I don’t necessarily think everyone should be regularly doing memory exercises for their whole life. However, for all those who want might benefit from developing some new out of the ordinary memorization skills, I do think you should spend a while training some basic skills.
Knowing how memory techniques work and how to use them is an extremely useful and important first step, but you still need to keep training for a while before using them can become easy. Or easy enough. Sorry. Training will speed up the neuroplastic changes allowing you to become significantly faster and more efficient at this new skill. If you’re not interested in going through that kind of training, it’s ok, it’s just that the process of using memory technique will (probably) too often remain difficult, slow and uncomfortable. And your progress going forward will be much slower.
Important sidenote: At any point of your training, if you need some goal to motivate yourself? Try taking part in an online “Honorary Memory Challenge”. Those challenges are free and easily available for anyone anywhere in the world. In the “Regular section”, you only need to know the basics of memory techniques to possibly manage to perform well.
Of all the different kinds of training, when it comes to building basic skills, for beginners I think random words is the most important and the most useful. Almost all forms of training can be worth doing, but random words is what will best prepare for the art of memorizing in the messy real world. It’s possible to completely ignore this discipline, focus solely on other forms of training and still manage to become quite good, but I don’t recommend it.
- I think you should start with at least 2 small memory palaces designed for training: https://artofmemoryandlearning.com/how-to-build-a-memory-palace-for-training/
- Use them mostly to practice the temporary memorization of lists of words: https://artofmemoryandlearning.com/how-to-memorize-a-list-of-words/
It would be great if you can do that for about 15 minutes a day, 4 days a week for 6 weeks. You can use time-based goals (X number of minutes) or accomplishment-based goals (X number of words in this particular session). It should be enough for some significant neuroplastic change to occur in your brain. Of course, don’t hesitate to do more if you’re motivated.
* Can you go through such a program? Will you? It’s an hour a week for 6 weeks. Not exactly the most intensive training program ever, but it’s still not an insignificant commitment. If you think you’re too tired or too busy or not motivated enough, I understand. If you start and give up after a few days, that’s very normal and human. You can of course choose to start again in the near future, or the far future. All that being said, I do strongly encourage you to go through the whole thing without procrastinating.
** Aiming for some intense training sessions that are at least 15 minutes long (including recall and short breaks) will probably lead to more significant improvements. However, if quickly memorizing 20 words before moving on with the rest of your day is all that you’re willing to do in some circumstances, it’s still significantly better than nothing.
*** After you’re done with about 6 weeks of that not-to-intensive training program, you can decide that you’re “good enough”, stop the word memorization exercises and focus on other projects. The most significant improvements will come during the first 3 weeks or so. It’s not a tragedy if you choose to stop at that point, but I do think that keeping up with the program for 6 weeks or more will be time well spent.
But why bother training with useless data? Why not just train using what you have to remember for school, for that learning project or for that language you’re trying to learn?
Well, as soon as you’re willing and able to, you can and should indeed start using memory techniques for school and for whatever learning project you’re pursuing. However, if you do nothing but that, your progress will be more difficult and slower than it could have been. And if you’re unprepared in an important context – like for that difficult exam that is coming up tomorrow – you may end up running face-first into a wall.
There are various other reasons why I think it’s unwise to try to skip over al the most “basic” forms of training. Of course you don’t have to do those drills if you don’t want, but I do think it would be time well spent. At least for most students, most ambitious learners and most people who enjoy an intellectual challenge. If you’re still on the fence and you want to hear what more do I have to say about this subject you can click on the optional article below.
Relevant articles for all forms of training:
Can you train with something else than random words?
Of course! If you’d like to try some other forms of training, go for it! Could be names and faces, random images, numbers, playings cards, “the exam”. Or better yet: a CMSA “Honorary Memory Challenge”. Just click on the link below for suggestions and explanations.
* I wouldn’t recommend ignoring random words completely for beginners trying to develop some basic skills. However, once you’ve reached that “good enough” stage, it’s perfectly fine if you want to leave random words aside more or less forever.
Try some other forms of training
I think all forms of “memory sports” training can be useful and can be worth doing. But of course, one often has to prioritize and make some difficult choices. It will be up to you to figure out which forms of training seem to be worth your time and energy.
- In my opinion, after random words, the second most important form of training would be names and faces. It’s hard, but it’s a very useful skill to develop.
- Numbers would come in third place (I see playing cards as just a variation of numbers). Personally, numbers and cards is what I most enjoy doing. After a while, it can become the easiest form of memorization. And the one that leads to the most seemingly impressive feats.
- You can also choose to train the memorization of series of images. There are two different variations: IAM images and Memory League images. You can choose to completely ignore those and your overall level of skills won’t suffer all. However, the great thing about the memorization of images is that they’re very simple and they can be very fun. They’re a great way for complete novices to get a glimpse of the power of memory techniques. After I gave them some very quick explanations, I’ve seen some 7-year-old kids with zero previous training or experience manage to memorize about 90 IAM images in 5 minutes. Isn’t that amazing? I think you should try them at least once at some point. If it’s fun for you, keep trying them afterward once a while. If it’s not fun, or if you have other priorities, just don’t bother.
- There’s also “the exam”, that discipline I made up for those CMSA competitions I’ve been organizing since 2018. Nobody trains that regularly. But I do think at least one of those would be worth attempting at some point in the future. You can see this as a kind of final boss that you will have to face later on to see whether or not your training has paid off.
Strategies for those disciplines:
- Some basic strategies for names and faces, IAM images and “the exam”: https://canadianmindsports.com/memory-championship-strategies/
- Everything you need to know about numbers and cards
Training tools for those disciplines:
- For training tools for all those disciplines, see: https://canadianmindsports.com/training-tools-and-sample-disciplines/
- A few other recommendations can be found on this page below the “Where and how to practice this event” for each discipline.