Rewrite Your Past with a Memory Palace: Quick Start

Take the 2017 Advent "Rewrite Your Past" Memory Palace Challenge! Create a simple memory palace, and add one favorite memory from your ACTUAL LIFE each day.

By Christmas, you’ll have a new memory palace stocked with the best of your past. And feeling great about your past is critical to an amazing present and future…

QUICK START:

  • You can start any time. Now, in fact. 1f642
  • If you haven’t already, read the quick intro on why this memory palace will be a huge boost to your happiness.
  • Make sure you know how to make a “memory palace” using the “loci method”.
  • Choose the real-world place you’ll use as your memory palace. I’m going to use my current home. I suggest starting with your front room, and working your way logically around your home. BONUS: Odd nooks and crannies around my house will start to trigger good memories and feelings.
  • Every day, you’ll add one new memory to the next “spot” in your palace.
  • Join our Facebook group to get memory prompts, updates, tweaks, and support to stay on track. And/or join the mailing list (it’s the free video course below).
  • Decide what time of day you’ll add this new memory. Like “right when I get up” or “after I brush my teeth at night”. Hook it to an existing habit.
  • For extra points: post this habit hook to the Facebook group. Great way to get started, and you might inspire someone.

That’s all you need to get started. Stay tuned, this is going to be awesome.

Rewrite Your Past with a Memory Palace: Intro

Hey! So I’ve got this memory idea that could change our lives.

Mine too, I’m not kidding.

Also, it’s tied to Advent calendars, and since it’s already December, it’s good you’re reading this now.

This idea’s been lurking in my mind for years, ever since I heard of a study where researchers had depressed people stock a simple memory palace with good memories.

Isn’t that brilliant? Depression, they explained, makes it harder to remember “self-affirming autobiographical memories.” But with a memory palace, people could raise their recall to “near ceiling levels”.

To me, this sounded great, whether or not you were depressed. But I never actually tried it. (Why not?)

Then, recently, I read The Time Paradox, a fascinating exploration of how our ideas about time affect our happiness. I’ve always been obsessed with time, at least since certain formative movies…

I’ve even written my own time travel stories. Plus, in a sense, memory work IS time travel — you gain the ability to revisit the past, at any time in the future.

But The Time Paradox shocked me.

Because these two psychologists have spent years studying how your time attitude affects your happiness, and here’s what they’ve learned:

First, when you think about the present and the future, you are best served by at least a moderately high level of optimism.

Note: this isn’t the shocking part. This is exactly what I expected. I’ve long considered myself “future-oriented,” so of course I would agree that optimism about the future is crucial. And what else is the huge current emphasis on “mindfulness” but a bid to reclaim the present?

Here’s the shocker. They think that for maximum happiness, your attitude about your past needs to be VERY high optimism.

Maybe that makes total sense to you. To me, it’s like a punch in the gut.

Because the book also includes a test to score your current attitudes. My score on how I feel about the past was almost as low as it could go.

Yikes.

Sure, I don’t automatically believe every personality test I take. But in this case, it seems dead-on.

And for me, this is a major personal revelation. Both scary and exciting.

Scary, because it’s one of those times where you realize that some aspect of reality you take for granted is, in fact, not how everyone else feels at all. The more I think about it, the more it’s like I’ve had a toothache my entire life, and I’m just now finding out, Wait, everyone’s teeth don’t hurt? Some people LIKE chewing?

Which leads to the exciting part. What if my past is this massive potential source of happiness? What if it’s just waiting for the right techniques to unleash its power?

For me, if I think really hard, I can slowly dredge up plenty of memories that feel great. But it takes way too much effort.

I’ve said many times that “you can only think with what you remember.” But if all I easily remember about my own life is a downer … what is that doing to my thoughts? To my life?

I’ve been ruminating on this problem, but unsure how to get started.

Then my kids opened Day 1 on their Advent calendar, and it all clicked.

An Advent calendar makes a perfect memory palace.

Advent calendars seem to be going mainstream. When I was a kid, those little doors only had Bible quotes, but now you can get Advent calendars for everything from LEGOs to makeup. There’s something deeply satisfying about moving down the path of the days up to Christmas, opening up a new surprise each day.

And I’ve been interested for years in how to revamp the Advent ritual with new methods that will actually improve your life. That’s why I put together my book on memorizing the Gospel stories over Advent. I love the idea of doing a little bit each day, and arriving at Christmas with an awesome new achievement.

So now, all these thoughts comes together…

Why not make a “memory palace” for awesome, energizing memories, and add one new memory each day up to Christmas?

  • You leverage your memory skills to level up your actual happiness. (Finally.)
  • You ride the natural momentum of a season of energy and preparation.
  • You tap into that “Advent Calendar” vibe of a special new gift each day.
  • You pre-empt the holiday/end-of-year blues with a clinically proven mood improvement. Whatever holiday you celebrate, we’re all facing the same existential questions as another year ends. NIt’s the perfect time to literally train yourself to feel better. Unlike so much memory work, ​these reviews will feel awesome.
  • And instead of going it alone, you can join me and hundreds of fellow memory enthusiasts on this list. Honestly, I might have trouble sticking to this myself, so it will be a huge help to me if we form a community around this.

What do you think? Are you in?

Getting started is simple, easy and free.

Just click here and join the Facebook group I’ve set up. I’ll post the first steps there.

Or, if you’re not into Facebook, no worries, you can read those first steps here.

And I’ll be posting further updates, steps, insights, and memory prompts both to my email list and the Facebook group. (There’s a lot to unpack here, and I have to pace myself. This first email could easily have been ten times as long…)

See you there,

Bill Powell

P.S. Technically, you can craft this palace alone, no problem. But personally, I expect to encounter some major resistance. The payoff will be huge, but I’m going to need all the help I can get. Plus, in the group, you’ll get to hear each other’s awesome memories and ideas, not just mine. And I’d love to hear yours — you can join the Facebook group here.

How Flashcards Succeed: Solutions on Using Anki for Serious Study

An epic list of Anki solutions for the problems that plague the serious flashcard user. (Or, the long-awaited followup to How Flashcards Fail: Confessions of a Tired Memory Guy.)

Awhile back, I wrote an epic post called How Flashcards Fail: Confessions of a Tired Memory Guy. I had to get pretty frustrated and discouraged to write that post, and when I did, I went all in. I dove deep into all the ways that Anki can backfire when you’re using it for thousands of flashcards.

Then something awesome happened.

People commented. With solutions.

Seriously, I got some of the most amazing comments on this post I’ve ever seen. Many of them deserved to be articles in their own right.

So I’ve taken my favorite suggestions from these comments, and organized them here for your reading pleasure. I’ve only taken selections, and I’ve added paragraph breaks here and there, but otherwise, I’ve let these awesome people speak for themselves.

I haven’t tried all of these myself yet, but I didn’t want you to have to wait. Take a look, and I’d love if you left a comment to share what you think.

In this Epic Solution List, You’ll Find…

Tweakng Anki

Limit new cards

Bill, I too had problems with clustering, until I found the cure. The trick is to limit the number of new cards that you are seeing to a fairly low number each day. eg. 20. This allows you to build up a back log of new cards and not have to worry about “lumps” nearly as much.

– Anonymous

A “Load Balancer” Plugin for Anki!

In case someone else finds this post, here a few tips, because all the points discussed in the post are real. There is no point in pretending these issues don’t exist, but there are also ways around them.

First, there is a “load balancer” plugin for Anki. This will take care of the peak days with many reviews and spread the reviews out a little bit. Yes, these demoralizing mammoth days are really a thing if the past once you’ve used this for a while. Unfortunately it doesn’t take care of existing peaks, but you could simply “skip” a day by choosing “hard” on all the reviews for a day (without looking at them). It may feel like cheating, but there is more gained than dropping out of Anki.

– Claire Kellogg

Note: Claire didn’t leave a link, but she probably meant this load balancer addon. I haven’t tried it yet, but this would be a huge help to reduce those huge reviews. Anyone else tried this?

Dealing with Leeches (cards you keep getting wrong)

Put the answer on the question side

Hi. As a heavy Anki user (almost 300,000 reviews so far), I’ve faced the same problems as you. When we face a difficult card and try to remember the answer, we begin to travel along the well-established neural pathways that lead us to the wrong answer or to nowhere, and this attempt to remember strengthen those incorrect paths, creating a vicious circle of error.

Here’s what I do with leeches now: I put a mnemonic on the question side. If even that doesn’t work, I put the answer on the question side.

At that point I’m obviously not testing myself, but I realized that testing myself isn’t the goal. Every time I see that now-easy card, I’m reviewing it anyway. It will probably end up forming a memory. If it’s truly useful, I’ll see it in the real world and will later associate it with that encounter.

– AnotherAnkiAddict

Take as long as you need

I guess I’m a little bit too late for the party but another tip, aside from the obvious one of rewriting the card, would be to remove the time limit and take as much time as necessary to answer correctly. It’s better to take longer and answer it right than to answer it wrong and get the wrong circuitry reinforced inside your brain.

And also, practice only with full concentration. If you’re the kind of person who answers flashcards while walking or waiting for the bus, then at least skip this kind of card when you find yourself on such environments.

– Ruan

Rework the card

The point of the cards, as you said in the article, is to get them right. So, I figure, why not do whatever I can to help myself get them right?

This is a drastically different approach to study from when I was a teenager in high school and expected myself to be able to be able to produce extraordinary answers based on minimalist questions. Anki and other SRS software is quite flexible about editing cards later and about how much info can be displayed on a card.

If I find a card difficult, I can add gobs of more content to the question side and usually I’ll find that it has become much easier. If a card takes too long to answer, I’ll rework it to call for a shorter, more instantaneous response.

In addition to the extra hints, I think the time spent reworking the card helps retain it: If we spend fifteen minutes with a dictionary or looking up usage examples online, consider what we find, and select some of that information to place on out reworked cards, we’re resorting those missing components–active, critical thinking and networking–to our flashcard study experience.

– AJ

Set leeches aside to fix later

In regards to difficult cards and leaches, I create a separate deck called “FIX THESE”. So whenever I am reviewing and do not want to disrupt my flow I simply move obstinate cards into this deck and deal with them later. It can be done pretty quickly on anki droid as well.

Rewording or reorganizing the card differently is usually enough to prevent future leaching.

– Justin

And don’t be afraid to delete the card

… take leeches seriously. At a minimum, you should reformulate the card. Often I delete the card. Yes, I wanted to remember this after learning what it is, but given the effort it takes, I often choose not to remember this. This is quite liberating. (And incidentally also what makes Anki different from school exams: I can choose what I want to remember, I can choose to delete an item.

– Claire Kellogg

Finding Context

Use a card to remind you to think

For decks with higher level concepts like Algorithms or Game theory every time I review a card I explain it and I let me my mind linger and come up with associations. It’s rare the card where at least 1 or 2 associations new associations don’t pop in my mind including questions. Besides that it’s also usually the case that when I try to explain a concept I find little nuances or questions that I then research. And that builds new associations too.

This requires time, of course, that’s why I find it important to prune knowledge aggressively. I am generally eager to add new knowledge and overestimate its value. Boredom is actually a godsend for me.

– Juan Alonso

Note: I love this idea, and I explore a similar approach in “Reviewing as Thinking”.

Use Anki to Review a Larger Web of Knowledge

What i am trying recently, is to keep the information suited for pure memorization in ANKI as individual cards, but then to make longer notes into a powerpoint presentation document, and then link an ANKI card to that note.

So when it comes up, you use the link, review the whole card and emmerse yourself in that note, then exit and rate how well you recalled it. This way atomized information can be atomized. And deeper concepts can stay deeper and connected. And all are reviewed with spaced repetition.

– Neil

Note: I love this idea too, but I’d probably use mind maps. I’ve used a similar approach to schedule reviews of long chunks of text.

Use Anki to Practice

Atomizing Random Knowledge and Flash Cards Kill Clustering

I see this criticism of Anki a lot. I think the problem with it is that it sets up a false dichotomy. For example, people will talk about how their friend went to Mexico for a year and learned Spanish without ever using a flash card. Actually, the BEST way to learn Spanish is to study flash cards AND practice talking to native speakers, listening to Spanish podcasts, reading Spanish books–using Spanish. They are complementary systems. So don’t only depend on Anki, and don’t over do it.

As you have said, it is easy to get sucked into the game, and to start thinking of your Anki numbers as your knowledge level. That is because Anki is quantifiable, and having a conversation is not. So you need to schedule the other knowledge synthesizing methods, and make sure they happen. For example, I use Anki for practicing musical knowledge: chords, scales arpeggios. I schedule 15 minutes for Anki, and I schedule 15 minutes for drawing on that knowledge to create musically interesting ideas–jamming.

…Anki will never be perfect, but no study method is, and it was never meant to be a “complete” learning system.

– Jon

Use Separate Sub-Decks to Keep Cards in Context

… you don’t need tags to review similar items, but separate sub-decks. If you create separate decks for categories of words, and put move (drag) them into one, Anki will do the reviews in order/by category. It took me a bit of experimenting which sub-decks are pertinent (it also depends on the number of cards you typically review). I certainly wouldn’t want to mix my say Spanish and Chemistry reviews.

– Claire Kellogg

Choose What to Learn

Humans are terrible at predicting what knowledge they will need to know.

The truth is, even in technical professions– a doctor for example, probably should only remember about 1% of what they learned in medical school, 0% in college, and 0% of high school….

My current theory is to read widely – highlight 1% of that reading — 1% of those highlights I put in a mindmap using http://www.thebrain.com/ then 1% of that material (maybe less) goes into Anki.

–Luke

Note: I love how this method uses the 80/20 rule to winnow down your potential cards to the best stuff, before you put it into Anki and start reviewing.

The Right Mindset

Flash Cards as Video Games

I think I just have a different attitude about this. I am comforted by the fact that right or wrong don’t matter. I appreciate Anki telling me that I no longer know something I thought I had learned. That is the whole point. I think that perhaps the reason that you feel you are “losing” the game is that you are “punished” with additional study time when you miss a lot of cards. Limiting new cards, time boxing, addressing leaches, and creating efficient cards to begin with will make it easier to appreciate failed cards.

– Jon

Note: I love this idea of actually being “comforted” to know what you don’t know.

If you want more on changing our whole mindset of how we approach review, check out this third article for advanced Anki learners: “Reviewing as Thinking.”

What about you?

But maybe you’ve already found the perfect solution for your Anki woes. Wasn’t all that awesome? So much great advice here!

So what about you? Have you tried any of these tips yourself? Are you going to? Leave a comment and let us know what’s working or not working for you. Share your Anki tip that wasn’t on this list. I’d love to hear it!

The Ultimate Memory Tool Guide and Cheatsheet

Are you overwhelmed by the insane number of memory tricks out there?

Some gurus swear by “memory palaces”, others praise flashcards, and still others fill whole books with embarrassing memory rhymes. How are you supposed to know which memory tools to actually use?

Answer: it depends.

You don’t need to find one memory trick or tool to rule them all. Instead, you can choose the right memory tool for every job. Remembering your loud new coworker’s name is a really different task from acing a history final.

In this epic, step-by-step post, I’m going to walk you through the memory tools I’ve found most helpful, and when you’ll want to use each one. By the end, you’ll have an awesome grasp of:

  • How to use and choose memory tools to remember anything you want.
  • Which memory tools you should always use, and which you should not use unless you really need them. My picks are a bit unconventional, but that’s because I hate the idea of doing more work than you need to.
  • Why some of these tools can actually be dangerous and work against your memory goals. These are mental power tools — they’re awesome when used correctly, but they need to be used with care.

