Difficulty in applying Memory Systems

by Mônica

Hi! I felt the need to improve my memory, so I did a memory course and after searching the internet for more information I found your site, a very useful site. I'm having difficulty in applying the memory systems (loci method, link method, etc) in my readings, my studies, my routine... I became so anxious to remember everything, that i don't know where to begin, I got lost.

Please, give me some tips in find a practical way to use these methods, to incorporate them in my studies, readings, to see the better way to use them. I need help too, to see how I can do daily, or weekly, memory exercises (play games, memorize lists, etc.).

How can I trace my objectives more clearly? To take the most of the time that I have to work my memory, to overcome my difficulties? If I need more help, I'll write again.

Waiting for answer.

Doug's Reply. Perhaps you are taking on too much. Memorizing everything might not be an ideal goal. And you might also want to add other skills, such as "study strategies" to your arsenal. Let me give some examples.

Is it really necessary to take the time to memorize every upcoming appointment and event for the next six months, when you can simply mark the dates in a portable calendar? You might want to memorize the next few scheduled items, but to try and memorize everything may be overkill. My point? Use "memory aids" when it makes sense to do so.

With regard to reading and studying, do not rely on the Memory Systems only. Learn to use the best study skills such as recitation, spacing out, and whole/part learning. The Memory Systems are perfect when it comes time to do the actual memorization; but to reinforce your memory and for a more complete understanding of the material, study skills are vital.

So, what about the Memory Systems themselves? These days, I find that I can handle most of my memorization tasks using just three of the Memory Systems: the Link, the Peg, and the Substitute Word.

The Link is what I use primarily to recall the plot and progression of reading material. I assume, since you had a memory course, that you are familiar with using it for that purpose. (As you read, create a memorable mental images for each main concept; link the first two concepts in a mental scene; take the second concept and link it to the third in a separate scene, etc.) To remember definitions, I use the Substitute Word. But to remember the structure of a book, to be able to recall the overall content of it, I use the Peg technique to memorize the table of contents and main section headings.

Remembering what you read also involves certain reading skills, beyond those listed in my Best Study Skills page. Most important of all, you need to ask questions as you read. There is little point in memorizing facts or plots if you don't really understand what the author is talking about. The act of asking questions not only helps with meaning, it helps with memory. Anything you can do to take ownership of the material (asking questions as you read, rewriting the material in your own words, teaching the material to someone else) will help you remember it better.

A very helpful book in this regard is the appropriately titled, "How to Read a Book" by Adler and Van Doren. First published in 1940, this book discusses many powerful techniques for digesting any book on any subject and making it your own. Interestingly, though, the authors do not discuss Memory Systems. So, combining your own knowledge of the Memory Systems with their reading methods would be a powerful mix. You can find modern editions of "How to Read a Book" on Amazon.com and elsewhere.

Essentially this book teaches how to become an analytical reader. That means being a critical reader, and most importantly an active reader.

So, the bottom line: Use the Link, Peg, and Substitute Word for actual memorization. Use memory aids for things you really don't need to memorize. Learn the best study skills and use them during your study sessions. Finally, go further, and learn how to truly be an active reader who with a laser eye consumes books at the analytical level of reading.

Regarding memory exercises, play free online brain games and solve puzzles.

I hope that helps. If you have a question on how to memorize something specific, just let me know.

Best regards,
Douglas J.

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