One of the most fascinating aspects of using memory techniques is the paradoxical fact that the principles are universal and yet we all have to use them in our own way. I can explain how the techniques work and give you any number of examples, but at the end of the day, we need to step into the techniques and make them our own.
It’s kind of like the way playing music works. You learn a bunch of rules about time signatures and notation, how to hold your instrument and all manner of other details. There are dozens of universals and each player must contend with most, if not all of them in order to achieve musical “fluency.”
And yet, something crazy happens:
Individual players develop completely unique styles that no one else on earth has. Sure, I can imitate the great bassists Billy Sheehan or Jaco Pastorius after years of studying music and my instrument, but I haven’t got their souls.
It’s the same with memorization techniques. At some level, success has to do with your inner being.
Practice is fundamental, of course, but there’s something even more important, and it’s something that all great musicians seem to have in common.
The Path Of The Ustad
Back when I was still studying sitar (I had to sell mine to go on tour with my band), my teacher told me something interesting.
He said that to become a true sitar master, guru or “Ustad,” one has to:
1) Study for 20 years
2) Perform for 20 years
3) Teach for 20 years
At the time, I didn’t think to ask whether these three paths should be consecutive or concurrent, but as I think about it now, it’s pretty obvious that the real power lies in the concurrent approach. At least, it would be a shame for someone to wait 20 years before ever playing music for anyone else and 40 years before sharing one’s knowledge. If this were the case, the only teachers we would have in the world would already be retired before their teaching careers had begun!
Apply This To Foreign Language Vocabulary Memorization
What does this have to do with you? Well, it has to do with developing our own unique memorization style. And there appears to be a sequence that we can follow, just like the one described above:
In the Magnetic Memory Method, study involves preparing and predetermining effective Memory Palaces based on some core principles, performing by regularly rehearsing the memorized material and actually using it to read, write, speak and otherwise communicate and finally to teach someone else what you have learned about memorization.
I think it is in the teaching phase that we really begin to achieve conscious awareness of exactly how the system works and just how powerful mnemonics can be.
Anyhow, I’ve been thinking about this a lot since the weekend because after one of the concerts I played last weekend, one of the fellows from another band kept making sure my beer was always full.
In thanked him vociferously at the end of the night and he said something profound in reply:
“Those who don’t share the beer don’t really have it.”
It’s the same thing with any skill you have learned. You really don’t have it until you’ve shared it with someone else – ideally as many other people as possible. It’s really a no-brainer.
But there are also some hidden features in teaching others about your memorization skills, or any others you may have. It’s not just brute technique. When we teach others, we are:
* Practicing a form of honesty. We talk about what worked for us and what didn’t and this helps others build a more complete view of how the system or technique we’re describing functions. It lets them know that these approaches might not suit them in an inviting, consequence-free atmosphere.
* It’s a form of being personal. Since you’ll be revealing a bit of how your imagination works, you’ll find that people learn a little bit more about you, as well as more about themselves. And any time that we describe how our imagination works, our ability to create images improves.
* Teaching others is inspiring. You not only get to inspire others, but you get to inspire yourself. You are essentially affirming the value of what you know and creating a self-esteem boost as a result (because YOU, after all, are the one who knows this stuff).
* The methods seem less complicated and more practical. I know that a lot of people think the Magnetic Memory Method is convoluted or relies to much on visualization. I’ve seen the reviews. However, I think that anyone who takes the time to enunciate the basics of the system out loud will find that it’s much more elegant and easy to use than it may seem at first sight. This is why I created the Magnetic Memory worksheets. They are a kind of visual schemata that allows us to see the organizational potential of all these Memory Palaces every single one of us have in our minds no matter where we are or what we are doing.
* When we teach, we are not only giving a roadmap to others, but providing them with an interesting story. Remember that Joshua Foer video link I gave you?
Here it is again in case you missed it:
This video is an amazing example of not only how Foer teaches the basics of Memory Palace and image-based mnemonics, but he’s also telling a great story. An unbelievable story. A profound story.
Everyone who starts working with mnemonics has a similar story to tell, and the more you tell it, the more profound it will become.
Until next time, make sure to teach someone what you have learned about memorization. It really is the best way to deepen your own understanding and to help make the world a better – and more memorable – place. The more we remember, the more we can remember, and the more we learn, the more we can learn.