How to improve your memory using 3 mnemonic mind tricks

how to improve your memory

What are mnemonics? They’re a clever mind trick designed to help you remember facts and figures using your own imagination. If you’re revising for exams… or want to learn a poem a day… read on!

Remembering things can be difficult. If you have a creative but untidy mind,  it can be even harder. Important facts slip like sand through the fingers. Movie dialogue lodges in the soul like the most stubborn of poltergeists, but essential pin numbers disappear in a drift of smoke.

Invented by the ancient Greeks 2,500 years ago, mnemonics are a way to game your very own personal memory system. Transform clunky information into a memorable picture using symbolic storytelling, cute little rhymes and imagination in all its forms!

Being mindful with memory

The word “mnemonics” comes from the Greek mneme (“memory”) and mnemon (“mindful”). So mnemonics is simply being mindful of your memory – learning how to memorise things more easily. Mnemonics can be a tremendously useful tool for those of us who struggle to absorb and retain information for any reason.

Nice to know: The Greek goddess of Memory was called Mnemosyne (pronounced “ne-mos’-i-ni”)

Why bother improving your memory, anyway?

It’s a fair question. Mobile/cell phones remember phone numbers for us. We only need to remember study topics for one exam and after that? There’s always the internet, storing more information than we can ever hope handle and just a touch away. However, isn’t there a sense of freedom in learning a poem or historical dates the hard way? It can feel more rewarding than purely relying on technology to spoonfeed you super-abilities like ‘remembering’ hundreds of telephone numbers. Technology as we know it may not last forever, but your delicious brain will be with you as long as you are. You are its captain!

Here are three little mnemonic exercises to help you remember things using your imagination. Give them a try and see if they suit your own personal learning style…

1. Use mnemonic rhymes to remember rules

Need to order some information in your head? Turning life’s rules into a little rhyme can really help if you want to remember them.

Examples of mnemonic rhymes:

Never Eat Shredded Wheat can help you remember which way is east on points of the compass.

Ray Of Yellow Grows Brilliant In Violet shows what order the rainbow colours of the spectrum go in.

Or here’s a mnemonic rhyme for anyone concerned about mixing their drinks:

“Wine after beer makes you feel queer
but beer after wine makes you feel fine!
“Beer on whisky? Very risky!
Whisky on beer, never fear…”

Or here’s one I made up myself because I struggle horribly with the order for applying cleanser, toner, moisturiser, primer and foundation…

Copy The Makeup Pattern, Fecker!

2. Use mnemonic pictures to remember pin numbers

This mnemonic exercise is especially good for remembering pin numbers and numeric sequences (like historical dates, for example).

First, create your very own system of imaging the numbers 1-9 as little pictures. Next, arrange those pictures to become a story that helps you remember a string of numbers in the order they appear. Once you’ve created your mnemonic number system you can use it again and again for all kinds of numbers!

A) First, turn the numbers 0-9 into a picture that makes you think of that number’s shape. Here’s an example:

0 – tunnel/hole
1 – magic wand
2 – swan
3 – bum
4 – boat with sail
5 – apple-bellied woman
6 – cherry
7 – cliff/table
8 – spectacles
9 – monocle

B) Now, let’s say your bank card has the pin number 3274. Invent a story that has, in sequence, the images of a bum (3), a swan (2), a cliff (7) and a boat (4). Humour or strong visuals will help you to remember!

An example story would be: A horrid person has trapped (3) a swan (2) on top of a cliff (7). The swan bravely escapes by jumping off the cliff, and fortunately lands in a boat (4) so it can make its getaway.

3. Visit the Roman Room to help you remember lists

Do you ever need to remember a list of items, maybe for exam revision or even going shopping? You can use the mnemonic Roman Room trick!

First, make a room in your mind. Make it look how you want it. Make it as big and beautiful as you wish. Smaller rooms are easier to remember, but big rooms work too.

Next, test yourself by making a list of ten words to remember tomorrow. Here’s an example list

  1. a shoe
  2. a dog
  3. a desk
  4. the date 12/09/1990
  5. a cow
  6. your Grandpa Billy Bob
  7. a turkey
  8. £20 you owe your landlady
  9. a computer
  10. lovely eggs

If you want to remember all these things, just change things in your room in ways that will remind you. You can add an ugly shoe pattern to the walls, have a barking dog on your couch or table, put an elaborate desk against the wall, write the date on the frame of a famous painting on the wall, put a picture of a fat cow on the wall, have Grandpa Billy Bob eating vegan smoothies on your new white carpet because he doesn’t want to eath the Thanksgiving turkey on the dining room table, have your landlady standing there yelling with a bill in her hand for £20, a broken computer on the floor, and eggs smashed on the door. These are all just ideas – you can use anything you want to memorise.

Try to remember your whole list the next day. If you didn’t remember some of it, it could be because you didn’t make the change noticeable or memorable enough. If you just wrote the date on the wall, you won’t remember it, but if you wrote it in big neon pink letters on the bottom of the Mona Lisa, you’ll have a better chance of remembering it.

Visit your Roman room regularly, until you know it like the back of your hand. That way, when you make a change, it’ll stand out, just the way if somebody made a drastic change to your bedroom, you’d notice immediately.

More Roman Room memory tips:

  • Try not to memorise a huge list all at once. Take baby steps, gradually moving up.
  • Try to find someone else willing to learn this technique with you.

Mnemonics is a tool you might just end up falling in love with. It takes a while to get used to it, but I love how personal it is to you. It can really help those of us who love to daydream but struggle with facts and figures!