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A memorable story
How to read this book
How your memory works
Here, there and everywhere
Tips for memorising effectively
Listen carefully; I shall say this only once
Memo for general knowledge and in school
Speed-studying: How to pass exams in two days
Birthdays, anniversaries and other important dates
Memorising manuscripts, speeches and texts
Be better at sports by using your memory
Names and faces
Memory tricks and competitions
Other memory methods
We remember it all, we just need some help to retrieve it
Listen to Mozart while eating goat cheese
Profiles and world records
If you are hooked
Norway, Friday 28th of May 2004
An elderly man falls flat on his face on the cobblestones. Two girls run over to help him back on his feet. “Thank you,” the man says, patting one of the girls on the shoulder.
The university can’t afford to maintain the area around campus.
“Hi, Oddbjørn! Still going strong?”“I’m great, Martin. I’ve just finished my history exam.”“Does that mean you’re on holidays now?”“No, I might do another exam. Extinct religions.”“But you don’t study religion?”“No, but two of my friends do. We’re going to split the reading
list and make keywords for each other.”
“When’s the exam?”“Wednesday. Oral exam.”“So what do you know about extinct religions?”“Jupiter…” A sparrow flies past, darting into a hole in the wall.
“I know you’ve taught yourself how to memorise decks of cards,
numbers and the notes for your history exam, but no one can pass extinct religion in five days. Not without any prior knowledge. Have you ever shown your parents your high school results? The
weather forecast’s good for this weekend – you should come and play beach volleyball instead!”
Hours later, John chucks a fat tome into my lap. “You do keywords on Roman religion, Oddbjørn. I’ll read four
hundred pages on the Greek and Sámi ones and Helena will do the same on Norse mythology, Mesopotamian and Egyptian religions. Then we’ll exchange keywords later.”
“Ok. What’s the deadline?“Monday. Twelve noon - on the dot!”
I really ought to start working soon. We’re all depending on each other – I can’t let the others down.
The phone rings. It’s Bert. “Ready for some beach volleyball?”“Sorry Bert, I’ve got to study.”“Oh, come on! It’s boiling hot – you can study later on this
“Is Martin coming?”“No.”Tired and sunburnt, I go to bed without having read a single
I’m lying on my back, looking at the sky and dreaming about holi-days. John comes up to the loft.
“We’ve been given the topic for the exam. We’ve got to talk for
ten minutes about two religions and the role of religious special-ists.”
“What do you mean by religious specialists?”
“Priests, mainly. The exam goes like this: first, we have to do
our presentation and then the examiners will ask topical questions about the religions for twenty minutes.”
For four hours I sit tapping on the keyboard, making keywords. At noon I click ‘send’ and my e-mail flies off to Helena and John. Ben, my engineering-student housemate, saunters into the living room.
“Do your memory techniques work, Oddbjørn?”“I’ve only made keywords about Roman religions so far. Before I
can start using Memo, I need John and Helena’s notes. They’ve got the notes on 80 percent of the syllabus.”
“The exam’s on Wednesday. Are you going to memorise every-
“Yes.”“With no prior knowledge and no lectures? Just two days’
There’s hardly a soul in the library. Why am I doing this to myself, I could be playing beach volleyball? I get out my mobile phone and step out into the hall to call Bert. Pull yourself together, Oddbjørn! All you need is to use Memo and it’ll be done in a flash! Prove to Martin how effective it is! I decide against calling Bert. After two rings, I hang up.
The notes for my presentation cover just two pages. Memoris-
ing them is a breeze. After a quick lunch, I’ve memorised two more religions.
“I want to teach you the memory technique, John. It works
“I doubt I’ve got time.”“It’s quick to learn and easy to use.”
“I’ve always been sceptical about stuff like that – all the knowl-
edge just goes in one ear and out the other.”
“There’s every reason to be sceptical, but this isn’t the same
thing as traditional memorising, maps of keywords or rote learning. Memo, my technique, connects the knowledge to your long-term memory. You’ll remember it for months. For years, if you practice a bit.”
