Welcome to Day 3 of your training program. Let’s start the day with something you already know how to do.
Day 3, task number 1
All right how about once again you try memorizing a list of 20 words? You could choose to memorize those 20 words in the same 4 rooms or zones you used yesterday, but doing this right now could potentially be confusing. Better let those 4 rooms rest for another day. Instead you will use the next 4 rooms in your memory palace, once again placing in each room a bunch of images and short stories corresponding to 5 words. If everything felt easy yesterday, maybe try to go just a little bit faster. If you had some trouble, don’t focus on speed for now and instead try to focus a bit more of each word and link the images to one another and to their environment. You can try to imagine how would that character feel in that situation. And you can invent some pseudo “logical” reason to explain why all this nonsense is happening. By “logical” I do not mean realistic or plausible, I only mean that you went just one tiny step beyond “there’s this thing over there and that’s it”. Why is a unicorn sleeping in your bed? I don’t know, maybe because she was tired?
(Click here to download your 20 words)
I’m curious, what kind of images did you use for “tomorrow”, “possible”, “energy” and “springtime”? Those are all abstract words, so you can’t just visualize them directly. For me for “tomorrow” I would use either a calendar or some pile of boring paperwork that I would rather not do today. For “possible” I would either use some models “posing” (not the same word but close enough) for a picture or maybe some weird futuristic sci-fi type of object that I would look at and wonder whether or not if it’s possible. For “energy” I would either imagine myself doing push-ups or think of the energizer bunny. For “spring” I would just think of a tree with lots of leaves. Or I might imagine some people celebrating spring break in a way that I’m not going to describe here… For each of those images I wouldn’t necessarily need to form a clear picture in my mind. Just some vague fuzzy impression of what’s happening where is often more than enough, especially when you took the time to invent some kind of weird story along the way.
Day 3, task number 2
Now let’s try some names and faces! Of all the classic disciplines of the art of memory, I find this one maybe the most difficult to master. It’s also I think the one discipline where “talent”, whatever that is, plays the most important role. However, whether or not you happen to be naturally good or terrible at it, it’s still amazing how much and how quickly someone can improve with some techniques and some efforts. Just knowing how to proceed and making a sincere effort is likely to about double your “default” level of performance.
So how does it work? The very first step may seem obvious but it’s very often neglected: pay attention! Make sure you’re not thinking about something else when you first hear or see the name. Tell yourself beforehand “I will remember that person’s name”. And when you do hear the name, take a second to process it. Just that very first step, when done consistently, is enough to eliminate most cases of “sorry I already forgot your name”. You didn’t forget that name you just heard, you just never learned it in the first place.
Paying attention helps a lot, but it’s not always enough. The next step is to mentally turn the name into something else than just a bunch of meaningless sounds. Ideally you will turn the name into a picture, something you can visualize. For example Karla can become a car, Olivia can become an olive, Karen can become a carrot and Michael can become a microphone and so on. That picture would then be intertwined in a funny way with some memorable part of that person’s face (any feature that stands out in your mind).
What I just described is probably the most commonly recommended technique for memorizing names (here and here for example). And it’s possible that it’s the best method overall (check out this video or this one if you want to see some particularly impressive public demonstrations). However, there are other possible methods that can also be quite efficient. The associations you use don’t always have to be visuals, and they don’t always have to be linked to some particular facial feature. Instead of placing an image on the person’s ears or mouth or nose, you can also choose to imagine the person doing some particular action, you can think of someone else with the same name or a similar one, or you can just use some vague concept or idea. Robin can be robbing someone or shooting arrows like Robin Hood. Donald (or anyone with a similar sounding name) can brag about his wealth and about how he’s the best at everything. Yohan can say “Yo what up!” to everyone he meets. The Eric you just met is much leaner than Eric Cartman. Richard will be rich one day. Sabrina prefer to always remain sober. Nicole is a nicotine addict. Bradley from work is much less attractive than Brad Pitt. Of course it doesn’t have to be true. Maybe Richard has no plan or desire to become rich, but you can still use that trick to remember his name. Just use whatever types of tricks work best for you.
Optional 6 minutes video that shows a good variety of mnemonics for names.
Ok now let’s try something “easy”: learn the 12 names and faces shown right below. 12 names is a lot, but it should be easy enough because I’ll be holding your hand and suggesting mnemonics for everyone. Start with maybe just 4 names, make the effort to picture what I’m suggesting (or use your own personal mnemonic if you prefer), then hide the names with your hand or something and see if you can name those first 4. Then start the same process again with the last 2 rows. Review everything once or twice at the end. Make sure you pay attention to their physical appearance otherwise you’ll be confused later when they will be shown out of order.
How did it go? Were you confused by Olivia and Christine’s somewhat similar look? How about Karen and Karla, where in both cases the image was only enough to remind you of the sound “Kar”? That type of mistakes is of course very common. Sometimes adjusting your mnemonics can be the solution. So maybe Karla is also singing “LaLaLa” out loud. And maybe we should have focussed on Christine’s hair instead of her glasses to make sure we don’t confuse her with Olivia. But quite often, the solution is just to focus more, to practice more often and to not worry too much if we don’t always get everything right.
In real life of course sometimes a good idea for a mnemonic won’t immediately come to mind. In those cases you can use focus and repetition in the short term and try to find a good trick a little later whenever you have a minute to think. It’s also possible to use a mnemonic that only represents one small part of their name, even just one or two letters in some cases. Remembering the name “Razanaraghda” by using nothing but the image of a rat, that’s far from ideal, but it’s still better than nothing.
For very difficult names, you can also break them into smaller parts. There is no very easy way to remember the full name of dissident German general Kurt Gebhard Adolf Philipp Freiherr von Hammerstein-Equord, but you can still make the process much less difficult. Here’s how I choose to remember his name: I imagine that he’s cooking (Kurt) some hard eggs with Jeb Bush (Jeb+hard= Gebhard). Then Adolf Hitler scares off my cousin Philippe, because of “Adolf Philipp” and because “Freiherr” sort of sounds like “fear”. Finally, I don’t use any trick for “von”, I use a hammer for “Hammerstein” and a horse for “Equord” (it sounds like “équitation” in French). Those tricks are pretty bad for the most part, but they help. And then of course I need to rehearse that whole ridiculously difficult name a few times, out loud preferably. Calm down, I won’t force you to remember his name. I just wanted to show how one can proceed when faced with something particularly difficult.
So as I explained, first you need to focus and make an effort. Second you need to find some kind of trick and you need to associate that trick with the person, or to some memorable specific part of his or her face. The last step that I haven’t yet talked about is that you need to review. You can review just a few moments later by asking yourself “what was that person’s name again?”. You can also periodically ask yourself questions like “who did I meet today?”, “who did I meet this week” and “what are the names of everyone in my basketball team? For the very long-term, if you want to be the person who almost never forgets anyone’s name, I’ll talk later about how that’s possible.
Congratulation on making it to the end of Day 3!