It’s a ton of solid info, so I even made a sweet PDF visual cheatsheet for you, to get it all on one page and make it way easier to remember. You can scroll up and grab the free cheatsheet now. (It’s that big button you skipped. The little title graphic is just a taste of the full cheatsheet glory.)

So let’s start with the basics.

Actually, the basic, singular: Your memory is already awesome.

Your Memory Is Already Awesome

I know, I know, you wouldn’t be reading this now if you weren’t writhing in the agony of some vicious memory failure. I definitely feel your pain — how do you think I wound up learning enough to teach this stuff?

But the only way to get your memory to do what you want is to realize how much it already does. Your memory is awesome!

How do I know? Because you’re reading this right now.

You’re decoding thousands of words on the fly and snapping them into meaningful sentences, paragraphs, ideas. How are you even doing this?

Seriously, don’t shrug this off, it’s crucial. There’s a good chance you’re sorely in need of an exquisite paradigm shift. Your memory already works so amazingly well at almost everything you throw at it. Reading. Talking. Navigating the Internet. Navigating your neighborhood. Navigating Thanksgiving dinner without triggering a family crisis. (Usually.)

Your memory works so well that you don’t even notice. The only time you ask, “How’s my memory?” is when you finally hit a task that doesn’t happen to mesh instantly with your superpower.

If you only notice your memory when it fails, you’re like the parent who only thinks about their toddler when they’re changing a diaper. Not a great recipe for a long-term relationship.

And here’s the thing about all these memory techniques/tricks/gimmicks: they always leverage the way your memory naturally works.

Which means that our first and basic memory “techniques” should always be to ramp up our memory’s default approach. If that doesn’t work, we can break out the fancy stuff.

The Four Natural Memory “Techniques” to Use Every Time

Here are the basic, natural “techniques” that your mind uses to form memories. Most fancy memory techniques (maybe all) ultimately come down to one or more of these. They’re like the Master Keys to the Memory Toolbox. I mean, they would be, it needed more than one key. Anyway…



  • Pay attention! Focus up!
  • Make it interesting! Exciting, even!
  • Connect to what you know
  • Make a habit of review

Let’s unpack these.

Pay Attention! Focus Up!

You can’t remember what you haven’t seen. Or heard. Or somehow sensed.

This seems obvious. But it’s crucial.

How many times have you glanced at a written phone number, started to dial, then gotten frustrated because you’ve already forgotten the second half of the number?

What just happened? You didn’t really look at the number to begin with.

I sure don’t. I give it a too-quick glance, because on some level I know that I can always look again. I don’t actually see it. And no memory technique in the world is ever going to recall something I never saw in the first place.

The solution? Focus.

Full focus feels special. It’s that keen awakening when you really look at something, even for a few moments: a stunning flower, an awesome new toy, a beautiful face. Those moments are highlights. Those are the impressions we never forget.

The secret is that we can make strong impressions whenever we want — if we choose to focus.

But if something seems deadly dull, we won’t want to focus. So we also need to get interested.

Make It Interesting! Exciting, even!

Your mind will only remember something if it’s interesting. Period.

Now, many contemporary (and ancient) memory guides think that you should make material interesting by bolting on mnemonics (memory prompts). For instance, if you want to remember a “2”, you can think of a swan, which has a similar shape and is way easier to remember.

I’ll get to memory prompts in a sec. First, here’s a little secret: everything can be interesting.

Seriously. You could write a dissertation on dust bunnies, if you had to. Start asking questions. (Where do dust bunnies come from, anyway?)

We find things dull when they have no meaning for us. You’d give the most thrilling tale in the world a blank stare if it was written in Vedic Sanskrit.

So how do you find more interest in the seemingly lame?

  • Focused attention is a great start. It’s amazing the interest you can find in the details.

  • Ramp it up! Whatever you’re learning, imagine it more — brighter, bigger, more color, more movement and sound. That might not always be possible, but you can almost always…

  • Connect this new stuff to what you already know.

Connect to What You Know

We remember by connecting.

Think of a baseball geek. He can remember thousands of game scores, because he’s interested. Obsessed, even.

But those scores don’t float about in isolation. His brain is a baseball network, a power grid humming with thousands of criss-crossing connections. Every game score is connected to specific players, to specific teams, to the epic story of a particular season.

Ultimately, all this “data” connects to his enthusiasm for baseball itself, his memories of the actual games he’s played and seen.

He never sat down with a score spreadsheet to memorize. He built this vast network piece by piece, eagerly snapping each new discovery to what he’d already learned.

The more meaningful connections you make, the better you’ll remember. Especially if you love it, if you want to think about this stuff. You craft your own mental network, and as far as I can tell, it’s mainly powered by your enthusiasm.

Make a Habit of Review

But even the most beloved network needs to be maintained and renewed with a habit of review. Otherwise it fades.

Memory is like anything else. Use it or lose it.

Enthusiasts get their reviews in by compulsive conversation on their chosen obsession. For the rest of us, we’ll probably have to make a deliberate habit of review.

But wait! you cry. If I have to review, it doesn’t count! The whole point of REMEMBERING is to transform into a super-genius who only has to see things once and then remember it forever!!

Yeah … about that.

That’s not really a thing. Trust me, I checked.

Sorry.

The Exceptions Prove the Rule

There may be isolated, individual exceptions to this rule, but as far as I can tell, they all seemed to have neurological problems. Seriously. The few cases I’ve found of seemingly effortless, near-perfect recall always suffer a severe trade-off of some other problem or loss. Think Rain Man.

So if you enjoy being a conventionally functional human, please just accept that remembering involves some kind of review.

(I mean, even Sherlock Holmes needed filing cabinets.)

Scheduling Reviews

You can do reviews on a simple schedule. It all depends on your goals, on how long you want to know something and when you want to know it. Keeping the core wisdom from a life-changing book is different than prepping for your certification.

In theory, you can map out a simple review schedule on a calendar. Sometimes, it’s as easy as going over the material once a day at bedtime. Or once a week.

Ultimately, reviewing comes down to thinking about what you’ve learned and strengthening those connections.

One great way to review like this is by teaching. Trying to explain forces you to clarify your thoughts. (Trust me.)

Another powerful review tool is a computer flashcard program that tracks and schedules when you should review each separate card. You can use a “spaced repetition” algorithm, tuned to how your brain actually remembers, and this will massively reduce the number of reviews you have to do. By an order of magnitude. But we’ll get to flashcards in a sec.

When the Four Basics Don’t Work, Use Advanced Memory Tools

Pay attention, make it interesting, connect to what you know, and come back to renew what you’ve learned. Those are the basic memory skills.

But sometimes they’re not enough. That’s when we pull out our advanced memory tools. And each of these tools leverages one or more of the basics.

Make it Exciting With “Mnemonics” (Memory Prompts)

So I promised we’d get to “mnemonics”, or memory prompts, and here we are. Mnemonics made hard stuff easier to remember.

Say you keep forgetting that your loud new coworker’s name is Fred. It’s a commonish name, right?

Now try imagining him in a bright orange, big-spotted Fred Flintstone outfit.

Yeah. Not so easy to forget, is it? Next time you see him, you’ll get a slightly traumatic flashback to his Hanna-Barbera look. No way you’re forgetting he’s Fred.

Mnemonics can be incredibly powerful. Over the years, I’ve made and used thousands. Yes, thousands.

Avoid the Dark Side

But mnemonics also have a dark side. They can distract you from the very things you’re trying to learn. They can reinforce the perception that the material itself is dull.

It doesn’t help that the few “memory championships” and TV show memory demonstrations seem to gravitate towards one-off feats of cramming ridiculously useless data. Hooray, you memorized three decks of cards! Major life skill UNLOCKED!

Yes, I totally respect the work involved, but this is like gathering actors and having them compete to portray the most obscure shades of emotion possible. A lawyer who may be developing a peanut allergy opens a piece of junk mail from a non-profit koala bear refuge. One koala’s name is Peanut.

Wouldn’t we rather these actors used their skills to tell an amazing story?

Okay, so maybe Peanut, Esq. could make it as an off-Broadway monologue. But still. You get the point. Don’t reach for mnemonics first. If you can possibly remember the material on its own, do that.

Use Mnemonics Wisely

That said, if you’ve focused on it and made it as interesting as you can and thought about how it connects to what you know, and you still need help, mnemonics are great for sealing the deal.

Mnemonics basically break down into /word/ mnemonics and /image/ mnemonics.

In theory, you could use movement, smell, taste, or pretty much any possible sensation. But while I have found hints of dance mnemonics, the literature on odor and food mnemonics is sadly lacking.

Use Rhymes, Acronyms, and Other Magic Words

Word mnemonics are quite common, and you probably already use a few.

Rhyme and Rhythm

Ever mutter “30 days hath September / April, June, and November”? That’s a simple rhyme mnemonic. Rhyme and rhythm can lock things in your mind like nobody’s business … actually, like everyone’s business, i.e., ad jingles. There’s a reason those things get stuck in your head.

If teachers were paid entirely on commission based on your test scores, your entire education might consist of jingles.

Rhyme is important, but rhythm is also key. Some memory sentences rely solely on rhythm, like the old spelling mnemonic for “principal” — “the principal’s your pal, so you spell it P-A_L”.

As ad jingles show, music can help too, but I, at least, have to be /really/ motivated to come up with tunes for what I’m trying to learn. I have experimented with it, though; it’s a whole other realm of potential memory power that lies mostly untapped. Only in our culture, though — other cultures have rich traditions of mnemonic songs.

Although our culture certainly digs music … imagine if our musicians started leveraging their lyrics to fill everyone’s heads with awesome, useful information. That would be rather epic.

Awkward Acronyms and Silly Sentences

Anyway, a less fun and thus much more common mnemonic is the “acronym” or “memory sentence” approach.

In an acronym, each letter stands for another word. Your science teacher may have taught you “ROY G. BIV”, where each letter stands for a color in the spectrum. Good old Roy.

Or you may have learned the planets with a memory sentence like, “My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nachos”. The first letter of each word is also the first letter of the planet. My for Mercury, Very for Venus, and so on. (Back when Pluto was a planet, Mother would have served Nine Pies, but Nachos are probably healthier anyway.)

Making a sentence is a lot easier than trying to make an acronym out of “MVEMJSUN”, but it’s the same principle (not principal).

Word mnemonics are great when they work. But sometimes information is a bit too random to fit easily into a rhyme, acronym, or memory sentence. That’s when you make crazy pictures.

Make Crazy Pictures

“Image mnemonics” are crazy mental pictures that help you remember stuff. You imagine something so big, bright, vivid, and unique (i.e. weird) that you remember it easily.

And this image reminds you of what you’re trying to remember. It connects.

A classic example: at the company Christmas party, you meet a new IT guy named “Mr. Baker”. Alas, he’s a pretty boring-looking dude, and you’re in imminent danger of forgetting his name.

Instead, you imagine him as covered in flour and wielding a gigantic rolling pin. For the advanced version, you might even imagine the rolling pin jammed up his largish nose. This ensures that your mnemonic will stay firmly connected to his unique face, and also that you’ll lose your appetite and not gorge on Christmas cookies.

Now when you see Mr. Baker lurking down the hall, you’ll instantly “see” your terrible visual pun and remember he’s a Baker.

(If you hesitate to make your acquaintances into a gallery of maimed sufferers, here’s a more humane way to remember names.)

You can make crazy pictures for just about anything.

The Hidden Power of Puns

Visual puns are the go-to choice, and they’re surprisingly potent. Puns may seem harmless, but what is a pun, anyway? A connection. Whether you love puns or loathe them, they evoke a visceral response, precisely because they tap into the deepest mechanics of how we think. It’s kind of freaky.

But you can also use symbols, like imagining a sword to stand for a battle. Or you can imagine a piece of the idea, or words that sound similar, or /whatever will work/. It just has to remind you.

Level Up Your Imagination

It can take some practice to imagine strong image mnemonics that you’ll remember easily. But it’s time well spent, because you’re actually practicing your imagination.

In my own work, I found that my powers of imagination really ramped up as I crafted image mnemonics. I write fiction, and I found I could write much more visual scenes. Even my dreams got more vivid. It’s pretty awesome.

But Don’t Go Crazy With Crazy Pictures

On the other hand, you want to use this tool with care.

It’s not that you’re going to drive yourself to madness with your crazy pictures. You dream way crazier stuff for hours a night, and you manage to focus just fine.

It’s not even that all your acquaintances are going to accumulate a collection of strange and violent accessories.

It’s more that every time you use an image mnemonic, you’re training yourself that you can’t remember without it. This can get out of hand.

For instance, I’ve read published advice to make up crazy pictures just to remember a two-line quotation. The author carefully picked an image for every third word or so.

That’s nuts. It’s like hopping on a Segway to cross your porch.

Okay, full disclosure, I did actually try something similar myself. Briefly. But as I discovered, unless you have a head injury, your verbal skills are up to the challenge of remembering a two-line sentence. Seriously, you can do this! And more precisely, image mnemonics are the wrong tool. You want to leverage your verbal skills, you want to say the quote out loud, hear the words, find the rhythm.

You might well want to imagine what it’s talking about — this will round out the experience. But you do not want to be toggling back and forth between isolated visual puns for particular words and the flow of the sentence. Task switching always has a cost.

The only time I would use a crazy picture for a quote is if I were learning a lot of quotes, and I wanted each entire quote to have a single prompt so that I could find it. I’ve used this technique for long texts.

But how do you keep lots of crazy pictures in order? That brings us to the memory trick par excellence — the memory palace.

Imagine a “Memory Palace”

So you know how you can’t remember a seven-digit phone number, but you can remember where hundreds, even thousands of things are in the real world? Your bedroom alone probably has a hundred different things that you could find instantly, you know exactly where they are.

In fact, you’re so good at this that if you can’t find one thing, (say, your car keys), it’s a minor crisis. Right?

Turns out, you can do this with imaginary stuff too.

Unleash Your Spatial superpower

If you want to learn ten quotes, and you’ve got a crazy picture for each quote, you can imagine storing them in specific real places in a real room.

Basically, you hack the exact process that happens when you put a pillow on your bed or your socks in your drawer, except you imagine putting away a fire-breathing pineapple or a jumping jack mime.

And it totally works.

Later, when you think, “What was my first quote? I put it on the bed,” you’ll see your pineapple, and remember your quote.

It’s crazy. But it’s leveraging two basic skills — making things interesting and making connections. You know your bedroom, so you connect your bed to the crazy picture (which is also interesting), and your crazy picture to the original material.

You Can Also Use Objects or People

You can also experiment with using individual objects or people as “palaces”. We already did this earlier, when we stored a rolling pin in the unfortunate Mr. Baker’s nose. We’re really good at connecting details to individuals, so you have a good chance of remembering who has what.

Head, shoulders, elbows, hands, knees, feet — you can find several places to store pictures on a person, in the order of top to bottom and left to right. Plus, you can also trigger even more reminders by giving the person crazy hats and clothes.

For instance, I recently saw an author interview video, and then wound up reading his book. When I wanted to remember a list of five key points, I stored the crazy pictures right on him. I could imagine his whole person, even though I’d only seen his talking head, because again, we’re really good at thinking about people.

If you want to learn more about memory palaces, you should know for your searches that this is also called the “loci” method. The ancient Greeks and Romans totally got to this first, and “loci” is Latin for “places”.

Use the Power Wisely

Memory palaces are amazing, and everyone should make one at least once. They’re a superpower.

But for most tasks, they’re also complete overkill. You could make a memory palace to remember the list of the planets in order, but Mom’s nachos are way cheaper in time and cognitive load.

Plus, even memory palaces will fade if you don’t review them. (Trust me.)

If only there were a way to store lots of little bits of information and review them without having to make tons of extra mnemonics and palaces.

Oh yeah. Flashcards.

Review Anki Flashcards

So, most flashcard systems are basically useless.

