Worked example of a mnemonic Memory technique

In 2015 I wrote a list of techniques to help you remember names.

Today I was working through trying to remember a specific theory and I noticed a pattern I have been using for a few days now.  When trying to remember theories or ideas.  The inspiration for this concept came to me because I have been using an app called FBreader, and a Text-to-speech plugin.  Using the two I now listen to ebooks in robot-voice while I drive or concentrate on other tasks.  The trouble is that sometimes a book will present (verbally because it’s being read out to me) some model or list of ideas that I need to hold in my head for the book to make any sense over the next few minutes or pages.  So I needed a way to generate a picture (possibly a system 1 visceral image) of the ideas so that I could play around with them as the chapter continued or also just; as I needed to recall the information a few days later.

I hope this post describes what it feels like from the inside to be performing this skill.

The process

This is what I have been doing in my head:

0. (regular check on the trigger: this seems like useful information/this list seems important) Do I feel like I will remember it?  If yes, end here.  (if unknown – practice via trial and error, intuitively knowing what you are likely to forget is powerful and useful information to hold)

1. Think about the concept and how I am going to remember it.

2. Build a visual/spatial/sensory model that feels right to me about the model.

  • What does it sound like?  (words sound like other words)
  • What does it remind me of? (other theories or systems that are similar)
  • Do I have any memories of experiences that seem to relate? (people who acted in ways that fit the model)
  • What does it line up to? (if it’s a list of 9 items, maybe 3 of them line up to some of the 9 circles of hell, which is convenient)
  • Can I play with it a bit in my head?

3. double check that it feels right, hone it till it does.  (Maybe it only has 5 pieces but 3 of them are already circles of hell. Can I make a new version of hell for my purposes of remembering these details – and why not?)


example 1:  reading models of therapy around extramarital affairs.  (from the paper – an intergrative intervention for promoting recovery from extramarial affairs (paywalled))

This model has 3 stages:

  1. Dealing with impact
  2. Exploring context and finding meaning
  3. Moving on.

my visual/spatial model (because it works for me) is like this:

  1. An asteroid hits the earth (impact)
  2. There is general rubble everywhere and people start to explore the damage (exploring and finding things)
  3. People begin to rebuild (moving on)

My model tells a story, and all I need to do is remember parts of the story and the rest comes back.  I have checked with myself that it sounds like I will recall the model, so I am safe to hold onto it in this way.

Example 2: From the book Difficult conversations.

There are 4 types of conversations, the important take away from the book is to square with the participants what type of conversation this is, so as to lay the grounds of understanding what will happen next.  The 4 types are:

  1. communicating an existing decision
  2. collaborative on a decision to be made together
  3. consulting on a decision you will make
  4. delegation of a decision to someone else

To remember these on the fly the best I could do (which works better than the names) is to imagine a circle, an arrow and a dot.  For each of the above, the picture of the type of conversation looks like:

  1. A circle with an arrow leading through a dot to the east. (a decision was made and is being communicated to the dot)
  2. A circle and a dot each with an arrow leading out from them to the east.
  3. A dot with an arrow leading north to a circle, then an arrow leading east from the circle
  4. A circle with an arrow leading south to a dot with an arrow leading east.
I am not sure that my description makes sense, but they strongly visually represent the information for me, so much so that I accidentally had a hard time explaining the 4 types of conversations to someone when I tried to repeat back my knowledge (because I forgot the names of them and only held the pictures)
In contrast, information also from that book – the 3 major conversations that go on in a difficult conversation are:
  1. The recount of what happened (Observation)
  2. The feeling surrounding the events (Feelings)
  3. The implications on people’s identities (Identity)

For this set of information I have recently also been looking into Non-Violent Communication (NVC) (see here: watch in double speed), Which has a 4 step model of communicating needs in a non-judgemental way (Observation, Feeling, Need, Request) – the 3 major conversations are so similar that I have no need to build a picture to recall this information.

At the top of this post I mentioned my post about how to remember names.  One of the strongest techniques for names is the mnemonic technique.  Where you build a sensory model of this person which connects them to their name (like the name Rose, imagine a rose on their head).  I mentioned it in 2015; as it’s basically the accepted strong model of how to remember people’s names like a champion.  What really hit me across the face like a wet fish today was that the mnemonic system is exactly what I was doing here.  But I never used it on names, I adamantly swear by the fact that I just did everything else on the list to remember names and didn’t need the mnemonics, I only just started using this technique now as I was needing it – as I was encountering information that was not staying in my head, I had to set up a system 2 loop in my head to remind me to check if I am likely to remember it.  And work out how to remember it.  Mnemonics are how to remember things.

I can’t tell you how to use this system exactly, nor can I make up the models that work for your memory.  But hopefully this description helps with feeling out the need and ability to build pictures of recalling information you need to store in your head.

Meta: this took 1.5hrs to write and sprung up accidentally as I realised what was going on in my head.

Feedback appreciated.

Cross posted to lesswrong:

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