“What’s Memo really about?”“In short, you visualise keywords in locations you are familiar
with. Places that are already a part of your long-term memory. You always know where to look for the knowledge you need and you can easily retrieve it.”
“Maybe next time. Let’s see how you do first.”
By dinnertime I’ve memorised what I need about Greek and Ro-man religions. Quite funny, really, as the Greeks and Romans used similar techniques back in ancient times. Ben listens to me practice my presentation after dinner.
“Why are you doing this?” Ben asks.
“I already know that the knowledge I acquire using this method
remains in place for a long time, but I want to see how quickly I can acquire that knowledge. And it’s a motivating way of learning new things. After learning to remember, I thirst for knowledge!”
“Have you memorised a lot for that exam on religions?”“Yes, but I still don’t know anything about Norse mythology or
Ben laughs. “And the exam’s tomorrow?”“One o’clock. I’ll have to get up at the crack of dawn,” I say,
looking at the use-by date on the coffee.
My alarm clock has let me down; two whole religions to memorise in just a few hours. At noon I meet John by the church. We go to the examination room. John points at the notice board.
“We’re supposed to go in at the same time; different examiners.
“Great, then we’ve got time for some revision.”“That Greek creation myth is pretty interesting,” John says.
“What? I haven’t read anything about that,” I reply, heading to
Back from the toilet, John tells me I’m now going in at two. “Someone didn’t show up.”“Five minutes left, then. Can I have your notes on the creation
Zeus, Cronus, Uranus. Thank god for Memo.
“Next candidate is Oddbjørn By,” the secretary announces.
I enter the room. The two examiners - a bespectacled old man
“I know we’re allowed to bring in a page of keywords for the
presentation, but the Greeks and Romans really valued memory. Speaking freely from memory was considered a virtue. That’s also how I want to do my presentation.”
The examiners look baffled, but perhaps that is the point?“In India the priests memorised the Rig Veda
, a religious work, as
they were afraid that any incorrect citing of the story would cause cosmic imbalance. That is why the current version is very similar to the original. Similarly, the Egyptians feared cosmic imbalance if they did not worship their gods,” I say and begin my presentation on the Egyptian and Roman priesthoods.
The introduction gives me a real kick. The clock is ticking and I
“Tell me about the sources of Sámi religion,” the man says.
I’m well acquainted with the ruins of the old brewery. This is
where I visualised the keywords about the Sámi religion. I travel back in my mind and pick out the keywords I want to use to answer.
Memo works perfectly. The keywords I’ve memorised are easy to
retrieve and expand upon. The man asks whether I’ve read Edward what’s-his-name’s book. Oh no, I’ve never heard of him! I’m going to fail! The man lifts his hand and smiles.
“That’s OK,” he says. “It’s not on the reading list.”The lady takes over and tests me on Greek religion.
I dole out the knowledge I’ve acquired over the past 48 hours.
She gets me on a question about the Oracle. There was nothing in my notes about the inscription over the door in Delphi. Time’s up. I shake the examiners hands and smile.
At half past four I cycle over to the notice board. A bunch of
“Average was a C,” says a girl.
I note my grade and get back on my bike. “How did you do?” asks the girl.
“Aced it” I reply, blushing slightly.
Summer passed. In August I met Martin again. I told him about the exam.
“How would you do if you sat the exam again now?” Martin
“It’s easy to refresh your knowledge using Memo, so if I had
three hours or so to revise, I could get a distinction at least.”
Martin smiles. “One day you should write a book, Oddbjørn. To teach others
Do you ever get lost on the way to work and end up arriving four
hours late? Of course not. Because you know the way.
A journey is about location and is the most powerful memory
technique. The technique is not very widely known, although it was used a great deal by the Greeks and Romans of ancient times. Para-doxically, it seems to have been forgotten since. The journey meth-od is based on thinking of a journey through a familiar landscape. Houses and other clearly defined spaces are very effective. Along the journey, you define - places where you can store the information to be used later.
