Improve your short term memory: The memory montage technique


This is going to be fun.

I love voice-activated products because I can save my ideas instantly  - removing the friction from slow and clumsy typing helps me jot numerous notes a day.

However sometimes when I need to set reminders, schedule appointments or add items to my to-do lists and my phone is inaccessible, I often rely on building memory montages. A memory montage is very similar to a memory palace.

First a primer on memory palaces.

Memory palaces are a mnemonic technique of placing items that you wish to remember along a path in a familiar place referred to as a palace. An example path could be the front door of your house to your bedroom. When you wish to remember the items, mentally walking down the path helps you easily recall a long list of items that would otherwise be difficult to remember.

While there are many videos and walkthrus on how to build elaborate palaces, this is an entailed process more useful for long term storage of big ordered data sets. For example I've used it to remember the NATO alphabet. A memory montage is a simpler technique to help you remember smaller unordered lists. Like a few things you might remember that you need to do as soon as you reach the office.

The memory montage

  1. Begin to build a mental image of a scene around something familiar like your bed, breakfast table or couch.
  2. Start placing the things that you need to remember around the set.
  3. Stick to 5 thing or less for your scene.
  4. When imagining the scene, go for the absurd, the silly, the macabre. This is critical - it make things fun, funny and therefore memorable.
  5. Use people, or better yet anthropomorphize your inanimate objects. Make them huge, give them personality.
  6. Give yourself a 5 minute window to add any items you need to the scene - giant staplers, talking apples, smelly emails etc. Think about the ridiculous image you've put together a couple times and allow the memory to consolidate.

And there you have it. I find the process super simple and extremely effective.

I use it frequently to make my to-do lists. For example this morning I needed to buy business cards, do my taxes, send an email and ask someone to make a payment. In my memory montage I used my kitchen table. One side of the table had rounded corner moo business cards and a hairy, paunchy, gold chained moneycollector. The other side had an email stick figure and stack of IRS checks. 

As soon as I got to work, I already new what I had to do.

I hope you found that useful, if you've ever used the memory montage or a similar technique share your scenes in the comments.