Your Dreams Can Help You                           


The use of dreams to help in creativity is well documented. Elias Howe, the inventor of the sewing machine tried for months to think of a way to attach the thread to the needle. One night he dreamt he was being attacked by a group of natives who challenged him to invent the sewing machine or die. He noticed in his dream that the tip of their spears had a hole in it. He woke up and decided that was how the thread was going to be attached to the needle – the rest, as they say, is history


Negative Statements                                      

Do you realise that the brain cannot process a negative command or statement? If you say to your child “be careful, don’t spill your milk” as they carry the glass full of milk across the kitchen the child has to actually think of spilling the milk so that it can take the necessary action not to do it. We tend to get what we focus on and so by the child thinking of spilling milk that is often what tends to happen which normally results in a loud “But I told you not to spill that milk”. So the moral of the story is ask for what you want, not what you don’t want.


Stress and Memory                                         

One of the biggest destroyers of memory is stress. When you are stressed you release high levels of cortisol into your bloodstream. One of the ways that cortisol affects you is that it destroys glucose – the brain’s only source of food. So if your brain is not getting the nutrients it needs then it will not function as well.


Have you ever thought of this:

  •  the literature that has ever been written in the modern English Language consists of patterns of only 26 letters 
  •  the paintings ever made are patterns of only three primary colours
  •  the music ever written consists of patterns of no more than 12 notes
  •  the arithmetical expressions we know consists of only 10 symbols
  •  for the vast computations of digital computers, everything is made up of patterns of only two components.

So whenever we speak of something as being “new” we are really talking about original patterns of already existing components.


Impulse Control and its effects on Intelligence


Have you ever heard about the tests that offered young children the option of having one bag of sweets now or by waiting a few minutes could have 2 bags of sweets? If you have kids, what do you think yours would do, wait for the extra payoff or immediately indulge in instant gratification?

This research was carried out with four year olds and to give you an idea of the temptation, the sweets were placed in front of the children, they were given the options and then the researcher left the room (and the sweets) in front of the class. As you can imagine, some of the children took their one bag of sweets almost as soon as the researcher’s back was turned as she left the room. Other children however used a variety of methods to distract themselves from the sweets such as closing their eyes, talking to themselves or playing with their hands and feet. Once the researcher returned, these children were rewarded with the extra sweets that their more impulsive friends had foregone for the immediate fulfilment.

The researchers tracked down these children over 10 years later and discovered that those who had resisted the temptation were more socially competent, personally more effective, self assertive and better able to deal with the frustrations of life. Those who had grabbed at the sweets had fewer of these traits and shared a relatively more troubled psychological profile. Even more interesting is that as they left High School, those who had waited for the sweets were much better students. The research found that the ability to deny impulse was a strong indicator of success.


Men and Women are different   

I am sure you will be aware that there is a huge amount of research that explores the psychological differences between men and women. What this research has found is that generally (and I will stress “generally” as these findings do not apply to every single man or woman) the following patterns have emerged:


* Score better than men on some language tasks

* Show a faster rate of language development

* Score better than men on some tests of social judgement, empathy and co-operation

* Are better at tests that involve generating ideas.



* Perform better than women on mathematical reasoning tasks

* Score higher at tests that involve distinguishing between figure and background 

* Find it easier to rotate objects in their mind’s eye

* Are better at hitting targets

I will stress that these findings do not show that one sex is better than the other, they show that they are different.

Can’t You Count?                                                      

In the box below you will see a sentence. What I’d like you to do is for you to count all of the letter “F”s that you can find.


If you thought the answer was 3 then count again because the answer is 6. Have a look at the next box and you will see what I mean.



Now the reason for this is because the brain processes the smaller familiar “of”s as single syllable words (“ov”) instead of breaking them down as it does with the longer relatively unfamiliar words. It is believed that these two types of words are processed in different areas of the Brain.

A Baby Needs Sharp Contrasts to See                                  

In the first few months of its life, a baby’s brain will lay down its main visual pathways. Different layers in the cortex deal with different signals transmitted from the retina, along the optic nerve to the back of the brain. One layer transmits horizontal lines and another vertical lines. If a baby only saw horizontal lines as the visual pathways were laid down in its brain then it would bang into vertical objects (such as chair legs etc) as it crawled because its brain could not process the vertical lines of these structures.

Therefore, to give the baby the stimulus for its visual pathways to develop, researchers recommend that stark black and white contrasting shapes are more appropriate than bland pastel wall coverings popular in young children’s bedrooms.


Parts of Our Brain Grow at Different Rates!!                      

If you are a parent I am sure you have experienced the “Terrible Twos” – that time in a child’s development when tantrums are the order of the day. If you are not a parent but have spent some time around very young children it is that part of a child’s behaviour that makes you question whether you ever want to be a parent!! The Terrible Twos occur when a child knows what he wants to communicate but does not have the speech skill to say what he or she wants to say. Out of frustration the child will very often get angry and throw a tantrum.

So why does this happen? Well there are a number of factors but one of the most significant causes is related to rate at which parts of the brain mature. The language areas of the brain become active when a child is about 18 months old. Unfortunately for parents, the understanding part of the brain matures before the part that produces speech. This of course results in that time when toddlers understand more than they can say, hence the frustration

We Can See Our Brain Thinking!!                                            

If you scan the brain and then give that person different activities to do then different areas of the brain will “light up” under the scan. For example a different area of the brain will light up when the subject is listening to words than when he or she listens to music.

Cab Drivers have Bigger Brains!                                

A study has found that after learning all of the routes necessary to be a   Taxi Driver, the part of the brain used for remembering routes was bigger than in other people. 

THE EFFECTS OF JET LAG                                        

A study conducted by the University of Bristol has found that too much jet lag can affect the memory and impair thinking. The study was carried out on female cabin staff who had been flying across time zones for more than 4 years and identified that these women had slower reaction times and worse short term memory compared to check-in staff colleagues. It was not identified whether the deficiencies were temporary or permanent



It has been said that on average we remember

20% of what we read

30% of what we hear

40% of what we see

50% of what we say

60% of what we do

90% of what we see, hear, say and do



Most people know about IQ (Intelligence Quotient) as a measurement of intelligence but there is doubt about whether it is an accurate assessment of someone’s ability. Harvard Professor of Education Howard Garner came up with a theory of Multiple Intelligences to measure human intellectual competence. These are:


LINGUISTIC INTELLIGENCE – The ability to read, write and communicate.

LOGICAL – MATHEMATICAL INTELLIGENCE – The ability to reason, calculate and think in a logical manner.

VISUAL – SPATIAL INTELLIGENCE – The ability to think in pictures and visualise a result.

MUSICAL – INTELLIGENCE – The ability to make or compose music or understand and appreciate it.

BODILY- KINESTHETIC INTELLIGENCE – The ability to use your body skillfully to solve problems, create products or present ideas and emotions.

INTER PERSONAL (SOCIAL) INTELLIGENCE – The ability to work effectively with others.

INTRAPERSONAL INTELLIGENCE – The ability for self analysis and reflection.

NATURALIST INTELLIGENCE – The ability to recognise flora and fauna.

If you consider these intelligences, where do your strengths lie and how can you improve them? 

BRAIN WAVES                                                       

Did you know that your brain thinks at different frequencies depending upon what it is doing? There are four types of wave and they are categorised by their frequency (cycles per second) and they are:

     Beta (13-25 cycles per second) – Awake and alert

      Alpha (8-12 cycles per second) – Daydreaming

    Theta (4-7 cycles per second) – Early stages of sleep

     Delta (½ -3 cycles per second) – Deep sleep



Did you know that there is a part of you that is also found in lower life forms such as lizards, crocodiles and birds? It is the part of your brain that is at the base of your skull emerging from your spinal column. It is responsible for basic functions like breathing, heart rate and the fight or flight mechanism. So the next time that you feel threatened in any way, know that it is your reptilian brain that is controlling that instinct. 


Did you know that your eyes can take in information in one five hundredth (1/500th) of a second. That means that if you read one word at a time you can read 500 in a second which gives you a reading speed of 30,000 words a minute! Now it is not quite as simple as that but whatever speed you are reading at now, you can do it much, much faster. So what is holding you back? 

WIRING THE BRAIN                   

If you take a Cray Computer (one of the largest computers in the world) and measure its wiring, it has about 60,000 miles in total. If you take the brain and look at it in those terms, it has been estimated that it has over 200,000 miles of wiring!



The Brain is often compared with objects and performance figures in the real world to give us an idea of the complexity and power it has. One example is that if you compared all of the world’s telephone systems with the brain, by comparison they would only occupy space that was the size of a small pea! Another comparison is that the Cray Computer, one of the largest computers in the world can make 400 million calculations a second. If it did that for one hundred years it would equal what the brain can do in a minute!



The Brain is about the size of two clenched fists and weighs about 3 pounds (1.4 kilogrammes) and contains 1000 trillion trillion (that is a very big number!) Protein molecules.



Do we have total recall? Well experiments with hypnosis suggest that we do and that our only problem is the conscious access to all of that stored information. An example of this was recorded at Yale University. Ten years after he had completed work on a building using distinctive bricks, a bricklayer was hypnotised and asked if he could describe any particular brick. With incredible clarity he described a certain brick in a certain wall, noting its colour and unique features. Amazingly, when checked, his description of the brick was perfect.



Did you know that you think in pictures? Just think about your day so far. You got out of bed, probably showered, got dressed, had your breakfast and then went to school. Now as you remember all of that, do you see a description of the events of the early part of your day written out in words and sentences? Or do you see pictures of what you did? Of course you saw the pictures in your own mind. Now ask yourself this question: If I think in pictures, doesn’t it make sense that I should use more pictures in my notes? A picture speaks a thousand words and it is easier to recall information in picture form than just from words alone.



Last month, I told you that one of the essential brain foods was oxygen. How important is it to get oxygen to the brain? Well although the brain amounts to only about 2% of the body’s weight, it consumes 25% of the body’s oxygen intake! 

BRAIN FOODS                           

Your brain needs four basic foods to survive:

1. Oxygen (aerobic exercise is good for you).

2. A balanced and nutritious diet (eat your greens).

3. New and varied knowledge and information (keep on learning).

4. Affection and love.


Shastri Sangeet    produces exactly the right frequency and sound to harmonise the functioning of the brain and produce a state of calm relaxed alertness. That is why accelerated learning techniques introduce music into the learning process.

Music can also strengthen or weaken you. Classical music has been shown to have either a neutral or a strengthening effect but Rock Music has a weakening effect!


The mind tends to organise the information that it receives and tries to reduce them to simple patterns. This means that if the information fits into a certain pattern, it will help you in trying to remember it.

Furthermore, if you categorise the information that you are trying to memorise, you will be more likely to recall it. This was demonstrated in an experiment where two groups of people were given the same 100 words. One group was told to memorise them and the other was just told to sort and organise the words in the list. When both groups were tested the results in recalling the list of words were the same. This showed that categorising and organising information has a significant effect on the ability to recall that information.



When you create a memory, a pathway is created between your brain cells. It is like clearing a path through a dense forest. The first time that you do it, you have to fight your way through the undergrowth. If you don’t travel that path again, very quickly it will become overgrown and you may not even realise that you have been down that path. If however, you travel along that path before it begins to grow over, you will find it easier than your first journey along that way.


Successive journeys down that path mean that eventually your track will turn into a footpath, which will turn into a lane, which will turn into a road, and into a motorway and so on. It is the same with your memory: the more times that you repeat patterns of thought, for example when learning new information, the more likely you will be able to recall that information. So repetition is a key part of learning. If you look at the article on your Brain’s natural rhythms you will find the optimum plan for reviewing (repeating) information to get it into your long term memory.


 Did you know that our visual recognition of things that we have seen before is practically perfect? This has been proved by showing 2560 photographic slides at the rate of one every ten seconds to a group of subjects and then testing them by showing 280 pairs of slides with one slide in each pair from the original set of images.

The subjects were then asked to select which slide they had seen before. They recognised 85 to 95 percent of the original slides correctly and even maintained these high scores when the presentation rate was increased to one every second. 

So why is this important to us? Well, if we use images and pictures in our notes that represent information, we are more likely to remember that information. 