Think of your house or the house you grew up in. Start outside
the front door. This is the first point. Go through the door to the second room - this is your second point. Decide on ten clearly defined locations throughout the house and write them down, or visualise the points without writing them down. The points should have a logical order, as it is easier to remember your journey that way. Go through walls and floors if that helps create more order. My journey looks like this:
Read through the list of ten points in your house until you are sure of the order. Put the list aside. Now we are going to go through ten words. The first word is dam
. Visualise a dam at the first point - outside the front door. It’s a good idea to imagine some ducks swimming in the dam, as movement can make the picture easier to
remember. The next word you visualise at the second point - in the hallway. Each word is thus visualised at its own location, or room, along the journey - no matter how illogical it is to find the word in that location. Don’t dwell for too long on each word but try to maintain an even rhythm. Here is the whole list:
1. Dam2. Helicopter3. Lithium Battery4. Berries5. Border Collie6. Car7. Knight8. Ox9. Flower10. Neon sign
Quickly read through the list once more if you like. In a minute you will write down what you visualised at each point. If you have forgotten a word, don’t dwell for too long, but go on to the next word. The word will probably pop up soon. Close the book and write down the words.
You have now memorised associations for the first ten elements
in the periodic table. The names of the elements are hydrogen (a dam produces hydro
electricity), helium (helicopter), lithium (modern batteries are called lithium batteries), beryllium (berry), boron (Border Collie), carbon (car), nitrogen (knight), oxygen (ox), fluorine (flower) and neon (neon sign). The reason we visualised a dam for hydrogen and a flower for fluorine is that these atoms are difficult to imagine. That is why I made associations that are easier to visualise. This is an important principle when memorising.
We can also add more information about the elements to the
points in the journey, like the atomic weight and when the atom was discovered. We don’t need to memorise the atomic number, as the point in the journey indicates the number of element. Oxygen is number eight and comes at the eighth location on the journey.
The way we remembered the words was special. We brought
in the long-term memory - in this case the journey through the house. Then we stored the new knowledge straight in the long-term memory instead of in the more limited short-term memory.
Some people think journeys only give us more to remember, as
we have to remember the journey and the information we memo-rised. But think about it: hundreds of journeys are already stored in your long-term memory. You just need to define the points. Using journeys to learn and remember new information is very useful. One reason journeys are so effective is that you must visualise the knowledge instead of just thinking about it.
One of Scandinavia’s best memory people, Torgeir Farsund
Thorrud, once said this about why location is so important: “With-out location, you’re just storing your knowledge in thin air. Loca-tions function like a piece of paper, something you can write your knowledge on.” If you were to remember the ten words above with-out Memo, you would just be writing them in thin air. The journey is the piece of paper you wrote them down on.
I would like you to try a new task, no matter how the last one went. To avoid mixing it up with the last list, you should make up a new journey. The reason being that you will see the dam at the first point of that journey for quite a long time - maybe for weeks, even if you don’t repeat the exercise. This demonstrates the strength of the system. If the list of the ten elements were knowledge you were supposed to remember forever, you would have had to repeat it occasionally. That is why you should wait a while before using
the same journey again. This can be compared to daily experiences at actual places. Events you have experienced in one place don’t get mixed up with new events, even though they occur at the same place. This means you can visualise new things in the same journey as long as you separate them in time. You should let your journeys rest for a few days before re-using them.
One advantage of using a journey is that it provides storage
space for your knowledge. We separate information to avoid untidi-ness. If, for example, we’d stored all the words at the same location, chaos would have reigned. If you want to learn more than ten ele-ments, you make a longer journey, or you can visualise two words at each point. Then one of the words will often give you a clue as to what the other word is. If the order is important, you should have a set rule for where you place the word. For example, the first word you place in the locations should always be at the top, at the bot-tom or to the left of the second word. But putting three or more words at the same location is counterproductive – the point of us-ing the journey is to divide the information into smaller chunks to avoid confusion.
We’ll now try memorising two words at one point. This time
write down a new journey consisting of seven points from a house, shopping centre, the outdoors or work. If you forgot a word in the last exercise, try adding details or movement to try to remember better. You can also try to find logical reasons for the object you want to remember being at that very point on the journey. If the berries were in the kitchen in the last task, it was because you were having dessert. The associations for the elements in the periodic table were based on word plays like ox – oxygen. It is easier to memorise when you make up the associations yourself.
