Personal experience: how I learned to remember 50 dates in 10 minutes and what it gave me

Lera Babitskaya

Author of Lifehacker

Once I came across an article about the World Memory Championship. Its participants compete in memorizing historical dates, numbers, faces, names, sequences. They must be geniuses, I thought.

But it turned out – no. Many of them said that they themselves were unaware of the abilities of their brain. It’s just that at some point they started studying mnemonics and got carried away.

For me it became a challenge. And although I have not yet participated in the World Memory Championship, I still managed to win 2,000 rubles. But first things first.

Why I decided to upgrade my memory

My memory has never been sharp. I remember that television came to our school to shoot a story about how I won the Literature Olympiad. The interviewer asked me, “Who is your favorite poet?” “Brodsky,” I answered without hesitation. “Can you quote any of his poems?”

And then I realized that I don’t remember anything. It got awkward.

And six years later, my memory got even worse. I forgot about working meetings, got confused in the metro stations, although I overcame the same route many times, did not remember the plots of the books I read.

At 21, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. It turned out that it is strongly associated with memory impairment. This motivated me to deal with the problem, and at the same time with the stress that was then in my life.

In addition, heredity scared me. At the age of 70, my great-grandmother developed memory problems: her whole life after 30 was simply erased. It was frightening. I began to fear dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Mastering mnemonics was supposed to prevent age-related cognitive impairment. And I started to practice.

How I mastered mnemonics

I looked at existing courses on mnemonics, looked for tutors, studied applications and books. The latter were the best option for me. First of all, I was looking for practice in them.

Therefore, I chose the book “Remember Everything. A practical guide to the development of memory ”Arthur Dumchev – of all, it seemed to me the most simple, fun and useful. Plus, the chapters were collected not by the names of the methods, but by goals.

The most important for me were the paragraphs on how to memorize new words, sequences of numbers and names.

How do I memorize new words?

Arthur Dumchev assures that the more associations a person has with some concept, the easier it is to remember it. So I created a note on my phone in which I wrote down words that were new to me. And then she did the following:

  • Look at the definition of the word.
  • Broke it down into components.
  • If it was difficult to remember, then she came up with a sentence and connected the right word in it with the one that sounded appropriate.

For example, the adjective “infernal” – hellish, satanic, otherworldly. It is easy to break it down into components and highlight the root – “infern”. I knew from The Divine Comedy that inferno is hell. So “infernal” is something that refers to this place.

If it was difficult to do this with some word, I moved on to the third paragraph of the algorithm – I came up with a sentence and connected the desired term with the appropriate sound.

Example: in the book, Arthur Dumchev tells how to remember the word “collision” – a collision. He writes that it sounds like the Colosseum. Among the associations with him, gladiator fights pop up, and any fight is a skirmish, a clash of opponents, that is, a collision.

How do I memorize lists?

To memorize lists, one had to use the method of places, or the method of Cicero. Its essence is to mentally arrange the objects of the list in a familiar space.

Artur Dumchev

Try to remember what you did yesterday. […] Note that almost everything that you remembered […] you remembered with reference to the place where it happened. For example: having breakfast in the kitchen, meeting a new person in the office, thinking about the weekend while on the bus.

I learned to master this technique on the grocery list. On the day I read this chapter, I needed to buy:

  • milk ,
  • loaves,
  • tomatoes,
  • cucumbers,
  • salad.

Dumchev advised me to come up with some kind of non-standard story related to the locations in the apartment. It should be emotional and figurative.

I got this: “A stream of milk breaks through the front door. Flood! To save myself, I jump on a loaf in the corridor and use it as a raft. The stream carries me to the bathroom, where there are huge cucumber and tomato. Seeing me, the latter jumps up and hastily hides behind a curtain of lettuce leaves.

So, using the method of places, I memorized a list of five products, while using two rooms in my house: a corridor and a bathroom. I found this method very cool!

First, because I liked making up stories. Second, it really worked!

But to use it effectively, you need to comply with several important conditions:

  • The room in which you mentally arrange objects should be familiar – for example, it could be your own apartment or your parents’ house.
  • You cannot place objects from two different lists at the same time in the same place. If some things are already placed in your imaginary room, you should not add others there: in this way you kind of “rewrite” the script and forget what the story was at the very beginning.
  • You need to “go” through the house sequentially. You should not jump from one place to another if they are not connected to each other in reality. Also, you don’t need to loop back several times to the same room – this can be confusing.