Did you know that over 40 years ago it was estimated that we only used 50 per cent of the brain’s potential?

Did you know that over 30 years ago it was estimated that we used 40 per cent of our brain’s potential?

20 years ago it was thought that we used between 20 and 30 per cent of our mind’s capabilities.

Even just over 10 years ago we still thought that we used between 5 and 20 per cent of the brain’s potential.

But now, in the 1990s, we know that we are consciously using less than one per cent of our brain’s capabilities.

Therefore the potential for what we can achieve is enormous. I have asked you before and I will ask you again, what are you going to do to realise your brain’s potential? 


 It is only in the last 500 years or so that mankind has realised that the brain was located in the skull. It was thought the brain was located in the heart and stomach area because that was where direct experience of the physical manifestation of mental activity was felt.

Your Brain’s Potential

 In the brain there are 1,000,000,000,000 (a million million) individual neurons or nerve cells. 

If each neuron can interact with anywhere between 1 and 100,000 other neurons then the brain’s potential for pattern forming (the number of possible permutations) is a massive number that even in normal text would require 10.5 million kilometres of space to write one after the other!

That means that your brain has an almost infinite capacity for storing information.

What are you going to learn today to start realising your potential? 

Your Brain is Divided in Half!!!

 The upper part of our brain is divided into two halves.

In most people, the left half deals with logic, words, lists, number, linearity, and analysis etc.

The right half deals with rhythm, imagination, colour, day-dreaming, spatial awareness, Gestalt (whole picture) and dimension.

Studies have shown that the more we use both sides of our brain, then the more effective our overall brain performance is.

Many of the great minds of our times used both sides of their brains.


The Power of Suggestion

You may have seen examples of this yourself, but consider the scene – a very strong man is hypnotised and all of a sudden he is unable to lift a simple pencil off a table even though he is usually able to lift over 300lb. On another occasion, an athlete is given a grip strength test and he registers 100lb. He is then hypnotised and told that he is now much stronger. He is given the tests again and now he registers 125lb! Or seemingly more bizarre, a woman under hypnosis is told that the finger touching her arm is a hot piece of metal and she winces in pain and develops a red mark on her arm! 

Each of the above examples demonstrates the power of suggestion delivered under hypnosis. Now you don’t need to be given suggestions under hypnosis for them to be able to work. The difference between hypnosis and normal suggestion (ie no hypnosis) is that with normal suggestion, conscious control is maintained but with hypnosis that control is partially handed over to someone else. So what is the point of all of this and how does it apply to learning?

Well, suggestion can be applied to the way we think and learn to improve those abilities. You see, the thing about the hypnotic process in the example where the athlete’s strength seemingly increased as a result of hypnosis, was that the athlete did not suddenly gain more strength out of nowhere, it was just that his belief about how strong he was changed and with a new, more empowering belief he was able to access more strength. So in effect he wasn’t so much hypnotised as de-hypnotised.

An American psychological researcher investigated the impact of negative self image on students’ ability to learn. What she discovered was that all of the students she studied had innate ability but were unable to fully access that ability because their negative self image and associated beliefs would not let them. These beliefs and hence the poor self image about learning had come about either because they were repeatedly told at an early age that they were no good at maths or, because they had interpreted a single failure early on as a generalization that they were no good at a particular subject. She believed that if she could improve the self image using the power of suggestion then she could improve the student’s ability to learn.

The results were extremely empowering. A “poor” speller with an average success rate of 45% increased it to 91%. A Latin student took her grades from 30% to 84% after just three encouraging chats with her tutor and an English student who was written off won the literary prize a term later.

Help with Spelling

In the mnemonics section I have given you a number of examples of how you can remember the spellings of certain words. This piece looks at a number of other ideas that can also help with reading and spelling.

Kinesiology is the science of motion and has become well known is some countries because of its success with top flight athletes. However, it also has educational applications because of the brain-body connection. 

The brain transmits messages both chemically and electrically and blockages occur when the person is stressed. Simply put the brain’s wiring becomes fused as it is short circuited by these blockages and so learning problems can develop. Kinesiologists state that one way to overcome these problems is to do physical exercises that defuse the blockages between the left and right side of the brain. Try the following exercise to improve not only your spelling but also your writing, reading and listening:

1. Stand up and by raising your knees alternately, touch each hand to the opposite knee. 

2. Do this 10 times when you are stressed. 

3. As a variation, do it with your eyes closed

The theory is that the brain operates best when the left and right sides are working in harmony. This exercise can help you become more coordinated and centred making learning easier and natural. 

Helpful hints on Spelling 

In their book Dynamic Learning, Robert Dilts and Todd A Epstein offer the following hints on helping children who are having difficulty with “problem” words: 

a. Picture the word in their favourite colour 

b. Make any unclear letter stand out by making it look different to the others in some way (e.g. size or colour)

c. Break the word into three letter groups and build the word three letters at a time

d. Put the letters on a familiar background like a favourite object or movie scene

e. If it is a long word, make the letters small so that the whole word can be seen.

f. Trace the letters in the air with your finger and picture in your mind the letters that you are writing. 

Mirror Writing Problems

Some children have difficulties with letters like “b” and “d” because of the similarity of their shape. In the book “Teach Your Child to Read” by Peter Young and Colin Tyre, the authors recommend “Back Writing”. Place a large piece of paper on a wall at about your child’s shoulder height. Give them a thick pen or crayon and stand them at arms length from the paper. Then with your child facing the paper, write the first letter on their back, tell them what it is and describe how you are drawing it. Then ask your child to draw the letter. This has the best results if you do only one letter at a time.

The “No Blame” Approach to Bullying

This month I want to focus on a subject that although has no direct relevance to learning, its impact on those who are at school, college, university and even in the work place can be devastating. Bullying is a big problem and if you have ever been the victim of a bully you will know how terrible an experience it can be. But how should it be dealt with? Many think that retribution through appropriate punishment is the best way but is it? Is the victim really helped by this approach and do the perpetrators really understand what they have done?

One way that has been developed to deal with the problem is called “The No Blame Approach to Bullying” developed by George Robinson and Barbara Maines. It is a simple 7 step process that has the following four essential ingredients: 

The absence of blame

The encouragement of empathy

Shared Responsibility

Problem Solving 

And the steps involved are as follows: 

Step 1 – Talk with the victim 

A facilitator trained in the approach talks to the victim to establish the impact that the bullying has had on them. It is not designed to gather “facts” about who said or did what to who. The victim will be encouraged to suggest the names of people to form a group who should help solve the problem. These will include those involved, colluders and perhaps friends of the victim. The victim is also asked to produce a piece of writing or a picture to express how the bullying is affecting them. [*see note at foot of this page, however] 

Step 2 – convene a meeting of the group 

The facilitator gathers the group together ensuring that there is a balance between helpful and reliable students and those whose behaviour has been causing a problem. 

Step 3 – explain the problem

The facilitator explains that there is a problem and that “Sarah” is experiencing certain difficulties. Without discussing specific incidents or accusations the facilitator explains how “Sarah” is feeling using the piece of writing from the victim to illustrate this.

Step 4 – share responsibility

The facilitator points out that no one is going to be punished and that the group has been convened to help solve the problem because there is a shared responsibility for “Sarah’s” happiness.

Step 5 – Ask for ideas 

The facilitator asks the group to suggest ways that they may be able to alleviate the suffering felt by the victim. Members of the group are encouraged to use “I” language (I will sit next to her in lessons, I will walk to school with her etc) so that they take ownership of the solutions. These ideas are not imposed on the group by the facilitator.

Step 6 – leave it up to them

The facilitator ends the meeting by passing responsibility for the problem over to the group, thanks them for their support and arranges a meeting to see how things are going.

Step 7 – meet them again

The facilitator meets each of the group individually a week later to see how things are going.

Well, does this work? If you read the book “Crying for Help – the No Blame Approach to Bullying”   this month  you can establish that for yourself from accounts from teachers, parents and pupils.

An Introduction to Speed Reading

If you are an average reader without any knowledge of Speed Reading Techniques your reading speed is probably in the region of 200-300 words per minute. You might feel a little smug at having what appears to be quite a reasonable reading speed but before you congratulate yourself, understand that despite being the average, this is extremely slow and way below what we as human beings are capable of achieving. Speeds in excess of several thousand words per minute as a minimum are well within the capability of most readers and what prevents us from achieving these seemingly incredible levels is first of all our technique, secondly practice and thirdly and probably the most crucial factor is one of belief.

Now I don’t have time to deal with your beliefs but you can make some dramatic improvements in your reading speed and reading effectiveness simply by improving your basic technique ie the way you actually use your eyes and your brain to read words.

Many people when asked to explain how they think the eye moves across a page of words will describe smooth jumps from one word to the next and to the next, starting at the left hand edge of a line of words travelling to the right hand extremity of that line and then starting again at the first word of the next line and so on.

In actual fact what happens is that the eye will move from one word to the next, then the next and then it may wander off to some other line on the page before it returns to round about where it was. Then after a couple more words on that line it might retrace its steps a few times over a word or a sequence of words it has already covered before wandering off on another expedition to explore any line other than the one it is currently on. If it decides to come back it may retrace its steps once more before finishing the line and starting the next, perhaps after visiting yet another line or sequence of words elsewhere. From that description alone you can understand that the movement of the eye across a page as we read is quite chaotic to say the least.

This may sound a rather extreme description of your eye movements and it has been exaggerated somewhat to give you an idea of an excessive case of poor reading technique but I am sure that most of you can relate to going back over a few words for a second time as you read. This is called regression if you feel you have missed or misunderstood a word and back skipping if you have developed it as a habit. To give you an implication of the impact of back skipping and regression on your reading consider this. If each back skip or regression takes roughly 1/2 a second and you make an average one or two per line on a 40 line page you are wasting 40 seconds per page. Over a 300-page book, this will mean a waste of 3 hours 20 minutes as you read it – if you read a lot of 300 page books is there something else you could be doing with the accumulation of this wasted time? So what can we do to improve our reading technique?

You will recall that I said most people’s description of eye movement is from word to word and this is the first area where we can get a significant improvement in our reading speed. Now for a little exercise – put your hands in front of you, palms together as though in the praying position. What I would like you to do is to pull your hands apart whilst wiggling your fingers. Extend your arms out either side of you until you can no longer see your fingers wiggling out of the corners of your eyes. When this happens, take a note of the distance between your hands. What you have just done is very crudely identified the extent of your peripheral vision. Now if you compare that distance with the width of the longest word you have ever had to read in normal 12-point font, you will see that there is a huge difference. My point is that with such a comparatively wide vision, why do we restrict ourselves to only reading one word at a time when clearly with the width of our vision we could surely take in at least a couple more? The cause of this feature of our current reading style is that as children we got used to reading single words at a time either by recognising them or by breaking them down letter by letter, sound by sound.

The only real development in our reading ability after that was that we started reading longer and more complicated words and more of them. So the first idea I am going to suggest you try is to read by taking in groups of words instead of single words on their own. This of course will take a little bit of practice but just think about it, if you suddenly started reading 2 words at a time instead of one, automatically you have doubled your reading speed. Now what happens if you take 3 or 4 words in at a time ….. Many of you at the moment may be raising the issue of comprehension. It is a common and popular belief that the faster you read the less you comprehend. Unfortunately, time prevents me from delving too deep into the argument but research is now showing that the brain takes information in more easily if it is grouped in meaningful chunks. Reading more than one word at a time is one way of doing this.

Now the next idea I want you to consider is related to the time it takes you to read each group of words. The only way the eye can see something clearly is by fixing its gaze on the subject in question either because the object is still or the eye is able to lock in and track the object as it moves giving zero relative motion. The only thing that tends to move during the reading process is the eye across the page and for it to take in words or groups of words it must be fixed on them. Research carried out during the training of First World War Pilots showed that the eye can recognise images (such as a word) in one five hundredth of a second. Taken to its logical conclusion this gives a reading speed of 60 sec x 500 giving 30,000 words per minute! Now I am not suggesting that you read at that rate but I am sure you can reduce the length of time that you fixate on a group of words. Of course it takes a little practice but this is another way that your reading speed can increase. In fact, just by combining these first two ideas, not only will your reading speed increase but your eyes will be doing less work (ie fewer and shorter fixates because you are taking more words in at once and spending less time on each grouping).