Not totally. You can get some good practice in. But it’s haphazard, and you have no idea whether your practice is actually working, or whether you could the same results with fewer reviews.

Enter Anki.

The Power of Spaced Repetition

Anki is an amazing flashcard program, free on most platforms, that uses “spaced repetition”. Which means, “reviews planned around how your memory actually works.”

Spaced repetition yields astonishing results.

What’s the normal “review” schedule? “Learn something once, never see it again, forget it.” Or maybe, “learn something once, never see it for weeks until you’re cramming for a test, flub test”.

Spaced repetition takes a completely different approach, based on scientific experiments of how people actually remember. You do a lot of reviews at the beginning, but each review means you can wait longer next time. This is huge. After the initial flurry of reviews, you’re soon waiting days, weeks … months … and years.

Plus, each card is scheduled separately. Easy cards need fewer reviews, hard cards need more. Every day, Anki presents your personal list of the exact cards you need to see that day — and no others.

If only I’d had this in school.

The Dangers of Anki and Spaced Repetition

On the other hand, Anki isn’t the solution to everything. It offers amazing efficiency, but like all the rest of these tools, it can have a hidden cost.

When Success Feels Like Failure

For starters, flashcards can lead to burnout. In a strange twist, the very efficiency with which Anki hides the cards you currently know means that you spend a lot of your Anki time focused precisely on your hardest cards. This can make you feel like a failure, even though you’re actually remembering almost every card in your deck.

The solution is to be mindful of cards you keep failing and figure out the problem. You might need to edit the card, break into multiple cards, or rethink it altogether. But it’s hard to stop and do this if you’re trying to rush through the reviews as fast as you can.

Chunking and Randomness

Flashcards also encourage you to use chunking. Chunking is when you break a lot of information into smaller “chunks” that are easier to learn. This is why phone numbers are broken in half — it’s easier to remember a three-digit number and a four-digit number separately than a single stream of seven digits.

With flashcards, you usually (but not always) want each flashcard to have a small, separate “chunk”. For many types of knowledge, this works perfectly. A lot of what we learn can be broken into isolated facts or short lists.

The problem is that as you review, these cards get randomized. So for anything that’s really complex and depends on context, flashcards can shatter your knowledge into random little bits. Context can be a tremendous help to memory — an actor can say hundreds of lines with the right cues, but freeze up at a single missed prompt. If context matters, Anki might not be the right choice.

Memory palaces can be an interesting way to provide context — you use the “rooms” of the palace to sort your crazy pictures.

Alternatives to Anki

You can try a really basic version of spaced repetition on your own, where you simply renew something every day until you’ve mastered it. Then you can move it onto a longer-term schedule. I’ve done this with longer texts that I didn’t want to split into Anki-sized pieces.

On a related note, there’s a fascinating blog by a fellow who is trying to remember one key incident for every day of his life. He keeps refining his review technique, but it always involves daily or almost daily reviews and a methodical journey through a mental calendar which he imagines spatially. Here, Anki’s randomization would destroy so much context.

You can also experiment with using flashcards as a scheduled trigger for a longer period of thinking. I’ve used Anki flashcards to trigger reciting an entire canto of a poem or chapter of the Bible. There’s no rule that you have to limit flashcards to tiny info bits.

Don’t You Want To Think About This Stuff?

On a deeper level, there’s this whole other problem — if you’re trying to keep reviews to an absolute minimum, are you really sure you want to remember this stuff? Don’t you like thinking about it?

If you’re just trying to ace a test and get on with your life, you can ignore this existential question and use Anki for Matrix-style learning upload. Seriously, if you’re in school and not getting perfect scores yet, Anki will change your life. Use it.

Don’t wait for the educational system to escape the 19th century. It’s not going to happen in time for you.

But if you really care about what you’re trying to learn, I invite you to go deeper and consider a more nuanced approach to review. In one of the most popular posts on this site, I consider the possibility that the ultimate memory technique could be a habit of daily thinking about what we really want to remember. And Anki could be the perfect tool to trigger this thought.

But we’ve found ourselves in deep waters, haven’t we? Alas, not every memory aspiration is quite so profound. Sometimes you just want to quit missing meetings. And for that kind of detritus, here’s my super-secret guru-level memory trick:

Use a Reminder App. Seriously.

Every once in awhile, I come across some elaborate scheme for mapping your entire schedule onto a memory palace.

It’s so simple! they crow. You just need mnemonics for the months … and the day numbers … and the days of the week … hey, you can have a different room for each month! And for the hours you can attach number mnemonics, except you don’t want to mix them up with the month days … oh! Just set the hour numbers on fire! And then you just need an extra mnemonic for AM vs. PM …

Don’t. Just don’t.

I mean, if you really love doing mental gymnastics to manage your calendar, don’t flame me in the comments, it’s cool. Go for it. But know that it works for you because you like it.

For the rest of us, who, like me, are not in the Super Loci One Percent — if you’ve picked up the idea somewhere that you should feel bad about yourself because you need to use an external tool to track your zillion commitments, drop it. Life’s too short.

So if you need to remember appointments, use a calendar app. Or paper, even.

Losing Your Keys? Normal Tools Are Totally Cool

How about losing your keys? Another genius tip: put a hook by the front door and use it.

As opposed to the suggestion I actually heard on a memory program once, which was to pay attention to wherever you happen to toss your keys and imagine it blows up.

Yes, this is paying attention. No, it is not a great plan. The real habit change is that split second of paying attention as you lose your keys, and at that point, you can just use a hook like a civilized non-arsonist.

Plus, it wouldn’t even work long-term. I can’t say I actually tried this, but I am pretty sure that you’d eventually have twenty different conflicting memories of household explosions, and you’d be right back where you started.

Side rant: any time you read any memory tip anywhere, starting with these, ask yourself: will this work long-term? Will this scale? I get so frustrated with all these one-off tips that sound all great and nifty until you actually try using them more than once.

So, yeah. Don’t let this memory stuff make basic life skills complicated. Using normal tools is totally cool.

Which seems like a great place to wrap this overview of memory tools.

Except…

What About Nutrition? Exercise? Sleep? Funny Stories? [Insert Latest Memory Trick Here]???

Except no, I haven’t actually covered every last possible memory aid. Full disclosure. You got me. There’s always more tricks.

For starters, there are plenty of variations on these basic techniques. For instance, some folks suggest taking your crazy pictures and making them a “chain”, where each image connects to the next. This might work for a really short list, but in my experience, these chains break.

And yes, there are other spaced repetition tools besides Anki — feel free to search for alternatives. I just like Anki best, it’s got lots of great plugins, and it’s free on almost every platform (and totally worth it on the iPhone).

Any Memory Pills?

Also, there is a whole subculture of literature about physical aids to memory, like:

  • getting enough sleep
  • and eating epic amounts of fish or walnuts or whatever
  • and probably doing special yoga moves that will unlock the right chakras and scare away your neighbors.

I’m not going to say these things won’t help — in fact, I myself actually do do some yoga (super basic), I do eat fish and walnuts, sometimes, when I have to, and I even occasionally sleep. (Peer pressure.)

Taking care of your body really is important, and good sleep is probably especially key. Sleep is getting hip right now, and one of its many supposed superpowers is solidifying and strengthening memories. So yes, eat right, exercise, and (hardest of all) turn off your toys and get your sleep.

But just don’t think you’ll unlock a photographic memory without, you know, changing how you think. We don’t have a memory serum yet. (Although I did write a story about exactly that…and the ensuing mayhem…)

How the Tools Fit Together

So now you’ve read a small book about all these memory tools. (You’re awesome, and thank you!) But how do you know what to use when?

Remember, always start with the basics, and use advanced tools if necessary.

  • Pay attention!
  • Make it interesting!
    • Enthusiasm makes remembering a million times easier and more natural
    • But if you need to make it more interesting, use a magic word mnemonic
    • Or a crazy picture mnemonic
  • Connect to what you know
    • If you need to connect a lot of things and you’ve made crazy pictures, use a memory palace to connect them to spaces, objects, or people you already know.
  • Make a habit of review
    • Use Anki to track incredibly powerful reviews with spaced repetition
  • And for ordinary life stuff, use a reminder app or other normal tools.

Can you see how these tools all relate? You try to make something interesting first, and if you can’t, mnemonics make it more interesting. Thinking about the tools this way keeps you grounded in your memory’s natural powers.

Choose the Right Memory Tool for the Job

Now for the fun part. With these tools in hand, you can start matching them to specific memory tasks.

Here’s a list to get you started. But it’s just the beginning.

Names

When you meet a new person, start with paying attention. We usually first hear someone’s name at the precise moment we are most anxious and focused on potential social disaster. If you didn’t really hear it, ask again. Or repeat it back with a “Nice to meet you, NAME.” If you still think you won’t remember, make a crazy picture and mentally attach it to them.

Numbers, Letters, Decks of Cards, and other “Data” Type Information:

If you’re trying to remember numbers, letters, decks of cards, or anything else you might see a memory champ do on TV, you’ll probably need a system of crazy pictures. And you’ll probably have so many you’ll need a memory palace to store them.

Facts for Tests

Still in school? Put it all in Anki and start acing all your tests. Start with flashcards, and if any info is too complex, use magic words and/or crazy pictures. You don’t usually need a memory palace if you’re using Anki, but there are edge cases where you need to both organize info into a palace and also use Anki to review it.

Lists

For a simple list, you can try magic words, with an acronym or memory sentence. If that’s not looking easy, make a crazy picture for each list item and store it in a memory palace. Remember, these techniques make it easy to remember items in order.

Keep Track of Your Keys

Start with paying attention. End with putting your keys on a dedicated hook. Ditto for any other item you keep losing.

Keep Track of Appointments

Do what everyone else does and use a calendar or reminder app. Save your memory superpowers for the good stuff.

Long texts

If you happen to share my (obscure) enthusiasm for remembering long texts, you’re going to dive deep into magic words and how rhythm and rhyme unlock our verbal superpowers. Because context is crucial, I generally don’t use Anki, at least at first.

To manage lots of material, you might need to chunk it up, assign each chunk a crazy picture, and organize them in a memory palace. (I’ve written a whole book about this, but you can start here.)

Keep what you learn

For me, this is the ultimate prize, to know that all my reading and learning isn’t just falling out the back of my head, that I’m keeping the good stuff and changing how I think.

Honestly, I haven’t totally cracked this one yet — I think it depends so much on the details of what you’re learning and your long-term goals.

That’s why I say you can remember anything you want. Turns out I often want to read new stuff rather than remember what I’ve already read.

But if you really want this, a daily Anki habit makes a solid start.

I wrote a series on saving the “good parts” from books awhile back which has some good tips. But my own decks eventually built up to 18,000 cards or so. And I know of people with more.

So today I’m more focused on how to choose and keep the most important parts — and enjoy reviewing these treasures.

The solution might be as simple as a daily half hour or so of thinking. It could well be that the real test isn’t whether we remember this or that particular fact, but whether we’ve learned to relish spending real time on our own deliberate thoughts.

Your Turn Now! Unleash Your Awesome Memory!

So there you have it! A glittering case of expert tools to craft the vivid memories you crave. There’s enough right here to remember anything you could (reasonably) want.

I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below. What’s your biggest challenge? What’s your best (or worst) tool? What’s the astounding memory tool I totally forgot?

And now that you’ve read all this, you’ve shown us both that you are serious about remembering what you want. So do something about it, right now, before you forget. Pop your email in the form below, so I can send you the sweet cheatsheet that summarizes all these tools onto one colorful, printable page.

Even better, we’ll stay in touch — you wouldn’t have read this far if you and I didn’t resonate somehow. I’d love to keep sharing what I learn and helping you stay on track to unleash your awesome memory.

Imagine if you were finally able to remember anything you want. This could be the small step, right now, that sets that in motion.

Cheers!
Bill Powell

How to Craft Memories You Can’t Forget

You can _craft_ stronger memories by finding strong details.

Here’s the third installment of my series of Toastmaster speeches on memory.

Mr. Toastmaster, ladies and gentlemen —

Have you ever noticed how much we talk about making memories?

Your Memory Is Not a VCR

You may think of your memory as this kind of mysterious VCR that you’re powerless to control. It’s always on, always recording, and spitting out unlabeled tapes into a gigantic, disorganized pile, where you can never find anything.

But this VCR model misses a crucial fact: we do make memories. We craft memories. A man says to his wife, “Honey, let’s take the kids to the beach and make some memories!” He never says, “Honey, let’s take the kids to the beach and hope that their brains passively record experiences that they’ll later be able to access easily.”

If It’s Interesting, We Remember It

No. In our casual language, we have a strong sense that when we choose to do something interesting, we also, at the same time, make strong, vivid memories. Memories that we’ll remember easily.

In a perfect world, everything we needed to remember would fascinate us as deeply as that first trip to the ocean. In real life? Not quite.

If It’s Boring, Make it Interesting

Instead, though, you can learn to craft magnificent memories. You can make the forgettable fascinating.

Tonight, I want to share some specific aspects of what makes a clear memory.

Let’s take something simple. Eating an orange. Imagine if I stand here and say, “Ladies and gentlemen, yesterday — I — ate — an — orange. The end.” This is not the kind of magical moment you’re going to remember in your hour of need.

Remember With All Your Senses

But if I say, “Yesterday, my throat was dry, and my tongue had that dead feeling you get when you haven’t drunk those eighteen glasses of water you’re supposed to drink every single day. So I got this orange, and it was lopsided. It bulged towards the end where the stem had touched the tree.

I dug my fingernails into the thick, rubbery skin, and it spurted, in a cloud of citrus mist. That mist smelled so good. Sunshine and summer and mown grass. You know that smell. In the dead of winter, suddenly it’s July.

The yellowish juice stained my fingernails, and seeped stickiness into the crevices of my palm.

But I didn’t care. I pulled off a slice, so ripe it was ready to burst. I looked closely, I saw the white veins between the pulp. Then I held it up to the light, and it glowed like stained glass. I closed my eyes, and opened my mouth –”

And if you check your mouth, right now, there’s a good chance it’s full of saliva.

That’s how vivid your memory can be. You just tricked your digestive system into thinking that you’re actually about to eat an orange. It’s gearing up, as we speak, pumping digestive enzymes into your mouth, raring to go.

I’m sorry about that. We really need that Snackmaster.

Details Make Memories

But with my first description, you didn’t salivate, did you? It’s not enough to just say, “I ate an orange.” That’s abstract. It doesn’t engage your imagination. It doesn’t light up your brain. If that was all I said, I’d be lucky if you remembered which fruit I ate by the end of the talk.

But when I got into the details, your brain woke up. If you remember this talk at all, you will remember that we ate an orange.

Although I began with this basic idea of eating an orange, I crafted a much stronger memory by looking for details. What kind of details should you look for as you craft your own memory?

Unique

First, you want your memory to be unique. Nothing else on this planet smells and tastes like an orange. Lemon and grapefruit are similar, but the orange is unique. Find what’s unique about what you’re trying to remember.

Vivid

You also want your memory to be vivid. Use all your senses. We didn’t just taste that orange, we saw the glow, smelled the mist, felt the stickiness, and even heard the squirt.

More senses mean more mental connections. More mental connections mean stronger memories.

Bright

You also want your memory to be bright. Bright, vivid colors. When I started developing my memory, I was amazed at how dark my imagination was. I’d imagine, say, a football, and it would be dim and gray. And then I’d forget it.

Bright, vivid colors simply seem to take more work. It’s almost like it literally takes mental power to turn up the inner lights. But just like in the physical world, you need to see what you’re doing.

An orange is already bright, but I even held a slice up to the light. If you find yourself defaulting to a dingy mental scene, imagine turning on the lights.