How do I remember names?

To remember the name of a new acquaintance, it is also important to use associations, says Artur Dumchev. Here is an example.

I met a girl Lena Nikolaeva. It was simple with the name – my mother’s name is also Lena. And the surname caused me an association with Nikolai Baskov. Then I imagined how Lena with her mother and Nikolai Baskov are lit on the Blue Light on TV. The image is formed!

Another task is to remember several people at once who introduce themselves to you in turn. Usually in such a situation there is not even a couple of seconds to come up with vivid stories for the names of each of them. In this case, Dumchev advises, the only option is to take the first associations that come across: Vladimir is Putin’s namesake, Anna is the main character of Anna Karenina, Nastya is also called a childhood friend , and Alina is a niece.

It was more difficult with foreign names. Imagine a task: remember the name of the Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul. I solved it like this: Apichatpong is like “imprint”, Weerasethakul is like “and the dawn of sharks”. It turned out “The imprint and the dawn of sharks.”

How I learned foreign words

Dumchev offers to learn foreign words using the method of associations and the method of places. Since there are much more unfamiliar terms than in the native language, they will need to be placed in a separate “library”. Therefore, the memorization strategy will be similar to the Cicero method, but instead of an apartment, you need to choose a larger area – for example, a city.

Artur Dumchev

The method of memorizing words is as follows. Let’s mentally divide it [the city] into parts, so that later we can use each for a certain type of words. For example, the northern part of the city is for nouns, the central part is for verbs, and the southern part is for adjectives. And for each new language we will select a new city.

I decided to choose Spanish. For a while I lived with a neighbor from El Salvador. And by the next meeting, I wanted to surprise her with knowledge of the language – at least basic. She took Abakan, where she was born, as the city.

When I came across the word jardín (garden), I remembered the Dream Gardens landscape design park. At the same time, the name itself rhymed with coffee advertising frozen in the brain: “Jardin – and every day is unique!”. I imagined the advertising characters sitting on a bench by the fountain and discussing this drink. Coincidentally, Dream Gardens was located just in the northern part of the city. That’s why I put the jardín there.

Although in most cases it was not necessary to come up with some complex “crutches”. Since I already knew English , it was easy for me to remember many Spanish words: teatro, hotel, banco and so on.

In addition, the life hack of my friend, an English teacher, helped. She advised memorizing all prefixes, articles and suffixes first, in order to have an idea about word formation in the language. This helps to break down words and make them easier to remember.

So, for example, the word antibacteriano (antibacterial) consists of three important parts: anti (prefix denoting opposition), bacteria (bacteria), ano (adjective suffix). Dumchev also recommends the same method.

Artur Dumchev

The fact is that most popular languages and almost all scientific terms contain Latin and Greek elements. Knowing these two languages would make it much easier for you to learn the others, but there is a more acceptable option – to remember commonly used roots and prefixes. After that, many terms and foreign words will become clear without further study.

When studying, it will become obvious that many prefixes are already intuitive to us: anti-, a-, aero-, re-, trans- and so on. And it really helps to understand and remember many words.

How do I memorize sequences of numbers?

It was difficult here! The basis of the strategy is all the same associations. It was necessary to select images of people and objects for the first 100 numbers – from 00 to 99. It is better if they are based on external resemblance to numbers or on some events in history and personal life.

According to this principle, for example, I have selected persons and related objects: Santa Claus and snow (0 is the temperature at which water freezes), Schumacher and a car (Formula 1), James Bond and a classic suit (007) and so on. Further.

Sometimes the association was associated primarily with the subject: milk and Mary Poppins (“33 cows” – a song that was performed in the film) or a tank (T-34) and Stalin (during whose reign this car began to be mass-produced). But the numbers 04, 06, 15 are the birthdays of my relatives, friends and acquaintances.

It was easy until the moment when numbers like 53, 87, 93 remained on my list – the usual cultural associations did not fall on them, and there were no personal ones associated with them. And here Artur Dumchev advised to follow a different approach. It was necessary to find words and phrases that contain the same letters as at the beginning of the names of numbers. For example: 27 (twenty seven) – disk , 54 ( fifty -four) – Pechorin , 65 ( sixty five ) ship .

