Memory is not something entirely inherent. In the digital age we memorize anything using devices outside ourselves all the time. I mean come on, how many phone numbers do you know from the top of your head? You probably prefer using your phone’s phonebook. Before the age of recording things externally, the memory was a thing to be trained and cultivated.

Time to Learn: In Order – 5 Minutes / Out of Order – 2 Days

Why Learn?

  • Simple things: remembering a grocery list? No problem. You don;t need to write down a list of 20 things, you can just memorize it effortlessly.
  • Ideas: during the day I often have ideas for projects. The problem is that they come to me when I’m not ready for them. When I’m lying on the beach, almost falling asleep or singing in the shower. Using these techniques I just memorize them and write them down at the end of the day.
  • To-Do’s: similar to the one above, little things to do pop up all the time. Not keeping track of then results in an uneasy feeling of “I’m sure I forgot something”. Mentally recording these to-do’s is like emptying your mind’s temporary memory.
  • Studying: this one is obvious. Remembering random things is hard for some people, so these techniques are a godsend. If you are interested in study techniques, subscribe at the bottom of the post to receive the learning eBook by Scott Young for free.

What you Need

  • A couple of lists with random objects
  • A little (really little) patience

Phase 1 – Memorizing things in Order

Take a look at this list:

  • TV
  • Coffee
  • Computer Mouse
  • Chair
  • Wine
  • Tree
  • Light bulb
  • Dog
  • Fire
  • Water

In a couple short minutes you will learn to memorize it, or memorize anything, no matter how bad your memory is. Sound crazy? Well, it took me 5 minutes to learn…

The Brain likes Crazy

The human mind filters out “normal” things quite easily. A list like the one above is just not interesting enough to allow it in your memory. Your task is to make it interesting.

It sounds weird, but it’s really quite easy. The following technique is referred to as “the Linking Method”. It is based on linking ridiculous images together. The techniques can be broken down in steps.

The Linking Method

1. Make your objects rediculous

The brain likes crazy remember? So to remember TV, you might imagine a giant TV screen, the size of a mountain. There is no way that is a usual occurrence, so it will stick around. There are a number of techniques to make stuff rediculous:

Size – make the object very big or small (big works better)
Context – to remember beer, you could imagine a bath tub filled with it
Amount – trying to remember to buy milk? Imagine having 50 liters of it dumped on your head
Anything awkward – naked people for example stick around

Note: make everything as vivid as possible! See the colors in the images, feel their texture and smell them!

2. Link the objects

To remember your list each object has to be linked to the one before it. Let’s take the first two objects on the list: TV and coffee. Here are some links:

TV – Imagine a TV as big as a mountain. See the sunset behind it and feel the warm air.

Coffee – Imagine coffee pouring out of the screen like a big wave. It is to how you can feel it. It smells like fresh ground dark coffee.

I can assure you that the scene described above will stick around…

3. Keep on linking

Let me run through the list with the associations I would use. For now you try and use the same ones, use your own later on. Read this carefully and use your imagination!

TV – Imagine a TV as big as a mountain. See the sunset behind it and feel the warm air.

Coffee – Imagine coffee pouring out of the screen like a big wave. It is to how you can feel it. It smells like fresh ground dark coffee.

Computer Mouse – Imagine thousands of computer mountains swarming towards the coffee and starting to drink it. Imagine how smooth they are, with cables dragging behind them. They might have different colors though most will be shades of grey with black and white.

Chair – once all the coffee is gone, imagine the computer mouses coming together to form a huge chair. See in your mind how they form the chair, and how odd the chair looks with all the wires and buttons.

Wine – now a big giant walks up to the chair. He is holding a big wine barrel. While walking to the chair he crushes some trees below his feet. He sits down, opens the barrel and pours the wine into his mouth, and laughs out loud in a deep voice.

Tree – imagine plants starting to grow and engulf the giant. In no time the plants have covered him and grow together to become a very big and beautiful tree. See how vibrantly green the leaves are, and how it sways in the wind.

Light bulb – see the tree starting to grow fruits. But the fruits are in fact light bulbs. They start out very small and grow to the size of big apples. They shine so bright that the tree becomes a big ball of light, almost looking like a lightbulb itself.

Dog – now imagine a dog coming up besides the tree. It is about the same size. It lifts a leg and pees all over the tree. The light bulbs break down and the dog is electrocuted by the tree. Imagine the big spark, and how the dog is knocked out with a yelp (remember we are making memorable images, don’t feel sad for the dog, or do if it helps you imagine the scene).

Fire – imagine big fiery meteorites falling from the sky. They set on fire the entire scene. Feel the heat of the flames and the stench of the acrid smoke.

Water – Then a big wave of water comes in from the left over the fire. As it hits the water there is a big hissing sound and everything turns into water vapor.

If you have ready this paying attention. Turn away from the screen and go through the list of things. You will find that you can remember every single one.

Now that you can do this, go ahead and try a list of your own!

Phase 2 – Memorizing things Out of Order

Remembering things in order is all very nice, but you will have trouble remembering if a person asks you “so what was number 7?”. In this case you need a different technique. This technique takes a bit longer to learn, but once learned stays with you for your entire life.

The Peg Technique

Imagine your memory to be a wall. You want to hang things on the wall, like a painting. Just pushing it against the wall doesn’t work. You need a small nail or a peg to hang it on. once you put op the peg, you can hang very big paintings from the little thing.

