Brainpower – Litemind Exploring ways to use our minds efficiently. Mon, 01 Jan 2018 20:43:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School Mon, 30 Mar 2009 12:24:09 +0000 Brain Rules is a fascinating book that explores twelve simple principles to help us make the best use of our brains, enabling us to become better teachers, students, parents and business leaders. Check out the full scoop.

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Brain Rules

Brain Rules is a fascinating book that explores twelve simple principles to help us make the best use of our brains, enabling us to become better teachers, students, parents and business leaders.

Find below a short review of the book, along with a mind map summary created by Litemind reader Johan D’Haeseleer.

The 12 Brain Rules

The 12 principles describing how our brain works best, which form the core of Dr. John Medina’s book Brain Rules, are:

  1. Exercise. Exercise boosts brain power.
  2. Survival. The human brain evolved, too.
  3. Wiring. Every brain is wired differently.
  4. Attention. We don’t pay attention to boring things.
  5. Short-term memory. Repeat to remember.
  6. Long-term memory. Remember to repeat.
  7. Sleep. Sleep well, think well.
  8. Stress. Stressed brains don’t learn the same way.
  9. Sensory integration. Stimulate more of the senses.
  10. Vision. Vision trumps all other senses.
  11. Gender. Male and female brains are different.
  12. Exploration. We are powerful and natural explorers.

For a more detailed explanation of each of these rules, including videos, check out ‘The 12 Rules‘, on the Brain Rules website.)

Although many of us may already intuitively know at least some of these principles, Dr. Medina explains the science behind each of them in a clear, accessible and often very funny manner, bringing along many entertaining stories and practical ideas we can use in classrooms, corporations or in any work environment. The principles are also explained in several, often hilariously funny short videos, to help reinforce each chapter’s concepts (the book ships with a companion DVD).

The main idea of the book — which also serves as a big call for action — is that most of what’s in our world ignores these rules. As Dr. Medina points out, if you wanted to create an educational environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you would probably design something like a classroom. And the examples go on and on, from business presentations to office cubicles.

The good news is that we have an incredible amount of room for improvement in practically everything we design, if only we would consider the brain rules when designing the world around us.

No Mumbo-Jumbo

Throughout the years, I gradually lost interest in reading ‘brain facts’ articles. Things like “Humans use only 10% or less of their brain“, or the idea that “listening to Mozart makes you smarter” being passed as scientific truths started to really annoy me.

And that’s what I really like about Brain Rules: it’s based on real science. It’s backed up by peer-reviewed studies, often replicated many times. So when I say science, I mean it. And, surprisingly to many people, that doesn’t mean the book is boring, not by any means. In Dr. Medina own words, “I’m a nice guy, but a grumpy scientist.” Refreshing!

Getting Help from an Engaged Litemind Reader

For ages I wanted to mention Brain Rules on the blog, but never got around to doing it. Reader Johan D’Haeseleer lent me a hand and generously sent a mind map he created, making up for my procrastination.

Johan has been a work simplifier for a big part of his life. In chatting with him, I discovered that we share many ideas, including the belief that we can treat almost anything as processes that can be learned, simplified and optimized — an idea that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. (Johan’s website is in Dutch, but for the curious, non-Dutch-speaking types there’s always Google Translate.)

The Mind Map

And here’s Johan’s mind map, which joins Litemind growing book summary gallery. Enjoy!

Brain Rules Book

Get the mind map for Brain Rules:

More Resources

I would have included several links to Brain Rules materials and reviews, but the official Brain Rules website already acts as a great hub for all related information floating around. So, just head over there and browse around — there’s a blog, many videos, audio excerpts and much more to keep you entertained.

If you like what you see, don’t forget to come back here and buy your copy.

(cc) Litemind, some rights reserved. Original post: Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School.

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Remember Any Number With the Major Memory System Tue, 03 Feb 2009 12:43:25 +0000 Did you ever want to be able to recite pi up to 22,500 decimal digits? Meet the Major memory system, one of the most powerful techniques around for memorizing numbers. If you think you could use a boost to your memory, or just want to jog your brain a little, here’s a great way to do it.

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Major Memory System

Did you ever want to be able to recite pi up to 22,500 decimal digits? As for me, I never felt attracted to that sort of stuff. But remembering phone numbers, passwords, PINs, birthdays and all sorts of everyday numbers — that’s something I resonate with!

Meet the Major memory system, one of the most powerful techniques around for memorizing numbers. If you think you could use a boost to your memory, or just want to jog your brain a little, here’s a great way to do it. (And yes, you’ll also be able to pull off the pi digits stunt if that’s what catches your fancy.)

How the Major Memory System Works

Our brains are notoriously poor at memorizing numbers. The problem lies in the fact that numbers are abstract concepts. Although they are represented visually by symbols, they don’t feel very real or appealing to our brains. As I explored in a previous article, our brains usually work best using lively, vibrant images. Numbers hardly qualify.

And that’s what the Major system is about: converting abstract, dull numbers into vivid, striking images. When we do that, committing these numbers to memory is a snap.
Let me show you how to do it.