So the number 53 ( fifty -three) turned into my friend with the surname Petrin , and 86 ( there is eighty -three) became a louse . I thought about some of them for a very long time – the list was completed only after three days.

In addition to the number pairs, the book included a list with associations for the numbers 0 through 9. It was organized by visual similarity.

0 Egg 5 Hook
one Pencil 6 Bomb with wick
2 Swan 7 Flag
3 Breast eight Hourglass
four ship 9 Cherry

After that the most interesting began. I practiced memorizing the phone numbers of my friends. Let’s take the number 8 902 307 86 02. At the very beginning, you could ignore the pair 89, since in most cases it is constant. 02 – Uncle Styopa. 307 – you need to divide by 3 and 07, you get “chest” and “classic suit”.

It turns out: Uncle Styopa with big breasts puts on a classic suit. Next: 86 and 02. Louse rides in a police car.

It sounds funny, but it really helps to remember long strings of numbers. Each sequence has its own story. For example, my phone is a historical drama, SNILS is a tragic story about unrequited love, and a bank card number is a horror movie with a final girl.

What have I achieved

According to Dumchev ‘s book , I worked with memory for about two months, and some of the results really inspired me. One of them is 2,000 rubles won in a dispute.

When my friend found out that I was mastering mnemonics, he reacted to this with distrust. He offered to put money on the fact that I could not remember 50 random historical dates in 10 minutes. I hesitated, but agreed. And although I remembered only 47 dates, a friend was amazed and said that he still considers me the winner.

For reference: the world record belongs to Pratik Yadav. In 2019, at the Indian Memory Championship, he memorized 148 dates in 5 minutes.

But, of course, mnemonics brought me not only 2,000 rubles, but also significantly improved my memory. I’ll tell you exactly how.

Remembered 20 phone numbers and other combinations

Now it only takes me a couple of minutes to fix a new sequence of numbers in my memory. I remember about twenty contacts, and my fear of “phone off” disappeared. I know that even if I am in an unfamiliar city without a connection, I can call my friends.

For example, one late evening I found myself in an unfamiliar area, where we agreed to meet with a friend. The phone turned off. But it was not difficult for me to ask a passer-by for a smartphone and dial +7 985 … A friend answered and explained how I could get to the meeting point.

Bonus: now I remember the numbers of all the documents that are important to me and I enjoy watching how the secretaries’ eyes widen when I start chattering the SNILS number without looking at the papers.

Better remember names

And sometimes it happens unconsciously. I don’t have to come up with some complicated stories in order to identify a new acquaintance in the right memory folder. In addition, it became easier for me to remember the names of scientists, writers and researchers if I want to find the quote I need. Before that, I would have had to dig through a search engine, personal correspondence and books to remember the author.

Mastered an unfamiliar language at a basic level

After a month of Spanish-language training, I knew about 1,800 words, which was enough to keep a simple conversation about the weather, food and mood with my neighbor from El Salvador.

Enriched vocabulary by 20,000 words

The Russian-language vocabulary has also expanded. I noticed this in my work: the language of my texts became more interesting and varied. Out of curiosity, I took a vocabulary test before and after three months of practice learning new words. It turned out that my passive vocabulary grew by 20,000 words! It was terribly inspirational and gave me pride in my efforts.

Stop wasting paper on grocery lists

And also – the memory of the phone. But the practice of memorizing lists was useful not only in the store. It has become easier for me to remember my work tasks, scheduled meetings and dates of events that I want to attend.

Increased my creativity

This was a pleasant surprise. I did not set myself such a task. However, as it turned out, mnemonics helps to develop creative thinking. Arthur Dumchev explains that this is due to the ability to visualize – the ability to think in images, which is pumped during associative memory exercises.

For example, I noticed that during a brainstorming session I began to generate more ideas: unexpected images, non-obvious connections and facts that seemed to be forgotten, surfaced.

So my personal experiment on the development of memory, which began with a naive interest, turned out to be something more: mnemonics helped me not only learn to remember more information, but also look at the world in a different way.

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