Visual Memory Techniques: Use These 4 “Hacks” To Learn Faster

Visual Memory Techniques feature image of Anthony Metivier peeking through fingers in a circleVisual memory techniques make learning faster and easier.

Yet, some people find them confusing.

I don’t blame them.

That’s because the word “visual” is not quite right.

Or better said, there’s a missing ingredient that often needs to come first before you mentally picture the mnemonics you’re using as part of learning.

On this page, I’m going to clarify what visual mnemonics are and how to make better use of them.



And in ways that are incredibly fun.

Ready for mental adventure while learning?

Let’s dive in!

What Are Visual Mnemonics?

For thousands of years, most ancient memory techniques have involved linking images through association to information. If I meet a new person named Rick, if I can imagine another person named Rick that I know, I’ve increased the likelihood that I’ll remember the name.

That’s because linking is a form of chunking that makes it easier to learn faster. I have “chunked” or associated one person named Rick with another.

Remembering names is relatively simple. But it’s the same basic process when using visual mnemonics to learn more complicated information. It’s a basic formula:

  • See something you want to memorize in a book or hear it in a conversation
  • Think about what you already know that connects with the target information you want to remember
  • Link them together

Typically, people make these links based on the idea that you can visualize the mnemonic image you choose to assign the link.

Lukasa memory board
The Lukasa memory board functions as both a tactile and visual memory technique. Stonehenge may have helped people recall details in a similar way, but at a much larger scale.

Historically, Lynne Kelly has questioned in books like The Memory Code to what extent Stonehenge might have served as a kind of visual memory technique. One idea is that people found visual patterns in the stones and used them to help remember information about herbal remedies and other information important to survival.

I think there’s good reason to believe that Stonehenge and other physical structures have been used this way. Objects like the lukasa and using the hand as a mnemonic tool operate in a similar way.

These days, people don’t visit Stonehenge or carry around memory boards. They use methods of association almost entirely in their minds, including techniques like:

And many more.

The Problem With “Seeing” Mnemonics In Your Mind

As fun and easy as making associations can be, there’s a cost to every benefit.

For one thing, not everyone has a strong visual imagination. Mine comes and goes, and for a long time I was pretty sure I had aphantasia – the inability to see mental imagery.

However, as soon as I learned about mnemonics, I knew I had to use them. And so I figured out a way to use them in a multi-sensory way, without getting caught up on the visual part. Over the years, I came up with a bunch of very useful visualization exercises too.

They’ve helped a lot. But at the end of the day, I finally stumbled across memory masters like Giordano Bruno and Robert Fludd.

No one knows just how visual they may have been, but it’s clear that they proposed ways to use visualization differently. In The Art of Memory, Yeats described some of their mnemonic strategies.

Even where she was correct, current memory science, memory competitors and many conversations enabled by the Internet have led to a renaissance in working out how to use visual memory techniques better.

Let’s turn now to these ways. Because the other problem people face, beside not being able to visualize, is time. Get what we’re about to talk about right and you’ll be able to memorize using these techniques much faster.

One: Base Your Visual Mnemonics On Real Sources

When many people get into mnemonics, they read books by people like Harry Lorayne, Tony Buzan and Dominic O’Brien.

That’s fantastic and their teaching is brilliant.

However, they often use vague and generic examples. If you need to memorize a word like “ramification,” they’ll suggest that you think about a ram, as in the animal.

That might be fine for some people.

But for myself and many others, it just doesn’t “pop” in the imagination.

I use more concrete images, like the fact that my dad used to drive a particular Dodge Ram. Or the semantic fact that there’s a German band called Rammstein.

These mnemonic images are instantly visual because I’ve already seen them with my own eyes.

The catch is that you do need to think a little sometimes. But with practice, you can train your procedural memory to come up with associations that are concrete and specific in a flash. It’ll soon feel like it’s happening to you automatically, faster than the speed of thinking.Anthony Metivier with Mnemonic Methods a Memory Palace book by Robert Fludd

Keep in mind that Bruno and Fludd talked about this tactic hundreds of years ago.

But sometimes people miss it because they use examples from their era. I use Dodge Ram trucks and bands from Germany because they are known to me in our time. The strategy is exactly the same, and all you have to do is lean into the principle of specificity more. You will improve as a result.

Two: Use Logic First (Sort Of…)

Success with mnemonics boils down to mental programming.