Big

Finally, you want your memory to be big. In real life, if something’s small, what does that it mean? It means it’s far away, blurry, indistinct.

Just as my memories default to dingy, I’ve noticed that I slip into thinking small.

Now, an orange is fairly small. But that’s why I held it close. I made that little ball bigger. And the boring ball bloomed into a miniature world of smells and tastes and shapes. Make your memories big.

Craft Your Memories With Strong Details

So, to review, craft your memories by hunting for strong details. Find details that make your memories unique and vivid, bright and big. If you can have such a fantastically clear memory of eating an orange, clearly, you can remember anything you want to. Thank you.

You may also enjoy: “Visual Mnemonics: Six Keys to a Good Visual Prompt”

How to Remember Names

Despite the Baker/baker paradox, you can beat your biology and learn to remember names.

Here’s the second installment of my series of Toastmaster speeches on memory.

Mr. Toastmaster, ladies and gentlemen:

How many times do you meet someone, and it goes great, you make a splendid impression. And then, five minutes later, you have no idea what her name is.

You know her face. You could probably recognize her in twenty years. But if you suddenly had to introduce her, it would be one of those horrible, “Hey! This is my new friend — whose name I completely forget.”

The truth is, almost everybody is “great with faces, terrible with names.” Scientists actually study this. It means you’re a normal human being.

So tonight, I want to give you a few ways to beat your biology, and actually remember names.

The first way to remember names is the most important. Ready? It’s a big secret. Hear the name. Hear the name. You can’t remember a name if you never hear it to begin with.

Meeting someone is just about the worst possible way to learn their name. In those first few seconds, you’re not listening, you’re looking. You’re making snap judgments. Tentative eye contact. Scanning for concealed weapons. By the time your ears turn back on, the name is long gone. You’re halfway through some boring anecdote.

And if you’re even slightly nervous — forget it. You can’t hear anything. Your own brain is barking orders. “Don’t forget to smile! [smile] Shake hands! [stick out hand]! Be funny! [groan]”

And then we’re all surprised that we don’t catch the name.

So you need to focus. You need to consciously decide, I am going to hear this person’s name.

Some books suggest that you also seal the deal by repeating the name. “Jane! It’s so good to meet you, Jane. Think it looks like rain, Jane?” I think you should definitely repeat the name to yourself. I’d hesitate to strain the conversation. Other people read these books too.

Once you hear the name, and repeat it, you have a new problem. How do you connect this random name to this particular face?

Scientists have studied this too. They call it the “Baker/baker paradox.” That’s “Baker”, uppercase, the last name, slash “baker”, lowercase, a maker of bread. Scientists have found that if you learn some guy’s name is Baker, you’re much less likely to remember this, compared to if he is a baker. It’s the exact same sound. But one fades away, while the other sticks, like wet dough.

Why? Perhaps because being a baker gives you an instant series of visuals. You see him covered in powder, wearing a big funny white hat. Lots of connections between “baker” and him. But the name “Baker” doesn’t do any of that. The name is completely abstract.

So how do you use this neurological quirk? If you meet someone named Baker, imagine him as a baker. Give him that big hat. Douse him in dough.

A professional magician named Harry Lorayne used to memorize the names of his entire audience. Now, not all names are as easy to visualize as “Baker.” In one of his books, Lorayne lists hundreds of common names, and gives a crazy visual pun for each. “Buckley” becomes “buckle”, “Brewster” becomes “rooster”, “Daniels” becomes “Dan yells”.

Lorayne recommands that you pick a distinctive feature of the new face, and attach your memory prompt to that. If Brewster has a big nose, perch the rooster on that nose and watch him peck.

My name is Bill Powell, so you could wrap a huge towel around my big head, like a floppy crown, and then stuff a gigantic hundred dollar bill in the top. Bill Powell.

As you might guess, you probably want to keep your little creations to yourself.

Now, what if you don’t like the idea of making everyone you meet into a Far Side cartoon? Another approach is to get interested in names. We forget names because, to us, they’re almost meaningless. But if you’ve ever dipped into one of those baby name books, you know that every name has a meaning, and a history, and connections to other names.

If you really want to remember someone’s name, why not look it up when you get home? Or even get an app for your phone? Think about how the name connects, both to that person and to other names you already know. As we know from our “baker” friends, the more connections you can make, the better you’ll remember.

So, let’s make each other’s names into a fascinating hobby, instead of a constant source of anxiety.

Make sure you hear the name.

Repeat the name, to yourself, and optionally out loud.

And then attach the name to the face, either with a goofy cartoon pun, or by learning more about the name itself.

With a little practice, you’ll be the life of the party. In fact, you’ll be doing all the introductions, for everyone else, for the rest of your life.

Mr. Toastmaster.

You might also enjoy: “Remember names by collecting them”, which further describes the hobby of learning names.

You Can Remember Anything You Want

The path to an amazing memory begins right here, right now, with the amazing memory you already have.

I’ve recently joined my local Toastmasters club, and for my first series of speeches, I want to focus on — what else? — memory! I thought you might enjoy reading these as I go.

(If I get a decent portable recorder, who knows, this could turn into a podcast. Of course, a memory guy can’t bring up notes, and it’s not worth memorizing word-for-word, so what I actually say tends to turn out rather different.)


Mr. Toastmaster, Ladies and Gentlemen —

I have good news for you tonight. You can remember anything you want to. Anything. You can remember anything you want.

Anything? you say.

Yes. Anything.

But, Bill, you say. This is me we’re talking about. When I walk into the house, my keys somehow vanish out of my pocket, and teleport themselves behind a random piece of furniture, on the other side of the house. If someone asks me for a glass of milk, I get up to get it, because I am super nice, and then I come back with a piece of pie. For myself. And I don’t understand what they’re mad about.

Surely, Bill, other people might be able to remember anything, but not me.

Well, I disagree. I know that you, yes, you, can remember anything you want to. I’m going to show you how to remember, step by step, over my series of Toastmaster speeches here. For tonight, I want to convince you of one simple fact: your memory is already amazing.

Your memory, right now, is amazing.

How do I know? How can I say that with such assurance, about every single person listening to me right now?

Simple. You understand what I’m saying.

Right now, I’m spewing this stream of random sounds, and you are parsing it so fast that you don’t even realize you’re doing it! You’re drawing on a memory bank of tens of thousands of words, plus thousands more chunks of phrases, variations, remembered sentences. You’re snapping these sounds into meaning faster than I can get them out of my mouth.

How is this not amazing? If you understand language, you have an amazing memory.

But your talents go further. People. You have memorized a vast database of people.

Now wait — I know what you’re thinking. You’re bad with names. Join the club. Do you know how many studies they’ve done on people forgetting names? It’s the most common memory complaint known to man.

But have you ever thought of it the other way around? Have you ever thought about all the people you do know? You weave your way through a social labyrinth. You’ve amassed unthinkable amounts of data on everyone you know — family, relatives, co-workers, clients, neighbors, people at church, people at the post office. You know how they talk, how they dress, what they smell like. You’ve internalized whole flow charts of what to bring up with him, what not to bring up with her, what configurations of acquaintances to avoid at all costs.

Why do you think Thanksgiving dinner can be so insane? Everyone’s trying to manage all this information simultaneously. And then they have the nerve to complain about their memories.

Then there’s your memory for places. Sure, maybe you get lost once in awhile. And you do lose those keys. Well, let me ask you — where’s your bed? How about your kitchen stove? See?

What, that was too obvious? Okay, close your eyes, imagine your bed, and now start looking around your room. Where’s the dresser? What’s in the top drawer of the dresser? For every one item that you misplace, you have literally hundreds of items that are neatly filed away in your mental model.

And that’s just your house. Don’t even get me started on all the other places in your life. We take place memory for granted, but it’s one more fascinating way that your memory is amazing.

Language, people, and places. These three kinds of memory may seem commonplace, but just because almost everyone can do it doesn’t mean it’s not amazing.

And I do mean almost. Two of my brothers are autistic. When I look at them, I realize even more that these everyday skills are truly complex beyond imagining.

The paradox of memory is that we only notice it when it doesn’t work. Whatever it is you keep forgetting, it’s tiny, it’s a tiny problem compared to the overwhelming mass of “ordinary” material, and maybe some not so ordinary material, that you’ve already mastered.

You can remember anything you want, because your memory is already amazing.

Mr. Toastmaster.


(Compare this to my previous article on your amazing memory.)

Jungian Personality Types and How You Remember

What if I have trouble remembering details because _that's my personality_? Major insight ... or major copout?

Ready for a terrifying, exhilarating, mind-blowing revelation?

Not everyone else thinks like you do.

You think you know that. But have you ever truly explored the alien terrain of a foreign personality type? What’s normal to you is crazy to them, and vice versa. The word “different” bleats far too tamely here. “Different” personality types can have opposite reactions to the same situation, and both will feel perfectly sane.

Personality type affects how you do everything: go to parties, choose jobs, relate to your kids — and, perhaps, how you remember.

Sixteen Kinds of People

By now, you must be sensing the signature enthusiasm of a blogger who’s just discovered a new field. Yes, personality types are still a shiny new toy for me, partly because I’ve been freelancing for so many years that I never had to take the infamous Myers-Briggs personality test.

For decades, hordes of employees have taken that test, and gotten duly stamped with a four-letter, amazingly forgettable code, like ESTJ or INFP. Supposedly, this mystical code sums up their personality.

I get the impression that only a fraction of the testees have heard that this test is based on concepts from C. G. Jung, that famous dream psychologist, or have had the codes explained to them in any detail.

Unfortunately, I’m also too lazy to explain them, though I can at least muster the energy to pass on the obligatory Wikipedia link. (When are Wikipedia links going to cross the line from helpful to insultingly obvious? Are we already there?)

For now, it’s enough if you know that this particular personality model focuses on four dichotomies:

  • extrovert vs. introvert
  • sensing vs. intuition
  • thinking vs. feeling
  • judging vs. perceiving

In this model, each person leans one way or the other on each of these four dichotomies. Are you an extrovert (E) or an introvert (I)? Do you focus on sensing (S) or on intuition (N)? And so on. Hence the four-letter code: your position on each dichotomy.

Actually, they’re more like spectrums. Nobody is always an extrovert or always an introvert. Normal people will have a preference. They will tend to be one or the other in most, but not all, situations.

If you’ve ever suffered through a talk on the four classical “temperaments” (sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic), you will instantly notice that the number of possible humans has now skyrocketed from a measly four to a respectable sixteen. Good news, yes?

True, even sixteen seems low on a planet with billions of people. But you’d be surprised how much nuance these sixteen types offer.

Details vs. “Big Picture”

Meanwhile, what does all this have to do with remembering?

Sensing vs. intuition, that’s what. Sensers focus on details, while intuitives focus on meaning, on the big picture.

(Disclaimer: yes, that’s an almost hubristic oversimplification, and as I mentioned, I’m still new to all this. Ah, the Internet.)

Myself, I tend to be intuitive. I crave meaning. I love boiling complex situations down to essentials. I want to know why, pretty much all the time.

It’s not that I never pay attention to details. Before I started thinking about these traits, I might even have considered myself detail-oriented. I agonize over the right word. I design and maintain complex websites.

But then I realized that I agonize over details when they seem critically important. When I think about websites, I wonder about that one wrong setting that’s going to open the site to spammers, or that one misplaced semicolon in the code that will crash the site into a White Screen of Death.

I am not one of these people who seems to vacuum up random details without even trying. “Edith? She drives a maroon Volvo. No, her husband’s name is Frank, not Fred. They own that Quiet Treasures antique store. The one behind the fire hydrant! Are you sure you live in this town?”

Granted, one man’s random detail is another man’s mission-critical semicolon. Before I found out about personality types, I would have assumed that we all notice different details depending on what we think is important.

This is partly true, but it’s also true that sensers simply focus on details more. A lot more.

Does Being “Big Picture” Make Memorizing Harder?

So, here’s the crazy part. What have I been doing for the last several years with all this memory work?

Trying to memorize details.

Like Anki flashcards with precise answers. Or Scripture and poetry with exact language.

Have I brilliantly sensed my own weakness, and trained to conquer it?

Or have I attempted a strategy that ignores, or even hamstrings, my strengths?

One of my biggest complaints against flashcards, after years of heavy use, is that they strip facts out of context. Also known as the big picture.

Some commenters eagerly agree, while others angrily assert that flashcards work splendidly.

Could the secret be as simple as different personality types? What if sensers thrive on renewing flashcard after randomized flashcard, while intuitives like me actually need to organize our details around concepts and stories and meaning?

What do you think? Are you a fan or a critic of flashcard programs like Anki? And where do you fall on the senser vs. intuitive spectrum?

If you’re not sure, you can take this free personality test in ten minutes or less. (You just click a bunch of yes/no questions.)

Then come back and comment on my latest crazy theory.

The Secret of Remembering What You Read

When I started a memory blog, I focused on techniques. Today, I'm much more interested in _thinking_. Ready for the secret of remembering what you read? It's much simpler than I thought.

As you may have noticed, I’ve taken a quiet break from blogging over the last few weeks. Between the normal Christmas rush and the added excitement of promoting my Christmas-themed memory book, I decided I needed some time to think. Here’s what I’ve been thinking about.

I Used to Focus on Techniques

When I started this website years ago, I was excited about memory techniques. I’d discovered all these amazing mental gymnastics. They seemed like magic, yet they were still almost unknown.

Sure, the Internet already had plenty of memory sites. But no one seemed to be combining the techniques from the different subcultures. No one was using Anki flashcards and memory palaces and oral rhythms. Could this simple act of combination lead us to fantastic new heights of mental prowess?

Or, less ambitiously, could we at least catch up to our forefathers? Could we achieve the prowess considered “normal” back when being “educated” automatically included speaking more than one language?

This intellectual adventure had strong similarities to my earlier adventures into the world of Linux and free software. Once again, there were all these amazing tools, free for the taking, but no one seemed to know about them.

Did I Achieve My Memory Goals?

I had two major goals.

  • To memorize entire books by heart, e.g., a book of the Bible.

  • To remember the main points of what I read.

Have I achieved these goals? Yes and no.

Yes, because it turns out that both of these tasks are actually quite simple. I started out by using lots of techniques to memorize, and I’ve been gradually paring them down until it’s almost absurdly simple.

You can learn how to memorize texts by reading this series of selections from my book,, Christmas by Heart. These articles lay out a simple approach for learning a little bit of a text every day.

Longer texts might need a few additional techniques (emphasis on might). I’m planning a book on memorizing the Gospel of Mark that includes these extra techniques.

The Secret of Remembering What You Read

What about remembering the main points of what you read? It’s a big secret, but you can have it for free. Ready?

Think about it.

Seriously. Think about what you read.

Sure, there are different ways to do this, from mind maps to journalling to conversation to Anki cards. Each has different advantages.

But remembering is so much less about techniques than I thought it was. Years ago, when I brooded over my bookshelves, flogging myself for amnesia and retroactively wasted time, what was I actually thinking about? What I’d read? No!

I was thinking about me. My insecurities. My smart self-image dissolving before my eyes.

Of course I couldn’t remember what I’d read. I was too busy worrying about why I couldn’t remember it.

But last week, I finally read Blink, my Malcom Gladwell. (At the library, yesterday’s bestsellers are always checked in.) As in The Tipping Point, Gladwell darts all over the space-time continuum, from a wily general in Vietnam to a female trombone player auditioning for the Munich orchestra. It’s a crazy, fun book, and I read it with a blissful lack of any memory techniques whatsoever.

The next morning, I decided to try something new for my thinking half hour. I tried to write everything I could remember about Blink. Generally, if I reflect on a book, I can easily digress for a half hour on one or two points. But since Blink teems with anecdotes and details, I wanted to see how many I could remember.

