Use Your Memory
– Tony Buzan
In our day-to-day life, it often happens that we forget things we need to remember and get frustrated. When it is just a simple oversight, we can fix it easily. However, when these small things add up, or we forget something really important, like making a tax payment, we get into trouble. The irony of the situation is that human memory is quite powerful. We have more storage capacity than we will ever need. If so, how do we use this incredible memory potential of ours effectively? In his book Use Your Memory, Tony Buzan shows us how we can improve our memory by using a few memory techniques or mnemonics.
Mnemonics are simple techniques to enhance memory. Buzan discusses several such mnemonic techniques in detail, such as the link system, the peg system, the Roman room system, and mind maps. Mnemonics are effective memory techniques because they employ both the left and right cortices of the brain. Whereas the left cortex uses logic, sequencing, language, etc. to remember things, the right cortex uses creative associations like color, rhythm, and spatial awareness. When both these cortices are activated at the same time, it is easy to retain information. For example, if a person learning to play an instrument is also learning math at the same time, he or she gets better at both things. If the same person only learns one of the two for a given period and then takes up the other one, skill development is not as effective.
There are four main attributes that a mnemonic exercise should have for it to be effective- synaesthesia, movement, positive images, and exaggeration. Synaesthesia refers to the use of all our sensory perceptions – vision, hearing, taste, touch, smell, and an awareness of one’s position and movement in space (kinaesthesia). Apart from these senses, when a mnemonic makes associations with particular movements, we are more likely to recall it. Positive images and exaggerations are easily remembered by the brain and therefore help in memory retention.
The link system is a simple mnemonic technique that can be used to remember a small list of things such as a shopping list. In a link system, individual items are recalled by linking them with other items on the list. Focussing on details and coming up with effective links between items is important. For example, we can create a story linking all the things we have to buy. The more unexpected or interesting the link between individual items, the likelier we are to recall them correctly.
While the link system works for lists with no specific sequence, the peg system is a better method for remembering a short sequence of items. A peg is a key memory word. Pegs are fixed items onto which we can attach the items we wish to remember. Two common peg systems are the number shape system and the number rhyme system. In the number shape system, we can associate each number to a particular shape. To remember a list in sequence, we need to then link the individual items to the shape of the corresponding number. For example, if a person associates the number one with the shape of a pencil, and the first step of a recipe is to take a spoonful of flour, associations can be made between the shapes of the pencil and the spoon. In the number rhyme system, associations are made using words that rhyme with the sound of the numbers.
If we need to remember a large number of things, the Roman room is a very useful technique. It is an imaginary room that we can visualize, with every object, its appearance, smell, touch, etc. clear to ourselves. Once the mental picture is established, we can then use the various objects in this room as pegs to remember things. For example, if the wall of one’s Roman room has a crack on it, we can use that to recall pending repair work.
To organize chunks of information into easily readable notes, the best technique is to create mind maps. Whereas usual note-taking activates only the left cortex of the brain (language and sequencing), mind maps make use of creative associations, thus activating the right cortex as well. So, it makes learning a much easier process. Every mind map has a central image for the main idea, out of which the sub-points branch out, interlinked using connecting lines. As creating a mind map makes us think creatively and come up with innovative links between ideas, the process in itself ensures that we remember everything vividly.
With Buzan’s mnemonic techniques, remembering large chunks of information is no longer a terror. Rather than being a boring task or burden, memorizing information is transformed into an imaginative and pleasurable activity.
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