The Major Memory System in 3 Steps

1. Learn to Encode Numbers as Images

The heart of the Major system — and the key to convert numbers to images and vice-versa — is a 10-item mnemonic table. The table shows how to transform the digits 0-9 into corresponding sounds; which we’ll eventually use to form words. The mnemonics are easy to learn (it shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes to fully master them) and, once learned, they can be used for life. Here they are:

Digit Sound Memory Aid
0 s, z, soft c z is the first letter of zero. The others have a similar sound.
1 d, t, th d and t have one downstroke and sound similar (notice the tip of your tongue as you say them).
2 n n has two downstrokes.
3 m m has three downstrokes, also m looks like a 3 lying on its side.
4 r the last letter of four, also 4 and R are almost mirror images of each other.
5 l L is the Roman numeral for 50.
6 j, sh, soft ch, dg, zh, soft g a script j has a lower loop like 6. These letters also have a ‘whistle-like’ sound, and 6 looks like a whistle.
7 k, hard c, hard g, q, qu capital K contains two 7s (on their sides, back to back).
8 v, f think of v as in a V8 motor. f sounds similar (notice how your teeth touch your lips for both).
9 b, p

p is a mirror-image 9. b sounds similar and resembles a 9 rolled around (also notice how your lip movement is the same when pronouncing these letters.)

vowel sounds, w, h, y These sounds can be used anywhere without changing a word’s number value.

As an example, let’s take the (in)famous number 42.

According to the mnemonic table, the digits in the number 42 translate to r and n respectively. Now we need to form a word with r and n. We should fill the gaps between the letters using the ‘neutral’ elements (from the last row of the table: vowel sounds, w, h or y). The word rain comes naturally to me.

42 gets encoded as rain, then.

Decoding from word to number is even more straightforward. ‘Mouse’, for instance, becomes 30 (3 for m and 0 for s; vowel sounds are ignored).

The conversion process may seem a little slow and cumbersome at first, but with just a little bit of practice it becomes second-nature.

There are just a couple more notes to bear in mind:

  • The conversions are strictly phonetic, that is, based on how the words sound — not how they’re spelled. If a word has double letters that account for just one sound, you count only one sound (ex: the r sound in cherry counts as only one number). By the same token, mute letters (such as the b in debt) should be ignored.
  • When coming up with words, choose those that are easy to visualize. Concrete nouns — such as objects or animals — always work better than abstract nouns, adjectives or verbs.

2. Associate Images in Your Mind

Now for the fun part. We already have an image, now we’ll need a way to glue it in our minds.
The way we’re going to do this is by imagining a scene, a scene that combines two images: the encoded number image along with a peg image that will be used to trigger the memory.

As an example, suppose you want to buy a light bulb, and you must remember that it must be a 30-Watt one. The two images to combine would be the image for light bulb and the encoded image for 30. Using our mnemonic table, we find that 30 translates to the letters m and s. Mouse seems a pretty good word for these letters, so we’ll go with it.

Our mission, then, is to create a mental scene combining light bulb and mouse.

The secret for this to work is to make the mental scene memorable: make it crazy, ridiculous, offensive, unusual, animated, nonsensical — in short, make it fun! (For details on how to effectively associate images, check out this article.)

Let’s see: What’s the zaniest way you can combine light bulb with mouse? I don’t know about you, but here’s what I just imagined:

“I’m in my local supermarket, in the electrical accessories aisle. As I catch one light bulb to observe it more closely… Bang! It breaks in my hand, and a giant mouse jumps out of it! The mouse runs away, squeaking frenetically. Everybody in the supermarket stops and stares at me puzzled and in absolute silence…”

Well, imagine that scene vividly in your mind and try not remembering that giant mouse next time you’re in that supermarket aisle… “30-Watt it surely is!”

3. For Large Numbers, Extend the System

“Yes, but everyone can memorize a small number such as 30,” — you say — “what about the big numbers?”

The great thing about the Major system is that you can easily combine it with just about any other memory technique, simple or advanced. That’s what makes the Major System insanely scalable and able to handle gigantic numbers.

For memorizing a small number we created a mental scene combining two images. To memorize a large number, we need to link many of those scenes together, forming a sequence.

There are many ways to do this. Many people like to create a story linking the scenes together, for example.

My favorite method, however, is to use the Memory Palace technique. In short, you use familiar places for storing memories. If you’re not acquainted with it, check it out here).

Let’s try a practical example again: an 8-digit telephone number.

The specifics on how to memorize it are a matter of personal preference, of course. The way I do it is by chunking the number in 4-digit groups, and placing each of those groups in a memory palace location.

I’ll use my in-laws phone number (slightly modified), using their home as my memory palace:

Phone number: 2417-2220

Scene 1: Associate first memory palace feature (front door) with 2417:

Using the Major system: 24 = Nero, 17 = Duck.

“As I arrive at my in-laws’ front door, I see no one but the emperor Nero himself, laughing out loud, as he is about to set the whole apartment on fire! But he has no matches or a torch in his hands: he has a blowtorch — in fact, a rubber duck-shaped blowtorch! And it quacks as it spits fire!”

Scene 2: Associate second memory palace feature (sofa) with 2220:

Using the Major system: 22 = Nun, 20 = Nose.

“As I enter their apartment is the sofa, the first thing I see is a nun chanting and jumping about on the sofa, facing backwards. When I touch her shoulder, she turns around — and it’s actually a witch! She scares the hell out of me — and guess what — she has the biggest nose ever! And yuck — that’s the biggest zit I’ve ever seen” (yes, getting disgusting is also a great way to help your memory!)