The final idea I want to give you is probably one that you used as a child but stopped using as you got older. If you look for a particular number in a phone book how do you tend to scan the page? Most people will run their finger down the page because it is easier to do this to work down through the numbers. As children we may have been taught to use our finger as we read but we quickly got out of this, probably because we thought it was childish or we were encouraged not to by parents or teachers who believed it was no longer necessary. You will recall earlier in this session I talked about the problems of back skipping and regression. Well if we use a guide as we read and it need not be our finger, it can be a pen or a pencil, then that can help eliminate these two problems.

So to summarise. If you want to increase your reading speed the three things that you can do are:-

Instead of reading single words one at a time, read them in groups of 2, 3 or 4.

As you fixate on each group by minimising the time you spend on each fixation.

To overcome the problems of back skipping and regression use a guide such as your finger or perhaps a pen or pencil.

These ideas are very simple concepts that can have a powerful effect on your reading speed if you practise them and make them a habit

Mind Mapping For Younger Children

I am often asked about the introduction of Mind Maps to Younger Children. The approach will need to vary depending upon the age and maturity of the children involved but let me tell you how I teach children who I think would get bored by being told about Mind Mapping and really are only interested in doing stuff. First of all I never tell the kids that we are “Mind Mapping” or doing anything special. I tell them that we are going to learn about

I will have a huge piece of paper (at least flip chart size) and will either ask them to draw what a farm looks like or will get the kids to cut out pictures from magazines so that there is a central image of a farm. If I don’t have any child safe scissors I usually cut out a load of pictures myself but if I can encourage the children to sort through magazines and find their own pictures, providing it is safe, I’ll let them cut them out.

I then ask them what sort of things do we see on a farm. I either suggest or try to encourage them to come up with generic words like Animals, Buildings, Crops, People, Machinery etc. These form the Key Images on the main branches because I will either ask them to draw an animal or a building etc or once again get them to cut pictures out from Magazines.

Then having captured the main branches I will go deeper into one of the topic areas for example I will ask what animals they may find on a farm and again sub branches for sheep, cows, pigs, hens etc develop and once again the children will generate these branches themselves. Now my description of this process is somewhat linear because as you are no doubt aware, young children will just tell you everything that they can think of without following my adult-orientated logical approach. I describe it in this way for ease of explanation but essentially what happens is that the mind map will grow and it will consist entirely of pictures structured in Mind Map form. In fact capturing the information this way is a great way of harnessing children’s creativity and spontaneity. A more linear, topic by topic approach may stifle a child’s natural desire to blurt out the first thing that comes to mind. Another good thing about doing it this way is that the children can work together in teams, one doing the “Animal” branch, another doing the “Machinery” branch etc.

If this approach is adopted when covering any topic, it will just seem natural to the children that it is the most sensible and fun way to capture information. Then if you ask the children to tell you all about the farm (or whatever the subject is) they will “see” the Mind Map, particularly the bits that they were responsible for, and will give a very comprehensive and structured account of a farm. If you are dealing with very young children who are just learning to read, you could label the Mind Map Images with large lettered words to help them recognise the words from the pictures.

For parents this is a great way of bonding with your child and exploring a subject together. For teachers it is a simple way of engaging young children in an activity that will help them learn and process information about a topic. Try it and let me know how you get on with it.


Here is a very simple technique that I discovered . How many times have you said to yourself “I must remember to do……” and then when it came time for you to do it, you forgot you had to or perhaps you even knew you had to do something but could not remember what it was?

Now another question for you. If you walked into your kitchen and somebody moved the fridge to the other side of the room, do you think you would notice? Perhaps on a smaller scale, if you walked into your bedroom and someone had moved some of your things, do you think you would spot that they had been moved? The answer is probably yes and this is not because we have brilliant memories for the things around us, it is because we are creatures of habit and security and we like things to stay the same so if something has moved out of its normal place we spot it immediately.

So what is my point? Well the next time you have to put the dog out before you go out, a job that may normally done by someone else, why not put a tin of dog food on the doormat so you can’t help but trip over it. When you see the dog food you’ll remember to put the dog out.

Now that’s an obvious example, but the connection need not be so blatant. It could be something as subtle as moving an ornament 3 inches, or moving a mat so that it no longer lines up with the table. The key thing is that when you do this, you say to yourself “this will remind me to do…..”. Now when you next see this “disturbance” in your normal environment you’ll know you have to do something, and the fact that you created the disturbance in the first place as you thought about what you had to do, will mean you will remember it.

It really is as simple as that. Try it, it will work if you use it.

The 6 Step Master Plan to Accelerated Learning

One of the things that is often said to me as I teach these techniques and principles in both education and business is something along the lines of :

“Well I have tried that and it doesn’t work for me”

or”I can see how these techniques work but I don’t know if I want to put the effort in to learn how to use them”

It often amazes me that people get hooked on the process rather than the result. In my mind, to be a really effective learner, you need to know exactly what it is you want to learn, the level of proficiency you want to achieve in your subject or skill and a deep understanding of the reason why you want to do it and its importance to you. If you have those things clear in your own mind then the process does not matter because you will do anything to achieve your goal as long as it works. Now all of the techniques that I talk about work. Some may require more effort than others to get to work and what may be easy for one person to use may be very difficult for the next but if you are focussed on the result and it is an important outcome for you, then you will do W.E.I.T. (Whatever it Takes). 

STEP 1 – Motivate Your Mind

Probably the most important step of the entire process. It is so very important that you are motivated to learn for your own reasons because if you are not, when you have to start working hard, it is likely that you will not put the right amount of effort in. You need to do a WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) exercise to prime your mind and focus your energies on your learning. That way you will be able to generate motivation to get started and use it to sustain your efforts when things seem tough.

Step 2 – Acquiring the Information

This is the data gathering section of the process and it can be enhanced by knowing your learning style and capitalising on it. We tend to learn using a combination of Visual (what we see), Auditory (what we hear) and Kinesthetic (what we physically and emotionally experience) strategies. We will always use a combination of these three but there may be one which is dominant. Find out which it is and focus your learning on that style

Step 3 – Search out the Meaning

It is so very important to understand what you are learning rather than just memorise a series of facts. As Rose and Nicholl say in their book “Turning facts into personal meaning is the central element to learning”. They go on say that in career terms, the ability to develop a deep understanding and make sense of a jungle of information pays much better than the ability to regurgitate a series of facts.

Step 4 – Trigger the Memory

Once you have developed a deep understanding of your subject, you will still have to lock it into your long term memory and this is where many of the techniques that I have written about on this site become relevant. My own favourite techniques are a combination of Mind Mapping (which for me will give me 80-90%) of my learning, and the use of memory systems (eg the peg system) and mnemonics to round off the last 10-20%. That of course is my own personal preference but find what works for you.

Step 5 – Exhibit what you Know

This stage is in my mind the most important part of the process. Too many of us spend hours and hours and hours hunched over our notes and text books trying to learn and yet we spend very little time practising the recall of the information that we have learnt. So in effect we develop a very strong “IN” mental muscle yet the “OUT” muscle that we will rely on in our exanimations is hardly tested at all. Spend more time demonstrating what you know than putting it in and keep adjusting and correcting until you get it right every single time. It is by not following through on this process that causes the sort of comments I mentioned before.

Step 6 – Reflect on How you have Learnt

The most successful people always monitor what they do, compare their results with their desired outcome and adjust their approach if they are not getting what they want. It is at this stage that you should review the techniques you chose to use in step 4. Keep using the ones that are giving you the results that you want and either get better at the others (I’d suggest you try using something a couple of times instead of dismissing something because it did not work the only time you tried it) or try something else.

And there you have it, the 6 step M.A.S.T.E.R plan for Accelerated Learning. To remember the steps just use the mnemonic MASTER for the first letter of each step of the process. Let me know how you get on with this.


How do you eat an elephant? Of course the answer is one bite at a time. Now this has nothing to do with what I am going to write about, it is just that I have always wanted to include that joke in my writing somewhere!

Elsewhere I have written both about Mind Mapping and the importance of reviewing the Mind Maps on a regular basis to ensure that the information is conditioned in your mind so that you can recall it easily whenever you need to. However, if you are on an intensive course of study, you will find that it is quite easy to become overwhelmed by the ever increasing number of Mind Maps accumulating in your folders. Having Mind Maps is still going to be a much more efficient way of note taking but even so, how do you keep track of all this information so that you don’t let confusion creep in? 

One way could be to keep a log of your Mind Maps, together with a record of when to review them. All you would have to do is check the log on a daily basis, see if today’s date is in any of the columns and then review that particular Mind Map. An example of what the log might look like is:

Title Date Day Week Month 3M 6M

English 22/3 23/3 29/3 22/4 22/6 22/9

Math 1 22/3 23/3 29/3 22/4 22/6 22/9

Science 23/3 24/3 30/3 23/4 23/6 23/9

Math 2 25/3 26/3 1/4 25/4 25/6 25/9

Those of you who are organised and like detail will love this method. It does take a bit of discipline but the effort is worth it to make sure that you are not left with 2 weeks of revision to cram into one evening (sound familiar?).

Another method of keeping on top of your Mind Maps is to draw a single large Mind Map called a Mega Mind Map that covers your entire topic. So you could have one for Maths, one for Geography and so on. The Mega Mind Map builds up over time as your course progresses. All you do is add the key points from your lessons to it. The beauty of it is that eventually you will see the entire topic on one large piece of paper (use flip chart paper or perhaps the back of a roll of wall paper or even the back of an old poster) but you will also see it develop and grow. Having this overview will help identify the structure of the subject and the relationships between the various elements of the subject matter. All you need to do is to review the Mega Mind Map once a week for about 20 minutes, reinforcing what you already know and integrating what you have most recently learnt. As you get closer to your examinations, review it more often. This way you don’t need to lose what you have learnt in class and it will mean less time studying and more time having fun.

Faced with a completed Mega Mind Map it can be quite overwhelming but if you realise that it grew gradually over a number of weeks and months, (one bite at a time?), you can see how a daunting task can be made quite manageable. It really is as simple as that.


It is a subject that interests you, in fact you can almost say that you like it. You have taken good notes and have even put in what you consider to be an appropriate amount of revision time. On exam day you sit ready to begin your paper, confident of success, but when you turn over to read the questions, your mind goes completely blank and you can’t think of anything to write. You have two options: 

1. Fake violent convulsions, induce green slime vomiting, shudder erratically claiming “the Martians are coming to get me” and hope that the exam is cancelled or at least postponed because of the emotional upset caused by your sudden illness.

2. Adopt a couple of strategies to assist the memory recovery process.

I would suggest that option 1 is only appropriate if you are a very good actor, you have gullible invigilators and your fellow students can fake emotional upset. I wouldn’t however recommend this approach more than once, even if you are an X-Files fan. So we are left with looking at some more realistic strategies, most of which do not involve green slime vomit.

Most people who suffer mental blocks under exam conditions do so because it is a symptom of stress. Good preparation and deep subject knowledge can alleviate some of the stress but when faced with mental blanking, the first thing you should do is to breathe deeply and relax. Imagine that you do know the answer and see what comes to mind.

A common reaction will be to stare down at the question or answer paper desperately trying to come up with an answer. This is a mistake as brain research has discovered the position of our eyes actually affects which part of the brain we are accessing. The Science of Neuro Linguistic Programming (or NLP for short) has shown that by looking up we access information from our memories. So if you are faced with a mental block, instead of staring at your desk, look up as you search for that crucial information.

A second strategy to apply is to begin a Mind Map of everything that you know about the subject that relates to the question that is giving you trouble. The power of association and the triggering of key words will help you access the information that you need.

If you can find a question that you can answer, begin that but only after you have read the whole question paper. As you begin the easy answers, you will find that facts or figures relating to the questions you have skipped will pop into your mind. As they do so add them to a Mind Map and finish the question that you are on. Then return to the difficult question later, using your Mind Map as a basis for your answer. 