Not much.

At first.

The Memory Magic of Waiting

But I waited, and thought. And after a long, awkward internal pause, things came back to me. At first, only one or two. But as I followed those threads into the labyrinth, I remembered more and more. I wrote and wrote and wrote, way past the half hour, and could have written more. All without a single glance at the book.

Now, this was the day after. If I don’t think about these things with some kind of spaced repetition, most will gradually fade.

But I’m amazed at how much I could remember just by waiting through the pause. I just needed to give myself time. I needed to forget my anxiety and wait.

Our brains are amazing, but unlike computers (or rather, very much like computers) they’re not always instant. Sure, we hate when the computer hesitates and we get the hourglass. (That’s a fascinating cultural choice, isn’t it, that we see a symbol for Time at the precise moment we hate waiting? Although Linux doesn’t use the hourglass much. I’m not even sure Windows does any more.) But we’re still willing to wait for our computers, because we trust that it will finish the task at hand. Maybe I’ll try extending the same courtesy to my own brain.

Have I achieved the goal of “remembering everything I read”? Of course not. But I’ve discovered that it basically comes down to thinking. I love the intricacies of custom Anki decks as much as the next geek, but for high-level thought, they may be more distracting than helpful.

Instead, I face a deeper challenge: making time to think. Going over what I’ve read, in a way that doesn’t make me feel like a test.

Of course, I wouldn’t bring this up unless I had a new, geeky idea about how to do just this. But I’ll save that for another post.

Now What?

I’ve learned a lot in the last few weeks, and I want to start writing here again and share it with you.

At the same time, I’ve realized that the best way for me to make time to think and remember is to write about what I’m actually reading, not about how to remember it. So, I’m deciding whether it will be relevant and helpful to chronicle my intellectual journeys here, or if readers like yourself would be happier if I started up my personal blog again at Bill Powell Is Alive. Your interest in remembering doesn’t necessarily extend to what I’m remembering.

I’ve also realized that I can’t commit to an article every day here any more. For now, I’m going to scale back to “at least once a week”.

That being said, I also need to try doing actual “blog posts” — you know, a paragraph or two with a link to something interesting. Everyone else does it, right? It’s a big Internet out there, and I have a bad habit of thinking that I can’t tell you about anything without doing a full-scale essay. Which leads to taking a long, unannounced Christmas break.

So, one real article a week, with a possible flurry of blog posts in between. How’s that sound?

Learning texts by heart is amazing, but I’ve got that pretty much solved (though I’m always open to suggestions). Going forward, I’ll mainly focus on the nebulous but near-universal desire to remember all this fascinating stuff we read. Thanks for joining me!

How to Remember Verses For the Rest of Your Life

When you first learn verses by heart, it feels like you'll never forget them. But if you don't renew these verses every so often, they'll slowly fade away. Here's how to remember these verses for the rest of your life.

So — you’ve done it. You’ve memorized more than you ever thought possible. Verse by verse, you’ve laid up texts like treasures. Congratulations.

One task remains. Keep these treasures from slipping away.

Repeat Every Day for Two Weeks

When you learn the last verse of a story, you’re almost ready to stop saying the whole story every day. But to make sure you’ve learned the last few verses well, keep saying the whole story every day for about another two weeks.

Two weeks is an estimate. We could try to work out the most efficient reviews possible, but that would mean a complex schedule. Let’s keep this simple. Say the whole story every day for two more weeks. Polish any rough spots.

Then, Repeat Once a Month

After those two weeks, get out your calendar for the next year. Mark one day each month (perhaps Sunday) to recite this story.

For instance, if you learned the Christmas story from Luke, write “Lk 2a”. (You learned the first half of chapter 2.)

Once a month will be more often than you need. But it’s easy to schedule.

If you ever get shaky on a story, simply repeat it every day until you’re confident again. When you’ve polished your memory, you can wait and say the story again at your next monthly recitation.

Then, Enjoy Spaced Repetition

Next year, you can probably say the stories every three months. After that, once or twice a year should be plenty.

That’s how spaced repetition works. Once you’ve done many early repetitions, you can wait longer and longer as time goes on.

With a few well-timed renewals, you’ll remember these words for the rest of your life.

How to Pray the Bible Like the Ancient Christians With “Lectio Divina”

So what do you _do_ with all these Bible verses you learn by heart? Unless your interest is purely academic, you probably want to get closer to God. Here's an ancient, yet gentle, approach to praying through the Scriptures: _lectio divina_.

Lectio divina is one of those phrases you can toss around for decades without ever realizing that you don’t actually know what it means. For years, I only knew that lectio divina was how monks and nuns used to pray the Scriptures. They would “ruminate” on the same text, like a cow (i.e., a ruminant) chewing a cud. Somehow, this appetizing metaphor failed to inspire further research.

Plus, I’ve had some bad experiences with the “professional” approach to spiritual growth. Whenever someone starts outlining How to Pray Like a Master in Five Incredibly Difficult Steps, I get nervous. I think of the apostles asking Jesus how to pray, and getting a short, simple answer that consisted mainly of the Our Father.

But now I’m excited. I’ve found this article that explains lectio divina as an ancient, gentle way of letting the Bible lead you into God’s presence. If you want to learn the Scripture by heart, you owe it to yourself to read this.

It’s longer than the average blog, so if you’re intimidated, skip down to “Choose a text of the Scriptures” for the how-to. Read this first.

But if you have time, the earlier discussion is worth a read. Especially his discussion of how “contemplation” is a gift, not a goal:

In ancient times contemplation was not regarded as a goal to be achieved through some method of prayer, but was simply accepted with gratitude as God’s recurring gift….

How different this ancient understanding is from our modern approach! Instead of recognizing that we all gently oscillate back and forth between spiritual activity and receptivity, between practice and contemplation, we today tend to set contemplation before ourselves as a goal — something we imagine we can achieve through some spiritual technique. We must be willing to sacrifice our “goal-oriented” approach if we are to practice lectio divina, because lectio divina has no other goal than spending time with God through the medium of His word…. Lectio divina teaches us to savor and delight in all the different flavors of God’s presence…

After you read it, let me know what you think. Do you already find that these verses lead you easily to prayer? Or do you glimpse a refreshing possibility here?

“Accepting the Embrace of God: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina” by Luke Dysinger, O.S.B.

Remember What You Love — Share It

Maybe memory work is this simple: you remember what you love. But if you're afraid to talk about it, you might start to forget it.

When I try to convince doubters that ordinary memories are actually amazing, I use examples like:

  • baseball nuts who can remember hundreds of games

  • movie buffs who can quote way too many scenes

  • manic fans who know the words to every song

But you can also detect an underlying irony. Though I celebrate these feats, I also imply that they suggest a certain mental imbalance. I distance myself. Enthusiasm is embarrassing.

Or is it?

When we let enthusiasm embarrass us, we cripple our memories. Actually, we cripple our lives.

We can’t live without loving something, whether we’re washing the wounds of the homeless or staying up late binging on Netflix. So why are we so easily embarrassed? Why do I turn down my (obscure) music at a stoplight, even though I’m surrounded by strangers?

It would be easy to insert an undigested chunk of “Be Yourself” sermonizing here (thus demonstrating my excellent memory for 1980s television). But the truth is more complicated.

We want to share our enthusiasms. Whether you consider this a herd instinct or the impulse to love (or both), the desire to share our enthusiasms is basic to being human.

For most of human history, people lived in tribes and villages. Chesterton once said that a single modern man carries more conflicting thoughts within him than an entire ancient tribe. (At least, I think he did. I can’t remember where.)

Modern civilization, especially in America, is a unique collision of both extreme isolation and extreme freedom to collect your personal smorgasboard of subcultures. You can spend hours a day in passionate online arguments about topics that would humiliate you at a block party.

Actually, do people still have block parties? What do they talk about? It takes a hurricane to get us to talk about the weather.

I’m generalizing, of course. My wife’s parents could get upended in a snow drift, and they would still start a pleasant conversation with the tow guy. Even more dramatically, they’ve been known to speak at length with passing dogwalkers.

However, even then, we rarely find out that the dogwalker is obsessed with film photography or gingerbread sculpture or learning Spanish or memorizing entire books of the Bible.

It takes a special kind of person to share an enthusiasm before they’re sure that the whole room feels the same way. Most of us would much rather be thought boring than weird. Boring people get invited back. (Or do they?)

When we make a habit of smothering our enthusiasm, we can’t expect to summon it so easily on command. Inevitably, we question it ourselves. We are houses divided.

And then we wonder why we forget things.

I’m slowly becoming convinced that memory has much more to do with moods than mnemonics. Yes, we can learn to improve our concentration, our perception, and our techniques. It takes practice to see clearly.

But perfecting memory techniques is like adding features to your car. Sure, they’re great. But at the end of the day, are you driving your car — or pushing it?

Enthusiasm should be the engine that drives our growing memory. What we love, we think about. And talk about.

It’s hard to love on your own. If you’re learning in isolation, the best way to improve your memory might be to find a kindred spirit to talk with. Join a forum. Go to a conference. Start a club. You might even risk mentioning it to your “normal” friends.

Open the windows and let in the sun, before your enthusiasm quietly withers.

What do you think? Do you get a chance to talk about your hobbies and passions? Or do you usually worry that your favorite topics would humiliate you in real life?

A Beautiful, Old, Oral Translation

In _Books by Heart_, we learn a quirky old Bible translation. It can get a bit arcane. But it also offers some surprising hidden features.

Why Use an Old Translation?

In case you haven’t noticed, the translation you’re memorizing is … old. “Thees” and “thous” are liberally sprinkled throughout sentences that feel rather Shakespearean.

The language seems strange to our ears. The rhythms are different. Occasionally, a word is completely foreign.

The reasons are simple. This is the Douay-Rheims Challoner translation, and it was originally composed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, then heavily revised in the eighteenth century. That’s old. To our modern ears, the DRC is extremely similar to the more well-known King James Bible, also from the seventeenth century.

You’re almost certainly hearing a different, modern translation every Sunday at church. So why would I use this version?

Freedom

First, because this version is in the public domain.

I don’t see the point of memorizing anything under copyright. We memorize to recreate, remix, reuse. Copyright shackles this creativity.

True, you probably wouldn’t get sued for repeating a copyrighted translation to your children. But freedom matters, and it begins in theory.

Almost all contemporary translations of the Bible are under copyright. Open any devotional book, and the small print will include a note explaining that the Bible verses are quoted with permission.

I appreciate the tremendous effort and expense that goes into translation. This is not the place to tackle the logistics of both claiming a text is Divine Revelation and then putting it under copyright. It’s complicated.

Fortunately, a translation in the public domain neatly sidesteps all this. The public domain is free.

Oral Rhythms

But the age of the DRC also offers a surprise side benefit: oral rhythms.

In his major work Orality and Literacy, Walter J. Ong compares a passage from the Douay Old Testament (the seventeenth century version) to the same passage from the contemporary New American Bible.

We might think the Douay is different simply because it’s “old”, and not analyze any further. But Ong shows that the Douay is oral, “produced in a culture with a still massive oral residue.”

This is huge.

Bible rhythms are critical to moving beyond reading, into speaking these verses. And now we find that this quaint, arcane translation is actually better suited to oral recitation than almost all contemporary translations.

In my memorizing, I’ve found two main aspects of the DRC that distracted me at first, but turned out to be helpful oral features.

The Opening “And”

Did your teacher ever tell you not to begin a sentence with “And”? Have you noticed that practically every other verse you’ve learned so far begins with “And”? Why the difference?

As Ong explains, the use of “And” is oral. Think about how you tell a story. You naturally say, “We did this. And then we did this. Oh, and then that happened.” We use those connecting words in the rhythm of speech.

But when we write, we feel we have to edit out that part of the natural speech rhythm. Modern Bible translations use all sorts of variations on the opening “And”, even though in the original Greek, it’s basically the same word or two over and over again. These modern translations are meant to be read, not spoken and heard.

The older translation can take getting used to. But pick up a modern Bible, and read the verses you’ve learned so far out loud. Now say your DRC verses again. Can you hear how all those repetitions of “And” sound more like natural speech?

Repetition

This leads to a larger difference between oral and written culture: repetition. Your teacher probably also taught you not to keep repeating the same word. If your character is sad at the beginning of the paragraph, he can’t be sad again for awhile. He has to be wistful or depressed or downcast — out comes the thesaurus.

This advice is problematic, even for writing. For speech, it’s fatal. Repetition is essential. Think about good speeches, or even commercials. They always repeat the essential points. Commercials cram the company name as many times into thirty seconds as is humanly possible. They say the phone number at least twice, if not three or four times. Repetition makes you remember.

Repetition can also build emotion, as the same word acquires stronger and stronger meaning, building like a wave.

So when you see words or phrases repeated in the DRC, try not to mentally filter them out. When you speak them, the repetition will help you remember, and help you feel the rhythms.

What About Accuracy?

Yes, biblical scholarship has advanced since the eighteenth century. The DRC has the special disadvantage of being a “translation of a translation,” since it’s based on the Latin Vulgate (although they did consult the original Hebrew and Greek texts). Some spots are certainly less accurate than a contemporary translation.

However, translation isn’t an exact science. For the stories we’re learning, the differences from contemporary translations are more a matter of language than actual “errors”.

Besides, don’t forget the oral rhythms. What we lose in textual accuracy with the DRC, we gain back in faithfulness to oral rhythms. As I mentioned, in the Greek, all those sentences really do begin with a word similar to “And”.

Arcane Language

The arcane language can help or hinder. In many passages, I find the old language to have a force and beauty that seems lost in modern translations.

In other places, the sentence construction, or even the vocabulary, is just too foreign for me. I find myself adjusting the phrasing, as the forces of mental gravity tug the phrases into shapes more consistent with my internal laws of linguistic physics.

But as I said earlier, it’s worth the effort to learn the text perfectly. Unless you want to mark the text with your edits, so you can see them, you should learn the text as it is written.

Could You Memorize a Modern Translation?

If you truly dislike this translation, you can always use the verse schedule and follow along in your own Bible. You’ll face a few challenges:

  • A modern Bible will cram everything into paragraph blocks, so you’ll lose the critical visual reminders of rhythm that I have in this book. Consider typing out the verses and breaking them into rhythmic lines.

  • But don’t share what you’ve typed with anyone, because a modern translation is probably under copyright. (Though a few are freely licensed.)

  • Stay open to the DRC. You may find that what a modern translation gives you in easier words, it takes back in the more “bookish” rhythms.

Enjoy the DRC

I hope I’ve made the quirks of this translation a bit less mysterious. The DRC does take some getting used to.

The translation in this book is old, but the oral rhythms make it easier to remember than modern translations.

I have a dream to learn the original languages and make a new, freely licensed translation that uses modern language but is steeped in rhythms. Until then, the oral overtones in this translation make it a great choice for learning these stories by heart.

Think, Don’t Memorize

Stop "memorizing"! Instead, _think_. Thinking is much more fun, and it actually works.

Don’t Waste Time “Memorizing”

I wasted a lot of time … a lot … trying to memorize Bible verses as “efficiently” as I could. I assumed that I wouldn’t really think about the verses until after I’d memorized them.

This is precisely backwards. You start thinking about the verses right away, as soon as you read them. That’s why we have books, to help us think. And you wean yourself off the training wheels of the book by thinking, by using these methods to help you think.

Yes, it’s grand when you can think so well that you no longer need the book. But the worth of doing all this depends entirely on the quality of your thoughts. You’re not a hard drive. You’re a thinker.

Don’t think you need to “memorize” these verses first before you begin to enjoy new and exciting thoughts. You’re already thinking.

