Memory Strategies: Say It, Write It, Do It!

Using all of your senses is one of the surest ways to improve your memory. By utilizing more than one of your senses as you learn new material, or simply try to retain information, it imprints the information more thoroughly on the neural pathways in the brain, so the information is more likely to be stored in long-term memory.


Even in grade school, you were taught that a good composition included an introductory paragraph, the body of the essay or report, and a closing paragraph. The introductory paragraph introduced the topic of your paper and explained what you would be talking about; you would then elaborate on that topic in detail, sometimes at great length, throughout the body of your report or essay. The closing paragraph would sum up the paper one more time to drive the point home.

Was this just your teacher's way of wasting your time? Absolutely not! The point of having an opening and closing paragraph that stressed the main point of your paper was to repeatedly stress how important the information was. It kept the reader of the paper from forgetting the point. With classic repetition – by re-stating the point three different ways -- you were reinforcing the information and helping the reader to remember it.

Interesting college professors, dynamic preachers, and good motivational speakers often use this same technique when talking to crowds. They tell you what they will be talking about. They talk about it. Then they tell you what they did talk about.

The next time you go to a meeting, listen carefully. Does the person in charge tell you what the agenda is? If so, he's giving you a hint that these are the things you need to remember and take notes on. At the end of the meeting, he will probably reiterate these same points. Don't try to remember everything word-for-word, but hone in on these key points. He's given you a road map to follow – pay attention to it!

Taking Notes the Right Way

Taking notes, whether at a meeting or in class, can help you review valuable information later on. Many people are so busy taking notes, however, that they miss half of what is being said while they are writing things down. Taking notes well is an art. Don't try to take down every word that is said – you don't need proper grammar and sentence structure when taking notes. Remember, you aren't being graded on them! These are purely to help you learn and to aid your memory; so as long as you understand them, that's all that matters.

Take notes using key words and phrases, and use symbols, such as question marks, dashes, and exclamation points, when appropriate. The act of listening to a speaker and writing down the key points reinforces your memory in three ways: You are listening to the information, you are recording the information, and later you will read the information you wrote down.

Repetition in Daily Life

There are simpler applications for repetition in your daily life. When you meet someone for the first time, be sure you repeat their name when you're introduced. It's so easy to simply say, "It's nice to meet you," and quickly forget their name, but if you repeat their name to them you will be more likely to associate their name with their face in your mind.

After hearing, "This is my sister Beth," be sure to shake hands and say, "It's so nice to meet you, Beth," and focus on matching their face with the name in your mind. If you have the chance to talk with her a while, try to use her name in the course of conversation periodically during the conversation.

When you finish the conversation with that person, be sure you use their name again. "It was nice meeting you, Beth," will imprint her name one more time on your memory. If you have the chance to thank your friend for the introduction, that's one more chance to reinforce the name in your mind: "Hey Ed, I really appreciate you taking the time to introduce me to your friend Beth. She was really interesting."

Statistics show that you are five times as likely to remember a person's name when you have said it three times within the first few hours of meeting the person, than when you have said it only once during that same time period.

Why Are You Muttering?

Repeating something you need to remember can help you remember it. Interestingly, you are more likely to remember it if you repeat it out loud instead of repeating it silently. No one is sure why this is so, but it's true. It's why you'll sometimes see and hear people muttering under their breath when someone is telling them something important – they are trying to make sure they remember it!

When you call someone and they give you directions on how to get to that fabulous new restaurant across town, don't you often repeat the directions back to them? This serves two purposes. First, you confirm that you heard the directions correctly. Second, you are imprinting the directions in your memory. You're more likely to be able to recall them if you're spoken them out loud. Of course, if you dictate them again to someone who writes them down, you'll have something to refer to, which is even better, but if you don't write them down, you'll remember more just because you've spoken them.

Do you talk with your hands? Even better! If you motion with your hands as you're going through the directions, you'll recall more of the twists and turns later, so go ahead and wave your hands around. Signaling turns and motioning with your hands will help you recall the directions later. It turns out that talking with your hands serves a real purpose – it helps your brain encode information and reinforces long-term memory of information.