Another thing you could try as you attempt to stimulate the recall process is to try and think of things that are connected to the information in some way. For example, can you think of a particular experiment or example that was used to illustrate the point? Did something unusual happen when you covered that topic? Can you “see” the notes in your minds eye?

As you attempt to withdraw the information from your mind, you might be saying to yourself (possibly out of exasperation) “I don’t know this …. I don’t know this”. If you find you’re saying this to yourself, think of a huge pink elephant, playing a Banjo, singing the latest Boyzone single backwards. Now this has nothing to do with recall but it stopped you from programming yourself into not knowing the answer. Now say to yourself “If I did know the answer, what would I write?” and see what happens.

Hopefully good notes, plentiful revision, practice papers and a good attitude will prevent you from having a mental block – but if you do, try some of these strategies to get you back on track.

If you have any tips that you use, let me know and I’ll pass them on to the rest of our readers.


Whenever we study anything, we invariably become faced with a mountain of books and a huge list of recommended reading texts. Often this situation is overwhelming and instead of being a positive source of useful information it can be a huge demotivator. Wouldn’t it be good to be able to zip through a book in about 15 minutes, get a good idea of what it is about and have a written summary of it that you could memorise quite easily? The sceptics amongst you will already be saying that it can’t be done but if you bear with me, I’ll show you how it can. Before you start you’ll need:

1. Your text book

2. Plenty of book marks (use strips of scrap paper)

3. A timer

4. A positive attitude

Now take your text book and turn each page over and briefly look at it before moving on to the next. I tend to run my finger in a ‘V’ shape across the open book starting at the top left corner of the left hand page working down to the bottom right hand corner of that page and then up across the right hand page to its top right hand corner. You do this for every open page taking only 10 minutes for the entire book. Now you are not trying to read the book you are trying to get a feel for it by identifying:

1. How the book is put together (sections, chapters etc)

2. If there are any summary points

3. How comprehensive the contents and index are

4. What looks interesting

5. What looks relevant

As your eyes sweep across the pages every time something jumps out at you put in one of your book marks so that you can explore that section later. The key to this exercise is that you don’t read the book, you are just analysing its structure and apparent relevance to you and you are identifying sections/chapters/graphs/diagrams of interest. It is very important that you keep to the 10 minute time limit. Now once you have done that make a Mind Map of the main points you have identified. If you wish, refer back to the text book to help you but it is best done from memory. Doing the Mind Map should take no more than 5 minutes.

Now once you have done that, if you review the mind map, you will have memorized the key issues in the book. To study the text in depth requires a different approach that I’ll be covering in a later article but what you now have is a much better feel of the book and its relevance to you. This is useful for a number of reasons. First of all if you have 30 study texts but only need to focus on 5 or 6, in just a couple of days you can zip through all of those books to find which ones to concentrate on without actually having to read every single one. It also means that a 30 page key point summary at the back of a text book negates the need to read the whole volume. If you had started at page 1 of a 600 page book and read it “conventionally” first, I’d imagine you would be pretty upset to find that you did not need to read all 600 pages.

If you keep your Mind Map tucked inside the front cover of the book, it will also serve as a useful summary for future reference. By leaving the bookmarks in place you’ll never have to search for long for the diagram or graph that is the key to your assay or project.

Try it, it works (but only if you use it).

How to Remember Names and Faces 

The biggest challenge that most people have with their memories is the ability to remember the names of people that they have met. So this month I am going to give you a couple of tips that you can use to help you remember names more effectively. 

I often have delegates on my courses complain that they can never remember the name but they can always remember that they have seen the face before. So why is that? Well as you will know if you are familiar with these pages, the brain thinks in pictures and as someone’s face is a picture, it is only natural that you will recognise it. But what was their name? 

The main reason that it is difficult to recall someone’s name is that you probably never heard it correctly (if at all) in the first place. Often, introductions are hurried affairs, particularly if there are several people to be introduced to, and most people’s attention is on saying their own name correctly or shaking hands with just the right grip and so on. So if you never got the name in the first place, how can you ever expect to remember it. The following tips will help you:

1. As you are introduced to someone, get a good look at their face so that its image is clearly impressed onto your mind.

2. When they offer their name, repeat it back to them saying something like “John it is nice to meet you” or “Mrs Jones, welcome to the Grange”. This is a good way of developing your social skills. 

3. Clarify the spelling and pronunciation of any unusual names to make sure that you have got it just right (it is of course only polite that you do so). Don’t feel uncomfortable doing this, the person that you are meeting will be flattered that you are taking the trouble to ask.

4. During the course of the function that you are at mentally review the names of the people that you have met by looking at each one and recalling what they are called. Listening to others speak to them or of them, will help you fill in any gaps. 

5. During the conversations that you have with these people, use their name as you address them or refer to them. For example you could say “Well David, what are your views on that?” or “That was an interesting point you made there Eleanor”.

6. At the end of the function, if you have been introduced to someone, then it is only courteous that you should say good bye to them. This of course is another opportunity to use their name again to reinforce it once more. You could say something like “Mr Onion it was a pleasure to meet you and I am so sorry we did not have time to talk about your gout”.

7. As you say farewell, there may be one or two people that you wish to keep in touch with and so now is a good opportunity to exchange business cards. When you have their card, make sure that you get a good look at it so that you can see the name written down for the very first time providing yet another anchor for the name.

8. After the function, make notes about the people that you have met, ideally on the back of any business card that you may have been given. Then review these notes as described in the Article on Memory Rhythms (See October 1998) to really embed their name into your long term recall.

Just by doing this, you will increase your probability of remembering everyone that you ever meet by at least 50 %. It does take a bit of effort and you have to balance the benefits of doing it this way against the problems associated with forgetting names. In the future I will tell you how you can use visualisation to create memorable imagery that will add to the process that I have already described.

Revising for Exams

As this is the third of a series of three articles, before we go any further, let’s just review what I have covered in September and October. You will recall that in September, I described how you should prepare yourself for the coming academic year by asking yourself the following questions: 

1. Why am I doing this course or subject? 

2. What grades do I want and why?

3. How much effort do I need to put in to get the grades that I want? 

4. Am I willing to put that much effort in?

5. Do I want to work for a short period every day and accumulate my knowledge gradually or do I want to go for the once-in-a-lifetime mammoth, night before, candle-burning stress inducing cramming session?

6. Am I willing to take responsibility for my education? 

7. What time will I dedicate to study every day? 

Having primed yourself to begin and maintain your efforts I then covered some tips and techniques that you could apply to your on going study to assist you in the learning process. These were: 

1. Buy and read Use Your Head by Tony Buzan (see April 1998 from the main index).

2. Mind Map® all your course notes and lectures.

3. Review every Mind Map® frequently, at least to the guidelines I talk about in the October 1998 article on natural learning rhythms (after 10 minutes, one day, one week, one month and six months). 

4. Generate huge master Mind Maps® for each of your subjects and place them on the wall of your bedroom or anywhere else where you will see them often. Review those Mind Maps® at least weekly and with increasing frequency as the time for examinations approaches. 

5. Balance the use of the memory techniques listed above with the use of the Mind Map® technique to find a happy medium between memorising facts and figures and understanding concepts. Remember to review everything at least five times.

6. When you study do so to the following format that will help you balance the learning of new material and the review of information already covered: 

5 Minutes Warm up by stretching or doing some light exercise. 

20 Minutes Mind Map New Material

5 Minutes Take a break (juggling is a good idea)

15 minutes Review information covered yesterday, last week and last month (5 minutes each)

5 Minutes Take a break (juggling is still a good idea)

10 minutes Review the new material that you Mind Mapped during the 20 minute slot 

So what is the next thing to know? I would imagine that the thing that the thing that will be worrying you most will be the examinations that you will be sitting at the end of your course. That is what I shall deal with this month.

The first thing that you will need to establish is the following: 

1. When is the exam and how long will it last?

2. Where will the exam take place? 

3. What is the format of the examination (eg multiple choice, essay questions, oral, course work etc)? 

4. What part of the syllabus will the examination cover?

Armed with that knowledge, you will take away some of the unknown which can be a source of stress. The best way of reducing the “fear of the unknown” is to get hold of past examination papers. This will serve a couple of purposes. First of all you will get to know exactly what you will be facing in the form of question style etc but secondly, if you have a number of past papers, you will be able to spot common themes and recurring questions and that can help you target your revision more efficiently. 

Once you know all of the logistics associated with the examination, the next thing to do is to plan when you are going to do your revision. If you do this properly, it will reduce the likelihood of you having to rely on last minute cramming. I would suggest that you get into the habit of doing a couple of hours a day so if you start early enough this will allow you to build up your knowledge at a comfortable pace without having to spend lots of late nights huddled over a desk. If you take it slowly and steadily and have lots of breaks revision can actually be fun (what a concept!). 

I hope that you will have got into the habit of reviewing your Mind Map notes and your Master Mind Maps in particular because if you have then you are already well over half way to being prepared for your examinations. The secret to effective revision is not to keep putting the information into our memories over and over and over again but to practise recalling the information because let’s face it, in the examination, that is exactly what we will have to do. The best way to do this recall practice is of course to try and recreate your Mind Map Notes and your Master Mind Maps from scratch, making corrections each time to fill in any blanks or minor errors. Another good way to practise your recall is for you to draw up a list of questions based on the information that you have covered in class together with questions from past papers and then get a friend to read them out to you and then see what you can recall. Alternatively why not make a tape recording of those questions that you can play on the way to school or during quiet periods? As you listen to the questions, you will be tested but more importantly, the answers that you do not know will send you into your notes and you will find that having been primed by the tape questions, you will be very receptive to the answers when you find them.

As you get closer to your examinations, sit down with the past papers and do your own mock versions under timed conditions. Practise your essay technique (the Mind Map is a great Essay Planning Tool) and get used to writing your answers within a particular time. Another excellent way to revise is to teach what you do know to your friends who are also studying the same subjects as you. Take it in turns because you will learn insights on your subjects from your friends that you may not have even considered before.

Eventually the big day will come and to overcome any remaining apprehension that you may have left (even having used Mind Maps and reviewed them like crazy), visualise yourself confidently walking into the examination room, sitting down and confidently answering every question within the desired time. Do that often enough and with sufficient emotional intensity and guess what? When the actual day arrives, that is exactly what will happen. Make sure that you get plenty of rest during your examinations and always turn up in plenty of time. When you are sat with the paper in front of you, make sure you read the questions carefully. Before you write down any answers, I suggest that you quickly Mind Map the outlines of your answers to all of the questions that you are going to attempt before you begin the first question. What you will find is that as you do begin the first answer, bits of information for the other questions will pop into your mind and so all you need to do is capture that on the appropriate Mind Map ready for when you actually answer that question. Believe me, this works very well.

So now that you have prepared yourself for your studies, you have the skills to learn extremely effectively and now you know how to revise. All that is left for you now is to go and do it. Good luck, you know you can do it so JUST DO IT. Let me know how you get on and if there are any revision tips that have worked for you that you would like me to pass on to our visitors to the site

Effective Learning

Last month I described how you should prepare yourself for the coming academic year and if you have been true to yourself, you will have your own answers to the following questions:
1. Why am I doing this course or subject?
2. What grades do I want and why?
3. How much effort do I need to put in to get the grades that I want?
4. Am I willing to put that much effort in?
5. Do I want to work for a short period every day and accumulate my knowledge gradually or do I want to go for the once-in-a-lifetime mammoth, night before, candle-burning stress inducing cramming session?
6. Am I willing to take responsibility for my education?
7. What time will I dedicate to study every day?
Once you have your own, honest answers to these questions, I hope that you have planned your study by identifying your examination schedule and worked out how much time you have allocated yourself to quality work. Not only that, you will also have gathered together all of the course books you need, you will have worked out when assignments are due and will have planned your efforts accordingly. In addition you will have allotted a balanced amount of time for having fun and relaxing. By the way when I mean balanced I do not mean 6 months fun followed by 6 months grafting over a hot desk. I mean that every day you carefully balance the requirements of effective study against the need to relax and enjoy life. Your conscience (hopefully not in the form of a nagging teacher or parent) will tell you if you are doing it right. I may be slightly pessimistic, but I would imagine that you probably have not done any of this. If I am wrong then I apologise if I am not………..

