Friday, 17 June 2011

Memory Palaces and Planning

In the morning, we learnt one of the few mental tricks I've ever learnt that has an extremely high effect in an extremely short amount of time, memory techniques. These are fairly standard techniques: associate an image with each number, then when you want to remember a numbered list of things, associate the thing you want to remember with the relevant image.... a very simple example, say I want to memorise the list:

1. Apple
2. Antelope
3. Bike lock
4. Camel-hump
5. Mercury thermometer.

Now, my image for the number "1" is "Ale" (for complicated reasons you'll understand if you read the wikipedia page on the Major Memory Sytem- I use some modified version of the Major System). I would imagine the man with an apple for his head from the Magritte painting quaffing ale from an extremely large glass. My image for number 2 is "knee", so I would imagine myself with antelopes replacing the lower parts of each of my legs (growing from my knees). Number 3 is a ham, so that would be someone attaching their bike to a lampost by putting both inside a giant ham. 4 is a hare, so I'd imagine a giant hair riding a camel. 5 is a bee-hive, so I would imagine a swarm of bees formed of mercury thermometers.

This technique sounds stupid, but it works: we began by having everyone try to memorise a list of 20 numbered items without using any technique, we then did the same at the end. I don't actually have the numbers, but I'm almost certain that the improvement was statistically significant - after learning the technique, I don't think there was anyone who managed to remember fewer than 15 items.

The afternoon was "planning". I didn't take too many notes in this session, and I didn't find it altogether too useful. My takeaway was, essentially, making plans is useful, and if you refine the plans, they will get better and more useful. The only exercise we did was making a plan for something we want to accomplish in the near future then gradually refining it, including by asking for feedback from others. Pretty basic, useful stuff about planning which is, admittedly, a thing that most people probably don't do enough of.

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