After reading Moonwalking with Einstein I decided to go back and start using the mnemonic memory systems I learned when I was a kid. When I was about twelve magic was one of my hobbies. Harry Lorayne was one of the magicians I heard about, and paid attention to.
Harry Lorayne wrote The Memory Book and revealed how he was able to memorize the names of two hundred people in an audience, and also an entire deck of cards. I had always thought that the systems Lorayne revealed in his book were unique.
Turns out, as I learned in Moonwalking with Einstein, Lorayne’s system has been widely used for years. In fact, the most effective memory tricks have been known and used for over two thousand years.
I’m no longer interested in doing magic tricks. But I am interested in the memory tricks, because they have everyday, practical applications. For example, it’s easier to memorize (once you know the secret) a shopping list than to write it down or put it in digital form. For those of you who know my propensity to use technology this may sound like a surprising statement.
How could it be easier to memorize a shopping list? What if the list contains ten or twenty items?
Trust me: if you know the trick (and practice it a little bit) it’s easier not to have to fool with paper or technology, even for lists of twenty or thirty items. For one thing, I have to use reading glasses to see things I write down or put in my iPhone or iPad. So, from that standpoint alone it’s easier. And what about when you find yourself at the store when you didn’t plan to go, and thus don’t have your written list with you?
So how do you learn the memory tricks? Well, you can buy any of a number of books. They all teach pretty much the same system. Dominic O’Brien was brought to my attention by Adrianos Facchetti, who uses the memory tricks in his law practice. I’m reading one of his books now, and can recommend it. However, O’Brien’s books are harder to find.
Harry Lorayne’s classic Memory Book, which he actually co-wrote with basketball star Jerry Lucas, is probably the easiest to find and use. Lorayne has another book called The Page a Day Memory Book, which is basically the same stuff he put in The Memory Book, except it is presented a little more slowly.
Most people think that they can’t improve their memories, and assume that people like Lorayne and O’Brien are really gifted in some strange way. That’s simply not true. They both readily admit to being poor students (until they discovered the trick to memorizing information). O’Brien dropped out of school when he was sixteen; since then he’s gone on to win the World Memory Championships eight times. He once memorized the sequence of cards in 54 decks after looking at them only once. Needless to say, he’s a proficient card counter and has been banned from pretty much every casino.
What Lorayne and O’Brien do is an extreme version of a simple trick that anyone can learn. It takes some practice, and no you won’t be able to memorize 54 packs of cards (unless you want to practice a lot). But, for the every day stuff that you have to keep track of, it is easy to learn.
For example, it took me about 10 minutes to learn all of the U.S. states in alphabetical order. And it was incredibly easy, once I reoriented my approach to use my brain’s natural power. Memorizing, as Moonwalking with Einstein explains in detail, is best done using the right brain. Brute force repetition is worse than just boring; it’s also the wrong way to retain information.
Once you get used to engaging your right brain again (and believe me our modern style of life doesn’t encourage this) you’ll find that memorizing is easy. And, even in a world where we can outsource remembering to techno-gadgets, it’s also incredibly useful.