"What was on the grocery list, again?"
"Where did I park my car?"
"Did I turn off the coffee maker?"
These are just a few examples of questions most of us have probably asked ourselves at some point. And though we'll probably never have the need to remember the amount of information memorized by 2011 USA Memory Champion Nelson Dellis, we don't want to be constantly forgetful, either.
Some techniques for remembering information date back centuries and are still useful today. The following details some of these methods -- you might be surprised to find you've used one while studying for an exam or trying to remember names and faces at work!
This mnemonic memory technique is thought to have been used as far back as the ancient Roman times. Using this method, an individual uses a familiar layout or setting (the word "loci" means "location") to memorize a list of words. One easy way to do this is to use your home or apartment. For example, if "dog" was the first word on a list, a person might picture a dog running up and down the sidewalk outside his or her home. If the second word was "flower," they might then picture walking into their house and seeing a beautiful flower sitting on the welcome rug. Check out this interesting video from the BBC and watch memory expert Andi Bell demonstrate the use of the loci method.
The peg method refers to linking numbers or letters of the alphabet to another item, creating a peg. Then, when trying to memorize a list, associate each list item with one of the pegs you previously created. The idea is you'll use this peg list more than once rather than have to create a new one each time you need to memorize something. Here's an example utilizing a rhyming peg. Start with the number one, which rhymes with "fun." There's the peg: one = fun. You'll use this rhyming peg for many lists to come. If the first word in a list to memorize is "difficult," we might think to ourselves: "One = Fun. When things are difficult, I'm not having very much fun."
Though not quite as ancient as the others on this list, "chunking" is perhaps the simplest method to explain. This technique refers to breaking down a large group of information into smaller chunks, making the information easier to memorize and enabling us to remember more in the long run. This device was first discussed in a 1950s study by Harvard University researcher George A. Miller. For example, if you must remember a long string of numbers (say, 39201546, for example), Miller said it's much easier to break the large number into chunks and memorize the chunks, instead. In this case, the chunks would be 39 - 20 - 15 - 46.
Pythagoras. Yes, he developed the theorem you learned in school match class, but he also may have practiced a memory-retaining technique that's applicable today. Though little information is available about Pythagoras' life, the book "Iamblichus' Life of Pythagoras," first translated and made available in 1813, says before going to sleep each night, Pythagoras would recall all the events and details of that day in an attempt to retain as much knowledge as possible. Eventually, he skipped evenings and would instead recall more than one day's worth of events at once, demonstrating his improved ability to remember information and details long after they occurred. Remember when your teacher or professor told you to start studying for an exam weeks in advance? To start with just a few units and slowly progress through the rest of the material? Maybe they were on to something all along.
In his 2010 book, "Where Did Noah Park the Ark?" , author Eran Katz describes this ancient Jewish system of assigning letters to numbers to aid in memorization. In gematria, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet was assigned the number one. The second letter of the Hebrew alphabet was assigned to the number two, etc. This method was first used for memory purposes in 1648, according to Katz's research. In another example, numbers and letters were paired according to their similarity in shape.