Simple. If memory works by association, we actively work to create an association between two bits of information. For example, for the plane that we need to catch at 2 P.M., we can imagine the plane in our mind, and notice that it has 2 wings. Two wings, 2 P.M. There's an association. We are now ten times more likely to remember the take-off time long after it has faded from our short-term memory.
Sometimes an association comes very easily. For example, suppose you are introduced to a Mr. Hill who lives on a hill at the end of town. Mr. Hill on a hill. Pretty easy, huh? Or what if you're trying to remember the classroom number for a Chemistry class, and it just so turns out that it's the same as your dorm room number. Another natural association! Do you think you'll have a problem remembering it?
When pieces of information are not obviously related in any way, however, we have to be a bit more creative in linking things together. But it isn't as hard as it seems. Most of us learned rhymes and acronyms in school that helped us remember things. Do any of the following look familiar to you?
i before e except after c, or when sounded like a as in neighbor and weigh (rule for remembering ei or ie)
ROY G. BIV (colors of the rainbow)
All cows eat grass; Every good boy does fine (notes of musical scale)
Never eat sour watermelons (directions on a compass)
Why do they work? Because they form an easy-to-remember and clever association between themselves and the information that is to be remembered.
The idea is to be creative and clever. You don't have to invent a rhyme or a poem every time you want to remember something, though -- just think of a picture in your mind that links pieces of information together, preferably something unusual or silly so it is more memorable. For example, suppose you want to remember that the football field is on Maple Street. You might imagine in your mind a burly football player eating a football for breakfast... he pours some maple syrup on the football, cuts off a chunk and eats it!
To demonstrate how effectively this works, look at the following list of words, and try to come up with an association between the left word and the right word of each row. Some will be easy; others may be harder. As an example, for the first pair, you might want to imagine a mouse that has a long, wavy tail that is in the shape of the letter S.
After you have formed the associations (if you had trouble on one or two of them, that's okay; just skip them for now), cover up the right side of the list and then try to name the word associated with each word on the left. If you formed vivid, clear associations, you may be surprised at how quickly and easily you were able to remember everything!
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