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When I get time, I listen to music, or read books. If any is left, I blog!

Sunday 19 March 2006

Train your Memory


Imagine, you have a list of items to remember. The method suggests linking the items to specific locations familiar to you, and then using the imagery of that association to recall the items.

For instance, you are planning to do your shopping after office hours. As you travel to the office, you start thinking of the items, hoping it would remain in your memory till evening. How will you ensure it?

Think of the walk-way you take everyday from the suburban station to your office. Draw a mental map of the path along with selected landmarks namely, the book stall, the vending machine, the snack-bar, the traffic signal etc. Number of landmarks chosen will equal the items in your shopping list. Next, associate each item to one of the chosen landmarks. If you visualize the picture of this association, the landmarks would turn into ideal retrieval clues!

Far-fetched may be your initial impression! Try it a couple of times; you would realize its potential.


Use this technique to remember long numbers, such as a Telephone or Credit card number. The idea is to group them into 3 or 4 easy-to-remember chunks. For example, let us assume your credit card number is 3767850214254007. Break it into five small chunks like 3767  850  214  254  007.

What you are attempting to do is to discover some familiarity, at the same time compress its unwieldy size to manageable units. The first chunk 3767 is rhythmic. Third and fourth chunks namely 214 and 254 are same except for the middle digits. The last one 007 would 'bond' easily to your memory! And what extra effort do you need to remember the second chunk? Try it out.


In olden days, clothes used to be hung on wall mounted pegs for easy storage and retrieval. Mnemonic uses the same technique. Select a series of easy-to-remember words.  Words which rhyme with numbers would be good pegs such as: Bun (1); Shoe (2); Tree (3); Door (4); Dive (5); Fix (6); Heaven (7); Wait (8); Wine (9); Pen (10) and so on. Now, visualize hanging each bit of information you need to remember, on to these Peg-words. See how easy is the recall!

PQ4R Method

When you have to remember certain portions from a text book, try this 6-step technique:

Preview or scan through the section to be memorized.
Ask key Questions relating to the portion previewed.
Find answers to these by Reading the text carefully.
Spend time to Reflect on what you have read.
Try to Recite the portion.
Wind up the exercise with a thorough Review.

The PQ4R method slows down your reading, but helps you retain what you read.


Keep in mind these great words by Luis Bunuel, a Spanish film maker:

"You have to begin to lose your memory if only in bits and pieces, to realize that memory is what makes our lives. Life without memory is no life at all, just as intelligence without the possibility of expression is not really intelligence. Our memory is our coherence, our feeling, even our action. Without it, we are nothing."

My post ends here. But your journey begins...

Click below to read:

Part - 1 (Absent Minded Professor)

Part - 2 (Why Do You Forget?)

Part - 3 (Mnemonics - It Is All Yours)

Sunday 12 March 2006

Mnemonic - It is All Yours!

The word Mnemonic comes from Mnemosyne, a character in Greek mythology personifying unfailing memory.

Mnemonic employs a variety of unique coding technique to strengthen memory. It is different from the age old method of repeated rehearsals, and is comparatively far more efficient. In Mnemonic, there is no theoretical "right" or "wrong". The idea is to grab the concept, and adapt it to match your requirements. This is because needs and styles vary with individuals. Hence rely on the situation and one’s mental attributes, and try to be creative!

When we adopt Mnemonic, we are in fact probing effective methods to capture and retain vital information for long duration. No method will be effective, till you feel a real need to memorize. You should also understand the meaning of the information that you wish to capture. Only if you process the information right, will remembering be easy.

Mnemonic demands extra effort and time. Treat it as an investment. In the long run, it pays back by way of improved memory.

Let us now look at a few popular Mnemonic Tools:
  1. Rhymes & Music  
  2. Acronyms & Acrostics  
  3. Links & Locations  
  4. Peg-words  
  5. PQ4R  
  6. Others
The universal appeal of mnemonic lies in its flexibility of usage. You are free to use any tool, individually or collectively, adapting it to your taste and preference. Bear in mind the following steps:-
  1. Convert information into mental image.
  2. Focus on both the meaning and its relevance.
  3. Associate new information with what you already know.
  4. Space out learning sessions, particularly verbal ones.
  5. Split, Shorten, Substitute, Sing, Group, Cannibalize.

Information set to a known Rhythm or Music helps you to remember. Grouping it in a rhymed verse is also popular. Have you not heard of this verse, which captures the number of days in the 12 months?

"Thirty days of September,
April, June, and November
All the rest have thirty-one,
Leaving just February alone,
To Have eight and a score
Till it leaps a day more."


An Acronym is a new word formed from the first letters of another group of words. Some examples are: 

Take It Easy  (TIE)
As Soon As Possible  (ASAP)
Vital Information Under Siege  (VIRUS)


It is similar to Acronyms. But instead of coining a new word, it forms an easy-to-remember sentence from the first letters in a group of words. You need an Acrostic, to remember a list of items in a specific order.