The strategy that I am going to encourage you to use is really quite simple:

1. Mind Map all of your course notes and lectures.

2. Review every Mind Map frequently, at least to the guidelines I talk about in the October 1998 article on natural learning rhythms (after 10 minutes, one day, one week, one month and six months).
3. Generate huge master Mind Maps® for each of your subjects and place them on the wall of your bedroom or anywhere else where you will see them often. Review those Mind Maps at least weekly and with increasing frequency as the time for examinations approaches.
4. Balance the use of the memory techniques listed above with the use of the Mind Map® technique to find a happy medium between memorising facts and figures and understanding concepts. Remember to review everything at least five times.
5. When you study do so to the following format that will help you balance the learning of new material and the review of information already covered:

5 Minutes

Warm up by stretching or doing some light exercise.

20 Minutes

Mind Map New Material

5 Minutes

Take a break (juggling is a good idea)

15 minutes

Review information covered yesterday, last week and last month (5 minutes each)

5 Minutes

Take a break (juggling is still a good idea)

10 minutes

Review the new material that you Mind Mapped during the 20 minute slot

With that schedule you can study all day and still take everything in and feel refreshed. It is really up to you to find out what combination of my recommendations works best for you. There may be some trial and error but I can guarantee that the rewards of using these techniques as prescribed will be worth it. As a hint to what will be coming next month, the most important part of your efforts will be in the review, i.e. the drawing out of the information that you have learnt. Think about this, after you have been to a lecture, providing you have concentrated and understood what was said, you will have a pretty good recall of what was said for about a day. Why waste that genuine knowledge that is? Most people will recognise that they know it then and assume that they know it forever but you and I know that its recall will be temporary unless we reinforce it and with notes taken in Mind Map® form, it is very easy to do that reinforcement.
Preparing to Learn
This is always an exciting time of year in the academic calender – the results from last year’s examinations will have been published and now everyone starts to look to the year to come. This is the first of a series of three articles which deals with how to get the most out of your learning during the forthcoming year. Next month I will look at how to take some of the techniques I have already told you about and apply them to your learning. In November’s article I will give you some advice on how to prepare for examinations. This month however, I want to look at how you should prepare yourself for the coming year (or term as the case may be). It does not matter which part of your course you are on, everything that I will talk about here today will be relevant to your success.
I am a big fan of questions and so the first thing you should do as the academic year begins is ask yourself “Why am I doing this course or subject?” It is a very important question to know the answer to because quite often, particularly in our early education we are learning at school because the law requires us to do so. Even when students go to college or university, many times it is because it is just the “done thing” or parental or peer pressure has “assisted” in the reasoning. Even knowing that a good education will help you get a good job is not sufficient. I strongly suggest that you ask yourself this question and as soon as you give yourself an answer, ask yourself “Why?” Then when that answer comes out again, ask yourself “Why?” The reason that you should do this (and keep doing it until you find a satisfactory answer) is so that you can find YOUR reason for taking the course you are on. That reason has to be important to you, very important in fact. “Why?” I hear you ask. Well the reason is that you are more likely to put in effort to achieve something that is important to you and although learning can be fun, academic success does require work. It is the power of your reason that will decide how much effort you are willing to put in.
Another question that is very important to ask yourself is “What grades do I want and why?” The first part is important because you need to have a target to aim for. The reason is also linked to why you are doing the course in the first place and will give you the motivation to put the effort in. My advice to you is that if you want or need B’s then aim for A’s. Give yourself a margin of error and hey, who knows, you might even get the A’s after all. Then once you know the grades that you are going to aim for need to ask yourself a two part question. The first part should be quite easy “How much effort do I need to put in to get the grades that I want?” We all have a good idea of the sort of time it takes to achieve the higher grades based on the amount of time that we have already put into our education. The second part of the question is not quite so easy “Am I willing to put that much effort in?” Now to contradict myself I will say that this is an easy question to answer if YOUR reason for being on your course is important enough to you and your grade goals have real meaning for YOU. However it is highly likely that you have not really considered the earlier questions and that is why this question is quite difficult. I don’t mean to be hard on you, I have been where you are and have had the same difficulties getting motivated, but once I did, everything came together just as I planned it to (with the right amount of effort, of course).
The next question that you need to consider is “Do I want to work for a short period every day and accumulate my knowledge gradually or do I want to go for the once-in-a-lifetime mammoth, night before, candle-burning cramming session?” At this stage in the year the answer is quite commonsense and obvious but as we all know the latter option is taken by most (and I have been there too!!). Some of you might thrive on that pressure but I know that some of you don’t, yet you will still leave your preparations to the last minute. How can you overcome that problem? Well you need to really understand the possible consequences of last minute cramming and weigh them up against the (now important) reason that you are doing the course in the first place. Your conscience will assist you with the balancing! You will achieve much more by doing little things every single day than by leaving it too late. However, the choice is yours.
The final question that you need to answer is “Am I willing to take responsibility for my education?” Possibly the hardest question to answer because whether you like it or not, your results are your responsibility. Anyone can get an A if they want to, it just might take some longer than others. So you must remember that YOUR GRADES DO NOT DICTATE WHO YOU ARE. If your grades are not good enough for you it just means that you did not have long enough to work at them. If you feel this is a big responsibility to take on then you are right, no one said life was going to be easy. If you don’t feel ready for an examination then get ready. If you don’t understand something, find someone who can help you understand it. If you think your teacher is not doing his job properly, change to another class. Your education is your responsibility and if the system throws something in the way that affects it, find a way round it.
Now you have decided why you are doing your course and what grades you want. You have decided that you are willing to put the effort in and that you will work every day towards your goals. You have taken responsibility for your results so what next?
Well the thing to do now is to start planning how you are going to do it. What time will you dedicate to study every day? Not a nice question Michael at such an early part of the year! Okay then, how much time will you dedicate to having fun and to your sports and hobbies because you need to have those answers too? I am not going to suggest that you have to spend every minute of the day studying because that will be counter productive. You need to live a balanced life and having fun and indulging in your sports and interests will be as important as the work you will put in. Don’t think that this only applies to education because when you get out into the wonderful wide world, the skill of balancing your life will be just as important. Part of the planning process will be a good look at the resources that you have available to you. Do you have all the text books that you need and if not, do you know where you can get hold of them? Are there other sources of information that I can use for example the Internet (I can recommend a good site about Memory and Learning)? What skills should you learn that will assist you for example Mind Mapping, Time Management, Speed Reading? Are there any fellow student who you can team up with to help you with your study? Are there going to be any extra classes laid on in your subjects? If you can gather all of this information then you will begin to feel much more confident that your plans for success will come off.
The final thing that I am going to recommend to you is that you record all of your thoughts that I have stimulated in this article in a journal. During the term add to your journal, ideally every day, with your thoughts and feelings and ideas about how you can improve the way you study. At the front you should have a written statement of your grade goals and the reason why they are so important to you. It is a good idea to review those every day to help you get motivated.
I have given you much to think about here today but if you follow through on my suggestions, you will find that the mental preparation for the year to come will be invaluable.
Characteristics of Genius
You will recall in the February 1999 Great Mind feature I talked about you and your potential as a genius. I mentioned the 20 Characteristics of Genius then, but this month while we are all enjoying our Summer break, I want to expand on each of those characteristics. Those of you who visit to find out more about how to learn and remember, don’t worry because next month I will get back onto those subjects. However if you read on you will see that these characteristics can be developed to help you learn and do just about anything that you want to.
So just to remind you what those characteristics were again: 1. Vision
2. Desire
3. Faith
4. Commitment
5. Planning
6. Persistence
7. Learning from mistakes
8. Subject knowledge
9. Mental literacy
10. Imagination
 11. Positive attitude
12. Auto-suggestion
13. Intuition
14. Mastermind group (real)
15. Mastermind group (internal)
16. Truth/honesty
17. Facing fears/courage
18. Creativity/flexibility
19. Love of the task
20. Energy
1. Vision – It is very important that in any endeavour you know exactly what you want to achieve. There is a saying that you can never come back from a place you have not been and likewise you will never get to the place you have not chosen. Walt Disney is a perfect example of the application of vision. Although he had passed on when Disney World finally opened, he had seen it complete but in his own mind because he knew exactly how it was going to be.
2. Desire – If you have a burning desire to achieve the results that you want then already you are a long way down the road toward achieving your “vision”. You will find that all achievement is accompanied by a burning desire.
3. Faith – The faith required for genius is not necessarily a religious faith but an overwhelming belief in yourself and what you are doing (that may well be fuelled by a deep religious conviction). Colonel Sanders (Kentucky Fried Chicken) had so much faith in his chicken recipe that he endured over 1000 rejections before someone agreed to use it. Another saying sometimes attributed to the great Henry Ford says “If you think you can or you think you can’t, then you are absolutely right”.
4. Commitment – Once we have a vision, a burning desire to realise the vision and the faith to believe that we can do it then we must be committed enough to do the things necessary, regardless of how difficult they may appear to be. It is at this stage that many would be geniuses (and we are all potential geniuses) fall by the wayside. Ghandi was a good example of commitment. His unending commitment to the principle of non-violent opposition eventually brought about the end of British Rule in India.
5. Planning – Another stumbling block in the search for genius is the lack of effective planning. It is the identification of short, medium and long term goals on the way to our vision that will assist us in getting there. Once we know the path we wish to take it is much easier to focus our efforts. Of course with effective planning it means that we can balance our lives and have more control over our time. Good planning means that we won’t find ourselves with 3 month’s worth of work left to do the night before our term project has to be handed in. (Sound familiar?).
6. Persistence – I have already mentioned Colonel Sanders and his faith in his chicken recipe but it was also his persistence, even in the face of continuous rejection , that helped him in his success. Thomas Edison is another example of persistence in action. Did you know that he tried several thousand different designs before he finally invented the electric light bulb? When would you have given up? So even when things seem at their worst, keep going.
7. Learning from Mistakes – The first thing that you should understand is that it is fine to make mistakes. Just think of your favourite sport. Who was the best at that sport, who scored the most goals? If you follow a sport that keeps accurate records and statistics you will find that those who score the most goals/baskets/home runs also have the highest rate of misses! So just to make that very clear – if you want more success have more failures. But to make this even more palatable for you, a missed attempt is not a failure it is a result. If you learn from that result to improve your performance next time then it is a victory. Tony Robbins the American Success Coach says “Success is the result of good judgement. Good judgement is the result of experience and experience is the result of bad judgement!”
8. Subject Knowledge – Those who tend to succeed in a particular field are more often than not those with the most knowledge on that subject. You will also find that geniuses not only know all there is to know about there own area but they also have developed a love of learning that gives them a great deal of knowledge in other often unrelated areas. If you want to do well at your particular subject, read more about it than any else.
9. Mental Literacy – What is Mental Literacy? Well standard literacy is the understanding of the alphabet to enable you to read and write and to communicate and understand ideas transmitted through that medium. Numeracy is the same but in the language of numbers. Described as the King of Literacies, Mental Literacy is an understanding of how the mind works particularly in memory, creativity, learning and thinking skills. You can practice these skills and through understanding how the mind works, you can marshal your mental resources much more effectively.
10. Imagination – To be a great visionary you need to utilise your imagination. It is said that Einstein imagined travelling on a sunbeam and through that experience discovered that the universe was curved. Walt Disney imagined his theme parks long before they were ever built. If you can believe it then you can see it. Create it in your own mind first, apply yourself and watch it materialise before your eyes. Imagine yourself with straight A’s, believe it and do what ever it takes and you can have straight A’s.
