Memory Systems: 5 Memory Systems To Help You Remember Just About Anything

5 Memory Systems To Rermember Pretty Much Everything

Finding it difficult to memorize lists, names, a new language?

I personally struggle with memorizing the names of new people I meet.

I know I’m not the only one and that’s understandable – because so much happens when you first meet someone.

Your brain is busy taking in what they look like, what they say. You’re also trying to give out a good image of yourself and you concentrate on what you’re saying, how you’re saying it.

All goes well. You had a nice little conversation and you part with a smile… and then you realize you don’t remember their name.


I also struggle with lists sometimes. ‘Don’t forget to buy some double cream’ my husband blurts out as I’m looking for my keys. My mind is busy with finding the keys. Once in the store, I remember the butter, sugar, milk but guess what I forget?

The key with memorizing information is to use a system that helps you plant the information in your brain.

Let me start by saying that repeating the information to yourself non-stop like a broken disc is not a good system. You might manage to remember the information for a short time but it will most likely disappear because it never made it to your long-time memory.

Of course, you don’t need to store your grocery list in your long-time memory but you might want to remember your neighbor’s name, your nephew’s birthday, your daughter’s cell phone number and the name of this new singer you’ve just heard on the radio.

Remember People’s Names With The Distinctive Feature Method

This is an easy method to help you remember people’s name. It is based on creating a vivid image associating their name with a distinctive physical feature they have.

  • The first important step is to pay attention when they give you their name. We often fail at that first step.
  • Then, straight away, make the name meaningful to you.
  • Finally, pick a feature in their face and mentally associate the name to it by creating a vivid image.

Here comes the example…

I recently met a young woman called Roisin. Roisin means roses in Irish. She happens to have pink cheeks. I pictured her with roses on her cheeks.

Learn A New Language With The Visual Hook Method

If you need to remember words, when learning a new language for example, use the the Visual Hook Method.

This method is based on the principle that, in order to learn anything, you first have to connect it to what you already know. Memories are always made by creating connections to existing memories. The more vivid the connection the stronger (and long-lasting) the memory.

So, here goes the method:

  • Let’s say you want to memorize the word ‘j’attends’ in French (I’m waiting).
  • Relate it to something you know using etymology, a play on word, an image that comes up to mind.
    In English, attend does not mean the same thing but you could link the French and English together: Imagine a baby waiting to be old enough to attend school.
  • Now create a mental image of a baby thinking about starting school, waiting to be old enough to attend school.

The memories last longer if you use your senses, lots of imagination, your emotions and some fun too.

The language learning website is based on the Visual Hook method. They add some crowd sourcing to the mix by letting people who take the courses create the memory hooks (memes) for every one else.

Remember Lists With The Link Memory Method

The Link Memory is a technique that works very well with lists. Let’s say you do want to remember your shopping list without having to write it down or the list of exceptions to a grammar rule or the list of Countries in South America.

You simply start with the first word and link it in a creative way with the second word. Then you link the second to the third word, etc.

Let’s say you want to remember this list of random words : Cow, Violin, House, Fire, Sky, Hen, Ball, Helicopter, Orange, Tea

You could imagine a cow playing the violin entering your house where there’s a fire going in the fireplace. Next to the fireplace is a window through which you see a hen flying past. It’s hit by a ball and together they collide into an helicopter which is orange. They all fall down and have a nice cup of tea to make them feel better.

The stranger the story, the better you’ll remember it.

If you want to remember Countries, States, Counties, use the same method using words that sound like or start like or finish like the Countries, States, Counties you want to remember.

An example for South American Countries:

The colonel (Colombia) was a fine equestrian (Ecuador). His horse loved perfume (Peru). One day the horse smelt perfume and bolted (Bolivia) sending the Colonel in the chilly (Chile) sea. His wife Tina (Argentina) came to his rescue. She swallowed some uranium (Uruguay) to gain extra strength and parachuted (Paraguay) near him. Then they both went to warm up in front of a brazier (Brazil). A French guy (French Guyana) felt sorry (Suriname) for them and offered them some guacamole (Guyana). Voila! (Venuzuela).

Use your imagination and picture every step happening. Make it fun and incredible.