Reading Out Loud

It doesn't matter if it's a long chapter in a text book, or a training manual for your office, most people have a hard time remembering what they've read, especially when it's a long, boring passage in a book. Part of the problem is because the information is written in long stretches that aren't broken up in easy-to-digest sections. Part of the problem is simply that the material can be boring and you can be easily distracted when reading.

Reading the material out loud engages additional senses – you're physically reading it as well as hearing it – and you will be more fully engaged with the material, so you will be less distracted by outside distractions. The next time you need to learn something boring or complex, try reading it out loud and you'll be surprised by how much more you'll comprehend, and how quickly you can learn it.

When you read out loud, don't make the fatal mistake of reading in a monotone voice that would put an audience to sleep. If a listener would doze off listening to you, so will your brain. Put some life into your voice and read the material as though you're reading an exciting play – use inflection and make the words come alive. Varying the sound of your voice and making the material interesting ensures that you really comprehend the material and helps reinforce the material in your memory.

When you are trying to learn new information, take advantage of as many senses as you can to reinforce your memory. With so many senses at your disposal, it's simply a crime not to use more than one to make sure you remember as much as possible.

Peg Memory Systems
Peg Memory Systems are designed to help you remember lists of information. They are ideal for helping improve your memory of long lists by helping your memory recall items in a particular order by associating new information that may be difficult to recall with information you already know well. For instance, you might associate a list of new products you have to memorize for work with the numbers one through 20, or the letters of the alphabet.

The term "peg" refers to the mental "peg" or hook that you're going to hang the new information on. It is the reminder that will help you retrieve the new information from your memory.

Each peg helps jog your memory about a specific item you need to remember so that you don't need to memorize long lists of items with no way to recall individual items within the list. This is one thing that gives the peg system an advantage – you can remember individual items by going directly to any individual peg. For instance, if you use the numbers 1 to 20 to remember 20 items, you can go to the number 12 and remember the particular item associated with the number 12 without having to go through numbers 1 through 11 to get to number 12, saving you a lot of time.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Memory Improvement course?

How Pegs Work

You're probably thinking that pegs won't help you, because counting 20 things you have to memorize won't make them easier to remember. But counting them isn't the end of the peg system. Numbers are easy to remember, but hard to picture or visualize. To easily remember things, you need to be able to visualize them, so the peg system converts each number to something easy to visualize in your mind. Three popular methods include: Number-Rhyme Pegs, Number-Shape Pegs, and Alphabet Pegs.

Number Rhyme Pegs

This is the most popular and easily mastered form of peg system. The system was originally devised by an Englishman named John Sambrook in the 1870s, and has been in constant use since, a testament to its efficiency.

You simply match each number with a rhyming word that will be easy for you to picture in your mind and remember. A widely used version is one-bun, two-shoe, three-tree... When you have a list to memorize, you associate each item on the list visually with the corresponding number-rhyme.

Let's take a look at one of the most popular number-rhyme peg systems:

1. one-bun 6. six-sticks

2. two-shoe

3. three-tree 8. eight-gate

4. four-door 9. nine-wine

5. five-hive 10. ten-hen

Study the list for a bit and focus on linking the visual pictures of each item to the number. Being specific and detailed in how you picture each item will help you later on, when you use each of these pegs to help you memorize information later. Can you picture the gate? Is it a white picket fence gate or a large, black iron gate? What about the wine? Is it a bottle of wine or a glass or wine? Decide what each item is in detail and then stick with it, so you will always have the same peg for each number; it should be a constant that you can always use in the future.

Keep in mind that you don't have to stop at 10. You can endlessly add to the list by associating rhyming words with numbers as high as you want to count. The key to success with number-rhyme pegs is learning each number rhyme and making sure it is a vivid image that you will always be able to quickly and easily recall.

Making the Association

Now that you've learned the 10 words that go with the numbers 1 through 10, you can easily and quickly memorize any list of 10 items, and recall them at any time. Here's how:

With any list of items, you associate each item with a number and its rhyming image. For instance, if you have three items -- like eggs, bread, and milk, you might remember them this way:

1. is milk, which is associated with one or bun. Now picture an image that features both the bun and the milk. The sillier or grosser the better – remember, you want a picture in your mind that is unforgettable! Perhaps your image will be

of a package of buns being ruined because someone spilled milk all over the counter top.