Renewing Is Its Own Reward

I mentioned memorizing “efficiently”. I used to think that “efficiency” meant “getting it over with as soon as possible.”

Now I understand that, in memorization, “efficiency” means focusing on the methods that help you think.

Why does everyone hate rote repetition? Because it doesn’t engage your thoughts. It feels like slave labor. You repeat words until you can’t stand them any more. A few months later, if you don’t renew them, you forget them anyway.

True, our time is limited. We have other responsibilities and desires besides learning the Christmas stories by heart. It is sensible to find “efficient” ways to memorize.

But when we use these methods, when we come to those times for saying verses, we need to enter that time as its own reward.

Learning these verses means that you have special times throughout the day when you think about Christmas. Enjoy them.

Don’t Watch the Clock

Most of the skills I’m teaching you are straightforward. You can learn to follow a sequence of simple steps.

But imagination is open-ended. One verse may instantly transport you to a vivid scene. With another, you may have to mull over it for several minutes.

I know I said that you only need to spend about fifteen minutes a day on this. But don’t watch the clock. If you take an extra five or ten minutes to imagine well, good for you! Don’t rush!

Rushing Wastes Time

If we rush, we’re telling ourselves that this is just gruntwork. We’re saying that we’re not really doing anything worthwhile, that we’re simply paying in installments for a car we’ll eventually get to drive.

This is sad. Instead of enjoying the time, instead of savoring the delights of imagination, we’re snapping on our own shackles. We’re making a little more of our day into dead, grumpy, time.

Even worse, we’re also messing up our memorization. Rushing simply doesn’t work.

Memorizing is a complete experience. You’re connecting, remember? These verses will connect to everything that’s happening to you while you think about them — including your emotions. If you always resent the time you spend on verses … how much do you expect your mind to enjoy revisiting these memories? How strong do you think these memories will be?

“Saving time” by rushing only wastes all of it.

Renewing rewards you.

Rushing wastes your time.

Renew, Don’t Review

Have you noticed that I try to say “renew” instead of “review”? Switching these words has been a paradigm shift for me.

“Review” conjures up all the worst parts of school:

  • You’re forced to do it. It’s a chore.

  • You review for the sake of some quiz or test, not the material itself.

  • You’re rehashing old stuff, in the same boring way.

But “renewing” feels totally different. We renew because we want to. You renew a friendship by calling up someone you love. You renew your strength every time you eat.

And renewing is creative. Another paradox: we memorize the same words to lead us to new thoughts. Yes, we’re also renewing and strengthening the thoughts and connections we’ve already made. But you don’t need to stop there. Renewing should be creative.

Renewing your memories is an act of creativity. You can think new thoughts every time you touch these verses.

Renewing is its own reward.

So don’t let Christmas craziness make you rush. Learn to savor your time with these verses.

Renewing Your Memories Is Its Own Reward

Don't rush through saying your verses. Renewing your verses is its own reward, because when you renew, you _think_.

As you learn verses by heart, it’s extremely tempting to rush through recitations. But when we rush, we defeat the whole purpose of learning verses in the first place.

Think about it. Why did you decide to learn the stories of Christmas?

It’s not a rhetorical question. Only you can say.

I do know that your goal includes knowing these verses by heart. But here’s the interesting part. You want to know these verses so you can think with them, right? This isn’t just a checkbox on a list of a thousand things to do before you die. You want to weave these words into your mind, so that your mind will move in new thoughts, thoughts you’d otherwise never have.

You may have other goals, too, like sharing the verses with your children or congregation. But whether you’re interested in study or prayer (or both), I’m almost certain that you’re hoping to think differently than you did before you started.

Here’s the surprise. You’re already thinking differently. Every time you renew these verses, you’re thinking about them.

These new thoughts are not some distant goal that can only come when you’ve done the gruntwork of learning the verses. No. You’ve already arrived — as long as you don’t rush.

Baking Cookies vs. Riding a Bike

This feels too abstract. Time to get concrete. Since it’s Christmas time, that means more cookies.

Think about making cookies. You do a whole bunch of weird rituals — breaking eggs, measuring pulverized grains, mixing in distilled herbs — and you spread this gooey concoction onto a metal plate and put it into an oven. It’s all quite bizarre. But at the end, if the magic works, you get to eat cookies.

Eating cookies is nothing like baking cookies. The two processes differ entirely. Most of us enjoy eating cookies. But enjoying the baking can be an acquired taste. Some of us endure baking, for the sake of the cookies at the end. And although it is a splendid ideal to find the pleasure in everything, some pleasures are easier to find than others.

Many goals in life share this same dynamic. If you want cookies, you have to bake them. If you want a house, you have to build it. If you want money, you have to work for it. If you’re lucky, you hunt for work you’ll enjoy. But the work is still different than the mysterious magic of money.

This dynamic of work-then-reward gets burned into our brain. But not everything is like this.

Think about riding a bike. When you first get onto a bike, you wobble and struggle and probably fall. But even so, you roll a few feet. You are practicing the same process that you hope to achieve.

One day, you’ll ride so well that these early attempts will feel like another lifetime. And yet, you’re already biking.

You can see this with kids. They don’t say, “I want to go practice riding my bike, so that one day I can actually ride my bike.” They want to ride their bikes.

You’re Already Thinking

If you’re like me, you were first drawn to memorization as an exotic, foreign skill. You thought it would be like baking cookies. You would do all these arcane tricks, and then — ta-da! — you would relish the completely unrelated result.

If so, here’s the good news. Verses are like riding a bike. You’re already thinking.

All the methods I’m showing you — Bible rhythms, daily renewal, imagining — are simply different ways to think about these verses.

They aren’t like baking, where you’re not even supposed to taste the batter. You’re already on the bike, already moving, already thinking.

You may have started out with a focus on memorizing, on the magic of getting the words perfect. That’s still a worthy goal.

But memorizing is the fruit of thinking. Not the other way around.

Different Ways to Recite Bible Verses

When you're learning Bible verses by heart, how you say them makes a big difference. But there's no one "best" way. Different kinds of recitation strengthen different kinds of memories.

By now, you’ve recited these verses in several ways.

  • You’ve read them slowly, learning them for the first time, and using all the methods for speaking out, taking in, and imagining.

  • You’ve reread them over the first few days, as you filled in the gaps of your memory.

  • You’ve gradually tried to say them without looking. When you’ve come to a tough patch, you’ve checked the words, to solidify your memory.

    Sometimes I call this “rinsing”. It feels like I’m slowly washing away the mud of my muddled forgetting, getting to the crystal clear memory beneath.

  • If you’ve been speaking the verses to friends or family members, you’re already telling the verses as stories. No matter how much expression you use by yourself, speaking to others can bring out more. If you haven’t told the verses to anyone yet, try it! Or at least, plan on trying it when you feel you’ve learned enough verses to tell a complete story.

By now, you may be able to say the first few verses perfectly. If so, try a new way to recite them: fast. I’ve read more than one memorizer recommend that you say the words as quickly as you can.

Why fast? For one thing, it’s different. Different methods help strengthen your memories.

In my case, I find that speed can clear away some unnecessary hesitations. The extra effort helps me focus. I know these verses better than I think I do.

I used to think that a fast recitation was incompatible with imagining. But no matter how fast you can talk, you can imagine faster.

You do have to be careful about speaking fast. We don’t want to slip into a mindset of rushing, where you’re trying to minimize your verse time as a “necessary evil.” And that leads us nicely to tomorrow’s topic: the hazards of rushing.

Learn Bible Verses as Stories

If you want to learn the Bible by heart, focus on _stories_, not the chapter and verse. Stories are so much more easy, natural, and interesting.

Solitary verses are disconnected. A story connects several verses into a single, memorable unit.

Gospels as Stories

We’re used to dividing the Bible into chapters and verses. But nobody applied this system to the Gospels until centuries after they were written. When people first heard the Gospels, they heard a series of stories.

Today, biblical storytellers have brought back this focus on the Gospels as stories. Scholars such as David Rhoads and Tom Boomershine have written books with titles like Mark As Story and Story Journey. There’s even a Network of Biblical Storytellers. When they meet, the festivities include tellings of whole books of the Bible.

The French priest Marcel Jousse taught me to find the Bible rhythms. The biblical storytellers taught me to find the Bible stories. When I first started memorizing Scripture, I still focused on chapters and verses. Now I understand that the earlier unit of story is far more natural, memorable, and enjoyable.

The word “story” here is broader than what we usually mean (a tale with a protagonist and a beginning, middle, and end). In this context, a “story” is basically a series of verses that hang naturally together. It could be the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus in John chapter 3, or the first section of the Sermon on the Mount.

Remembering Stories

How do you divide verses into stories? There are no hard and fast rules. For example, if you’re learning the Christmas verses from Luke and Matthew, you could simply have two stories:

  • The Christmas story from Luke, where Jesus is born in a stable, and the angels appear to the shepherds.

  • The Christmas story from Matthew, where the Magi come, Herod kills the Holy Innocents, and the Holy Family flees to Egypt, then returns after Herod’s death.

You could also break these into smaller “stories”, if you liked.

At the beginning, the story divisions don’t really matter, because you repeat the whole thing each day.

Later, when you use spaced repetition to manage large amounts of material, you can recite particular stories each day. You don’t have to keep reciting everything you’ve ever learned.

You can also recite entire chapters. Most chapter breaks seem to come at the end of a story. The question hinges on how much you prefer to recite at one time.

You might think that single verses are easier to remember than whole stories. Verses are so much shorter! If you only wanted to remember one verse, this would be true. But since you’re learning many verses, you’ll find that they naturally snap together into stories.

How to Craft a Daily Memory Routine

Learning these verses depends on **daily time**. It doesn't take much time, but it does need to be done every day. Here's how to craft a daily memory routine that works. (Includes a special printable chart to track your progress).

When you set up a daily verse routine, you face two obstacles:

  • Finding time to say the verses

  • Making it a habit (actually saying them)

Finding Time to Recite

Can you say these verses while you’re doing something else? That’s the first place to look, because you won’t even have to change your schedule.

Do you already take a walk every day? Or have a time when you read and relax? Or put your kids to bed? How about morning or evening prayer?

Learning and reciting verses won’t merely “fit” into these slots. These new habits improve them.

For instance, prayer. With a little thought, learning and reciting verses can easily become a prayer.

Bedtime Stories

If you have kids, get ready for major synergy.

When I put my kids to bed, I read them their bedtime stories, and then I say some verses. If I had replaced the stories with verses, there might have been a mutiny. But they’re perfectly happy to get the verses as extra stories.

By now, if I don’t say verses, they’re disappointed. Even better, they’ve learned huge chunks of my verses just by listening. When I hesitate, they sometimes pipe right up.

In fact, they often want to interrupt and ask questions. We can wind up launching into a mini-seminar. If I tried to schedule “Bible discussion time” during the day, I could easily waste a lot of effort trying to pry out some interest. But because it’s bedtime, and because when Papa leaves, that’s it for the day, suddenly all this Scriptural interest blossoms unbidden. If anything, I have to ask them to stop interrupting.

You’re going to spend many hours saying the Christmas stories out loud. With a little planning, you can make your efforts enrich your family’s lives in a big way.

Making a Habit

Habit is crucial. You’ve probably heard that it takes around three weeks to form a new habit.

If you’re doing this during Advent, it’s a busy time to be taking on a new habit. At the same time, our heads are full of Christmas, so that will help you keep saying Christmas verses.

Hook to Your Existing Habits

The easiest way to start a new habit is to hook it to something you already do every day. For instance:

  • Getting up and going to bed
  • Breakfast, lunch, and dinner
  • Morning and/or evening prayer
  • Putting the kids to bed

Can you say these verses when you first get up, and right before you go to bed? How about before or after a meal? And again, if you already pray every day, definitely consider including a recitation.

A Simple Daily Routine
  • When you wake up, say all your verses, and learn your new verse.

  • Before or after each meal, start at your earliest “shaky” verse, and recite up through your new verse.

  • In the evening, after your prayers (or after reading your kids’ bedtime story), say all your verses.

Get Someone to Pester You

You should also get someone to pester you. The grownup word for this is “accountability”. But Jesus didn’t tell any parables about “accountability.” He did tell a parable about a widow driving an unjust judge crazy.

In my case, again, the kids take care of this. “Do you have any verses tonight, Papa?” In that special kid voice that is hopeful, hesitant, and infuriatingly irresistible. Sometimes.

Track Your Progress Like Seinfeld

Remember Jerry Seinfeld? Supposedly, an aspiring comedian once asked him the secret to success. And according to the story, Seinfeld told him that:

  • A comedian needs to be as funny as possible.

  • The only way to get funnier is to practice writing jokes.

  • So you need to write jokes every day.

  • And the best way to make sure you do this every day is a huge chart on your wall, with a year’s worth of daily boxes.

  • Every day, if you write your jokes, you put an “X” in the box.

  • Pretty soon, you have a chain of X’s. Success, according to Seinfeld, is simple. “Don’t break the chain!”

I’ve tried this “Seinfeld chart,” and let me tell you, it’s the most effective habit-building tool I’ve ever seen.

From where I write, I can glance over and see my charts, one for each habit I’m trying to form or maintain. (For instance, writing this book.) Look at all those X’s! Pow! Instant affirmation doesn’t get any sweeter. All those X’s are things I’ve actually done, not goals or “To Do” items.

So use a chart. No excuses. If you’re learning verses this Advent, I’ve made a free chart for you. Download it, print it off, and tape it somewhere prominent. Put a marker, preferably bright red, within arm’s reach of where you hang it. Not a pencil. You want to see these marks from across the room.

And don’t just use that parish monthly calendar you get for free. It’s critical to see several months at once.

For other memory projects, see this longer article about the “Seinfeld chart”.

Daily Recitation Times + Chart = Habit

We’ve boiled this new habit down into two steps:

  • Plan precisely when you’re going to say your verses each day. Don’t bother about times, focus on hooks. Which daily habits will you hook your verses to?

  • Download the daily “Seinfeld chart”. (Disclaimer: No, this chart is not officially endorsed by or associated with Seinfeld in any way.) Tape the chart to the wall in a place where you can easily see and mark it.

With your daily routine planned, and a chart to track your progress, you’ll soon find you have a habit.

Your New Daily Verse Routine

Learning verses by heart only takes a little time each day, but you do need to take that time. Here's a simple routine that will keep you on track.

Spaced Repetition and “Smart” Intervals

If we were going to memorize a longer text, such as an entire Gospel, I would teach you about “spaced repetition” and “smart intervals”. In spaced repetition, you take advantage of how the brain works to time your reviews as efficiently as possible.

The basic idea is simple. You repeat material many times at the beginning. Then, you slowly leave more and more space between your repetitions. It’s a brilliant system for keeping large amounts of material fresh.

A Simpler Method: Repeat Everything Every Day

However, spaced repetition also requires a certain amount of planning. I’ll explain that method in upcoming books which involve memorizing more material. For these stories, the overhead isn’t worth it.

Instead, let’s keep things simple. Every day, at least twice, recite all the verses you’ve learned so far. Say them together, as a series of stories.

Every day, at least twice, recite all the verses you’ve learned so far. Say them together, as a series of stories.

Don’t worry, you won’t have to do this forever. But for now, since we’re “only” learning about a chapter’s worth of verses, reciting the whole thing is simple, and it doesn’t take much time.

At the end of the book, I’ll tell you how to maintain these verses into the future. You can remember them forever without having to say them every day.

Say Recent Verses More Often If Needed

Twice a day should be enough for everything you’ve learned so far. But your newer verses may need a couple more renewals. It depends on the verse.

Every day, the first step is to say all the verses you’ve already learned. As you get to the end, you’ll find out which verses need extra work. Study those verses again, and plan on giving those verses three or four extra recitations throughout the day.

