Supercharge Your Memory | Part 1 — The Linking System

The difference between false memories and true ones is the same as for jewels: it is always the false ones that look the most real, the most brilliant. — Salvador Dali

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Suppose you have a list of words you want to memorize. What would you do? The common response is to go over it a million times, look at it again and again, read it out loud and so on, just like at school. This is the beginning of memory techniques.

At a time when listening to a poet recite several pages worth of historical epic poem was prime time entertainment, these same poets came up with the first innovation in memorization. The way is simple, and best of all; fun.

Before we introduce the linking system let’s establish a baseline. Just try and memorize the following list in order, but only going through the list once. Take a little time if you feel you need to, but don’t spend more than a minute. Off you go!

  1. Cigarette
  2. Canoe
  3. Toaster
  4. Mug
  5. Passport
  6. Tree
  7. Roast
  8. Pendulum
  9. Varnish
  10. London

Now write what you remember on a piece of paper. If you managed to remember all the items in order, after going over them once: well done. If you didn’t manage, it’s OK. You’ll be able to do it forever soon. So here’s how it works.

When you have a list of words to memorize, you go through each couple of words in turn forming a funny outrageous story between the previous and the next –or otherwise, a link. In our example it would be a link between the cigarette and the mouse, then the mouse and the toaster and so on.

Here’s an example:

Cigarette/Canoe: Rowing down a river in a canoe made from cigarettes. It feels wet and is becoming excessively unstable. You realize the oars are made from cigarettes as well and they break up leaving tobacco on your palms.

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There are a few very important and helpful concepts to keep in mind.

Firstly, the image or sequence you create has to be memorable, in other words vivid and engaging to all senses. If you are visualizing a cup of coffee don’t just see a mundane cup of coffee. Make it piping hot and steamy, make it have a pleasant freshly ground smell. Situations that happen in or around our lives tend to stay with us the longest when they have impact, regardless of their importance. Remember: you have more than five senses. Balance is a sense, heat is a sense, and even finding your mouth with your eyes closed is a sense! Use as many senses as you can when forming images.

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Secondly, the image should be odd and extraordinary. In our cup of coffee example don’t imagine a regular cup of coffee, but an enormous, 9 feet tall cup of scolding coffee. Make your image as strange and as bizarre as possible and it will stay with you.

Thirdly, the two images must be part of the same story and interact with each other. This forms a link which can be expanded on at any time. It’s no good having two imaginative and memorable pictures and no connection between them because then the chain breaks.

And fourthly, don’t be embarrassed or reserved about it! Use colour, light, smells, sensuality and taboos. It’s your imagination and your guilty pleasure! Guilty pleasures are easy to remember and erotic images even more, so go wild — it goes a very long way in the art of memorization.

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So now let me go through the list and show you how it might work in practice.

Cigarette/Canoe: Rowing down a river in a canoe made from cigarettes. It feels wet and is becoming excessively unstable. You realize the oars are made from cigarettes as well and they break up leaving tobacco on your palms.

Canoe/Toaster: Placing miniature model canoes in the toaster. When they’re ready you take them out and eat them. They are very crunchy and hard to eat.

Toaster/Mug: All your mugs are dirty and you have no washing-up liquid. You pour the boiling water in the toaster and place a teabag inside and proceed to have a nice cup of tea.

Mug/Passport: You are about to go through passport checking at an airport. You hand over your passport and as you do you realize there’s a picture of a man with a mug instead of a head! You catch a reflection on the glass and realize you do actually have a large mug instead of a head. How about that!

Passport/Tree: There’s a tree in the garden that every spring blossoms passports instead of flowers. Everyone who collects a passport from the passport tree has its blank photograph changing into one of their own face.

Tree/Roast: You are invited to a dinner. Dinner is served and you move to the dining table where you are surprised to see that the roast is a burnt bonsai tree! You begin to dissect a few branches and put them on your plate.

Roast/Pendulum: You are sat at your office playing with a three foot tall Newton’s Pendulum where all the balls are replaced by roast beefs. Smells delicious and every strand that escapes from the collisions, you get to eat!

Pendulum/Varnish: You decide to use a pendulum hanging from the ceiling to varnish some wooden floors in your house. You attach brushes dipped in varnish on the end of the pendulum and let it go, sploshing varnish all around the room and on you. What a mess!

Varnish/London: The mayor of London decides to tackle the problem of building erosion by having every monument varnished by the people of London. Everyone shows up, each rolling a gigantic barrel of varnish and proceed to varnish the Tower Bridge, The Houses of Parliament etc. using massive brushes.

If you followed that you should be able to go through the list right away — first word Cigarette… Go!

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If unsure, you can go over the examples again or better yet go over the list forming your own links . Once you manage to memorize the list in order, there’s a bonus: you’ll automatically be able to go over the list backwards!

Last word London…

The Link System forms the foundation and introduces ideas that reoccur in all the following more advanced techniques, so it’s really important that you get this one down to the dot. Make a new list from anything you like. Shopping lists and short lists like tasks for the day — up to around twenty items - work extremely well for this system. You can use it to memorize lists you always wanted to, like the list of planets, and longer ones, like the works of Shakespeare, and once you get good at it, you can even memorize — I know this from an afternoon’s worth of personal experience - the elements of the periodic table! You can have a friend or family member write you a list. One trick I used to form lists when learning memory techniques was to memorize the first word on every other page of a random book. There are lists everywhere, just get practicing!

Photo by Alexandre Pellaes on Unsplash

Other uses of the Linking System include speeches and presentations as well as poems and scripts. In essence anything that has a flow to it and can be reduced to bullet-points. If you are making a presentation for example, instead of looking at your notes at every new slide, you can use the Linking System to form a story beginning from an element on each slide. That way the presentation becomes more memorable because it becomes more engaging by you not having to pause frequently to consult your notes and you also spend more time looking at the audience and projecting an image of being knowledgeable about the subject in hand.



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