‘Mnemonic’ is another word for memory tool. Mnemonics are techniques for remembering information that is otherwise quite difficult to recall: A very simple example is the ‘30 days hath September’ rhyme for remembering the number of days in each calendar month.
The idea behind using mnemonics is to encode difficult-to-remember information in a way that is much easier to remember.
Our brains evolved to code and interpret complex stimuli such as images, colors, structures, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, positions, emotions and language. We use these to make sophisticated models of the world we live in. Our memories store all of these very effectively.
Unfortunately, a lot of the information we have to remember in modern life is presented differently – as words printed on a page. While writing is a rich and sophisticated medium for conveying complex arguments, our brains do not easily encode written information, making it difficult to remember.
Using Your Whole Mind to Remember
The key idea is that by coding information using vivid mental images, you can reliably code both information and the structure of information. And because the images are vivid, they are easy to recall when you need them.
The techniques explained later on in this section show you how to code information vividly, using stories, strong mental images, familiar journeys, and so on.
You can do the following things to make your mnemonics more memorable:
- Use positive, pleasant images. Your brain often blocks out unpleasant ones.
- Use vivid, colorful, sense-laden images – these are easier to remember than drab ones.
- Use all your senses to code information or dress up an image. Remember that your mnemonic can contain sounds, smells, tastes, touch, movements and feelings as well as pictures.
- Give your image three dimensions, movement and space to make it more vivid. You can use movement either to maintain the flow of association, or to help you to remember actions.
- Exaggerate the size of important parts of the image.
- Use humor! Funny or peculiar things are easier to remember than normal ones.
- Similarly, rude rhymes are very difficult to forget!
- Symbols (red traffic lights, pointing fingers, road signs, etc.) can code quite complex messages quickly and effectively.