This may seem like a lot of work for a phone number, but in fact, this all happens quite fast in our minds. Recovering a number using the process above takes me no more than 4 seconds total — and I haven’t been practicing that much lately. If you practice this regularly, you’ll be able to do it much faster and with less effort.

Bonus: Gain Speed with a Word List

The previous three steps are the basic tools you need to use the Major system. If you want to make it even more powerful and efficient, one way is to use a predefined image list for the numbers you use more often.

If you use a set of predefined images for, say, all numbers from 00 to 99, you’ll greatly improve your speed when forming images, as you won’t need to imagine different words each time you trip on those numbers.

Of course, memorizing more than 100 mnemonics requires a fair amount of time and effort, but once it’s all in your long-term memory, you can use it for life. To be fair, you don’t need to memorize it (in the traditional sense of the word). Let me explain. If you just start using the mnemonics, the images will soon automatically come to you. I don’t know, but there must be something about the phonetics that makes the images manifest themselves rather easily.

Here’s a set of numbers you can use. If you don’t like these words, feel free to substitute others that are more memorable to you:

0. Sow       20. Nose     40. Rose     60. Cheese   80. Fez      00. S.O.S.   
1. Hat       21. Net      41. Road     61. Sheet    81. Fat      01. Seed     
2. Hen       22. Nun      42. Rain     62. Chain    82. Fan      02. Sun      
3. Ham       23. Nemo     43. Room     63. Jam      83. Foam     03. Sam      
4. Row       24. Nero     44. Aurora   64. Cherry   84. Fire     04. Zero     
5. Hill      25. Nail     45. Rail     65. Jello    85. File     05. Seal     
6. Shoe      26. Notch    46. Rash     66. Judge    86. Fish     06. Sash     
7. Cow       27. Neck     47. Rock     67. Chalk    87. Fog      07. Sack     
8. Ivy       28. Knife    48. Roof     68. Chef     88. Fife     08. Sofa     
9. Bee       29. Knob     49. Rope     69. Ship     89. Fib      09. Sepia    
10. Toes     30. Mouse    50. Lace     70. Gas      90. Bus                   
11. Dad      31. Mat      51. Loot     71. Cat      91. Bat                   
12. Dune     32. Moon     52. Lion     72. Can      92. Pen                   
13. Dime     33. Mummy    53. Lime     73. Comb     93. Opium                 
14. Tire     34. Mower    54. Lure     74. Car      94. Bear                  
15. Doll     35. Mule     55. Lily     75. Coal     95. Bell                  
16. Tissue   36. Match    56. Leech    76. Cage     96. Bush                  
17. Duck     37. Mug      57. Log      77. Coke     97. Book                  
18. Dove     38. Movie    58. Lava     78. Cave     98. Beef                  
19. Tape     39. Map      59. Lip      79. Cape     99. Pipe                  

What do you think?

I absolutely love using the Major system. It provides a great brain workout — and a warm feeling of relying just a bit less on technology. Even better than that is the amount of wild private imagery to have fun with! 🙂

What about you? Do you have any experience using the Major memory system or any variation of it? If not, do you have any other ways you use to remember numbers? Share in the comments!

(cc) Litemind, some rights reserved. Original post: Remember Any Number With the Major Memory System.

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120 Ways to Boost Your Brain Power Tue, 26 Aug 2008 16:50:19 +0000 Here are 120 things you can do starting today to help you think faster, improve memory, comprehend information better and unleash your brain’s full potential. Solve puzzles and brainteasers. Cultivate ambidexterity. Use your non-dominant hand to brush your teeth, comb your hair or use the mouse. Write with both hands simultaneously. Switch hands for knife […]

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Boost your Brain Power

Here are 120 things you can do starting today to help you think faster, improve memory, comprehend information better and unleash your brain’s full potential.

