By learning the language your mind uses, you’ll be able to tap into your mind’s full potential and develop a remarkable memory. It’s easier than you think – and you’ll actually have fun doing it.
Your Mind Thinks in Pictures
Along its evolution, the brain has become amazingly effective in dealing with sensory data. It is by correctly interpreting the five senses that the mind understands the environment and takes decisions.
Among the human senses, sight has become the most sophisticated and developed of all. For that reason, our brains have become extremely effective in storing and processing images; especially of concrete, real-world objects. Trying to memorize abstract symbols, such as words printed on a page, is very unnatural and inefficient. Words are useful units of communication created by us, but they’re not how our brains are best used to process information.
Imagery is the real language of the mind. Images are your mind’s vocabulary, the building blocks of its language.
If I ask you to think about a horse, what comes to your mind? Is it the letters H-O-R-S-E in sequence? Of course not: it is the picture of a horse – you can even tell me its color. Don’t dreams always come as images? Pictures are how your mind communicates with us, and we should take full advantage of that.
Visual Thinking and Memory
To fully illustrate the astonishing effect that images have on your memory, let’s walk through a basic memorization technique called memory pegging. If you still don’t know it, I guarantee it’s going to be fun. Just like most memorization techniques, it’s based on the concept of thinking in pictures, or visual thinking.
Before getting to the technique, let me give you a simple challenge: memorize a groceries list of ten items. Allow yourself two minutes examining the list, then don’t look at it.
- bubble gum
Learning Your Mind’s Basic Vocabulary
Just like when learning any new language, we’ll need to get some basic vocabulary to get started. Let’s begin with some very useful words: the numbers from one to ten. By bringing the numbers to our visual language, we’ll be able to use them to memorize our groceries list or any other list we come across.
There are many ways to convert a number to a picture. My favorite one is to use images that resemble the numbers’ shapes. By getting rid of abstract symbols and replacing them with images that are vivid, animated and colorful, we’ll have much better mental pictures for our minds to play with. Here are some suggestions:
- sail boat
- golf club
- balloon with string
- dinner plate and fork
Here’s a graphical version of the list to help you visualize the similarities:
Feel free to use different images that appeal more to you. Once you’re done creating your list, please take your time to familiarize yourself with it. These images will be our pegs and, once learned, you’ll be able to reuse them over and over again, to memorize just about anything you want.
Now that we have established an initial vocabulary of images, we can memorize new ones by building associations between them. All we need is to combine both images and form a new one. Now is the time to use your imagination, because there’s only one requirement for your new image: it must be absolutely outrageous!
Make it crazy, ridiculous, offensive, unusual, extraordinary, animated, nonsensical – after all, these are the things that get remembered, aren’t they? Make the scene so unique that it could never happen in real life. The only rule is: if it’s boring, it’s wrong.
Let’s go back to our groceries list example. How do we connect the number ‘1′ (candle) with our first grocery item (bacon)?
We could start by picturing a really big and powerful candle being used to fry bacon in a fast-food restaurant. Make an effort to enrich the scene in your mind: focus on the bacon strips and take a second or two to make them as vivid as possible. If you engage the other senses, even better: smell the bacon and hear it being fried. Add some movement and wackiness: couldn’t the bacon strips be jumping in the frying pan, crying for help? Did I mention you should make it zany?
Let’s try this exercise once more, now connecting the number ‘2′ (swan) and ‘egg’.
A swan laying an egg is too obvious – it won’t work by itself. Let’s imagine the mother swan laying the egg just like a woman giving birth: in a surgery room, with other swans dressed as doctors around her. Put the father swan in the room, proudly taping the whole thing. In the end, everybody is astonished – it’s actually three eggs: triplets!!
Ridiculous? No doubt about that. Effective? You bet.
At this point, you already get the idea. At first, doing this for each item may seem like a lot of work, but really it’s not. This mental play quickly becomes completely automatic – and fun!
When the time to recall the list comes, there’s not much more to do: the recalling process is completely automatic. It goes somewhat like this: You ask yourself what’s the first item: ‘#1?’ and the image of the candle immediately pops in your mind. One split second later, sure enough, there they are: jumping bacon strips!
How Does It Compare to Traditional Memorization?
It’s time to check how well you did in our memory test. Without looking back at the original list, try to write down all the items in order. Award yourself one point for each correct word and one additional point if the word is in its correct position.
How well did you do? Most people score an average of 12 out of the possible 20. If you ask them one week later (without telling them you would), the results drop to a disappointing average of 5.
Using the pegging method, the results are mind-blowing: the usual score is a flawless 20 – even when people are asked one week later. And that is after using the technique just for the first time.
The pegging memorization technique is just a small demonstration of how powerful visual thinking is. In fact, visual thinking is behind many mind-enhancing techniques such as mind mapping and is the core component of most other more advanced memorization techniques.