Here is a list of the fourteen largest countries in the world by
area. To create the associations, you can use word plays or famous people, or items you associate with the country. The first thing that pops into your mind is usually the best. To make the association
easy to memorise, it is important that it can be visualised – that you can see it in your mind. First, decide on associations for all countries. Then, memorise the list of associations you made - two associations at each location in the journey. It may be a good idea to place the first word to the left and the second to the right, as the order of the words is important in this task. Let’s go!
Read quickly through the list once more. Close your book and write down what you can see at each point - now! How did you do? If you managed more than ten, that’s fantastic! Well done to perform that well with a new method. If you forgot a word, don’t worry. Usually you need time to repeat what you are learning for an exam. With practice the methods will become more efficient.
How much information to memorise at each point along the
journey depends on the information you want to memorise. The safest thing is to visualise a few keywords at each point, typically
one or two. Too many details in one location may be difficult to recall. When you are memorising, you may forget what the associa-tion is supposed to represent. You may remember ‘dam’, but you have forgotten that the dam represents hydrogen. To avoid this problem, you can read what the association stands for once more.
To remember the words in the list permanently, you should
repeat the list straightaway, preferably more than once. After that, repeat as and when necessary at progressively longer intervals. If you had memorised the list without using Memo, you might have remembered 5-6 countries and you probably wouldn’t have remem-bered them in the correct order.
What can journeys be used for?
The journey method is perfect if you want to remember informa-tion in order. Anything from keywords in a best man’s speech, a deck of cards, or the correct position for a guitar chord in a song can be memorised. Journeys also suit information whose order is irrelevant. I use Journeys to memorise different facts for exams and things I should do. As you can see, Memo isn’t just about memoris-ing decks of cards or shopping lists. Perhaps it took you 30 to 60 seconds to memorise the country list. Think about what an advan-tage Memo will give you when learning fifty keywords for an exam, a speech or the steps in first aid. Here is an example of how useful the journey method can be.
I once did a salsa dancing course. As the boy has to lead, he is the one who has to remember all the steps. Learning the basic steps or combinations was no problem. The problem was remembering them when wanting to improvise. Often I did the same step over and over whilst desperately trying to remember more steps. It can be compared to sitting an exam: you already know quite a lot, but you don’t always manage to recall all of it.
The solution was surprisingly successful. I wrote down the
fourteen steps I knew and then I memorised them with the help of a journey. The first step, croqueta y paseala, I visualised at a wood-work bench in high school. I imagined a croquet mallet (an associa-tion for croqueta) being sawn up. The next move on was the som-brero. I visualise a sombrero on the woodwork bench. For the steps I did not know the name of, I made a suitable picture to remind me of the step. For example, I imagined a policeman to remind me of a step that begins with holding the girl’s hands as if the police were arresting her. When dancing, it is important to be decisive. Know-ing what the next steps are going to be, it is easy to be decisive. In the past, I would always get nervous, but now I can take the girl by the hand with confidence. While dancing, I can walk mentally from room to room in high school - easily recalling the steps Croqueta, sombrero, kentucky, setenta, variación and ochenta. At any time, I can leave my journey and improvise and then return and continue where I left off. Or start at chance points along my journey.
Instead of concentrating on finding steps, I can concentrate on
the rhythm. I am sure to remember all the steps I know and get maximum use out of all the steps. When I learn new steps, I just memorise them along my journey - safely stored in my long-term memory.
I have also memorised moves for disco dancing, like John Travol-
ta’s moves in Pulp Fiction. It’s good to have an extensive repertoire. Even with just twenty moves, you’ll be rocking like never before! Improvisation is for pros and even pros plan their improvisations.
“Why didn’t you take out the rubbish?”
The journey method is a technique that entails recollecting
things in the past, to store information you can later recall. On a daily basis we often forget things to do in the future: we forget to
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