Your Memory Listens to its Own Language
Your memory is amazing, but it’s possible you often tell it stuff in the wrong language. How would you like it if your best friend started e-mailing you in ancient Celtic runes? And then got upset when you didn’t write back?
But we expect to remember things like:
- Take I-95N to exit 91 (595W), then take exit 179 and bear left onto Route 126.
- The American economy suffered major recessions beginning in 1797, 1807, 1819, 1837, 1857, 1873, and 1893.
- username: furbledoo71, password: zFa92xJ1
… and then get upset at our “bad” memories.
Yet your “bad” memory remembers your whole house. (Don’t believe me? Test yourself.) How can you know the exact location of hundreds of items throughout your house, but not be able to keep track of seven years?
Simple. Exit numbers, years, and passwords are not in the language your memory listens to. You might as well be telling it Celtic runes. Once you understand the language of your memory, you can tell it whatever you like.
Your Memory: Designed for Surviving the Physical World
Our memories seem designed to help us navigate and survive the physical world. There were no exit numbers in the Garden of Eden. Lions on the prowl are strangely impervious to passwords.
We encounter the physical world not through numbers, but through the senses. We see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. And that’s the language the memory speaks. When those sensations are unique and repeated (or dramatic), we remember them.
For instance, most of us navigate by sight. The ordinary human way to get back to your cave or your penthouse is to see your way home. In your memory. The first time or so, you might check the map. But on a routine trip, even in a maze of streets, we go into “autopilot.”
If we see a lion or a lunatic heading our way, we get out of the way. Why? Because they stir up a flurry of unpleasant images and sounds. You may even smell the fetid breath and feel the feline teeth. Our memories excel at this sort of thing.
Speak Your Memory’s Language of the Senses
But they struggle with 1797, 1807, 1819, 1837, 1857, 1873, and 1893. Why can you memorize tens of thousands of unique rooms, places, people, animals, things, but not a few numbers? (Okay, in this society, a lot of numbers.)
Because 1797, 1807, 1819, et al. give you nothing to memorize. For most of us (with some exceptions), numbers give us little to see and nothing to smell, hear, taste, or touch.
So we translate them.
For instance, we translate numbers into more vivid things to see. You might remember the “91” in exit 91 as a “bat.” What does a bat have to do with “91”? Logically, nothing. (Well, almost nothing.)
But what does the sound “bat” have to do with a long wooden stick anyway? “Bate,” “racquette,” and “der Schläger” seem to work just as well for other people.
With a little repetition, your memory will happily clamp “91” to the long wooden stick for you. Then, if you can remember a bat, you can remember exit 91.
But sight isn’t all. Your memory’s hearing is also excellent. Rhythm, rhyme, and other oral techniques can turn unwieldy ideas into wise proverbs (or pernicious jingles).
Much of this site is geared towards helping you translate information into your memory’s language. You’ll find many techniques to remember:
- individual letters (as in a password or license plate)
- Bible verses
- and more, even whole books!
No information is too “hard” for your memory. It just needs to be translated.