Secrets of A Mistake Proof Memory

Brain Building – Secrets of a Mistake Proof memory

A couple of thousand years ago Greek orators faced a major memory challenge. To make mistake free speeches, lasting several hours, and lacking such modern memory aides as cue cards or TV autocue machines to guide them, they were obliged to develop powerful and practical ways of remembering and recalling vast amounts of information.

Not surprisingly this led some entrepreneurs to develop and market a number of mnemonic devices for aiding a flagging memory. Named after Mnemosyne, the personification of memory in Greek mythology, they create in the mind an artificial structure that allows disassociated ideas to be brought to mind more easily.

Simonides – The World’s Earliest Memory Man

First off the mark which such a system was a fifth century BC Greek lyric poet named Simonides of Ceos. He developed a mnemonic technique known as loci et res, from locus meaning a familiar structure and res the thing to be remembered. It was a simple yet powerful device that allowed the lengthiest of speeches to be remembered with relative ease.

While attending a banquet in a luxurious marble hall, Simonides was unexpectedly called outside to meet two messengers. Moments after he left an earthquake caused the building to collapse. Everyone inside was killed.

Simonides is called away from the banquet just as the building collapses

So crushed were their bodies, by the gigantic falling pillars, even their next of kin were unable to recognise them. In despair, they begged Simonides, the sole survivor to identify their loved ones. Although many of his friends and neighbours had attended the banquet, Simonides initially felt unable to help. He simply could not remember where each of his friends had been sitting. Then he realised that by recreating an image of the banqueting hall in his mind’s eye he could place each of the guests in his seat and so recall their names.

Sitting quietly, he focused on picturing the banqueting hall at the moment he was called away. ‘Walking’ through the building in his mind’s eye, he was able to accurately name each of the victims in turn.

Later it occurred to him the same approach could prove of great value to orators – and so one of the world’s first, commercial, memory enhancement course was created.

Simonides instructed his students to imagine themselves strolling around a familiar building, such as their own homes, mentally locating each key idea or fact in a specific location.

One, for example, might be mentally fixed just inside the front entrance, the second on a table, a third by an ornamental fountain in the courtyard and so on.

To recall those ideas or facts the speaker had merely to retrace his footsteps around the same location – in his imagination – and ‘pick up’ the information where he had previously placed it.

The same approach works just as well today.

To remember a shopping list, for example, try visualising each item at a specific place in your own home. You might place a bag of sugar on the hall table, a half kilo of apples on the TV in the drawing room, potatoes on the dining room table and so on.

To recall the list simply retrace your steps around the house. For more than a decade I have been studying memory and learning in both ‘ordinary’ people and working with those possessing exceptional memories, such as eight times world memory champion Dominic O’Brien.

So, is Dominic, and those relatively few other men and women capable of achieving similar extraordinary feats of memory, a genius or a freak? Is his brain somehow different and special? My research, as well as the brain scans which Dominic has undergone in the name of science, suggests virtually everyone has the potential to attain the same level of ability – provided they are prepared to master some fairly basic techniques for enhancing retention and recall.

From these findings I have developed a new approach to mastering memory. Named IMPACT it involves three key elements – Imagery, Mental Preparation and Active Concentration.

As the name suggests, IMPACT involves a combination of vivid mental imagery, a specific breathing sequence and developing the ability to concentrate intently on what you need to store in long- term memory.

Studies suggest that this way of using your memory can boost the retention and recall by as much as 85%. How does my method work?


Vision is the most powerful of all our five senses with more areas of the brain dedicated to this activity than for hearing, tasting, smelling or touching combined. By developing your powers of visual imagery you will also significantly enhance your memory.

Mental Preparation

Apart from training your visual imagination, the IMPACT approach involves breathing in a special way that causes the brain to enter a state of relaxed alertness in which it is especially receptive to retaining new information.

Active Concentration

Failure to pay attention at this, the first step in remembering, is the main reason why, for example, many have such difficulty remembering someone’s name after being introduced for the first time.

The problem is they failed to concentrate at the critical moment and so failed to take the name into their memory in the first place! Active Concentration is a crucial element of self-hypnosis and something you can learn on our Mind Enhancement page.

Here’s Another Powerful Memory Method

There is another effective way of remembering things which cannot easily be linked into a ‘mind movie’. This involves Simonides method, discussed earlier, of placing what has to be remembered – people, objects, words, numbers, playing cards, lines of a script etc. in a familiar location.

To bring to mind every card in a well-shuffled pile of 20 packs, for example, Dominic O’Brien pictures each card at different points inside a building he knows well, such as his own home, or along a favourite walk. To recall them he merely retraces the journey in his imagination, ‘observing’ what he has ‘placed’ at each location.

Try it for yourself by using the same 20 nouns learned earlier from the slideshow. This time take a mental trip around your own home and ‘deposit’ each word on the list at a different location.

You might, for instance, imagine placing an APPLE on the hall table, a TELESCOPE at the foot of the stairs, a MONKEY by the television in the living room and a MOBILE PHONE on your favourite armchair. To recall the list simply retrace your footsteps around your home.

You will find full details of how best to use The Method of Loci on my Mastering Your Memory video showing a series of lectures which Dominic and I gave at the University of Brighton.