Solo Estamos Mirando

I don’t speak Spanish, but on a recent trip to Mexico my wife and I tried to learn some basic words and phrases to get around.  When helpful shop owners would approach us I wanted to be able to let them know that we were just browsing.  Google translate provided “solo estamos mirando,” as the translation for “we’re only looking.”  I’ve always disliked (and not been very good at) brute force repetition as a memorizing technique, so I applied a visual association method.  I imagined the actor John Stamos free soloing El Capitan (a la Alex Honnold) when a policeman stops him to read him his Miranda rights.  Solo estamos mirando!

[Photo credit: Photo credit: iDominick on Visual Hunt]

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Mnemonics III – The Peg System

OK, so now that you’ve mastered the link system (see last post!) you’re ready for the next level of sophistication: the peg system.  Like the link system, this Pegs by internets_dairymethod allows you to memorize a list of items, but with the additional advantage of being able to identify the ranking of the items or retrieve particular items directly without having to go through a series of links.

For example, you want to remember the first 5 presidents of the United States in order.  The first step is establishing the “pegs”–so called because they act like pegs on a wall that you might hang things on.  Each peg has a number and an associated image, which in this case we will associate with rhyming words as follows:

  • one – sun
  • two – shoe
  • three – tree
  • four – door
  • five – hive

Once you establish the pegs (and of course you can substitute your own images if you wish), you can use the same ones over and over.  It’s been shown that ordinary folk can maintain at least six simultaneous, discrete lists of ten each, using the same images.  Now let’s attach the presidents:

  1. sun – Washington: picture someone “Washing” the sun
  2. shoe – Adams: the tip of the shoe poking out where a person’s Adam’s apple would be
  3. tree – Jefferson: someone you know named Jeff as the trunk of a tree
  4. door – Madison: a door that looks like a Mad magazine cover
  5. hive – Monroe: Marilyn Monroe with a bee-hive skirt

Now you can easily recount the first five presidents in order, and furthermore, you can immediately tell what number each one was, or given the number you can immediately name the president.  I did five here for brevity, but if you establish 10 pegs for yourself that covers a lot of situations.  If you make up your own pegs, use images that work for you–they should be common and concrete–and then make them vivid in your mind by picturing and rehearsing them in detail a few times before attaching a list.  Once you’ve used them a few times they’ll be set for you to use the rest of your life!

This was just a basic introduction to the peg system.  If you like it and want to pursue it further, there are lots of variations on how to organize & implement it (for example using visual vs. rhyming associations, using letters instead of numbers, etc.).  Just Google “peg system.”

[Photo credit: internets_dairy – License]

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Mnemonics II – The Link System

Need to remember a list of items?  Maybe going to the grocery store?  The link system is a simple, fast way to chain together different things in a way that you can quickly commit them all to memory for full retrieval.  This is another use of the visual association principle of absurdity.  Suppose your partner calls you while you’re driving and asks you to get some milk, a dozen eggs, chives and nutmeg.  I’m using a short list for illustration, but dcJohn linksthe method can be used for any size list.  The basic idea is that you create an unusual image to link each item to the next one.  So in this case you could picture a dozen eggs sitting out on a counter, and then a carton of milk jumping up and down by itself like a pogo-stick, smashing the eggs!  Next, link the eggs to the chives.  You could continue the same image, imagining the chives leaping into the smashed eggs.  Or you could use a separate association from eggs to chives, such as seeing some chives growing up out of the ground and then sprouting eggs at the top as if they were flowers.  To attach nutmeg to chives, picture putting the chives in a nutmeg grinder and grinding them up.  So you can see the links are limited only by your imagination.  Once you have the links established you can go back and forth in the list at will, but they will all be chained solidly together.  Like all these methods, the more you practice the faster you get, and it can be entertaining exercise for your creativity at the same time.  Just don’t end up bringing home the pogo-stick.

[Photo credit: dcJohn – License]

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Physical Reminders II: Hang 10 to Take it With You

2015-04-13 20.44.03Imagine that you need to remember to take your lunch bag with you, when you leave the house.  Put it on the edge of a counter or table such that a good portion of it hangs off the edge.  The more precarious, the better (as long as its center of gravity will keep it from falling off!).  Like the visual reminders that rely on unusual images, your eye will be drawn to the risky situation and you’ll be more likely to see it and take it with you.  Good for anytime you need to take something with you (from one room to another, or leaving the  house) and the size and shape of the object allow it to be placed in a way that looks unsafe but is actually OK.

[Photo credit: Author]

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Tidy Tupperware

The memory aspect of this tip may be a little less than some others, Tupperwarebut it’s related by way of the old card game “Concentration.”  In that game you placed all the cards face down and then turned up two at a time, trying to remember where the pairs were.  Similarly, with a drawer full of mismatched Tupperware (to use the proprietary eponym!) it can be annoying to search for the lid that matches a given tub.  I learned a helpful solution from a professional organizer that we hired years ago, which is to store the Tupperware with the lids on.  It takes up more space, but saves time and energy when you can just grab the container you need without having to search for the matching parts.  It’s easy to match them when putting them away since you usually put away the containers a few at a time after cleaning.

