by Melanie Gallo, PhD
Most of us want to improve our memory and for a good reason!
Our capability to remember things is one of the few abilities that everyone would like to rely on 100% of the time.
Mnemonics are any and all strategies used to better store and remember information through specific techniques. They are essentially shortcuts of encoded information that are easier for the brain to use than the original versions. Mnemonics can come in different forms and don't follow any particular rules. Generally speaking however, they take advantage of our mind's ability to remember specific types of information. For instance, we are much more likely to remember something that sounds funny or weird than just a list of words.
It turns out mnemonics use the mechanism our brains are most used to - that of noticing peculiarities.
When we try to remember a boring sequence of random numbers, for example, we may find it difficult.
However, the moment we associate each number with a funny story or something we’re already familiar with, remembering it is much easier.
In the this article, I focus on what sorts of mnemonics most people use.
I also give some examples regarding the specific techniques so that it’s easier for you to visualize what they’re actually like.
I hope that this will help you find the right type of mnemonic devices for you, so without further ado, let’s have a look at the most popular ones!
Oh, and before we move on, let us mention that a “mnemonic device” simply refers to a technique, not an actual device!
This mnemonic device breaks down big sequences of numbers into smaller and more easily digestible bits.
This is the reason why our phone numbers are separated into two three-digit sets and one four-digit one.
We bet you never thought that all of society uses this mnemonic technique literally every day!
The reason why it’s so common is that it facilitates something we are often in contact with. (Pun intended)
Our brains would find it difficult to remember the full ten-digit code, but it is much easier when it’s separated into bite-sized parts.
Many people who work with numbers or similar large sequences use this technique daily without even thinking about it.
Remembering songs is much easier than just words or numbers in a certain order.
The most common example of this is the A-B-C song.
We all learned the alphabet by singing it, and that’s entirely thanks to this mnemonic technique.
But, have you also noticed that this very popular mnemonic song uses the same melody as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star?
A different music mnemonic is actually used to remember the lines of the treble staff from low to high.
A song which explains the order of so many songs - how cool is that!
The words themselves are “Every Good Boy Does Fine,” and they symbol E-G-B-D-F - the notes in this specific order.
3. Acronyms And Acrostics
These are the most used methods of remembering.
Think of the CIA, PIN, or even LASER - these are all just mnemonic acronyms using the letters themselves and what they actually stand for.
In this case Central Intelligence Agency, Personal Identification Number, and Lighting Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.
Acrostics have a very similar meaning with the difference that they use sentences instead of letters.
One of the most common examples is “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally'' which stands for the hierarchy of operations in algebra - parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition and subtraction.
Another fun one is the order of the planets in our solar system, which can be remembered with this sentence - My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nachos (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune).
This is maybe most common in students.
We all know that song lyrics are easy to recall because they rhyme.
The same goes for any sort of information.
A common example is “In fourteen hundred and ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue” which makes you remember the year in which the famous traveler started his travels.
A different mnemonic is used by people when deciphering the weather, for example.
“Rainbow in the morning - travelers take warning/Rainbow at night - travelers’ delight” - this reminds us of when we should start hiking and not.
Rainbows indicate humid air, so if you see them early in the morning, it’s more likely for it to start raining soon.
As opposed to that, rainbows at night usually form in the east and symbolize the passing of storms and bad weather.
This technique is mostly used when meeting new people.
We've all been in the awkward situation when we can’t remember a person’s name we’ve just heard. Admittedly I am the worst at this so it really takes work!
By using alliterations, forgetting names will rarely happen.
The way they work is to think of a quality the person has which starts with the same letter as their name - Stylish Sabrina or Merry Mary, for instance.
The question may arise as to what we do when we can’t think of an appropriate adjective.
Our imagination comes to the rescue!
We might not think of a proper adjective for Jeffrey, but we notice that he’s very energetic, and our brains come up with the image of him jumping all around his office.
Well, Jumping Jeffrey is hard to forget, especially when we picture him carrying his morning coffee and papers at the office while hopping to his desk!
6. The Loci Method
This is one of the most ancient methods known to man.
It utilizes a concept known as the mind palace - a place or a route that is very well known to the person.
The idea is to associate specific items, ideas, or sequences with the rooms, items inside them, or landmarks along the way that are part of your mind palace.
For example, you would first create a mental journey along a route that you are familiar with, like your route to work. Then, when you want to remember a list of items like a grocery list, you picture those items in specific places along your mental route.
Each specific thing has associative meaning to something else, making it easier to remember.
It’s no wonder this method is so old - its usage is universal because we all can use something unique that we know very well.
The easiest way to use these mnemonics and more is to remember the basic rule: Our brains remember what is interesting, not what makes sense.
With this in mind, I hope you start using these techniques and make your life much easier!
Have fun thinking of your own rules too!
I’m Melanie Gallo, Ph.D., a WorkLife Psychology coach and writer specializing in personality and thinking habits. Through my fun and innovative app called Coach2GO, I help today’s professionals define their WorkLifeJoy, then help them discover why they don't have it, why they need it, how to get it, and how to keep it. Get in touch directly or download my free Coach2GO app today. If you have the Spaces by Wix App, just enter the code COACH2GO.