  1. Solve puzzles and brainteasers.
  2. Cultivate ambidexterity. Use your non-dominant hand to brush your teeth, comb your hair or use the mouse. Write with both hands simultaneously. Switch hands for knife and fork.
  3. Embrace ambiguity. Learn to enjoy things like paradoxes and optical illusions.
  4. Learn mind mapping.
  5. Block one or more senses. Eat blindfolded, wear earplugs, shower with your eyes closed.
  6. Develop comparative tasting. Learn to properly taste wine, chocolate, beer, cheese or anything else.
  7. Find intersections between seemingly unrelated topics.
  8. Learn to use different keyboard layouts. Try Colemak or Dvorak for a full mind twist!
  9. Find novel uses for common objects. How many different uses can you find for a nail? 10? 100?
  10. Reverse your assumptions.
  11. Learn creativity techniques.
  12. Go beyond the first, ‘right’ answer.
  13. Transpose reality. Ask “What if?” questions.
  14. SCAMPER!
  15. Turn pictures or the desktop wallpaper upside down.
  16. Become a critical thinker. Learn to spot common fallacies.
  17. Learn logic. Solve logic puzzles.
  18. Get familiar with the scientific method.
  19. Draw. Doodle. You don’t need to be an artist.
  20. Think positive.
  21. Engage in arts — sculpt, paint, play music — or any other artistic endeavor.
  22. Learn to juggle.
  23. Eat ‘brain foods’.
  24. Be slightly hungry.
  25. Exercise!
  26. Sit up straight.
  27. Drink lots of water.
  28. Deep-breathe.
  29. Laugh!
  30. Vary activities. Get a hobby.
  31. Sleep well.
  32. Power nap.
  33. Listen to music.
  34. Conquer procrastination.
  35. Go technology-less.
  36. Look for brain resources in the web.
  37. Change clothes. Go barefoot.
  38. Master self-talk.
  39. Simplify!
  40. Play chess or other board games. Play via Internet (particularly interesting is to play an ongoing game by e-mail).
  41. Play ‘brain’ games. Sudoku, crossword puzzles or countless others.
  42. Be childish!
  43. Play video games.
  44. Be humorous! Write or create a joke.
  45. Create a List of 100.
  46. Have an Idea Quota.
  47. Capture every idea. Keep an idea bank.
  48. Incubate ideas. Let ideas percolate. Return to them at regular intervals.
  49. Engage in ‘theme observation’. Try to spot the color red as many times as possible in a day. Find cars of a particular make. Invent a theme and focus on it.
  50. Keep a journal.
  51. Learn a foreign language.
  52. Eat at different restaurants – ethnic restaurants specially.
  53. Learn how to program a computer.
  54. Spell long words backwards. !gnignellahC
  55. Change your environment. Change the placement of objects or furniture — or go somewhere else.
  56. Write! Write a story, poetry, start a blog.
  57. Learn sign language.
  58. Learn a musical instrument.
  59. Visit a museum.
  60. Study how the brain works.
  61. Learn to speed-read.
  62. Find out your learning style.
  63. Dump the calendar!
  64. Try to mentally estimate the passage of time.
  65. “Guesstimate”. Are there more leaves in the Amazon rainforest or neuron connections in your brain? (answer).
  66. Make friends with math. Fight ‘innumeracy’.
  67. Build a Memory Palace.
  68. Learn a peg system for memory.
  69. Have sex! (sorry, no links for this one! 🙂 )
  70. Memorize people’s names.
  71. Meditate. Cultivate mindfulness and an empty mind.
  72. Watch movies from different genres.
  73. Turn off the TV.
  74. Improve your concentration.
  75. Get in touch with nature.
  76. Do mental math.
  77. Have a half-speed day.
  78. Change the speed of certain activities. Go either super-slow or super-fast deliberately.
  79. Do one thing at a time.
  80. Be aware of cognitive biases.
  81. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. How would different people think or solve your problems? How would a fool tackle it?
  82. Adopt an attitude of contemplation.
  83. Take time for solitude and relaxation.
  84. Commit yourself to lifelong learning.
  85. Travel abroad. Learn about different lifestyles.
  86. Adopt a genius. (Leonardo is excellent company!)
  87. Have a network of supportive friends.
  88. Get competitive.
  89. Don’t stick with only like-minded people. Have people around that disagree with you.
  90. Brainstorm!
  91. Change your perspective. Short/long-term, individual/collective.
  92. Go to the root of the problems.
  93. Collect quotes.
  94. Change the media you’re working on. Use paper instead of the computer; voice recording instead of writing.
  95. Read the classics.
  96. Develop your reading skill. Reading effectively is a skill. Master it.
  97. Summarize books.
  98. Develop self-awareness.
  99. Say your problems out loud.
  100. Describe one experience in painstaking detail.
  101. Learn Braille. You can start learning the floor numbers while going up or down the elevator.
  102. Buy a piece of art that disturbs you. Stimulate your senses in thought-provoking ways.
  103. Try different perfumes and scents.
  104. Mix your senses. How much does the color pink weigh? How does lavender scent sound?
  105. Debate! Defend an argument. Try taking the opposite side, too.
  106. Use time boxing.
  107. Allocate time for brain development.
  108. Have your own mental sanctuary.
  109. Be curious!
  110. Challenge yourself.
  111. Develop your visualization skills. Use it at least 5 minutes a day.
  112. Take notes of your dreams. Keep a notebook by your bedside and record your dreams first thing in the morning or as you wake up from them.
  113. Learn to lucid dream.
  114. Keep a lexicon of interesting words. Invent your own words.
  115. Find metaphors. Connect abstract and specific concepts.
  116. Manage stress.
  117. Get random input. Write about a random word in a magazine. Read random sites using StumbleUpon or Wikipedia.
  118. Take different routes each day. Change the streets you follow to work, jog or go back home.
  119. Install a different operating system on your computer.
  120. Improve your vocabulary.
  121. Deliver more than what’s expected.

