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When My Mnemonic Device Failed Me

Joan Young By Joan Young on
Badge: Editor | Level: 34 | Education & Learning Expertise:

Mnemonic devises help people remember things. For example, the word HOMES can be used to help recall the names of the Great Lakes, H=Huron, O=Ontario, M=Michigan, E=Erie, and S=Superior. Remembering things that are unrelated and do not need to be permanently memorized can be more difficult

For years I have used a simple method to remember a list of up to ten unrelated things. Methods like this work well for most people, although if you don’t use visual memory it may be useless for you. Here’s how it works.

First you have to permanently remember a list of ten things. Mine rhyme with the number.

One- gun

Two- shoe

Three- tree

Four- door

Five- alive

Six- tricks

Seven- heaven

Eight- gate

Nine- wine

Ten- hen

There are lists that go up to at least 50 that are available in memory aid books. I find that ten things is enough to meet my needs.

Here’s how to use the list. Say that you are lying in bed and all of a sudden you remember that you are out of dog food. You can’t turn on the light and write it down because it will wake up hubby, or said dog, etc. So, picture the gun, and picture dog food being shot out of the gun like buckshot.

A few minutes later, you a jolted awake by the thought that you didn’t send Aunt Betty a birthday card. Set a birthday candle burning in a shoe. That reminds you that Uncle Al wanted a print of the picture with him sleeping with the dog. Hang Uncle Al (and maybe the dog) in the branches of a tree.

And so on...

In the morning, pull out the list and you will find the dog food spewing out of the gun, the birthday candle burning in the shoe, and Al and the dog hanging in the tree. It’s up to you to actually do the stuff!

Be careful about picturing things that are just pieces of paper. For example, if you pictured a card in the shoe, you might find in the morning that it’s just a blank folded sheet of paper and you have no idea what it was supposed to be. Same with the picture for Uncle Al. There might be a picture in the tree in the morning, but... a picture of what? I’ve often tried to remember that I needed to print some document, and later that piece of paper would be where I mentally left it, but I couldn’t remember what piece of paper it was supposed to be.

Once you have used the list, you need to mentally clear it so that the gun, shoe, etc will be ready for the next use.

Here’s my recent problem. I was backpacking a trail and trying to recall landmarks for a trail guide. I had a small recorder with me, but the mosquitoes were so bad that I didn’t want to deal with it except at rest stops. So I just tried to use my list to remember the features. Here’s how I did for the first section:

gun- a beaver being shot out of the gun - crossing a beaver dam

shoe- red pines growing out of a shoe - passing through a red pine plantation

tree- a tree with a two-track road draped over a branch - crossing a two-track

door- a left turn blaze on a post balanced on top of the door - a post indicating a left turn

alive- puncheon with 5 legs running around - five sections of puncheon walkway through a wet area

When I took a short rest stop (I do this about once an hour or an hour and a quarter), I would put it all on the tape.

Somewhere in there I realized that I had forgotten something that was before the current list started, so I made up zero- Nero, and pictured the emperor Nero holding a fork (for a fork in the trail).

Worked great the first time... and the second time. Then I realized that the lists were all too much alike, and I started to lose the meanings. Was there a dirt road draped on yet another tree, or which direction was that turn?

I sort of managed to fix it by getting a bit more creative. I combined several things. For example, there was a strange 10-foot-tall post beside the trail when I got to “door.” Then I crossed a two-track. So I made the post the door casing with a door made of the road. For another example, for a gravel road I filled a shoe with gravel. And I thought I was really in the pink when “alive” was matched with a power line. I just remembered “live wire.” However, when I went back to the list that wasn’t visual enough. I did remember it later that day, however. Another time I needed “alive” for crossing a grassy pathway. I pictured a little lively elf with a cape of green grass running in front of me.

I would have to say that overall, the system worked even in this extreme case of using the list over and over, five times in one hiking day, with similar features. But I had to tweak things a bit to have good results.