Are associations necessary? Does one really need to do a lot of 'work'?
Well, I have a friend (James Anderson - he'll probably appear on the "Jeopardy!" game show someday) who can just go right down a list of names, facts, or whatever and memorize it very quickly without using any kind of "tricks"  or other memory techniques that I describe in The Memory Page documents. For him to do so would probably just slow him down! But this is a rare, gifted person -- most of us can't memorize things quite that easily. Therefore, association is just one basic tool that we can use to remember things more easily and effectively. We don't have to use the tool, but, for most of us, it can help us enormously.
"Think of your existing memory as a scaffold upon which to fit new information," says University of Michigan cognitive researcher Denise Park, PhD. "Don't isolate new information out 'in left field.' Always relate it to something." 
Memory experts would agree -- association is a proven, highly effective technique. Nevertheless, countless numbers of people dismiss the method because it seems like it's too hard, too silly, or simply too much work. Well, sometimes it is more work, but a little extra effort done at first will save a lot of time (and anguish) later on.
Does it seem too hard? Here's a secret: practice. Forming associations may be hard at first because you're not used to doing it... just like riding a bike is hard, or ice skating, or typing, or whatever. But with practice you can really perform well. I just thought of a good metaphor, so maybe I can elaborate even more. We all know that to type properly you have to put your left hand on ASDF and your right on JKL;. You also have to use the correct fingers to hit the letters. To someone who is used to hunt-and-peck typing, forcing yourself to use the right keys is going to really slow you down and seem tedious. But with much practice, you can type faster, and faster, and faster... until you reach 60, 80, even 100 words/minute, something not possible with hunt-and-peck.
Here's an example of how the memory tool of "association" has helped me. To remember names, I associate names with faces. So I have to think of pictures for names, like "Shave" for "Dave," "Cave-in" for "Kevin," "Cross" for "Chris," etc. It was a bit hard at first because it took a while for me to think up a good picture for people's names. But eventually I developed standard pictures for many common names, and I now can go much faster. Now, every time I see a Mike, I think of a microphone. All I have to do is associate a microphone with the most prominent feature on the Mike's face and I'm set.
This can apply to you, too, in whatever you are trying to memorize, whether it is names and faces, mathematical formulas, historical figures, movies, delivery routes, etc. In practice, you will find that patterns will emerge, and you can do it much faster. You'll be surprised at how much and how quickly you can learn! I certainly surprised myself. Can you believe I've now memorized the capitals for all the countries of the world? A few years ago I thought I'd never be able to do something like that (or have the time for it). But with the memory techniques and a little practice I have achieved what seemed to be impossible.
1. Most of the books out there on improving your memory describe techniques such as association, links, peg words, etc. If you are one of those rare people who don't need to use these techniques, or if you are totally convinced that associations and other "tricks" are not right for you, then I would suggest the following book:
Halacy, D.S. How to Improve your Memory. New York: F. Watts, 1977.
This is an interesting book because it offers a different perspective on memory. Regardless of whether or not you use the usual memory techniques, there is a lot of practical, helpful advice in the book.
2. Quoted from USA Weekend Magazine, 1-3 January 1999 issue, page 10.
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