Readers’ Contributions

  1. Dance! (by Shanel Yang)
  2. Study Philoshophy and the writings of great thinkers. (by ZHereford)
  3. Be around people that are smarter than you. (by Angel Cuala)
  4. Use ‘brain fitness’ software. (by Eric Blue)
  5. Read text upside down (the text, not you… well, you can try that, too). (by Thales)
  6. Act in a stageplay. (by Thales)
  7. Practice ‘environmental creativity’. Keep asking yourself questions like “What does this mean?” and “How can I use this?”. (by Chuck Frey)
  8. Use a reverse clock. You can buy one or make your own. (by Brendan Dunphy)
  9. Take an improvisation class. (by Patricia Ryan Madson)
  10. Pun! Play with words. (by David Lurey)
  11. Do It Yourself: Create or repair things without the aid of paid professionals. Repair, sew, cook, build, weave, paint, etc. (by b.honey)
  12. Teach someone something you know. (by Usiku)
  13. Help a child with their homework. (by Usiku)
  14. Provide thoughtful comments on blogs and websites. (by Usiku)
  15. Discuss religion and politics, even with friends. (by Usiku)
  16. Teach yourself origami. (by Pamela)
  17. Learn to knit or crochet. (by Pamela)
  18. Shop at a market different from the usual. (by Pamela)
  19. Think of something you fear. Work to conquer it. (by Pamela)
  20. Play bridge (or other card games). (by millie)
  21. Practice Yoga. (by Rajesh)
  22. Learn martial arts. (by Chirou)
  23. Study the concepts of Relativity (both General and Special). (by Tim)
  24. Practice echolocation (sense objects by hearing echoes from those objects). (by Tim)
  25. Help and immigrant learn your language. (by Ray)
  26. Translate articles (by Remigiusz Durka).
    Note: Thanks to everybody who translated this article! Caruso (Spanish), Tommaso (Italian), Eylos (Turkish) and Remigiusz (Polish). (Anyone else I’m missing?)
  27. Eat raw foods. (by Carlos Caridad)
  28. Remember childhood and imagine living it with your current experience. (by Janine)
  29. Imagine how would you survice in a different epoch (say, 5000 years go). (by Mel Smith)
  30. Play role-playing games (RPG) (by FreeMasons)
  31. Treat life’s challenges as social experiments (by Michael Gaudet)
  32. Eat with chopsticks. (by Tore)
  33. Crawl backwards, walk up steps backwards. (by Meribela)
  34. Make mistakes! (by Marc)

Contribute your own tip!

There are many, many ways to keep our brains sharp. I’m sure you have your own personal favorite, so please share it in the comments! I’ll regularly compile the best tips and add them to this list (giving full credit, with a link to your site, if you have one). Thanks!

(cc) Litemind, some rights reserved. Original post: 120 Ways to Boost Your Brain Power.

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Develop Perfect Memory With the Memory Palace Technique Mon, 10 Mar 2008 19:54:52 +0000 The Memory Palace is one of the most powerful memory techniques I know. It’s not only effective, but also fun to use — and not hard to learn at all. The Memory Palace has been used since ancient Rome, and is responsible for some quite incredible memory feats. Eight-time world memory champion Dominic O’Brien, for […]

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Memory Palace

The Memory Palace is one of the most powerful memory techniques I know. It’s not only effective, but also fun to use — and not hard to learn at all.

The Memory Palace has been used since ancient Rome, and is responsible for some quite incredible memory feats. Eight-time world memory champion Dominic O’Brien, for instance, was able to memorize 54 decks of cards in sequence (that’s 2808 cards), viewing each card only once. And there are countless other similar achievements attributed to people using the Memory Palace technique or variations of it. Even in fiction, there are several references to the technique. In Thomas Harris’ novel Hannibal, for example, serial killer Hannibal Lecter uses Memory Palaces to store amazingly vivid memories of years of intricate patient records (sadly, it was left off the movie).

Of course, most of us are not in Dominic’s memory championship line of business (or in Hannibal’s line of business for that matter). But still, the Memory Palace technique is amazingly effective in all kinds of endeavors, such as learning a foreign language, memorizing a presentation you’re about to deliver, preparing for exams and many others — even if all you want is to jog your memory.

The Memory Palace

The Memory Palace technique is based on the fact that we’re extremely good at remembering places we know. A ‘Memory Palace’ is a metaphor for any well-known place that you’re able to easily visualize. It can be the inside of your home, or maybe the route you take every day to work. That familiar place will be your guide to store and recall any kind of information. Let’s see how it works.

5 Steps to Use the Memory Palace Technique

1. Choose Your Palace

First and foremost, you’ll need to pick a place that you’re very familiar with. The effectiveness of the technique relies on your ability to mentally see and walk around in that place with ease. You should be able to ‘be there’ at will using your mind’s eye only.

A good first choice could be your own home, for example. Remember that the more vividly you can visualize that place’s details, the more effective your memorization will be.

Also, try to define a specific route in your palace instead of just visualize a static scene. So, instead of simply picturing your home, imagine a specific walkthrough in your home. This makes the technique much more powerful, as you’ll be able to recall items in a specific order, as we’ll see in the next step.

Here are some additional suggestions that work well as Memory Palaces, along with possible routes:

  • Familiar streets in your city. Possible routes could be your drive to work, or any other sequence of streets you’re familiar with.
  • A current or former school. You can imagine the pathway from the classroom to the library (or to the bar on the other side of the street, if that’s the route imprinted on your mind).
  • Place of work. Imagine the path from your cubicle to the coffee machine or to your boss’s office (it shouldn’t be hard to choose).
  • Scenery. Imagine walking on your neighborhood or the track you use when jogging in a local park.

2. List Distinctive Features

Now you need to pay attention to specific features in the place you chose. If you picked a walkthrough in your home, for example, the first noticeable feature would probably be the front door.

Now go on and mentally walk around your Memory Palace. After you go through the door, what’s in the first room?

Analyze the room methodically (you may define a standard procedure, such as always looking from left to right, for example). What is the next feature that catches your attention? It may be the central table in the dining room, or a picture on the wall.