Let us see how an Acrostic makes it easy to memorize the nine planets in our solar system, starting with the planet nearest to the Sun and ending with the farthest. The age-old method of remembering through repeated rehearsal has its limitations. Even if you succeed, you may not retain it in memory forever. But have no such fears. The nine planets, in the order of their distances from the Sun are Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. Now, use the first letters of each of the planets (M,V,E,M.J,S,U,N & P) to form a catchy sentence like:

My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pickles.

How many times did you have to rehearse? Do you think it is likely to fade away from memory?

Wednesday 8 March 2006

The Surprise Visitor

I finished installing a site meter in my blog, and went over to check the statistics.

The meter had recorded just one visitor, Gates Not thinking too much about it, I hopped back to the meter to make some changes in its configuration, and returned quickly to take a second look at the statistics. Lo! Gates Foundation had dropped by again!

What I felt initially was euphoria. I am a guy, leading an almost invisible and unobtrusive life. My immediate neighbors would not know if I am dead or alive. My circle of friends (an inch and a half in diameter!) with an exception of one or two generally takes it for granted that whatever happens to me is for the good. I have an absolutely transparent family that I myself am unable to detect. On my morning walk, not even a street dog bothers to bark at me (A bite or two would have at least convinced me, Hey, you seem to be alive and kicking!)

So, to someone who is in a state of perpetual implosion, can you imagine what these visits from a meritorious entity mean?

The Gates Foundation has a mission to bring 'innovation in health and learning to the global industry'. Supporting this noble initiative are its universally pervasive reach and penetrative vision. Tell me, am I not fortunate? Infinitesimally inconsequential I may be, but the world's mighty come calling and consoling 'don't you worry, bloke. We are here to watch you'.

Saturday 4 March 2006

Why Do You Forget?

How do we remember?
Science tells us that memory evolves through three stages, namely: Encoding, Storing and Retrieving. Arranging the information we encounter, in an easy-to-remember format is Encoding. In the next stage, this encoded information is Stored. And it is recalled at a later date in the Retrieval stage. Consequently, when we remember a past event, we are thought to have successfully gone through these three stages in memorizing.

Any information picked up by the sensory organs and retained in our mind for a long time, falls under the category of Sensory memory. Nursery rhymes reminding us of our childhood; the aroma from the kitchen bringing back memories of a loving grandma are examples of this.

Information which you continue to process, even as it goes through the encoding and storage stages, is termed Working Memory. For example, the mental calculation you do when shopping. Working memory has a capacity constraint. It is also prone to distractions. After looking up a telephone number in the directory, you repeat it a few times to remember; yet at the slightest distraction, you tend to forget it.

Compound Memory is the simultaneous retrieval of unrelated experiences encountered at various times, a mix of distant and not-so-distant memories. For example, while having dinner, you may recall your friend’s birthday; think of your car in the garage; remember parts of a movie you watched years ago etc.

Compound Memory has three constituents: 

Episodic memory which relates to an event at a specific time and place, like your wedding day, or the demise of a family member.

Semantic Memory is all about facts and figures, which we learn to retain. Examples are: Countries, their capitals and currencies; Words and their meanings; Mathematical equations etc. Semantic memory has little relevance to time or place.

The skills we acquire viz; driving a car, swimming, practicing Yoga etc. fall under Procedural memory. One interesting feature here is, unlike Episodic and Semantic types, skills stored in Procedural Memory come to surface naturally. Expression is through performance, not narration!

In conversations, we hear and laugh out at a joke, making no effort to memorize it. But days later, we end up sharing the same joke with someone. There was no prior intention to do so; the joke just surfaced in our thoughts! That is Implicit memory.

Explicit memory, on the other hand, refers to the intentional and conscious retrieval of past experiences. If you were asked to describe the scene of the accident you were involved in years ago, you would be explicitly trying to retrieve it.

How big is Memory

We live in a world, where we are exposed to non-stop avalanche of information. We sense it, but make no conscious effort to remember. Yet, the information that hits us undergoes the process of encoding and storage. It happens automatically, with no special effort or awareness. An example is the feeling we get, when we see a person supposedly for the first time, that we have seen him earlier.

Another illustration is the visit to the surroundings we once lived in, triggering memories of the distant past. All along we had it in us, but did not know how to retrieve it. The visit acted as a stimulus to open the floodgate of memories!

This leads us to a plausible theory:  Is Memory elastic? Does it have the ability to capture and retain information of any kind and volume, throughout one’s lifetime? No one knows for sure. But, one thing is clear. If, what is perceived as a lapse occurs, it is not because we forget, but we fail to retrieve.

Why do we fail to recall?
Inability to remember is a natural occurrence, indicating a breakdown in one of the three stages of memorizing. Main reasons are:
  1. Inactivate memories 
  2. Physiological changes
  3. Interference from newer incidents
  4. Overlapping of experiences
  5. Fear, Despair, or emotional disturbances
  6. Lack of motivation