The Link method is very easy and works well for small lists. It is not always the most reliable as you may forget parts of the story. For longer lists, the Journey or Memory Palace method is best.

Learn Lists In The Right Order With The Journey Method

The Journey Method (also called Memory Palace or Loci) is one of the oldest memory methods – already used by Roman orators to remember their speeches. It works very well for long lists and also for lists where the order matters. Using your spatial memory helps make sure you don’t risk to miss out some items.

  • Chose a journey you know well and identify as many steps (landmarks) on this journey as the number of items you need to remember.
  • Then, associate vividly the first item to the first landmark, the second item to the second landmark, etc.

Rather than using landmarks on a journey, you could also use the physical locations in a house you know well.

This method has been used successfully to remember pi digits, the exact order of a deck of card, US States, etc.

Remember Numbers With The Phonetic Numbers Method

This method is also based on associations and was created 400 years ago!

Since we remember more easily words and sentences than lists of digits, the idea is to transform the numbers (list of digits) into words by assigning a letter to each digit and making up words.

You don’t assign just any letter to any digit.

Here is the code:

  • 0 is associated with z, s, soft c (clue to remember it: z is the first letter of the word zero and s, c sound similar)
  • 1 is associated with t, d, th (t has 1 down stroke)
  • 2 is associated with n (2 down strokes)
  • 3 is associated with m (3 down strokes)
  • 4 is associated with r (four ends with r)
  • 5 is associated with l (the 5 fingers of your left hand form the letter L)
  • 6 is associated with g, j (g is 6 upside down, j sounds similar)
  • 7 is associated with k, hard c, q (K can be drawn with 2 sevens)
  • 8 is associated with f, v, ph (lower case f looks like 8, v, ph sound similar to f)
  • 9 is associated with b, p (9 and b, p look similar with a loop and tail)

You have to learn this by heart for the method to work. Don’t worry, you’ll quickly get the hang of it.

Now, say you want to remember this number: 750 363 474

It translates into k, l, z/s, m, j/g, m, r, k, r

Now you need to fill in with vowells to make up words.

How about: call some jam rocker? or callous magma rock rye?

Next, imagine calling a man playing a rock song on a guitar or some hard rock from a volcano in Rye.

Final Thoughts

All the methods above have points in common:

  • making association with things you already know
  • using your senses to create bold imaginative images that stand out.

There are 2 other things you must do to help you create and retain memories:

  • give your full attention when you form a memory (when you learn something do not let your mind wander, the mind cannot do 2 things at once – see our article on multi-tasking to learn more about that)
  • retrieve the information at key intervals so the memory becomes a long-term one (straight away after you’ve learnt it, then 30 minutes later, then at the end of the day, the following day, in 3 days, in a week, in a month… if you retrieve the memory just before you’re about to forget it, you will reinforce it – see our article on making memories).


Memory Systems: 5 Memory Systems To Help You Remember Just About Anything — 2 Comments

  1. Thanks Isabelle. I take the approach that people are important and everything else can go in a notebook – either paper or digital. So as long as I am on my toes to remember people’s names, which your first method can help with, I just use a note for everything else.
    It may be worth mentioning that getting enough rest and using a journal to dump unnecessary stuff out of the memory has helped me get my memory back, when at one stage my memory was so unreliable that I began to wonder whether I was heading for early dementia.

  2. Great post, Isabelle πŸ™‚

    I do use some of these techniques to learn – to remember names, languages (I use memrise too, along with Duolingo) and country names Although for country names, I use Visual hook method or plain memorization or just relating it to something I know (I remember Zimbabwe’s capital as Harare since I remember the word ‘rare’ – visualizing rare animals has also helped to maintain the memory).

    I know that plain memorization can take time, but it works me, especially since I had to memorize a lot in elementary and middle school; I was born and brought up in India, many schools in India require memorizing stuff – like poems etc :D). I began using the name technique a while ago (I am really bad at remembering names, then again, I think it is because I don’t give that much importance to names, which is worse.

    Along with these techniques, I am using Anki, spaced repetition software. It is like flash cards, but a bit more advanced.

    Anyways, I do appreciate you sharing the rest of the techniques πŸ™‚ Thank you!

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