretty simple affair.
As Alan Watts put it: sit just to sit. The rest will take care of itself.
A third reason why relaxation is such a powerful tool for a memorizer is that it conditions you to associate relaxation with memorization and recall. This means that when you’re tempted to show off, you can tap into that state of relaxation you used to memorize the stuff in the first place and use it in the moment in order to avoid getting flummoxed or embarrassed or otherwise feeling discouraged if you make a mistake.
It’s really cool, but also a painful truth of memory skills and it saddens me that so many people skip this step and then claim that mnemonics don’t work for them.
They do work and they will work for even the most resistant mind if you just give relaxation a serious try.
4. You have to have a success-oriented mindset. Far too many people enter a field they want to conquer expecting failure.
This rarely helps …
I don’t know why many of us go into things in a dark mood, but the relaxation tip I’ve just given is one way to move yourself in a more positive direction, in addition to simply deciding in your mind that you will succeed and nothing will stop you.
Better yet, write it down.
Literally. Get a notebook that you carry around with you and every day write down a list of your goals and the declaration that you will achieve them. Today was the first day of the Polyglot Gathering 2014 in Berlin and I showed someone who was skeptical that I actually do this my personal notebook that I carry with me everywhere. It has a date written in ink at the beginning and he could see that I certainly hadn’t filled out half the book since arriving at the conference that morning and gotten it all worn and dirty from carrying it in my pocket.
I really do this stuff and it has helped me combat negative-thinking and depression for years.
I don’t know exactly why it works, but Richard Wiseman talks about it in his book 59 Seconds and gives the science in those pages, so I highly recommend that you read it for more on this approach and even more little life hacks that are scientifically grounded that you can put to use in under a minute.
5. You will need to challenge your imagination. I was talking with another fellow today at the Polyglot Gathering today and he wanted to know why I recommend that people memorize the alphabet backwards. I told him that it’s a great way to see how you can use a Memory Palace, it’s great brain exercise, and it also helps bridge the gap between memorizing things that are familiar to you (the alphabet) and things that are foreign (like the alphabet backwards). You can use this skill to help when encountering foreign language words and seeing how to use mnemonics to store them in your mind and then later recall them at will.
He still didn’t quite see why one should do exercises like this, especially for him because he knows the techniques and uses them every day.
So I asked him what he thinks it would be like if he could use the same techniques he already knows 10 times better?
He didn’t quite have an answer, but he thought it would be pretty cool.
So I suggested that he give memorizing the alphabet backwards a try and explained that you could never really know what the strength of someone like Schwarzenegger feels like without putting in the time at the gym. In the same way, you can never know just how powerful your memory can be without doing some basic exercises. There is a huge difference between pumping 10 pounds and pumping 50 and only those who pump 50 get the outcome that only 50 can achieve.
It’s that simple.
So if you want your memory skills to grow, you’ve got to add challenges.
Even if you just want to maintain them, you’ve got to at least use your memory techniques.
I don’t really believe in the use “use it or lose” it idea in this case, but there’s definitely a dampening of power if you don’t memorize things for a long time, regardless of how well you understand the techniques.
Not only that, but not having Memory Palaces prepared in advance can be a real drawback as well because then you’ve got to build them, or at least revisit them if you haven’t kept them maintained.
Never fear, however. This is not hard work and it is in fact a lot of fun to wander Memory Palaces just to keep them in check for when you might want to use them.
Speaking of which … let’s move on to …
6. You need to be obsessed with using memory skills. Actually using them, that is. I know all kinds of people and receive many messages each and every day from people who are deeply interested in mnemonics and love to read about Ars Memorativa. But so many people never actually build a Memory Palace, let alone use it.
They have a problem that I call “mistaking activity with accomplishment.” It’s a huge problem that affects a lot of people in a lot of areas.
But as awesome and even necessary as thinking about memory techniques is, it’s not the same thing as using them or analyzing your use of them and then getting back in there and using them again.
But if you’re not obsessed with memory techniques, there’s hope in yet another pain of mnemonics …
7. You have to be willing to get started. This is another huge barrier that people face, including myself. I got started with memory techniques almost by accident, but they still wound up helping solve the desperate situation I was in as a grad student on the verge of flunking out during some very dark days of depression.
Other people come to memory techniques in their own way, but don’t know exactly how to get started.
I always like to say that mnemonics begins and ends with the Memory Palace.
But this is not the only way, though it probably is the most Magnetic.
All this said, in practical terms, one of the easiest and best ways to get started is to have a practical vision of what it is that you want to accomplish. Having a solid grasp of your intended outcome will guide and inform the process.
It’s kind of like getting a degree in college or university.
Yes, some people go to “audit” courses and take them for personal or professional reasons as one-offs, but most people go to university guided by some kind of structure, a well-defined outcome, a Bachelor of Arts in … whatever.
The same thing goes for memory skills … minus the degree.
In order to achieve something, you need to know what it is that you’re trying to achieve, so instead of saying, “I want to improve my memory,” try saying, “I want to improve my memory so that I can _________.” And then fill in that blank with a specific goal.
From this basis, you’ll not only improve your memory overall because of applying memory skills in a dedicated manner, but you’ll achieve that goal alongside the learning and mastering of a memory strategy.
Another way to think of this, returning to the university degree metaphor is that one never takes a degree just in a particular subject. You learn both the subject and how to learn about that subject which translates into how to learn about something in general. Thus, when I did my BA and my first MA in English Literature, I wasn’t just learning about English Literature, but I was learning about how to learn about English Literature at the same time, guided by the structure of a program and its carefully defined goals and outcomes.
So let me conclude by defining exactly what it is that separates the Magnetic Memorizer from all the rest:
* The Magnetic Memorizer overcomes all of the pains of memory skills in order to become free of forgetfulness at will. Others accept forgetfulness and let it rule the road of their life without taking focused and directed action. You can be Magnetic and you can have freedom from forgetfulness.
* The Magnetic Memorizer practices self-leadership and firmly takes the task of memory development from the whims of nature into her or his own hands. As a Magnetic Memorizer, you’re not looking for something from nothing. You know the value of hard work and you refuse to be a victim of forgetfulness.
* The Magnetic Memorizer places high value on the powers of the human mind and its natural abilities and approaches the Magnetic Memory Method as a method. The Magnetic Memorizer does not look for a “cookie-cutter,” one size fits all memory training program. You adapt and you form and you fashion based on the universal principles that you’ve learned, ideally grounded in the Memory Palace tradition for the reasons I have outlined many times before.
And if you are a student (which is the best time to tackle these painful truths), I recommend checking out the free webinar on Memory Secrets of an A+ Student. It will help you overcome each of these of painful truths about memory skills.
About the author:
Anthony Metivier is the founder of the Magnetic Memory Method, a systematic, 21st Century approach to memorizing foreign language vocabulary, dreams, names, music, poetry and much more in ways that are easy, elegant, effective and fun.