11. Positive Attitude – “Oh no” the student laments “I am going to fail my exams”. “Be positive” advises the teacher. “Oh no” wails the boy “I am definitely going to fail my exams”. That is not really what I mean by a positive attitude. Having an upbeat, can do attitude is good for you and puts you in a much more resourceful state to enable you to achieve what you want much more easily. That is not to say that life will not give you a few hard knocks along the way but when they do come, meeting them in a positive frame of mind will allow you to deal with them much better. Daley Thompson, one of the worlds greatest decathletes had a remarkably positive attitude throughout his career.
12. Auto-suggestion – First of all what is auto-suggestion? Well put yourself in this position – you are playing cricket and the ball is hit towards you. As it drops you are saying to yourself “I am going to drop this, I know I am going to drop this. I dropped the last one so I know this one is going to hit the ground too”. Now what do you think is likely to happen? Yes you are right you are probably going to drop the ball. You are your best coach because you can be there all the time. Why not stack the odds in your favour and tell yourself that you are going to get the result that you want. If you tell yourself often enough you will begin to believe it and with that sort of faith anything is possible. Try it, it works because I have used it myself.
13. Intuition – Have you ever felt that something was not quite right and then discovered thing were not all they appeared to be. Or conversely did you ever just know that something was going to happen, however unlikely, and it did. That is your intuition. Trust your instincts because more than likely they will be right. There is much about the human mind and its powers that we do not know about and perhaps never will but if something works for you then keep on doing it even if you don’t know how or why. In my naval career I saw ships divers jump over the side during exercises on numerous occasions. Only once did I ever saw anyone hesitate and just before he would normally have jumped two killer whales broached the surface right under him. Now in a diving suit a diver is very much like a seal (to a killer whale that is) and so may have suddenly found himself on the menu so he was lucky. I asked him after why he did not jump in and he said that for some reason it did not feel right so he hesitated. A second later the dorsal fins of the two whales appeared.#
14. Mastermind Group (Real) – How many times have your parents asked you not to hang around with a certain group of kids because they will be a bad influence? If you like that is the power of the mastermind group at work in reverse. You will be greatly affected by those you surround yourself with and the first indication of that is when your parents nag you about your friends (they are only doing it because they care so go easy on them won’t you). The mastermind group is your select team of advisors and close associates. Choose them wisely because they can and will have a strong influence on your thinking. Do you want good grades? Hang around with those who get good grades and find out what they are doing and if you do the same, guess what?
15. Mastermind Group (Internal) – Of course there is nothing stopping us from taking inspiration from people inaccessible to us because of distance or time and using their positive influence to shape our futures. Ask yourself what your heroes would do or advise in the situations that you find yourself in and then do the same if it is appropriate. Remember it is down to you at the end of the day and you must always take ultimate responsibility for your decisions and your actions.
16. Truth and Honesty – You may think that you can get away with not being truthful to others but remember that truth is always much easier to justify. If you tell one lie you may have to tell several to justify that one lie. Then those lies need justification and soon the web of deceit is too much to handle. Always be true to yourself so that your spirit can rest easy in the knowledge that you are honest.
17. Courage in the Face of Fear – Courage is not the absence of fear, it is the taking of action in spite of the fear because without the fear there would indeed be no courage. Many of the geniuses that we recognise as such had to face huge fears in order to make their mark on the world. Christopher Columbus is a fine example. He set sail to head into previously uncharted waters not knowing what he may find. Often it takes a leap of faith to achieve great results. Is there something stopping you from taking action. If you “feel the fear and do it anyway” you may find that what you feared was not half as bad as you thought it might be.
18. Creativity and Flexibility – All great scientific and artistic ideas came from the ability to be creative and flexible in the approach to a problem. If you try something and it does not work, try something else. If that does not work try something else. And guess what happens if that does not work……keep trying until. Remember it is the result that you want not the process you have to go through to get it. So if you find it hard to understand a particular subject, try reading a different book on it or asking a different teacher. Different information may yield a new insight.
19. Love of the Task – What would you rather do – stay in all night and study algebra or go out with your friends and have fun? Whichever answer you gave (and there is nothing wrong with either) it is because you enjoyed doing one more than the other. If you are enthusiastic about something you will enjoy it more and you are more likely to be good at it. So how does that work for something that you don’t like to do but have to? Well find reasons to enjoy doing what you have to do and then get on and enjoy it. No one said that everything that you have to do will be enjoyable for you but on the other hand no one ever said that we can’t enjoy everything that we do. The choice is yours.
20. Energy – With sufficient energy, you can do anything you put your mind to. Find what saps your energy (be it certain food, certain people etc) and remove that from your life. And conversely find what gives you energy (be it certain food or certain people) and add that to your life.
So where does all this lead to? Well if you apply the characteristics of genius to your own study and life then things can only get better. Don’t try all 20 at once, begin with one or two and then as they develop as habits introduce one or two more. For more information have a look at Buzan’s Book of Genius which is reviewed this month .
Remembering a Pack of Cards
I am often asked how is it possible to remember a pack of Playing Cards and so this month I decided to explain how I apply some of the techniques that I have already covered to do just that. The process for remembering streams of numbers is exactly the process to use for remembering a sequence of playing cards. You will recall from the article on the Dominic System for Numbers (March 1999) that it uses images of people performing some sort of action with a particular prop to turn digit pairs (eg 56 , 94 ,82 etc) into something memorable. Well exactly the same process is applied to remembering cards. Before we go on, now is probably a good time to go to that article to refresh your memory (Remembering Numbers).
So how do we use the number system and apply it to cards? Well if we take the first letter of each suit name and give it a number as we did for the Dominic System we get Clubs = C = 3, Diamonds = D = 4, Hearts = H = 8 and Spades = S = 6. So to utilise the number system for cards the three of spades becomes 36 (3 for the card number and 6 for spades) and the six of diamonds becomes 64 (6 for the card number and 4 for diamonds). So if we were to turn all of the number cards into 2 digit numbers (taking Ace = 1 and 10 is represented by 0) we get:
Clubs (C=3) Diamonds(D=4) Hearts (H=8) Spades (S=6)
A = 13 A = 14 A =18 A = 16
2 = 23 2 = 24 2 = 28 2 = 26
3 = 33 3 = 34 3 = 38 3 = 36
4 = 43 4 = 44 4 = 48 4 = 46
5 = 53 5 = 54 5 = 58 5 = 56
6 = 63 6 = 64 6 = 68 6 = 66
7 = 73 7 = 74 7 = 78 7 = 76
8 = 83  8 = 84 8 = 88 8 = 86
9 = 93 9 = 94 9 = 98 9 = 96
10 = 03 10 = 04 10 = 08 10 = 06
And then all that we do is use the images that we have already created for our number system. So where Charlie Sheen and his parachute represented 36 and Sharon Davies and her rubber ring represented 64 now we can use Charlie Sheen for the 3 of Spades and Sharon Davies for the 6 of Diamonds.
But what about the Court Cards (Jack, Queen, King etc) I hear you ask? Well we can either apply the same principle of creating images from the initials created (JC for the Jack of Clubs or KH for the King of Hearts) or we can use members of the Royal Family (I use Prince Charles for the King of Clubs for example). It really does not matter what you do as long as you have a vivid image of a person performing a unique action with a unique prop and that this image is easily triggered when you see the card. The court cards will take a bit more work to generate the images and a bit more practice to convert the card to the relevant image automatically but the effort is worth it.
So having generated an image set for a pack of cards how do we memorise their order? Well now is a good time to review the article that I did on the Journey Technique. In that article I showed you how to generate a 10 stage journey to memorise a list of 10 items. Now this will be insufficient to memorise 52 cards without causing a great deal of confusion so you will need to generate a journey of 26 stages (each stage will contain an image combining two cards). Again this will take a bit of effort but the rewards will be worth it. Before you try and memorise your first pack of cards I would strongly suggest that you practise the generation of your card imagery (both person and prop/action) and journey stages (forwards and backwards) so that it becomes automatic. This will avoid the frustration of using the wrong image or getting lost on your mental journey. It will also mean that you will cut down the time that it will take you to remember the cards.
Before we go onto actually memorising the pack let me summarise what need to do:
1. First of all we need to turn the number cards into images of a person performing an action with a unique prop using the same system that we use for numbers.
2. We then have to generate unique images for the court cards in a similar fashion, either relying on the use of initials or by using members of the Royal Family.
3. Finally we must generate a 26 stage mental journey so that we have somewhere that we can put our mental imagery.
To actually memorise the cards we must use the same technique that we did for the numbers. I have already explained that Charlie Sheen and his parachute represent the 3 of Spades and that Sharon Davies and her Rubber Ring represent the 6 of Spades. When we memorise the pack we link pairs of cards together. So the key to generating our image is the first card of a pair gives us the character and the second card gives us the prop and action.
We link these two images together using the principles of a good memory which are:
Order and/or sequence
Positive images
So if the first two cards were the 3 of Spades followed by the 6 of Diamonds I would see Charlie Sheen (3 of Spades) swimming with a big rubber ring (6 of Diamonds) around his waist. I would then link that combined image to the first stage of my mental journey. And then for the rest of the pack I would do the same with pairs of cards, linking then together and placing the image at the next location on my mental journey until I had completed the journey and finished the pack. When we recall these strange images we just reverse the process. We mentally walk along our journey and translate the images that we see at each stage into cards. The person that we see gives us the first card and the prop and what he or she is doing with it gives us the second card. That way there is no confusion or doubt about the order of the cards.
As with all of these techniques, explaining it actually makes it sound more complicated than it actually is. On the other hand it will require some work for you to be able to memorise a complete pack of cards but you can do it, it just takes practice.
Editor’s Note: See also Michael Tipper’s feature article, “An Interview with Dominic O’Brien”, May 2002.
Mind Mapping
This month I am going to tell you about what I believe to be the most powerful thinking tool currently available. I am of course talking about the Mind Map® invented by Tony Buzan. So what is a Mind Map? Well it is a graphical technique that mirrors the way the brain works. The subject of interest is crystallised in a central image and then the main themes radiate out from the central image on branches. Each branch holds a key image or key word printed on the line. Details are added to the main branches and radiate out.
Most people’s notes are on lined paper using blue or black ink which looks extremely boring. To make your notes more attractive to your brain, add colour, rhythm and imagination and all of a sudden taking notes becomes much more fun.
To draw a mind map do the following:
1. Turn your page on its side (landscape), making sure that it is plain paper.
2. Draw your central image using at least 3 colours, making it a picture (speaks a thousand words) that captures the subject of the Mind Map®.
3. Add the main branches which represent the subject’s main topics or themes using key words and images.
4. Add the detail with more key words and images.
5. Use colour throughout and make your Mind Map® as beautiful as possible.
6. Print your words clearly and only use one word per line.
7. Use arrows to connect linking ideas.
Mind Maps® have a variety of uses including Note Taking and Note Making, revision planning, essay planning and problem solving. The Mind Map® shown above summarises the key points of this article. Of course the beauty of using Mind Maps® is that these combine both left and right brain thinking, which means that you will remember the information better than if you just had lines of words (see the Amazing Brain fact from April 1998). Knowledge of your brain’s rhythms (see October 1998’s article) will mean that by taking lots of breaks during your studying and by reviewing your notes to prevent the information that you have learnt from fading from your recall, you will learn much more, much quicker and retain it for much longer.
Remembering Numbers Method 2
The Dominic System
In January I told you about the Major System for remembering numbers. Now I want to tell you about the technique that I use in the World Memory Championships. It is called the Dominic System because it was invented by 5 times World Champion Dominic O’Brien.
The technique simply turns numbers or groups of numbers into vivid memorable images. So how do we get an image of The Actor Charlie Sheen swimming with a big rubber ring around his waste to represent the number 3664?
Well the technique relies on digit pairs from 00-99 each having a unique image of a person or character carrying out an action with a prop. Consider the following numbers:
Number Character Action Prop
36 Charlie Sheen Parachuting Parachute
64 Sharon Davies Swimming Rubber Ring
I can imagine that you are scratching your heads wandering how on earth I got from 36 to Charlie Sheen parachuting. Well it is important you understand that it is unlikely you will be remember long streams of numbers or any numerical information by just thinking of the numbers themselves. That is because the numbers are all very similar and very difficult to visualise. But by creating images for each digit pair we begin to make it much easier to remember long numbers by linking together vivid pictures that represent those numbers. To get to Charlie Sheen from 36 we must give each digit a letter and then each digit pair will give two initials. From those initials we can identify someone famous or someone that we know really well. The allocation of digits to letters is as follows:
Number Letter
0 O
1 A
2 B
3 C
4 D
5 E
6 S (for Six)
7 G
8 H
9 N(for Nine)
Broadly speaking, the first letter of the alphabet is A therefore A=1, the second letter of the alphabet is B therefore B=2 and so one. It is my own personal preference that 6=S and 9=N. So the first stage of our process of turning the number into an image gives us two letters eg 36 =CS. 22 = BB, 64 = SD and so on. The whole purpose of this is to help us remember who represents what number so that when we think of a number we work out the initials which then leads us to the character. Therefore for the number pairs 00-99 you will generate 100 pairs of initials. Now comes the fun bit. Consider each set of initials and the first person that springs to mind is the person that you will use in your imagery. For 36, the initials are CS and as I had just watched the film Navy SEAL I immediately thought of Charlie Sheen. You may think of someone else with the same initials, it does not really matter who it is as long as you can create a unique vivid image of them.
Now after identifying a character for each digit pair you need to identify a suitable action and prop for each character. For Charlie Sheen it was quite easy to think of him parachuting behind enemy lines in the film so My action for him is just that and the prop that he uses is a parachute (of course). It will take a bit of thinking and creative effort to do all of this but believe me, it is worth it. Once you have created your list of 100 initials, characters, props and actions, it is a good idea to practice translating from the number to the character and prop and vice versa. This effort will pay off. Now when you have done that, we are ready to remember groups of digits.
In the World Championships, I always remember numbers in groups of 4. So if we consider our example previously, to remember 3664 I will see Charlie Sheen swimming with a rubber ring. But I hear you cry, Charlie Sheen’s prop and action are all related to parachuting. Of course you are right but we a remembering 3664 so we take the prop and action of the second digit pair and use them. As 64 gives the initials SD, I chose the swimmer Sharon Davies swimming with a rubber ring. So if we combine 36 and 64 we get Charlie Sheen swimming with a rubber ring. If we were trying to remember 6436 we would link Sharon Davies with a parachute.
So the key to generating our image is the first digit pair of a four digit number gives us the character and the second digit pair gives us the prop and action. When we recall these strange images we just reverse the process. The person that we see gives us the first pair of digit and what he or she is doing gives us the second pair. That way there is no confusion or doubt about the order of the digits.
And as with all good memory techniques, when we are generating our mental imagery, it is important to remember the principles of a superpower memory which are:
Order and/or sequence
Positive images
You can then store the image using the journey technique or by linking it to another image that is related to the number. For example create your image of a character and a prop for the number 1666 and then link that to an image of the great Fire of London and you will always remember its date. The uses are endless. Go on, try it.
How to Learn Foreign Words
Last Month I promised that I would tell you all about the Number System that I used for the 1998 World Memory Championships. However, I have been getting many questions about the application of Mnemonic techniques for learning a foreign language so this month I shall focus on that.
Now the best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself totally both in the culture and the language itself with native speakers who do not speak your own language. It is the quickest way to learn because that is how we learnt our mother tongue. But that is not always possible so we either take a class at school or college, or we buy one of the many home study courses available.
Whichever way we choose, the foundation of our success in the language of our choice will be a good solid vocabulary. Now when I cast my mind back to my school days I was never taught how to learn new foreign words other than by good old repetition. This can be effective if you are motivated enough but it does take time, is extremely boring and can be the factor that puts many people off from becoming proficient in a new language. You will be pleased to know that you can speed up the process significantly, make it fun and have more effective recall in a shorter space of time. So how do we do that?
Well before we get into any sophisticated mnemonic techniques when you learn new words, quite often their similarity to the equivalent word in your mother tongue will immediately give you the translation. For example if you are English and you are learning German, the word for Boat is Boot. If you are French and you are learning English, the English for lettre is letter. (For the remainder of this article I shall assume that your native tongue is English). Now the similarity may be in the way the word is pronounced (as in the Boat/Boot example), or it may be in the way the word is spelt (as in the lettre/letter example). It does not really matter as long as you identify the similarity and then use it to help you translate.
Jonathan Hancock, a former World Memory Champion, always remembers that in German, Hafen means harbour as his teacher told him to associate Hafen with haven because in rough weather, a harbour is a safe haven for ships. (Jonathan’s book “Boost Your Mindpower” is reviewed this month in the book review section). Therefore, another way to remember a foreign word is to find some sort of relationship to the English word. Another example that Jonathan uses is the French translation of carpet which is tapir. He uses the link with tapestry to remember that translation.
With most words, there is no obvious link to the English translation, so we have to use our imagination and create one using mnemonics. As I have said before, the secrets of a super power memory are very important when using mnemonic techniques so just to remind you again here they are:
Order and/or sequence
Positive images
Let us pick a word that we want to remember – I am going to choose Seife which in German means soap. Now when I hear the word Seife, the German pronunciation is very similar to the word siphon (a plastic tube that opens out at one end into V or U shape). In my imagination, I now need to associate an image of a siphon with an image of soap using the principles of a super power memory listed above.
I imagine an enormous siphon made of clear red plastic rolling around the rim of a bright blue bucket (I hear the sound of plastic rubbing on plastic) into which it has been placed. Another bucket hovers above the siphon and is pouring tonnes and tonnes of white soap powder into it (I hear the hiss of the powder as it falls into the rim of the siphon and see the tumbling stream of white particles). It is important to make the siphon and the soap the dominant images of the picture that I create otherwise I could confuse myself and translate Seife into bucket. A hose pipe is pouring gallons of water into the siphon so that loads and loads of soft white soap suds start overflowing from the siphon, engulfing the bucket and everything in the soap’s path. I can even taste the soap as it covers everything. Eventually, all that I can see is the white soap suds and the large red siphon.
As I have discussed before, it is important to create strong, vivid images when I form these pictures. Equally important is that I practice the translation in my mind several times so that the link is strong. So when I hear the word Seife I think of siphon and immediately the image comes back to me and I see and taste the soap.
So to build up a strong vocabulary in your new language, you just create images using the technique I have described above. This process can be applied to nouns, adjectives and verbs. Why don’t you try the following examples for yourself:
Leiter in German means Ladder (tip – you could feel lighter as you climb the ladder)
Livre in French means Book (tip – open your book and see pieces of liver on each page)
People in Spanish is Gente – pronounced hen’tay (tip – see a crowd of people dipping hens into large cups of tea)
Once you have created these images, a good idea to help build up and maintain your expanding vocabulary is to link each image at a location on a journey dedicated to learning your particular language. Jonathan Hancock advocates this method. Dominic O’Brien suggests that you pick a particular town that you know well and then link the images at appropriate places around that town. For example the image that you create for the French translation of book could be located at the library or in a book shop. You may want to pick specific parts of the town for different types of words for example all verbs could be located in the park. It does not really matter which technique you use, or whether you try combinations of each, just experiment with the options, find what works best for you and then use that method.
As you will discover when you learn other languages, you will have to consider the gender of the word. In German, nouns can be feminine, masculine or neuter. There are several ways of learning gender. For example, if you are male, you could involve yourself somehow in the image of all masculine words by taking part in the scene that you create. For feminine words you could imagine yourself as a spectator watching someone else (a female friend perhaps) taking part in the image. In my image I would see a woman holding the siphon because it is a feminine noun. You may wish to include an animal such as a pet dog in every image of a neuter noun. If you use Dominic O’Brien’s technique of using a town to store your vocabulary, you may want to partition it so that every image south of the river is feminine or west of the High Street is for masculine words only. You will of course have to know your mental map of the town quite well.
To summarise the techniques for translation:
1. Is the translation obvious? If it is you don’t need to use a mnemonic technique.
2. Can you find some logical relationship between the word and its translation? If so use that to help your translation.
3. Create a vivid picture relating an image of the English word with an image created by manipulating the foreign word using the principles of a super power memory.
4. Locate the image at a location on a dedicated journey or at an appropriate place in your town.
5. Manipulate the image to account for the gender of word by adding specific imagery or by locating it at an appropriate place on your journey or in your town.
6. Repeat the above for every word you wish to learn.
 The process I have described does sound rather long winded but you will find that you will only have to spend 30 seconds at most to create and strengthen your images so that in an hour you could learn as many as 120 words! If you compare that to the time it takes to learn the same amount of words by repetition you will see how effective it is. It will only work if you try it and put in a bit of short term effort to get long term rewards. An important point to note is that the mnemonic is only a temporary crutch for you to rely on in the short term because as you become more proficient in the language (which will only come through continued use), you will “just know” that Seife means soap.
Good luck with your learning and please send me examples of how you have translated your foreign vocabulary into vivid images.
So far I have shown you how to remember lists using a variety of Peg Systems such the Number Shape and Rhyme systems and the Journey Technique. The basic principle has been to create a series of pegs in your mind on which to place the thing that you want to remember. Our lists have so far concentrated on objects but what if we want to remember numbers? One option is to use the images in our Number Shape or Number Rhyme system. So if we chose the Number Shape System where 2 is represented by a swan and 6 is represented by an elephant then for the number 26, you could link together these two images. The only problem is how do you distinguish between your combined elephant and swan images for 26 and 62? What we need is a more versatile system that allows more unique images for a wider range of numbers.
The oldest known technique for doing this is called the Major System. It is over 300 years old and was introduced by Stanislaus Mink von Wennsshein and later developed by Dr Richard Grey. It is a very flexible system because not only does it allow lists greater than 10 to be remembered, it also provides a method of memorising dates and numbers.
The theory is that the Major System uses a different Consonant sound (any sound that isn’t made by the vowels a,e,i,o,u) for each number from 0-9 in the form of a code.
The code is as follows:
Number Associated Code How to Remember
0 s, z, soft c zero = 0
1 d, t,th t has 1 downstroke
2 n n has 2 downstrokes
3 m m has 3 downstrokes
4 r r is the last letter of “four”
5 l L is the Roman Numeral for 500
6 j, sh, soft ch, dg, soft g j is almost a mirror image of 6
7 k, hard ch, hard c, hard g, ng, qu Capital K is made up of two 7s
8 f, v f when handwritten has two loops like 8
9 b, p P is a mirror image of 9
It can appear a little daunting to have to remember what sound represents what letter and vice versa but if you want to have the ability to remember any number at will, then you must understand that you will have to put a little effort in. The Major system is just one way of doing it. Next month, I’ll be showing you another way which you may find easier but in the meantime, just stick with it. So how does this system work. Well let me take you through an example. Suppose you wanted to remember the number 1770, how do we do that. Well first of all we must allocate the consonant sounds to each number:
1 7 7 0
d, t,th k, hard ch, hard c, hard g, ng, qu s, z, soft c
Let us choose 1=d, the first 7=g, the second 7=k and 0=s
1 7 7 0
d g k s
It is important to remember that it is the sounds that we are interested in. Now all we have to do is make words up by adding vowels or the silent consonants (h, w and y) to the letters representing 1770. My choice would be dog kiss. Now using the principles of a super power memory which are:
Order and/or sequence
Positive images
I would make a vivid image of a dog rushing up to someone and giving them a big sloppy wet kiss. Now when we come to translate the images back to a number, we see a dog giving someone a kiss. If we think back to what each sound means we recall that d=1, g=7, k=7 and s=0 therefore our number is 1770. But what use can that be? Well if I tell you that Beethoven was born in 1770 and you take your image of Beethoven and link it with a dog giving him a big kiss then you have just used the technique to memorise the year of his birth.
We could have chosen the words tea cakes, or hat kings, or duck case. It really does not matter as long as the code is adhered to. The beauty of the system is that each number can have many images made up from the sounds you choose making it a very flexible system but each word only has one number associated with it. Look at the following examples:
Hurdle 415
Cabbage 796
May 3
Crew 74
Chimney 632
You do not have to be limited to words with 3 consonant sounds. A good rule of thumb is to only use the first three sounds of any word so Championship actually translates to 639269 but it will be easier to make words out of 3 digits so Championship can be represented by 639.