Continue making mental notes of those features as you go. Each one of them will be a “memory slot” that you’ll later use to store a single piece of information.

3. Imprint the Palace on Your Mind

For the technique to work, the most important thing is to have the place or route 100% imprinted on your mind. Do whatever is necessary to really commit it to memory. If you’re a visual kind of person, you probably won’t have trouble with this. Otherwise, here are some tips that help:

  • Physically walk through the route repeating out loud the distinctive features as you see them.
  • Write down the selected features on a piece of paper and mentally walk through them, repeating them out loud.
  • Always look at the features from the same point of view.
  • Be aware that visualization is a just a skill. If you’re still having trouble doing this, you may want to develop your visualization skills first.
  • When you believe you’re done, go over it one more time. It’s really important to “overlearn” your way in your Memory Palace.

Once you’re confident that the route is stamped on your mind, you’re set. Now you have your Palace, which can be used over and over again to memorize just about anything you want.

4. Associate!

Now that you’re the master of your palace, it’s time to put it to good use.

Like most memory enhancement systems, the Memory Palace technique works with the use of visual associations. The process is simple: you take a known image — called the memory peg and combine with the element you want to memorize. For us, each memory peg is a distinctive feature of our Memory Palace.

The memory pegging technique is the same one described in the article Improve Your Memory by Speaking Your Mind’s Language, so if you haven’t read it yet, I highly advise you to do so.

As described in that article, there’s a ‘right way’ of doing visual associations:

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.

Although we can use the technique to memorize tons of information, let’s start with something very simple: using our ‘Home’ Memory Palace to memorize a groceries list. Let’s suppose the first item in that list is ‘bacon’:

Mentally transport yourself to your Memory Palace. The first feature you see in your mind is your home’s front door. Now, in a ludicrous way, visually combine ‘bacon’ with the sight of your front door. How about giant fried bacon strips flowing out from underneath the door reaching for your legs, just like zombies in those B-movies? Feel the touch of the “bacon hands” on your legs. Feel the smell of darn evil bacon. Is that remarkable enough?

Now open the door and keep walking, following the exact same route you defined before. Look at the next distinctive feature, and associate it with the second item to be memorized. Suppose the next item is ‘eggs’ and the second feature is ‘picture of mother-in-law’. Well, at this point you already know what to do… The process is always the same, so just keep mentally associating images until there are no items left to memorize.

5. Visit Your Palace

At this point, you are done memorizing the items. If you’re new to the technique, though, you’ll probably need to do a little rehearsal, repeating the journey at least once in your mind.

If you start from the same point and follow the same route, the memorized items will come to your mind instantly as you look at the journey’s selected features. Go from the beginning to the end of your route, paying attention to those features and replaying the scenes in your mind. When you get to the end of your route, turn around and walk in the opposite direction until you get to the starting point.

In the end, it’s all a matter of developing your visualization skills. The more relaxed you are, the easier it will be and the more effective your memorization will be.

Final Thoughts

What I like about the Memory Palace (and other pegging methods) is that it’s not only extremely effective, but also quite fun to learn and use.

With just a little bit of experience, the lists you memorize using the Memory Palace will stay fresh in your mind for many days, weeks or even more.

Also have in mind that you can create as many palaces as you want, and that they can be as simple or as elaborate as you wish to make them. Each of them is a “memory bank”, ready to be used to help you memorize anything, anytime.

Associating physical locations with mental concepts is the most powerful memory combination I know. Most other memory techniques (supposedly more sophisticated than the Memory Palace) are, at least in part, based on the concept of physical locations being used as memory pegs.

Have you already used Memory Palace or a similar technique? What do you think? Any opinions or testimonials to share?

(cc) Litemind, some rights reserved. Original post: Develop Perfect Memory With the Memory Palace Technique.

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How to Become a Human Calendar Mon, 03 Sep 2007 21:30:53 +0000 Mentally finding out the day of the week for any date is a skill you can easily learn. You don’t need to be an autistic genius – all it takes is basic memorization effort and some trivial math. When I first learned this technique many years ago, I did it just for fun. With time, […]

The post How to Become a Human Calendar appeared first on Litemind.

How to Become a Human Calendar

Mentally finding out the day of the week for any date is a skill you can easily learn. You don’t need to be an autistic genius – all it takes is basic memorization effort and some trivial math.

When I first learned this technique many years ago, I did it just for fun. With time, I learned to enjoy the convenience of not needing a calendar anymore. It’s far more useful than I first thought, and with just a little practice, you’ll be able to find out the days of the week much faster than when reaching for a calendar.

The Method

To find out the days of the week for any date, use the formula:

[day of week] = (yearcode + monthcode + day) mod 7

If you’re not math-inclined, this may look quite scary at first, but don’t worry: using the formula is straightforward. Let’s walk through each one of of its parts.

Month and Year Codes

The month codes are one of the formula’s most troublesome parts, since they don’t follow a clear logic. We’ll have to memorize them, but don’t worry with that just yet, as we will focus on an easy way to do this later. For now, here they are for reference:

  • January: 1
  • February: 4
  • March: 4
  • April: 0
  • May: 2
  • June: 5
  • July: 0
  • August: 3
  • September: 6
  • October: 1
  • November: 4
  • December: 6

We also need the year code, which are also apparently arbitrary. You shouldn’t also worry about memorizing them at this point. For now, here are the ones you’ll most likely use:

  • 2008: 2
  • 2009: 3
  • 2010: 4
  • 2011: 5
  • 2012: 0
  • 2013: 1

Days of the Week

The result is always a number from 0 to 6, and its interpretation couldn’t be any easier:

  • 1: Sunday; 1st day of week
  • 2: Monday; 2nd day of week, and so on.
  • 3: Tuesday
  • 4: Wednesday
  • 5: Thursday
  • 6: Friday
  • 0: Saturday

The Calculation

Let me show you how the formula works with an example: December 25, 2008.

