In a previous essay, I explained how you can use your senses to help you imagine things. I added that you can make exaggerated pictures, which can be an exaggeration of size or numbers. You can also include the action in the picture.
When I was in school, and my mind wandered, I brought it back—by making the study material interesting using my imagination. History class was easy because it was easy for me to imagine historical events. I had to fill the picture with what everyone looked like, how they talked, and how people would feel in a certain situation.
Sometimes I made the story funny and bizarre. For example, we learned about the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I imagined a bunch of engineers and construction workers in hard hats scratching their heads because no one could figure out how to straighten the tower. A heated argument ensued because no one liked anyone else’s idea. After arguing, they decided: It’s the end of the workday, so let’s stop arguing and go out for pizza (Pisa).
While they sat near the tower and enjoyed the pizza, a little boy came up to them. He stated an idea on how to straighten the tower, and they all looked at him like a deer in the headlights. He solved the problem.
Making up these stories was easy for English class too. In biology class, I used the letters of certain words to make up stories. For example, I thought of people I knew whose last name was Calvin and another family named Krebs. I imagined they jointly owned the local bicycle shop. There is the Krebs Cycle and the Calvin Cycle.
When you think you are not paying attention or mindful, you could actually be paying attention to something else. Do not think you are absent-minded. Unless you are asleep, dead, or in a deep meditative state, you are mindful of something.
Let’s imagine that you are going on a vacation to a beach resort. You need to pack up the car and remember all the things you need to bring. Only you are going to use a bizarre way to pack up the car.
Here is what you need to bring:
T-shirts, shorts, jacket, binoculars, beach chairs, passport, granola bars, the case of beer, bottled water, suntan lotion, your kindle, bathing suit, sunglasses, and ball.
You pack your car first by stuffing your t-shirts into the front grid of your car. Pound the hood of your engine with your shorts, and they disappear into the hood. Then your jacket flies into the windshield and blocks your view. The dashboard turns into two little holes that are your binoculars.
Okay, turn your head or put down the window (where you have this article) on your computer. Name four things you need to bring on a vacation.
Now open the window again. Were you able to name the four things? If you did, good; let’s continue. If you missed any, go back to the exercise and picture the scene longer.
Now imagine the seat of your car is a beach chair. At least half of it is. The other half feels like you are sitting on paper. It is your passport. Then throw granola bars at the person next to you in the passenger seat. After all, they are healthy.
Take a case of beer—with the bottles all open—and pour it into the back seat. I am sure that would have emotional significance to you, wasting the beer.
Now put down the window (of this article) again and name eight things you are going to bring on vacation. If you named them all, you are well on your way to improving your memory with ease. If you missed some, go over it again and strengthen the associations by thinking about them longer.
Let’s say you’re about to step out of your car for something to drink. Fortunately, there is a giant bottle of water on the roof of your car. You drink some water and then open your trunk to put things in for the trip. But when you open it, the entire trunk is drenched with suntan lotion. It smells so strong that you feel as though you are already on vacation.
Now you notice, despite the car not moving, your exhaust pipe is spewing something, but it’s not carbon monoxide. On one side, kindles come out, and on the other side, bathing suits spew out of the exhaust pipe.
You wonder if the car is moving after seeing that. So you look at the wheels. Instead of tires, the wheels have become beach balls.
Now put the window (on your computer) down and recite the entire list. Go through the car and imagine—everything. If you missed something, just go through it again and imagine the item that you missed—more intensely, on the part of the car you placed it.
It is amazing what you can remember by using information that you already have and connecting it with new information. A little imagination goes a long way.
This method of placing items to help you remember things can be used to remember the points in a speech. In ancient Greece, the philosopher Socrates made speeches in the Parthenon, the main building in Athens. He placed an item in each room in the Parthenon which reminded him of points he wanted to make in the speech. Then as he stood at the podium, he imagined himself walking through the Parthenon to each room and thought of the points in his speech. He never used notes because this method made him think of everything he wanted to say.
You can use the rooms in your house, another building that you frequent, or your hometown with the different landmarks and imagine placing items there relevant to your speech. You can tell that this is a variation of the car method.
You can put items—which remind you of points in your speech—in different rooms in your house. You can also use this to memorize a list of things that you need to know—as with the car method.
Here is an example: a speech that a motivational speaker gave in a resort town a few years ago. The topic was, “How you can heal the emotional pain from your past.” He used landmarks going down the main street of the resort town. Then he placed images that reminded him of the kinds of memories that you can heal yourself from.
The subjects were bullying in school, head injuries, painful romantic breakups, false accusations, growing up in a war zone, and suicide in the family. If this sounds depressing, the point of the speech was overcoming the effects of the past.
First, there was the local tavern on the street. He thought of someone wearing a sports jacket of a rival high school and getting beat up in the bar. Then there was the miniature golf course. He imagined all the golf clubs flying out of their holders and the player’s hands and hitting the same person in the head. Then there was the ice cream parlor. He imagined two cones with legs walking away from each other. (Note: a couple having ice cream while they break up would be too common and not bizarre enough.) Then there was the discount store. He imagined price tags flying off the items, then the owner accused of overpricing. Then there was the police station. He imagined the police officers dressed as soldiers and fighting each other around a child.
Then there was the lifeguard patrol headquarters. He imagined one of the stations on the beach with a black flag instead of orange since it is the brother of the deceased relative.
All this may seem sad, but when you make a bizarre picture, it adds levity. The presenter made his speech like Socrates without notes since he used the walk-through method. The speech got good reviews since he remembered everything well and sounded good doing it. The stories included ways people can heal themselves, which was inspirational.
This method of putting things in a familiar place has helped people who claim to have a poor memory. It has helped them master information. I have taught this method to children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). There are three kinds of ADHD. There is the inattentive type, where the person is not hyperactive but has attention problems. Then there is the hyperactive type. Some children have both inattentiveness and hyperactivity; this is the third type. I have found that when you make the material interesting enough, even someone with an attention deficit can improve their memory.
I have also taught this method to people in their 60s who simply think that they are losing their memory due to aging. Others who are above their 60s can learn it, thus barring dementia or other diseases. It’s rewarding to see people master these tools.