[Photo credit: Author]

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8 Glasses of Water a Day?

Rubber Band GlassYou know you’re supposed to drink 8 glasses a day, but how can you remember? Put 8 rubber bands on a glass you keep visible (e.g., your desk at work, the kitchen sink at home).  When you have finished the water in the glass, remove a rubber band.  You’ll see your progress through the day, and be motivated to get that last band off!  Next day, start again, with the 8 rubber bands around your glass.

[Thanks to LJ for posting this tip on the Remembertips Google Group!  Photo Credit: Author]

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Got Something on the Tip of Your Tongue? Make a fist!

Disclaimer: this is based on a very tentative study, but I thought was intriguing and Left Fistharmless enough to try for yourself.  The idea is that the “Tip of the Tongue” phenomenon, where you can almost but not quite remember a word (for example) is at least partly a function of unconscious, right-hemisphere processing.

By clenching your left fist (or, theoretically, any significant portion of the left side of your body) you increase blood-flow to the contralateral or right hemisphere, which gives the retrieval mechanisms a lift.  In the study they did a 90 second clench, but you can experiment with different intervals.

Interestingly, I had thought it was a right fist-clench to activate the language areas which are typically on the left side (90% for right handers, 70% for left handers), but for retrieval it’s thought to be more effective to clench the left fist.  Clenching the right fist apparently helped with memory formation, the left fist with remembering.

Do your own experiments and leave a comment about what you discovered, pro or con!

[Photo Credit: Author]

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Mnemonics I – Basic Visualized Associations

You’ve probably heard the term mnemonics, which refers generally to methods for enhancing learning or memory.  It comes from the Greek mnēmōn meaning mindful.  Familiar examples include acronyms such as the BRAT diet for upset stomach, or OFNR (which looks kind of like “oftener”) for the Non-Violent Communication rubric Bread LoavesObservation, Feeling, Need, Request.  There are whole books devoted to mnemonics, and people who specialize in these memory tricks are called mnemonists.

I’ll be discussing some of these tricks in various posts, but I’ll start with one of my favorites which is kind of like a mental alarm that you can use anywhere.  One way that memories are given salience is through the detection of something abnormal.  For example, you are more likely to remember something strange-looking  than something ordinary.  This principal can be exploited to form a new memory cue.

Let’s say you want to remember to take the bread out of the freezer when you get home.  You don’t have anything to write on, or any other easy way to make a physical reminder. What you can do is think of something that you will definitely see when you get home, such as the front door.  Now, since it’s the bread you are trying to remember, imagine that when you walk up to your house, in place of the front door you see a huge loaf of bread with a door handle on it!  Imagine reaching out to the door handle and swinging the loaf of bread open to enter the house.

The more vivid and sensory you can make the memory, the more likely it is to work. Picture the loaf-door in your mind, imagine the smell of the bread as you open the loaf-door, think of the loafy sound it would make, etc.  When you get home there’s a pretty good chance that as you get to the door those imagined memories will pop up and remind you to take the bread out of the freezer. To improve the odds even more, make up several of those memories for different things that you will see you when you get home.   After the front door, you could imagine a piece of furniture being the loaf, or picture your dog as a loaf of bread wagging it’s crusty tail!

Try it–I bet you’ll find lots of uses for this one, and the more you practice, the better it gets.  In fact, see if when you get to your front door, you think of bread, just from having read this blog today!

[Photo Credit: Benediktv – License]

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Physical Reminders I

I’ve alluded to these in two previous posts, and the car keys are an example.  The most obvious physical reminder is a note, PT Corelike a sticky with something written on it.  I like physical reminders because they’re concrete, and often they’re convenient and easy to arrange.  For instance, I buy paper towels in bulk.  Because our storage space in the living space of the house is limited, I store the the bulk packages under our house.  I bring them up a few at a time to put in a cupboard near the kitchen.  When we’re getting close to the end of the upstairs supply I’ll take the empty core from the last roll we used and place it somewhere I’m bound to see it, to remind me to bring up more rolls from under the house.

[Photo Credit: Author]

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Forgetting Through Doorways

2015-03-22 17.47.42It was empirically demonstrated several years ago that walking through a doorway induces
forgetting.  It even happens if you go through a virtual doorway on a computer screen!  Here’s one of the best accounts of the research that I’ve seen:  Walking Through A Doorway Makes You Forget.

How to make use of this?  If you’re leaving a room with a purpose, do something that will help you hang on to it.  Keep your mind engaged with the intent as you move from one place to another, or if possible, take a physical reminder with you–a note, or some other concrete object that will cue you when you get to your destination.  If you do get someplace and can’t remember what it was, going back to the room/location where you had the thought originally can jog your memory.

[Photo Credit: Author]

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