The Art of Memory

The art of memory is one of the coolest, most amazing, most fun and most useful skill that you can choose to acquire. It truly is something anyone can do as long as you’re willing to invest some efforts for a little while. It’s a baffling scandal that so few people are currently aware of this. Unlike other complex skills like playing a musical instrument, under the right conditions, impressive results can be achieved almost overnight. Much more impressive results can be achieved within a few weeks or months of relatively short, daily-ish or weekly practice.

Friendly warning: I said that you can learn those skills if you want to. And I said that it won’t be too long before you manage to surprise yourself with your results. I did NOT say that it will necessarily be easy. You will need to put your cell phone away for a little while, focus as intensely as you can for a few moments and use your imagination. That may or may not be a problem for you. For all kinds of reasons (and it’s not necessarily your fault), the “focus and put your cell phone away for a little while” part can be very difficult for many people.

Want to discover what your brain can do? Follow any of the links below:

  • I just added this article explaining some of the most fundamental methods to make better use of your so-called “bad memory”. The advice you’ll find there will be useful even if you decide that you’re not interested in using techniques based on stories or images.
  • If you just want to learn more about this fascinating subject, here’s a compilation of some of the best articles, videos and news reports about the art of memory
  • If memory techniques are completely new to you, you don’t know where to start and you want a step-by-step guide, check out this completely free and very short 5-day, 20 minutes a day training program that I believe will help you spectacularly improve your ability to remember difficult information. Click here to access your free training program in English.
  • Here’s a messy but still helpful guide that I wrote a long time ago.
  • Here’s a short guide explaining some basic competition strategies. I think some of those exercises are worth doing even if you have no intention of competing. It’s partly a way to train the basic skills so that harder tasks, like preparing for a difficult exam, will be easier when you’ll have to face them.
  • If you are in the mood for training, just use one of the sample disciplines and training tools on this page.
  • I’ve been asked a bunch of questions about all the different “types of memory” and the different ways one can improve them. There’s a lot here that the average reader doesn’t necessarily “need” to know, but if you’re curious, here are my answers.
  • For the information junkies out there, here are plenty of recommended websites, books and training websites.

How long does it take to learn?

Becoming comfortable with all the basic skills can be done surprisingly quickly, but it will of course take much longer if you’re aiming for some crazy high level. If you want to become a world-class memory champion and memorize a full deck of cards in about 20 seconds, you’ll need to spend at least 1 or 2 years (probably more) practicing intensely for about an hour a day. Here I’m speaking about a skill level that is way above mine. I’m not sure everyone can get there, even if they do everything right. And I’m not sure how many people should even bother trying. Depends on what your priorities are.

Fortunately, only a tiny fraction of that time is necessary to be able to enjoy using the wonderful art of memory. If you just want to experience building a memory palace and get a glimpse of its potential, you can do so in only maybe an hour. If you want to become what I would call “good enough”, meaning that you’re competent, confident, comfortable and autonomous when you need to memorize most types of difficult information, then I would recommend that you spend maybe 3 to 6 weeks practicing for about 20 minutes a day. That “good enough” level is what I think most people should aim for. I think it occupies a sweet spot right in between minimum time investment and maximum rewards. You’ll probably need slightly longer, though really not that much, if you want to be able to brag that you can memorize 100 digits of a full deck of cards in 5-minute or less.

And just to be extremely clear: if 2 hours over 2 days is all you’re willing or able to invest, it’s still totally worth it.

Why you should (probably) learn to use the art of memory

I see tons of obvious and not-so-obvious possible reasons. Since you’re here already, you probably don’t need to be convinced and you should probably just head directly to some of the more important pages linked above. It’s only because I’ve been asked so many times some variation of the “what’s the point of memorizing” question that I feel the need to write a long rant about the subject. I’m absolutely flabbergasted at how often and how quickly those questions are being asked. Anyway, just click here if you’re curious to read my answer.