Step 1: Get the codes for month and year. According to the code tables, December is 6 and 2008 is 2.

Step 2: Apply the numbers in the formula:

  1. [day of week] = (yearcode + monthcode + day) mod 7
  2. [day of week] = (2 + 6 + 25) mod 7
  3. [day of week] = 33 mod 7; see below if you don`t know what ‘mod’ is
  4. [day of week] = 5

5 means Thursday. That’s the day of the week for December 25, 2008.

Tips for Faster Calculation

In case you’re unfamiliar with the modulo (mod) operator, all it does is give you the remainder of a division. Take, for example, 17 mod 7. If you divide 17 by 7, you get 2 and a remainder of 3. So, 17 mod 7 = 3.

Now, if you don’t like the idea of performing divisions mentally, there’s hope: you don’t really need to divide by 7 to get the number’s modulo. All you need is to cast out sevens of the number. That is: take the closest multiple of seven below your number and just take the difference between them. For example, in 17 mod 7, the closest multiple of 7 below 17 is 14. Casting 14 out of 17, there’s a leftover of 3. Therefore, 17 mod 7 = 3.

An additional tip to speed up the calculation: Instead of summing up all the three numbers and calculating the modulo thereafter, as the formula suggests, do it slightly differently: don’t wait until you have a big number to calculate its modulo. You can cast out sevens as you go. Let’s do the same calculation we did above (December 25, 2008), but casting out sevens as we go.

  1. [day of week] = (2 + 6 + 25); let’s cast out sevens for 25 before we go.
  2. [day of week] = (2 + 6 + 4);
  3. [day of week] = (8 + 4); let’s cast out sevens for 8 before we go
  4. [day of week] = (1 + 4);
  5. [day of week] = 5

Although there are extra steps, you will always work with small numbers, speeding up the process.

Adjustment for Leap Years

The only caveat in the formula (and it had to have one, right?) is that there will be an adjustment when dealing with leap years: you need to subtract one from the result, for the months of January and February. The other months are calculated just as any normal year.

Memorizing the Month Codes

The math is pretty easy, but unless you memorize the codes, you won’t be able to perform the entire technique in your head. The good news is that the month codes never change, so you just need to memorize them once and reuse them over and over again. For an easy and fun way of memorizing lists, I strongly suggest the pegging memory system. We’ll use it here, so if you’re unfamiliar with it, please take a look first.

For the peg system to work, our challenge is to come up with images for the months. Here are my suggestions, based on either similarities in word pronunciation or on cultural traditions.

  • January: Jacket
  • February: Freeze
  • March: March
  • April: Bunny
  • May: Flowers
  • June: Dune
  • July: Jungle
  • August: Barbecue
  • September: Scepter
  • October: Doberman
  • November: Turkey
  • December: Santa Claus

If these images don’t make much sense to you, feel free to substitute by your own. Remember that the list doesn’t need to follow any pattern or logic; the only requirement is that each association must come easily and quickly to you.

If you did like the images I suggested, here’s a graphical list to help you visualize and memorize them as pegs:

Months Memory Pegs

(click for larger image)

All right, now that we have the pegs, the next step is to create fun and remarkable scenes combining the month images with our previously learned number images. Just to illustrate, let me give you a personal example on how to do that:

August. Looking at our month code table, we see the code for August is 3. Let’s associate ‘barbecue’ (for August) with ‘heart’ (for number 3): Barbecue and heart? The first thing that comes to mind is a childhood memory of the movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I always wondered what the bad guy did with those living throbbing hearts he extracted from people in that dark ritual. No more: what about a great barbecue outside, with pulsating hearts on the grill and everybody getting drunk with kegs of Kali Ma’s blood! Childhood memories work wonders for your memory. 😉

This technique only works if you use your own imagination, so now it’s up to you. Always remember to make it personal and fun.

Bonus: Extend the Technique for Any Year

For practical purposes, I memorize only the code for the current year. When a new year arrives and you need its code, you can find it pretty easily: find out the day for current year’s December 31th and just sum one and you’ll have the day of the week for next year’s January 1st. Now, the only variable left in the formula is the year code. Don’t forget about the adjustment for leap years when using this trick.

If, unlike myself, you want to go really wild and mentally find out the days for any year, you’ll need to grow some extra math and memorization muscles. Here’s the formula for the year code:

yearcode = (centurycode + [last two digits of year] + ([last two digits of year] div 4)) mod 7

‘Div’ is the operator for integer division. Just like ‘mod’ gets the remainder of a division, ‘div’ gets its integer quotient. For example, 17 div 7 = 2 (with a remainder of 3).