To do this, we need to quickly come up with the best possible association. The Memory Wheel was one of Bruno’s solutions for rapidly generating the most logical visual associations.

Logical in the sense that when you choose the best possible associations, the result of recalling what you want to remember follows as naturally and as easily as possible.

Ultimately, I don’t think using memory wheels is necessarily the best way to operate these days. But it’s worth understanding both what Memory Wheels are and the ars combinatoria they come from. I’d suggest following those links for more details and spending some time experimenting with memory wheels so you can decide for yourself.

If memory wheels aren’t for you, I would suggest creating simple lists of associations and either placing them in a wheel or just having gone through the exercise so you’re ready to apply the technique.A simple Alphabet List, Celebrity List or Bestiary

For example, a few times a year I list out names of celebrities based around the alphabet.

Then, when I have to memorize something, my mental dexterity is ready to apply a specific association. For example, I’ve recently been memorizing Tao Te Ching.

It never takes me long to come up with images for memorizing the Chinese words because I have these lists prepared and ready to go.

I’ve shared well over 500 mnemonic examples, including in The Victorious Mind for my personal Sanskrit phrases project.

But I suggest you not dwell on examples too much. You risk weakening the skill you want to strengthen.

If you don’t understand the theory, just take action on the steps. I’ll offer you a free guide at the bottom of this post that will help you take that action, step-by-step.

Rest assured, I didn’t understand all of this theory in the beginning either. But I followed the recommendations and it works because I followed the steps even without understanding the big picture.

Three: Apply KAVE COGS

Even those with the strongest visualization abilities tell me that what I’m about to teach you next has helped them tremendously. It’s one of the core parts of the Magnetic Memory Method Masterclass.

Rather than just picture associations in the mind, use a variety of associations. Unlike Tony Buzan’s SEM3, I recommend keeping it simple. For me, I follow a simple pattern called KAVE COGS:

  • Kinesthetic
  • Auditory
  • Visual
  • Emotional
  • Conceptual
  • Olfactory
  • Gustatory
  • Spatial

Following this specific order, if I had to memorize the word “ramification,” I would first feel the Dodge Ram steering wheel in my hand. Then I would hear the truck’s engine before worrying about picturing it in my mind – a step I sometimes skip altogether.


Because I already know what it looks like. By basing the visual mnemonic on something visual I’ve already seen, there’s no particular need to recreate it in the mind. Often, that’s just a waste of time.

For emotions, I might feel angry with road rage in my imagination, or like I’m in a hurry. Or I might compound the image by enjoying the sound of Rammstein on the radio.

The conceptual mode is more difficult to explain and I use it only when necessary. It’s just thinking about the category to which the visual mnemonic belongs – such as the fact that Rammstein is a German music group. Or that the Dodge Ram truck was popular amongst mechanics, like my dad.

Olfactory and gustatory just mean taste and smell. I might imagine the cigarette smoke that was always in my dad’s truck or the taste of liquorice I used to buy at the gas station.

Finally, size involves making the truck bigger in my imagination. Often I like this with the kinesthetic mode and feel the size physically, perhaps even imagining what it would feel like if I were the truck.

Four: Practice Other Forms Of Visualization

Often when we learn new skills, we focus heavily on the main technique or strategy.

That can work, but often it winds up hurting us.

In learning, there’s a principle called interleaving. Rather than cram, or spend hours looking for some other singular memory hack, we rotate between practicing different kinds of them. When it comes to mnemonics, there are at least twenty distinct memory techniques.

When it comes to visualization, there are guided visualizations, positive visualizations and different ways of journaling for self-help to explore that involve picturing yourself achieving success.

My point is not to suggest exactly which forms of visualization you should add to your practice. It’s just the suggestion that by adding multiple forms of visualization practice, you’ll get more out of the visual memory techniques you’re using.

One of my personal favorites is to use the Memory Wheel technique in combination with meditation. Because it involves bringing various people to mind, it has made me faster at assigning mnemonic images when learning.

If you’d like more help with these techniques now that you’ve read this post, here’s an invitation to my free memory improvement course:

Free Memory Improvement Course

It will help you learn the most important memory techniques, step-by-step.

And if you feel like you’re not very visual in your imagination, no problem. I’ve got a major solution for you in the program and all you need to bring is a willingness to experiment.

Can you picture yourself doing that?

If so, that’s all you need in addition to a burning passion for accomplishing your learning goals.

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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

Anthony Metivier taught as a professor at:


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