Each extra recitation will only take a minute or two, but it will make all the difference. You’ll start with the earliest “shaky” verse that you had trouble with, and recite through to the today’s new verse. Easy.

Your Daily Verse Routine

  • First, in the morning, say all the verses you’ve already learned.

  • If any verses are “shaky”, refresh your memory from the book. Note the earliest “shaky” verse that you have trouble with.

  • Then, study today’s new verse. Repeat the new verse several times as you learn it.

  • Every few hours, start with the earliest “shaky” verse, and recite straight through to your new verse. Do this three or four times altogether.

  • Later in the day, say all the verses again. (They make an ideal extra bedtime story.)

What do you think? Do you use a different routine? Share it in the comments!

Imagining Brings Delight

As you learn verses by heart, **connect** them with your **experiences**. These connections can bring intense, creative **delight**.

Learning is ultimately about connecting. When you learn new verses, you’ll get the most out of them if you connect them to what you already know.

Not just “book learning,” but your actual life experiences. Your own experiences are incredibly vivid. The word vivid comes from the Latin word for “life”. Your experiences are your life. The more you connect the verses you learn to your own experience, the more you literally make them come to life.

Let’s take a simple example. Read this sentence:

John ate a cookie.

Normally, this sentence would not detain us. “John” is probably a little boy. And we all know what eating a cookie is. This kind of filler clogs the arteries of many a mediocre bedtime story.

But suppose I actually walked into the room with a platter of cookies. Your favorite kind. Freshly baked.

In real life, there’s nothing boring about a platter of fresh cookies. It doesn’t matter that this incident isn’t movie material. It doesn’t matter that you’ve already eaten thousands of cookies over the course of your lifetime. When you actually smell your favorite kind of cookie, and take that bite … life is good.

Now here’s the crazy part. As you read this, is your mouth actually watering? In a way, you just did eat a cookie.

Don’t worry, this isn’t The Matrix. I’m not trying to blur the crucial distinction between imagination and real life. But I am trying to show you how closely they intertwine. Your real life is far more available to you, as memories, than you realize.

You can sit here and experience eating your favorite kind of cookie. You can relive the smell, the taste, the warmth, the feel of the food in your fingers and your mouth.

(Maybe I should have eaten breakfast before I wrote this article.)

I keep saying “your favorite kind,” because that helps point you to specific experiences. We don’t sit down and eat the Platonic ideal of a cookie, like that poorly drawn character in the children’s book. We eat an oatmeal cookie, or a chocolate chip cookie, or a banana nut cookie, or a peanut butter cookie, or a gingerbread cookie, or a molasses cookie … they are each different. Unique. Precious.

You can only remember eating a specific kind of cookie. If you don’t know which cookie you’re eating, you’re still thinking abstract thoughts about eating cookies. You’re not smelling any warm cinnamon or tasting any peanut butter.

If you do succeed in remembering actual tastes and smells — you’ll know! It’s a jolt. You will feel these things again. It’s so different from abstract thought.

I’m afraid we need to wrap up this cookie meditation. But here’s the takeaway. If you wanted to, you could have relived all these delightful memories as soon as you read:

John ate a cookie.

“Unpacking” the Cookie

And you could go even further, beyond this sugar-free approach to enjoying Christmas treats.

If you have small children or grandchildren, you could remember how they look when you give them a dessert, how happy you are to make them happy.

You could think about how children enjoy food, with no fear or guilt. On the other hand, you could consider how this innocence has led to an epidemic of childhood obesity and diabetes (and Christmas doesn’t make things any easier).

You could find yourself musing on the balance between enjoyment and temperance, on the search for delight that does no harm … suddenly John is exploring a forest, making a snowman, feasting on grapes in the middle of winter …

I’ll stop my cookie exegesis. But sometimes I think this is the secret to why so much language in Scripture, and other ancient cultures, is so sparse and succinct. They had no TVs. No one did their imagining for them.

They didn’t need painstaking descriptions and telling details before they slowly began to imagine a real angel. You just said, “an angel of the Lord stood by them,” and their minds exploded into cinematic fireworks.

I can’t prove this, of course. But I’m fairly sure. Either way, we can think like that now.

And the delights of imagination are entirely unique. They are creative. What is creativity, anyway, but making new connections?

Move beyond identification to connect with your experiences. These connections can bring intense, creative delight.

Imagining Is a New Skill

Thinking takes work. For most of us, imagining is a new skill, and that means effort.

Our default response to reading is the easy route — identification. This is why we forget most of what we read. Identification is the great hazard of memorizing.

For instance, we read the first verse of the Christmas story in Luke:

And it came to pass
   that in those days
there went out a decree
   from Caesar Augustus
that the whole world
   should be enrolled.

And we think, “Oh, right, the decree. I know what decrees are. And Caesar Augustus. And the world. And that famous census. Identified. Done. What’s next? I’ve heard this story so many times. I wish something new and interesting would happen.”

This ordinary reading happens on a superficial level. We don’t imagine anything. We don’t think much at all, unless something happens to strike us.

And that’s fine. Ordinary reading is quite useful for ordinary purposes. It’s like walking through the forest — you don’t need to be aware of the unique contours of every tree. You just need to keep an eye out for berries (and bears).

Our minds are fantastically equipped to be constantly awash in seas of information, and attract only the essential bits. We excel at this. If we didn’t, we would starve to death trying to make breakfast.

Most of what you read doesn’t matter. Your mind plucks the essentials, and forgets the rest.

Now, however, you’re suddenly asking your mind to remember every word. This is a new skill.

You’re an aspiring artist. You’ve hauled your easel out into the forest, and you have to learn to look.

Like any new skill, deliberate imagining takes practice. You need to slow down and think. Branch out. What can these words lead you to? What can they connect to?

Imagining Is Connecting

Look again through my list of ways to think about the verses. Notice how they’re all connections.

You imagine the Magi gold by connecting this idea to the sensations of cool, heavy, gleaming metal.

You imagine the surprise and fear of the shepherds when the sky explodes into angels by connecting to your memories of your own emotions. You can actually feel those emotions, just by thinking like this.

We often think of memorizing as a special, arcane skill. But memorizing, like imagining, is ultimately connecting. You think, “I want to tell the story of when the angels visit the shepherds,” and that concept connects to both the actual words of the story and the vivid thoughts you’ve crafted.

Why do you forget things? Because you lose connections. The data doesn’t get erased, as if you’re a hard drive. The data gets lost. It sinks into the murky seas of your subconscious. That’s why you can forget someone’s name, but as soon as you hear it, you remember it. The name was in your head, but you couldn’t find it.

This leads to a powerful idea. When you connect the words of the verses to vivid thoughts like scenes, places, memories, and feelings, those connections don’t only help you experience the verses. They help you remember them.

Imagining is connecting.

Memorizing is also connecting.

What do you connect to? Your own experiences. You connect new material to what you already know.

5 Ways to Experience Verses You Learn

We don't learn verses by heart for a grade. We want to deepen our _experience_. Learn five ways to think about and imagine the verses you learn.

So far, in this series of articles on learning verses by heart, you’ve learned how to speak the verses out:

  • Speak loudly and slowly

  • With rhythm and expression

And also how to take the verses in:

  • See the words and phrases

  • Hear the words and phrases

  • Feel the rhythms

  • Feel the shapes of the words on your tongue

Today, you’ll learn five ways to experience the verses in your thoughts and imagination.

Move Through the Words into Thoughts

Imagining is both the simplest and the most mysterious aspect of learning these stories by heart.

It’s simple because, in theory, we all know how to imagine. At the very least, we dream every night.

And yet, the mystery of imagination sometimes bewilders me. Imagination is so personal. We hardly have the language to articulate what happens in our heads.

The obvious meaning for “imagination” is a mental image, like a picture or movie. But what we do with these verses can be much more complex.

Here’s the critical point: you want to move through the words into thoughts.

Move through the words into thoughts.

These thoughts can include:

  • scenes and sensations

  • places

  • feelings

  • memories

  • meaning

Scenes and Sensations

Obviously, whenever you can, you want to imagine the scene. What’s happening?

You can see images and hear sounds, like you’re watching a movie. But use your other senses too: taste, smell, touch.

You can experience any sensation you can remember. We hear songs “in our head”, but you can also smell the warm hay in the stable, and feel the cool, smooth Magi gold in your hand.

Places

Think of your sense of space, of a place opening around you. Your imagination, like the real world, is three-dimensional.

When you use your sense of space, you can put yourself into the scene. You can experience it as if it’s happening to you.

When the angels appear to the shepherds, don’t just see a tiny Christmas card, or an imaginary TV screen. Look up. Even if you’re in your bedroom, you can be in a field, at night, in the biting cold, craning back your neck. Far above you, the distant sky is overwhelmed by blazing creatures of light.

You can also ground your scenes in actual places that you know. Wrap the baby Jesus in newspapers, and lay him in a recycling bin in your shed. Then watch the Kings come across the yard.

Feelings

How does the scene make you feel? What about the people in the scene? Can you feel what they’re going through? Emotions can shock you with their intensity.

Memories

Has anything like this ever happened to you? Linking to a scene from your own life creates a powerful resonance.

Meaning

Not every verse describes a scene you can visualize. That’s fine. Abstract thought is important too. A verse can inspire a whole train of thought.

Some memory guides place a huge emphasis on visual memory, and I did so myself when I was starting out. I needed this emphasis — I found out my visual imagination was incredibly more powerful than I’d assumed. But not all thinking has to be visual.

These five kinds of thoughts only scratch the surface. You can think about these verses in as many ways as you can think.

Hear and Feel the Words You Learn

As you learn verses by heart, you want to _hear_ and even _feel_ what you say.

Hear the Words

You should physically hear yourself saying these verses.

When you say verses out loud, you’re literally talking to yourself.

We “talk to ourselves” all the time, but most of this conversation happens inside our heads. For memorizing, that silent monologue isn’t enough. You want to actually hear your own voice.

Hearing activates more parts of your mind and memory than the usual mental self-talk. Remember, the more ways you connect to these verses, the better you’ll remember them.

Feel the Rhythms

In an earlier article, we talked about speaking the rhythms in the Gospel. These rhythms can change your whole experience of these stories.

But the rhythms go beyond speaking. When you speak with rhythm, you hear the rhythms too. You even feel them. You can feel the pause, the tension, the resolution.

You don’t need to be constantly aware of these rhythms. Mostly, you sense them without realizing it. But sometimes, especially when you’re starting a new verse, or the passage is difficult, paying attention to the feel of these rhythms can help clarify the memory.

Feel the Shapes of the Words on Your Tongue and in Your Mouth

You can also feel the shapes of the words in your tongue and mouth.

Try it. Go to the full story at the back of the book, and read yesterday’s and today’s verses together three times.

  • First, as you would normally read aloud.

  • Second, as you learned to speak yesterday: loudly and slowly, with rhythm and expression.

  • Third, paying attention to forming each word with your tongue, lips, and mouth.

Did you feel the difference?

In the next article, we’ll talk about experiencing the words you speak.

See the Verse Clearly

You can mentally "photograph" the verses you want to learn by heart.

So far, in this Books by Heart series on how to remember verses, you’ve learned how to speak the verses out:

Today, you’ll begin to learn how to take the verses in as you speak them.

When you take verses in, you:

  • See the words and phrases

  • Hear the words and phrases

  • Feel the rhythms

  • Feel the shapes of the words on your tongue

Let’s start with seeing.

See the Words

The first step to taking in a verse is to see the words. This seems obvious. But when I say see, I mean intense attention.

How many words have you read and understood today? Thousands, probably. But how have you seen them? Right now, close your eyes, count to ten, and try to call up images of these pages.

What did you see? Anything? At best, you probably got a fleeting glimpse or two.

Does this mean you have a “bad” memory? No. Your mind did exactly what you’ve trained it to do.

It slurped the meaning from the words as quickly as possible. Why didn’t you keep mental snapshots of every page? For the same reason you didn’t keep the can the last time you opened some tuna. You didn’t need to.

But now you do. Now, you are going to train your mind to take mental snapshots of each verse.

That may sound impossible. But think of all the pristine mental images you can call up. (Corporate logo trivia, anyone?) Learning to capture verses simply takes practice and good technique.

“Photographing” Each Verse

  • Intend to see perfectly. Tell yourself that you can and will remember this verse exactly as you see it on the page or screen.

  • Look with intense attention. Normally, your gaze races down sentences. Instead, look as if you were looking at painting. You’re looking at these words as a unique visual image, not mere symbols.

  • Focus on details. Don’t try to “photograph” the entire verse at once. Look at it phrase by phrase. Notice the font, the spacing, the place on the page. All these little details seem to come together in our minds like the tiles of a mosaic.

  • As you try to recall the verse later, refresh your memory as needed. Look at the verse again, and fill in the gaps.

Over your first few recitations, you’ll remember some bits, but not others. Make the effort to remember. But if you don’t get it after a few seconds, look at the book. There’s no point in waiting. Get those missing mosaic tiles. Your goal is an effortless memory.

True, if you check too quickly, you may train yourself to always need the book. You may even trick yourself into thinking you can’t memorize at all. But this is a balance you’ll have to work out for yourself. Even if you only remember one or two more words each time, you’re moving in the right direction.

Be patient with yourself. This may be a brand new skill for you. If you have to keep checking, don’t worry. Gradually, you’ll learn how to see clearly.

The Context of the Story

As we work through a text, I show you one verse for each day. However, you will probably get better results if you don’t try to memorize the verse all alone.

Instead, learn each verse in its place in the full story.

Seeing the verse as part of the story, rather than alone on a screen, puts the verse into context. As you read and reread each verse, this unique context will help you remember.

View all the verses you’ve learned so far in the current Books by Heart project.

Ditch the “Reverential Monotone”

Why does everyone always read the Bible with less expression than a zombie suffering caffeine withdrawal? You'll never remember verses unless you let these words _live_.

A major secret to learning the Bible by heart is to unlock the rhythms of the text. But at first, speaking the Bible with rhythm may seem unnatural. Even disrespectful.

Why? Because we in the English-speaking world have this bizarre tradition of the reverential monotone.

Ditch the “Reverential Monotone”

Think about church. Unless you’re very lucky, your lector “proclaims” the readings with less expression than your GPS. You’d get more drama from R2D2.

Somehow, we’ve gotten the idea that the Bible needs a special voice: a dead monotone.

But what’s so reverent about a monotone? These words are alive, and so are you. A Bible is just a sacred suitcase to carry those words from Christ to you.

Sadly, the words had to have all the expression and intonation hacked off so they’d fit in the suitcase. Your job is to unpack them, and try to get them back to normal.

The monotone is not normal. The monotone is dead. When our cultural air is thick with the conviction that the Bible is a dead old distant book with nothing to offer, a monotone is the worst possible choice.

The monotone is also the worst possible choice for remembering.

Let the Words Live

Freeing the rhythms helps the words live. But you want to go even farther. You want to tell the story.

Think about telling a story to a friend. Or reading a story to a child. The expression comes naturally. It flows from what’s happening in the story.

So tell the story. Expression will come naturally. Ditch the “reverential monotone”. Let these words live.

Speak the Text With Rhythm

The Bible has rhythm! Unlocking these rhythms makes the verses both alive and stay in your mind.

Most Bibles typeset the verses as interminable columns of prose. But if you want to remember these verses, you need to unlock the hidden rhythms. Break the paragraphs into poetry.

In the original languages, these texts are more like poetry than prose. We can’t recapture all that poetry in English, but we can capture more than you think.

Rhythmic lines are so much easier to remember. Not only do you speak these rhythms, you also see them. Seeing the rhythms laid out on the page adds another layer of memory assistance.

Look again at today’s verse. You’re looking at one of the best-kept secrets about the Bible. The Bible has rhythm.

