Try These 3 Memory Tips from a US Memory Champion

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How many digits of pi can you remember? If it's not 22,500, you've got nothing on David Thomas. He's a World Memory Championships medallist and an International Grandmaster of Memory — and, yes, he holds a Guinness World Record for memorizing and reciting pi to more than 22,000 places without a single mistake. In his Udemy course, "How to Develop an Awesome Memory," Thomas shares the techniques he used to achieve that feat to help you develop a superhuman memory of your own — or at least remember names and phone numbers a little better.

Here are three things we learned from his course, which goes in-depth with detailed exercises to help you really grasp the techniques.

1. To Make a Memory Stick, Think "WATCHES"

Visual memory is incredibly powerful — just think of all the times you've remembered someone's face even though you completely forgot their name. To tap into that power, Thomas says to convert the information you have to remember into an image. To make that image memorable, think WATCHES: Weird, Animated, Three-dimensional, Colorful, Humorous, Exaggerated, and Sensory.

For example, if you wanted to remember that the hippocampus is the brain's memory center, you might think about a hippopotamus. But not just any hippopotamus: this hippopotamus is huge, cartoonish, and bright pink, and it smells like rosemary, which you've heard can improve your memory. Also? It has a massive elephant's trunk because elephants never forget.

2. Turn Numbers Into Images

Just as you can remember facts using images, you can also remember numbers that way. Thomas shares a rhyming system he uses to turn single-digit numbers into images of objects: one is a nun, two is a shoe, three is a tree, et cetera. If Thomas has a meeting with his boss at 3 p.m., he explains, he imagines his boss surrounded by a leafy green forest of trees.

Obviously, this could get unwieldy for very long numbers like pi. For numbers beyond one digit in length, Thomas uses the Dominic system. That converts the numbers into letters, which are then used as initials for a famous person, the image of whom might then be turned into a full scene with other objects and actions. It gets pretty intense, so it's best to learn the whole system step by step through Thomas's Udemy course.

3. Remember Names by Making Bizarre Associations

We've written before about how you can more easily remember someone's name by associating it with something you already know. For example, if you meet a woman named Marilyn, think of Marilyn Monroe. Thomas's technique is that on steroids. First, if the person's name easily maps onto an association — like Marilyn for Marilyn Monroe, Mark for a mark on a page, or Rose for the flower — go with that association. Think of Mark covered with tally-marks all over his face, or Rose kicking back in a bed of rose petals.

But if it doesn't easily map onto an association, find a word that sounds similar. Thomas uses the example of the Indian name Gurvinder, which kind of sounds like the English word "colander." To remember Gurvinder's name, Thomas would picture him with a colander on his head, his hair streaming out through the holes (remember, you have to make it weird!). Obviously, you don't need to tell Gurvinder that's what you think of when you picture him; it's just a private image you use to remember his name.

Importantly, Thomas stresses, once you've associated something with an image, you can't change it. If you do, it'll take energy to remember the new image you're using to remember something else, and you'll be back to square one.

If you'd like to learn these techniques yourself, check out "How to Develop an Awesome Memory" on Udemy, taught by memory champion David Thomas.

Written by Ashley Hamer March 25, 2019
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