The mind can work the same. Only you need visual pegs. To put a long story short, you will link the numbers 1 through 20 to an image, using a technique I will teach you in a minute. And then use the linking method to link those images you what you want to remember. For example:

1 always means Tie (the thing you wear with a suit)
2 always means Noah (the guy with the big boat in the bible. And no it doesn’t matter if you are religious or not)

If you want to remember the short list:

1. Bear
2. Computer

You would make the folowing associations:

1 means Tie. Tie links to bear by seeing a bear wearing a tie smoking a sigar.
2 means Noah. Noah’s big ship is filled with broken computers.

You can do this for many many things. You can make a lot of pegs. But today we start with 20.

Numbers have Sounds

To make sure you will always remember what number means what, we are going to give the numbers an alphabet. Each number will have a sound, the sounds are phonetic. This means that sounds like p and b are the same! Here is the list of numbers, with a sound to associate it with.

1. Is a straignt line to will be T (or any sound like it like D)
2. If you twist it it looks like a weird N
3. Twist it and it looks like weird M
4. Turn it around and give it an extra leg, and it is an R
5. Make the top part straight and turn it around, and it is an L
6. It’s curvy shape reminds you of an s and an h. It sounds like Sh. As in Shop or Shoe
7. If you see a 7 with an upside down seven through it, it looks like a K
8. it consists out of V’s like this: < > < >
9. it looks like a P (or B, same sound)
0. it’s curves remind you of an S

Before you do anything, make sure you remember these sounds. Start by learning the top to bottom, and then bottom to top. And afterwards mix them up. For the next step you need these sounds!

The first 5

Look at the list below, and see the objects in your mind. See the number, hear the sound and link it to the object. The sound should be linked to the object. This is as close to brute force learning as this technique gets. Please note that we only pay attention to the sounds of consonants (p,t,k etc) and not vowels (o, a, u etc). Bike for example would be BK, thus 97.

1 – T – Tie (the thing you wear with a suit)
2 – N – Noah (the guy with the big boat)
3 – M – Ma (your mother)
4 – R – Rye (a type of grain)
5 – L – Law (police men represent the law

Memorize these objects to the numbers. Once you are done have a look at this list:

1. Bear
2. Computer
3. Vodka
4. Fire
5. Sword

Go ahead and remember this list. This is how I would do it:

1 – Tie – Bear – Bear wearing a tie smoking a cigar
2 – Noah – Computer – Boat full of computers
3 – Ma – Vodka – My mother drinking vodka while dancing
4 – Rye – Fire – A big pile of rye grain on fire
5 – Law – Sword – Police men fighting each other with swords

Now go ahead, turn away from the screen and take any of the random numbers. You will find you can remember any of them out of order. Imagine when you have 20 pegs. Ask a friend to write down 20 things. Give you 5 minutes and give him the paper. Ask him to speak any of the numbers, and you will be able to remember any of them out of order. Imagine the look on their faces… It’s a great party trick…

The 5 till 10

Now go ahead and try the following ones.

6 – Sh – Shoe
7 – K – Cow
8 – V – Ivy (the stuff that grows against walls)
9 – B – Bees
10 – T, S – Toes

Take your time to learn these pegs properly. Being hasty will do you no good. When you have memorized the ones above. Go through all the first 10 again, to make sure you know them in any order. Only when you are sure of these should you go on to the next ones.

10 until 20

11 – T, T – Tot (as in toddler, a small kid)
12 – T, N – Tin (as in a tin can)
13 – T, M – Tomb (the stone things dead people are in)
14 – T, R – Tire
15 – T, L – Towel
16 – T, Sh – Dish (remember T and D are the same sounds in our alphabet)
17 – T, K – Tack (the thing people use to ride a horse)
18 – T, V – Dove (as in pidgeon)
19 – T, B – Tub (as in bathtub)
20 – N, S – Nose

It took me 30 minutes to learn these 20. However it took me 2 days to make sure that I knew them in every order, and could say which was which without delay. Make really really sure that you know these pegs. The stuff you can do with this is absolutely awesome. Besides, it makes for an awesome party trick…

Questions or Remarks?

If you run into trouble, or are just very excited about the techniques leave a comment below. As mentioned in the top of the article you can subscribe below to receive Scott Young’s eBook on learning (really useful!).

Thanks for reading!


  • Great article. I’ve been interested in some exercises for improving memory but didn’t know exactly how to get started. Definitely going to save this one and keep reading more carefully later on. Thanks for sharing this method!

  • Haha like it! I have to try those tricks! My memory is so bad lol. I no a lady to memorize phone numbers she will make a song with your number haha!

    It never worked with me. I will surely try this new method.

    Thanks have a nice day.

  • Very interesting. I will have to try these, since I’m in college I have to memorize a lot of new items. If I can cut down the time it takes me to memorize them I will have more time to do other things.

    To add to the list one thing I have found that has worked really well for me in the past when dealing with math problems is to learn why an equation exists instead of simply what the equation is. By doing that I was able to learn a lot faster in my math classes than pretty much anyone else who was just trying to memorize the equation.

  • Very interesting. I will have to try these, since I’m in college I have to memorize a lot of new items. If I can cut down the time it takes me to memorize them I will have more time to do other things.

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