Oral Culture

The Bible was written in an oral culture, a culture that largely depended on the spoken word. Human speech has a natural, loose rhythm. In an oral culture, speakers make these rhythms even stronger.

They organize their thoughts into words and phrases that play off each other, back and forth, rising and falling. Their audiences expect these rhythms, listen for them, and remember them.

In our culture, we associate rhythm with entertainment: nursery rhymes, popular music, rap. Advertising jingles.

Our serious work avoids rhythms. Doctors don’t want to sound like Dr. Seuss.

But oral cultures depend on spoken rhythm for serious work. Jesus preached in rhythm. The Gospel writers composed with rhythm.

Free the “Verses” Back Into a “Poem”

You want to speak these verses with rhythm.

Almost every Bible translation imprisons these verses into long, solid columns of compressed text. But why do we call them verses? Don’t verses mean a poem?

Poems never translate well. Most rhythm, like rhyme, is lost in translation. But with the Bible, we can still find the back-and-forth rhythm of the phrases.

The first modern scholar I know of to unlock these Bible rhythms was Marcel Jousse, a French priest in the early twentieth century. In 1925, his book The Oral Style revealed that beneath the prose of the Gospels, even in translation, the phrases rise and fall with strong rhythms.

Back and Forth Rhythms

Let’s look again at our first verse, Luke 2:1. Normally, that verse would look like this:

And it came to pass that in those days there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled.

But I’ve freed these words into a more natural, back-and-forth rhythm:

And it came to pass
    that in those days
there went out a decree
    from Caesar Augustus
that the whole world
    should be enrolled.

Do you hear how the phrases interlock? The first phrase rises, creating tension. The second phrase falls, resolving the tension.

“And it came to pass … that in those days.”

“There went out a decree … from Caesar Augustus.”

Just as the phrases can combine into couplets, the couplets can combine into larger stanzas. The entire first couplet asks a question: What came to pass? The second couplet gives the answer: the decree of Augustus.

Speak With Rhythm

Every verse in this book has been set with rhythm. As you read, use the layout to help you see and speak these rhythms. You’ll see couplets and triplets.

The first line of this couplet rises, creating tension,
    The second line falls and resolves the tension.

The first line of this triplet rises, creating tension,
    The middle line begins to fall,
       But only the last line resolves the tension.

Sometimes, you’ll see a set of four lines. I’m not sure Jousse would approve of this. He only talked about groups of twos and threes. But sometimes, it seems to me that a line really “introduces” a triplet:

And someone says, in a rising tone,
    “I’m saying something that rises even further,”
       And only now does the tension begin to fall,
          And this third line completes it.

You May Find Better Rhythms

So what rules have I used to break up these verses into groups? Here’s the secret method: whatever sounds good.

Meaning, there isn’t any secret method. If you find a better rhythm for a cluster of verses, change it! And let me know!

Speak the Text Out Loud

When you're learning a text, you need to read it _out loud_. Obvious? Almost.

The first step in learning a text is to read it out loud. This sounds obvious, but we’ve been reading silently for our entire lives. That’s a lot of habit to overcome. These tips will help you avoid sliding back into silence.

Read the verses out loud:

  • loudly and slowly

  • with rhythm and expression

Loudly

How loud? Loud enough to hear yourself.

Don’t mumble. When you mumble, the words only happen inside your head.

You need to be loud enough to hear your own words, as if someone else were talking to you. This activates a whole different set of mental processes, and these lead to stronger memories.

One key to remembering is to activate as many different kinds of learning as possible. Each kind of learning has its own set of mental connections. The more connections you make, the stronger your memories.

Slowly and Clearly

Don’t rush! When you’re first learning new verses, speak slowly. Not painfully slow, but a little slower than you usually talk.

In normal speech, we slur past common words. Here, you want to pronounce every word clearly.

Form each word with your tongue, lips, and mouth.

When you can feel the “shapes” of the words, you get clarity. It’s like a muffled voice becoming clear.

You’ll be surprised how different your mouth feels when you pronounce clearly. You don’t need to be constantly aware of these sensations. That could get distracting. But they’re another layer of experiencing these words.

If you give some attention to shaping the words, especially when you’re first learning verses, it can help etch the words into your mind. These shapes help make words and phrases unique. The more unique they are, the better your mind can remember them.

So, speak these verses out loudly and slowly. In our next articles, we’ll talk more about rhythm and expression.

Learn Luke This Advent: Overview

The basic steps to learning the Christmas story from Luke this Advent.

Welcome to “Learn Luke this Advent”! This Advent, I’d like to help you learn the entire Christmas story from Luke, one verse at a time. You can see the first verse, Luke 2:1, in the block above this article.

Each day, you’ll also get a short memory lesson, adapted from my book, Christmas by Heart.

If you’re a regular reader of this memory blog, but you’re not doing this project, don’t worry. These memory articles are mostly geared towards helping you learn any text, not just Luke 2:1-20.

I’m going to post each new verse and lesson on the evening before the actual day. This way, you can check the computer before bed, if you like, rather than first thing in the morning.

Learning by Heart is Simple

You can boil down this whole memory technique to a few simple ideas:

  • Learn one verse each day.

  • Find the rhythms in the verses.

  • Say the verses out loud.

  • And say them often, at regular times:

    • In the morning and the evening, say all the verses you’ve learned so far, as stories.

    • Also, at each meal, say today’s new verse, to help strengthen this new memory.

By taking just a few minutes a day, in very short sessions, you can slowly write these stories in your heart. Word for word.

In later articles, we’re going to go into more detail, and learn some further techniques. But these are the basics. It’s important that today, on this first day, you get an overview of these simple steps. These steps are all you need to get started.

If you haven’t already seen them, here are two introductions:

Enjoy the journey! See you tomorrow.

Einstein Moonwalker Discovers Spaced Repetition

Joshua Foer, author of _Moonwalking With Einstein_, learns a language with spaced repetition.

You’ve probably already heard of Joshua Foer and his excellent 2011 bestseller, Moonwalking With Einstein. Foer chronicles his ascent (or descent) into the magical world of memory, a trip that takes him all the way from ancient Simonides to contemporary experts like Tony Buzan, and ends with winning the U.S. Memory Championship.

But there’s one aspect of memory work he seemed to miss entirely — spaced repetition. Until now.

In a recent article for the Guardian, Joshua Foer explains how he “learned a language in 22 hours”.

Wow. Really?

The subtitle is even more exciting:

He’s never been good with languages, so can Joshua Foer really hope to learn Lingala in a day?

One day!

However, the URL to the article ends with a different title: learn-language-in-three-months. Which makes you wonder what Foer’s original title was.

Because these “22 hours” were actually spread out over two and a half months. His longest single study session was 20 minutes, and his average was four minutes.

Is this a letdown? Not for me. I’m excited to see Foer spreading the word about spaced repetition.

Besides, three months, in four-minute sessions, is still incredibly fast. I’ve been trying to learn Spanish by Christmas for much longer, and as Christmas draws near, it doesn’t look like I’m going to reach my goal.

What have Foer and I been doing differently?

English-Based Mnemonics

We both focused on learning the 1000 most common words in our chosen languages. Actually, he learned an entire dictionary’s worth, but apparently the language, Lingala, only had 1,109 words in this dictionary.

Difference #1: Foer used English-based mnemonics. He would make strong visualizations for the word, but this visualization could rely on an English word.

… for motema, which means heart, I visualised a beating organ dripping blood on a blinking and purring computer modem.

The associations go like this: motema (heart) -> modem -> mental image of heart + modem

You’ll see this approach in many memory books.

I, on the other hand, tried to use no English at all, instead pairing the Spanish words with pictures. I was following the lead of an opera singer who has learned several languages using (among other tools) picture-based Anki flashcards.

My association would go like this:

corazón (heart) -> mental image of heart

According to this school of thought, pairing English with your foreign word is the last thing you want to do. You want to forget English, and connect these new words directly to the things themselves.

But does this approach actually work? For me, corazón is more like:

corazón (heart) -> “cor” is Latin for heart, right? Something like that… -> mental image of heart

And I have plenty of Spanish words that I remember by similar English words. It’s complicated.

Maybe I should take another look at English-based mnemonics.

Difference #2: Foer actually finished making his cards.

Finding images for Spanish vocabulary proved exceedingly difficult. I still can’t believe that no one, anywhere, has gotten around to making simple picture flashcards for the first 1000 Spanish words. I’d buy them in a heartbeat.

Myself, I got tired of hunting through clipart. This was supposed to be the fast way to learn a language.

Thus, Foer stuck with his “inferior” method and apparently now speaks Lingala. I took the high road and gave up.

Difference #3: Foer actually visited a place where they speak the language.

Never underestimate the power of immersion. Foer was surprised to discover how easily he was speaking Lingala, but this happened after he was in Africa.

When I finally decide to make Spanish a priority, I’ll spend a few weeks in a place where I’ll use it every day. Until then, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that my progress is slow.

Much More than 22 Hours

As a side note, Foer does mention that making his own Lingala mnemonics “required a good deal of work”. How much work? It doesn’t seem to matter, since it was “fun and engaging work”. Which is the right attitude.

But it’s important to include this time commitment, considering the headline’s giddy promise of “22 hours”.

Is Memorizing Vocabulary Enough to Learn a Language?

Plus, don’t you need more than 1,000 common words to actually learn a language? Of course, says Foer.

But it turns out to be just enough vocabulary to let you hit the ground running once you’re authentically immersed in a language. And, more importantly, that basic vocabulary gives you a scaffolding to which you can attach other words as you hear them.

He also notes that as he got all these words into his mind, he started to notice patterns and relationships.

I still wonder how he learned the syntax. If you read the short conversations in Lingala, you can see the verbs changing form. He does mention an old Foreign Language Institute textbook.

If I look over the most common Spanish words, I actually do recognize an awful lot of them. On paper. In their basic form.

But when I listen to spoken Spanish, or try to watch TV, I’m still lucky if I catch every fifth word.

Anyhow, on balance, I’m encouraged. One of Foer’s most charming characteristics is his unremitting insistence that he’s an ordinary guy who simply hunts down super-smart techniques. (Then follows through and uses them.)

If he learned a language with a web-based flashcard program (Memrise), English-based mnemonics, an old FSI textbook, and a visit to Africa — that’s good news.

Learning in the Breaks

Perhaps his most important point is that Memrise was just fun enough that he reviewed cards as a break. Between tasks.

What if instead of tabbing over to the web browser in search of some nugget of gossip or news, or opening up a mindless game such as Angry Birds, we could instead scratch the itch by engaging in a meaningful activity, such as learning a foreign language?

It’s an exciting vision.

What do you think? Do you use Anki, Mnemosyne, or one of those programs as a break? Or do they feel like more work?

Do you think the extra “game” features of Memrise could be a crucial difference in helping people follow through and keep learning their flashcards? Could the “game” factor change everything?

Thinking Every Day Is Hard

You'd think it would be easy to set aside a mere half hour each day for thinking. Nope. Not so far. But the problem isn't the time. For me, even setting aside five minutes would be tough. Which only shows how much I need to think every day.

Last month, I decided to set aside a daily half hour to think every day. Here’s an update: thinking is great. Starting is hard.

Whenever I actually open my “thinking” file and start writing, I feel wonderful. I realize that I needed to take this time.

My mind has been straining in the background to hold onto all these disparate strands of thought before they disintegrate. Now I can weave these strands into permanent memories. That “holding” part of my mind can finally relax.

And as I weave, I create new thoughts. I’m not just taking notes. I’m connecting the new to what I already know, and that fusion means new insights.

Thinking is great. Once I get started.

Why Is It So Hard to Start Thinking?

But before I can open that file and type, I need to stop whatever I’m doing. And I’ve found that, until I stop, doing still seems much more important than thinking.

Any new habit takes effort. But the more different the habit is from your existing thought patterns, the more mental inertia needs to be overcome.

I had expected some resistance to this whole thinking plan. After all, it’s another daily half hour scheduled for something that’s not “work” and yet also isn’t “fun”, like watching TV. (Never mind how great it feels when I’m actually doing it.)

But I’ve discovered more resistance than I anticipated. Why is it so hard to start thinking?

Think After Lunch?

My original plan was to dodge this resistance by hooking it into an existing habit: lunch. Hooking a new habit into a current habit is always a great way to leverage whatever meager organization you’ve managed to cobble into your life. But I also hoped that the post-lunch slot would be particularly helpful, since by then, I’ve already been out of “work mode” for at least a half hour.

Sometimes, this strategy works.

But I forgot that I already have a habit after lunch: a renewed attack on my Mountain of Work, to make up for all the time I “lost” that morning.

Apparently, thinking is first in line for the chopping block. When I feel short on time, taking even a half hour to think seems counter-productive and self-indulgent.

Which should disturb me.

Is Thinking My Lowest Priority?

It’s possible that setting aside Official Thinking Time is simply unnatural. You could argue that my sensible side senses that I’ll do all the thinking I need at those “in between” times like driving, taking a walk, and lying awake with insomnia (partly because I never took time to resolve my thoughts during the day).

But I don’t think so. If this hands-off approach worked so well, then I’d remember much more of what I read, much more easily. Official Thinking Time may not be the solution, but whatever the solution is, it’s going to take time, on a regular basis.

Mysteriously, thinking seems to be my lowest priority. At least, when I feel “busy”.

Time for Reading, But Not Thinking?

And yet, I’m almost always ready to acquire new information. This feels good, whether it’s blogs, books, or videos. I’m on the hunt, tracking those new ideas that will change everything.

Feeling busy does not seem to deter me from hunting new ideas. Instead, reading brings a welcome relief from my endless TODOs.

Which strengthens a sneaking suspicion that much of my reading has more to do with instant gratification than long-term knowledge.

That’s not evil. Instant gratification has its place. But I’d like to achieve greater clarity about when I’m relaxing and when I’m actually reading.

Which, like so many facets of memory work, launches us right out of the comfortable world of tweaking techniques, into the crucible of Life Choices. What do I really want to learn?

Thinking Is Scary

Thinking is a deliberate act. That’s why thinking is scary.

With a book, it’s easy to let the author take over. She’s the expert. She sets the agenda. She takes responsibility for the next couple hours of your life. She knows best.

But many people claim that the first step to remembering what you read is to set that agenda yourself. You need to decide what you want to get out of the book, what questions you want answered.

Obviously, this means thinking about what you read. And I resist this too. I don’t want to slow down and define what I want out of the book, which ultimately means defining what I want out of life. Instead, I want to hurry up and forget myself in a new world.

Reading purely for immersion is fine. But not all the time. Not when I’m trying to learn.

And it’s looking more and more like I can’t learn much unintentionally. My mind needs to know: am I reading for fun? Or do I actually care about this stuff?

Thinking is scary, because it means taking responsibility for what I care about, how I spend my time. Thinking means stopping, taking several steps back so I can get a wide view of the choices I’ve been making.

I strongly suspect that I resist thinking for the same reasons I resist “getting organized”. Thinking isn’t a harmless little habit that you can plug into an otherwise somewhat chaotic life.

Thinking Means Living Deliberately

The decision to think challenges that chaos. Thinking means taking an active stance towards your life. For that half hour, you’re not reactively answering emails or sampling today’s bushel of Facebook links. You’re living deliberately.

The good news is, now that I’ve thought this all out with you, much more determined to do this. What I most resist is often what I most need. I need to think every day.

So thanks for your help. The slight time disjunction between me talking and you listening doesn’t matter. And I hope you leave a comment, so I can listen back.

P. S. If you missed it over the weekend, check out my new slideshow: Learn Luke This Advent. Not only does it launch an awesome, free program to help you start a great Advent habit … it’s also pretty funny.