The century code follows a recurrent pattern, and can be used for any date in the Gregorian calendar:

  • 1600s: 6
  • 1700s: 4
  • 1800s: 2
  • 1900s: 0
  • 2000s: 6; repeating the pattern
  • 2100s: 4; 6-4-2-0 pattern goes on

With that, you have a complete mental calendaring system. This is a handy tool that, once learned, can be used for your entire lifetime. Try it just once or twice, and you’ll see that it really isn’t as much work as it looks like.

Update: If you want the year codes automatically calculated for you, or simply want to see the math in action, I created a downloadable Excel spreadsheet (44 KB) that does exactly that.

(cc) Litemind, some rights reserved. Original post: How to Become a Human Calendar.

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How to Recall an Entire Book in 5 Minutes or Less Tue, 14 Aug 2007 14:05:02 +0000 Have you ever read a great book, and after only a short period of time could recall almost nothing from it? It's very frustrating, but there’s a way to avoid forgetting what you have read and, if you do, instantly refresh it in your mind.

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How to Recall an Entire Book in 5 Minutes or Less

Have you ever read a great book, and after only a short period of time could recall just one or two ideas from it? It is very frustrating – and it happens all the time. But there’s a way to avoid forgetting what you have read and, if you do, instantly refresh it in your mind.

Reading Goals, Cheated

The key to reading effectively is to be fully engaged in what you are reading. Underlining, questioning, taking notes – these all help – but there’s one single element that is essential if you want to read effectively: you need to know what your goal is. This is standard advice, and is indeed a good one. But if you want your reading to be truly effective and long-lasting, you need more than simply a goal: you need a very specific and tangible one.

Take, for example, a book such as Getting Things Done. The goal “to get more organized” would be good enough – but just as a generic goal, not as a specific one. A generic goal may be enough to motivate you to start reading a book, but won’t be truly effective by itself to keep you fully involved while reading it. We need something more concrete.

The problem is that we only know the specifics of a book after actually reading it. So what should we do as we want to set a specific goal beforehand? We cheat.

I’ve found that one of the most effective goals to set when reading a book is to commit yourself to create a mind map of it.

This will serve as a specific goal that you can use for any book. Yes, having a “general-purpose specific goal” certainly feels like cheating, but you won’t believe how effective it is. It will really help boosting your reading comprehension; and the best part is that you’ll have a book summary you can revisit at anytime. Contrary to regular book summaries, due to the specific properties of mind maps, you’ll be able to review it at lightning speed, quite often at a single glance.

Top 3 Benefits of Mind Mapping a Book

1. Boost Comprehension While Reading

Being sharply focused on creating such a specific deliverable as a mind map will get you 100% engaged in your reading, guaranteed.

Moreover, every time you reach for your mind map to add more information, you’ll be looking and recalling what’s already in there. In fact, this constant reinforcement works so well, it usually takes months before you need referring to the mind map again.

2. Quickly Review the Entire Book Anytime

This is when mind mapping really shines when compared to other note-taking techniques. It is absolutely amazing what happens when you look at a mind map months or even years after you created it. It is like rereading the entire book in just a glance.

When you first read the book using this method, you did it in such an active manner that by just quickly scanning the mind map brings you all the memories from the book – even the ones you didn’t include in your mind map. In fact, the neural connections formed are so strong that even the emotions you felt at the time often resurface. And with such a personalized and handy summary, you really don’t need more than 5 minutes to review it.

3. Distill the Real Substance of the Book

It is not rare for long books resulting in small mind maps. By creating a mind map, the real content of the book becomes evident. Not everything in a book is straight to the point: authors (validly) use repetition, stories and examples to build and elaborate important points. All you need to do is use standard mind mapping features to reflect that importance: use bold, write your topics in bigger letters or different colors. With your personalized mind map, you’ll be able to trim all fat while keeping the relationships and the relative importance of each topic intact.

Tips to Get Started

Keep the Flow

Avoid reading and creating the mind map simultaneously, as that will disrupt your reading flow. Circle, underline and take notes while reading, pre-selecting the important concepts and passages for your summary. This intermediary step not only keeps you in context and engaged in the book, but also makes it much easier to quickly create your mind map once you read the relevant parts of the book. And by doing this, you’ll have yet another content reinforcement in the process.

Sleep on It

Try not to work on your mind map right after reading the book – let your mind chew on what you have read for a while first. Doing it the next day is a good rule of thumb. If you read every day, a good way of doing it is by working on your mind map for yesterday’s topic right before today’s reading session. Also, try not to get your reading too far ahead of your mind mapping – you’ll lose the benefits of repetitive reinforcement and feel overwhelmed if there’s too much content to add in a single sit.

Use Dual Bookmarking

Instead of using just one bookmark, use an extra one to indicate up to where your book has been mapped. I also recommend using colored Post-it flags, so you won’t need to worry about your second bookmark falling while you’re reading.

Try It

Won’t reading books with this method take much longer than usual? Sure it will – but what’s the point in leafing through several books, only retaining a tiny amount of their content – and only for a short period of time?

If you’re just reading casually and you feel this method is overkill, you are probably right – don’t force yourself to use it, by all means. But if you get your hands on a great book – and there are so many out there – please give mind mapping a try. You won’t regret taking these extra steps to make your books really last in your mind.

To check out a mind map created using this technique, please see One Small Step Can Change Your Life or Never Eat Alone.

(cc) Litemind, some rights reserved. Original post: How to Recall an Entire Book in 5 Minutes or Less.

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