2. is bread, which is associated with two or shoe. Your mental image might be of a loaf of bread crammed into a high-heeled shoe, or of you stomping on a loaf of bread while wearing high-heeled shoes. Whatever image indelibly links the bread to the shoe.

3. is eggs, which is associated with three or tree. A mental image of a tree covered with blossoms of colorful Easter eggs instead of flowers or leaves will be vivid and unforgettable.

If this sounds complicated, it may be the first few times you try it. Keep in mind, however, that, like many things, it will get easier with time and the peg system eventually will become instinctual. The longer you use it, the easier it will become, and you won't even think about which words are associated with which numbers. You will automatically know that 4means door, without even thinking about it, and you will begin making associations and creating images for that peg automatically.

Let's say your mother calls you at work and asks you to stop by Walmart on the way home and pick up a few things; but you aren't at your desk, so you can't write down the list. If you use number-rhyme pegs to remember the list, you should be able to remember the list easily, without ever writing it down. Just be sure you recite it a few times to yourself during the day to reinforce it, and again when you get to Walmart!

Try creating your own peg images for this Walmart shopping list using the number-rhymes:

Motor oil, butter, yogurt, crackers, paper towels, shoe laces, batteries, cookies

After going over the images a few times, did you find it easy to recall all eight items on your list? Were you able to go back and recall the sixth item, or the second item on the list, because they were associated with a specific number? Remember, the word-peg rhymes with the number it's associated with! With practice you will be able to do this.

Keep in mind that your peg images should be as over-the-top as possible. Memories are created and retained when you create a vivid, unforgettable image that your brain won't easily forget – something unusual. It can be silly, scary, absurd, or fantastic, but it shouldn't be boring or regular.

Number Shape Pegs

This is simply a variation on the same peg system. Some people are more visually oriented and prefer a peg system that helps them picture words that relate to numbers visually rather than through rhymes. This system is based on the actual shape of a number. There are some common number-shape peg systems, but you can always invent your own if you see shapes in numbers that are particularly vivid to you. Keep in mind that what works for you is what is most important.

A few examples of some common number-shape peg systems are:

  1. pencil or stick
  2. swan (with curved neck)
  3. top of heart or snowman
  4. sailboat
  5. sea horse
  6. golf club
  7. cliff edge or arrow
  8. snowman or hourglass
  9. balloon on a stick
  10. fork and plate

The number-shape pegs work the same was as number-rhyme pegs. You simply associate each item you want to remember with a number. So, if the first item you need to remember on a long list is a poodle, you could picture the poodle trotting up the street with a large pencil clenched in her teeth. If the eighth item on your list is a glass, picture a snowman sipping a glass of iced tea. Later, when you need to recall the entire list, you will be able to recall every item or, if you need to remember only specific items, you will be able to recall them in their proper order.

Alphabet Pegs

If you aren't enamored of numbers, or prefer to use the alphabet, you can try memorizing using Alphabet Pegs. There are some limitations with the alphabet – it only goes up to 26 letters, so you can only memorize lists of up to 26 items, unless you want to go back to the beginning and start reusing your pegs; but for most people, that's plenty. You should also keep in mind that if someone asks you, "What was the ninth item on the list I gave you?" you may find yourself going through the alphabet counting off on your fingers to figure out that the letter "i" is the ninth letter of the alphabet.

Aside from that, alphabet pegs work just like number pegs. You can use rhyming or sound-alike words if you like, such as A=hay, B=bee, C=sea, D=deed, etc., or you can choose a system that is more personalized. This is one reason that the Alphabet Peg system is so popular with some people – they can personalize it to their interests, which makes it easier for them to quickly memorize the peg words and remember them.

For instance, if you have a passion for gardening, you might build your alphabet pegs around flowers and have each letter of the alphabet begin the name of a flower:

A = Aster

B = Baby's Breath

C = Carnation

D = Daffodil

E = Eremurus

F = Freesia

G = Gardenia

H = Hyacinth

Such a peg system would mean very little to most people and would be very difficult to learn, but for a florist, or anyone passionate about gardening, it would be easy to learn, easy to remember and enjoyable to use.That's the key to any peg system – using something that's easy and instinctive for you. You may decide to choose breeds of dogs, brands of shoes, or countries – whatever works for you!