If you need to remember any dates or numbers of any kind, you now have a system that can allow you to turn any number into a vivid image by coding the number into sounds from which you can make words and hence vivid images. Another way that you could use it is to make your own unique images for the numbers 1-100 and then you have your own peg system for remembering lists of up to 100 items. But why stop at 100 because with this system you can develop lists that may be thousands of places long. It is a sophisticated technique and does require effort, but if you want to make it work, you can. Just see it as another tool to help you with your learning. Next month I will tell you all about the system that helped me come second in the 1998 World Memory Championships.
You will recall that in May 1998 I taught you how to remember a list of ten items using the Number Rhyme System. By finding an object that rhymed with the numbers 1-10 (for example wand rhymes with one and shoe rhymes with two) we created a mental peg system where we could “hang” an item from a list of things that we wanted to remember. We did that by associating each item from the list with the corresponding peg image using the principles of a super power memory that I talked about in April 1998. And just to remind you, those principles are:
Order and/or sequence
Positive images
As you now know, a mental peg system works like the cloakroom at a theatre. When you take your ticket to the attendant after the performance, you expect to get your coat back because your ticket corresponds to the peg on which your coat has been placed. You will recall that for a mental peg system to work we need to be able to take whatever item we wish to remember, put it on a peg and then recall that item by going back to the peg at a later time.
Previously I told you about NUMBER RHYME System, but this month I will explain a similar system called the NUMBER SHAPE System.
The Number Shape System works by taking the numbers from 1 to 10, picking a word whose image looks like the number and then creating a vivid image of that word which then becomes representative of that number i.e. the mental peg. Then when we think of that number the peg image will instantly spring to mind. You might think that you could become confused with the images that you already have for the Number Rhyme System. You will find, however, that when you think of the pegs for each system you will be asking yourself one of two questions. Either “What does the number sound like” or “What does the number look like?” Each question will give a different answer for the same number and with practice, you will very quickly be able to differentiate between the two.
Number Shape Images
I have used the following images:
One looks like a candle – imagine a large ornately decorated wax candle burning a bright flickering flame.
Two looks like a swan- imagine a large graceful white swan arching its beautiful neck.
Three looks like the top of a red love heart – imagine a large red love heart cushion that may be given on Valentine’s Day.
Four looks like the sails of a yacht – visualise a large yacht ploughing through the ocean’s waves.
Five looks like a hook – can you see a large shiny brass hook?
Six looks like the trunk of an elephant – imagine a huge grey elephant slowly plodding along.
Seven looks like a walking stick – visualise a knobbly mahogany walking stick.
Eight looks like an hourglass – imagine a large hourglass sitting in its red wooden stand as the brightly coloured sand falls through its narrow neck.
Nine looks like a balloon on a stick – can you see a large red balloon tied to a wooden stick?
Ten looks like a dinner plate – visualise a long table gloriously laid out with the best china and cutlery for a grand feast.
As with the Number Rhyme system, I have used the words that instantly spring to my mind when I think of each number and what it looks like. You can use my suggestions or come up with your own. It really does not matter as long as every time you think of a number, the same visual image springs to mind. The more you apply the principles of SMASHIN SCOPE, the more vivid and hence more memorable your images will be. Once you have chosen your words and created your mental image for each, practice and test yourself until you are confident that the Number Shape image for each number is firmly implanted in your memory.
 Let’s consider a possible shopping list that you may wish to remember:
1. Milk
2. Sugar
3. Bananas
4. Lettuce
5. Tomato
6. Newspaper
7. Cheese
8. Butter
9. Bread
10. Lemonade
 To remember this list, use the principles of SMASHIN SCOPE and associate each number shape peg image with an image of the corresponding item on the list.
 For example you could imagine a Banana has been plunged through the centre of a bright red love heart cushion (Number 3). Make the image as vivid as possible by exaggerating the motion of the banana being pushed into the cushion. Enhance the colour of the scene, smell the banana, feel the contrast between the soft warm touch of the cushion and the cold hard texture of the banana skin.
 Now do the same for the rest of the items on the list. It should take you no more than about two minutes to do the entire list. So with your own imagination, associate the following images together:
A candle (one) with a bottle of milk.
A swan (two)with a bag of sugar.
A love heart cushion (three) with a banana.
A yacht (four) with a lettuce.
A hook (five) with a tomato.
An elephant (six) with a bar of newspaper.
A walking stick (seven) with a piece of cheese.
An hourglass (eight) with some butter.
A balloon on a stick (nine) with a loaf of bread.
A dinner plate (ten) with a bottle of lemonade.
 Now get someone to test you and I am quite sure that you will be able to remember the list in any order you want.
If you do make any mistakes it may be because some of your imagery is not vivid enough or your associations are not strong enough.
With a little practice you will overcome these problems and you will have no difficulty recalling any item on your list.
Use this system any time that you need to remember a list of 10 items. If you combine it with the Number Rhyme System, you can now remember a list of 20 items in any order that you want.
You will recall from previous articles that I have described how to remember a list using it a journey technique or the number rhyme peg system. I also described the principles underlying a superpower memory. What I’m going to tell you about this month is another technique for remembering a sequence of information such as a list. I’m going to teach you how to remember the order of the planets in our solar system from the Sun. Before I do that can you tell me what they are?
Well, to put you out of your misery, I will tell you. The order of the planets from the Sun is as follows:
Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto.
The technique that I am going to tell you about is called the Linking Technique. As the name implies, it links each item in the form of story. At this point, it might be a good idea for you to go back and read the article on the principles of a superpower memory because you will need to have them in the back of your mind as you read on. Very simply, the technique relies on making a vivid story that not only helps you remember each of the items, but also the order in which they appear. Consider the following story and as you read on, try and vividly imagine what is being described.
Imagine a huge ball of glowing orange fire that represents the SUN. Feel the heat coming off this huge orange ball and see the flames dancing around it. Out of this orange ball is a huge tube – it is a thermometer. As the glowing ball gets hotter and hotter the MERCURY inside the thermometer rises as it expands with the heat. Eventually the Mercury gets so hot that it explodes out of the end of the thermometer with a huge bang and sprays Mercury droplets everywhere. These Mercury droplets are tiny silver beads of metal that fall on to a beautiful blonde goddess wearing a white toga. This lady exudes love and compassion because she is the goddess VENUS, the goddess of love. To get away from droplets of Mercury, Venus starts digging a hole in the ground and she does, she piles up a huge mound of brown EARTH. As she digs away furiously the pile of earth gets bigger and bigger and bigger and upsets the next door neighbour. An angry red face (Mars is a small red planet) appears over the fence and start shouting because the noise has interrupted him eating his huge MARS bar. Outraged, he throws his Mars bar away but unfortunately it hits a huge muscular fellow who happened to be walking by. Unfortunately for Mars this is JUPITER the King of the gods. As Jupiter walks towards the commotion, on his white T-shirt are the letters S U N that stand for SATURN, URANUS and NEPTUNE. Behind him a little dog that looks just like the cartoon character PLUTO trots at his heels.
Now to remember the order of planets all you need to do is recall the story starting at the sun. Imagine the hot sun. What do you see coming out of the sun? A tube that contains MERCURY of course. Who gets covered by the Mercury as it falls? The goddess VENUS. What does Venus do to escape from the burning metal? She digs a hole and builds up a pile of EARTH. Who gets upset by the noise made by digging the hole? The little red faced man (MARS is known as the red planet) eating a MARS bar. When he throws the MARS bar, who does it hit? It hits JUPITER the king of the gods. What has Jupiter got on his T-shirt? The letters S, U and N which stand for SATURN, URANUS and NEPTUNE. Who is the little dog following the chap wearing the T-shirt? The little dog looks just like PLUTO.
To really reinforce the story in your mind, you need to review it at least five times over a couple of days. When you review it, you need to vividly experience the story in all its detail. Then, whenever you are asked to recount the order of the planets from the sun, all you need to do is think of the hot orange ball of heat with the tube of MERCURY……….
So can you use this for other information? Of course the answer is yes. If you need to learn any factual information, you can create a story to link the information. You could remember a shopping list, or the main themes running through a particular novel or play. You could have the main points concerning a particular answer to an exam question linked in this way. There are really no limits to how you can use this system. You can make your story as long or as short as you like, it is really up to you. Just make it vivid and outstanding and reinforce it at least five times.
In previous articles I have described some techniques that you can consciously apply to help you remember more effectively. I have described the principles of a Super Power Memory (SMASHIN’ SCOPE) and how to remember a list of 10 items in any order using either the Number Rhyme Peg System or the Journey Technique. These techniques obviously require some conscious effort but I am often asked whether we can utilise the mind’s natural processes for learning information. Of course the answer is yes.
If I were to read out a list of 30 words to you and then asked you to recall them for me, you would be able to recall some words from the beginning of the list, some from the end but only a few from the middle of the list. (If you don’t believe me, try it). These effects are known as PRIMACY (words from the beginning of the list) and RECENCY (words from the end of the list). Unless you were applying a mnemonic technique, it is highly unlikely that you would recall all of the words. You would however be able to recall words that were repeated or connected in any way and any outstanding or unusual words (for example the word “Rhinoceros” in a list of underwear is outstanding just as the word “Underpants” sticks out in a list of large African Herbivores).
“But”, I hear you ask, “how can we use this?” If we were to study for hours and hours and hours (like I am sure it seems to you sometimes) without a break, then we would find that the dip in recall between the PRIMACY and RECENCY effects would be considerable. On the other hand, if we stopped every 5 minutes for half an hour then we would not give ourselves enough time to get into the flow of learning and we may as well not bother.
So we need to find a balance between these two extremes. You will be pleased to hear that I am going to encourage you to take more breaks when you are studying. Split your study time into 20-50 minute chunks with 10 minute breaks in between when it is important that you relax or do something physical or creative.
The time chunks will mean that you create more PRIMACY / RECENCY high points and so remember more from your studying. The breaks will give your mind a chance to rest from learning and doing something different will actually stimulate it.
Instead of poring over your notes solidly for 3 hours, if you split the time up into 50 minute segments, you will actually remember more during your learning periods.
“Brilliant,” I hear you exclaim, “but what about being able to recall this information after I have learnt it?” That is a good point. Can you imagine only having to learn something once and then have the ability to recall it whenever you wanted? Sounds too good to be true?
Well, it is possible but it does require a little effort. Let’s imagine that you went to a class, listened to the teacher, took your notes and at the end of the lesson threw your notebook into your bag. How much information do you think you would remember about what you learnt by the end of the following day? Well a chap called Ebbinghaus proved that within 1-2 days, we forget about 80% of what we have learnt. That seems quite a waste doesn’t it? There is a way to overcome that problem.
At the end of an hour’s learning, your mind integrates the information that you have just studied so that your ability to recall it actually rises, peaks after about 10 minutes and then falls off dramatically. Now if you review what you have learnt at that 10 minute point, you will reinforce the information at its strongest in your mind. (I will be writing about a suitable note taking technique to allow you to do this in future articles, so just bear with me).
Your ability to recall this information will remain at a high point for about a day before it begins to drop off rapidly. So it is a good idea to review what you have learnt again after a day. This second review will mean that your ability to recall what you have learnt will remain for about a week before it begins to tail off again so guess what we do after a week? Full marks to those who think we should review again.
If you are worried about all these reviews, don’t be because with the right note taking technique, each review will only take a couple of minutes. After this third review your recall will last for about a month at which your fourth review will keep the information accessible by you for up to 6 months. A fifth review after 6 months will meant that the information is firmly logged in your long-term memory.
In summary then:
1. Study for as long as you like but make sure it is in 20-50 minute chunks with breaks of 10 minutes where relaxation and/or something physical and fun is mandatory.
2. Review what you have learned:
10 minutes after learning
1 day after learning
1 week after learning
1 month after learning
6 months after learning.
Other sections tell you about the principles of a super power memory (The Secrets Underlying a Super Power Memory) and using those principles how to remember a list of 10 items in any order by using the number Rhyme method (How to remember a list of 10 items). Now I want to tell you about another technique for memorising information that the Romans and Greeks used and which is advocated by 5 times World Champion Dominic O’Brien. It is a peg system in its own right and utilises locations in or around places that you are familiar with.
 Imagine the house where you live, see the front door as you walk in. Then, in your mind’s eye, walk through the house visiting every room in turn, just as if you were really doing it.
 That was quite easy wasn’t it? The key to this technique is to pick 10 specific places in your house (individual rooms or specific pieces of furniture) so that as you walk round your house in your imagination, you visit each place in turn in the same order each time. You may have chosen the following:
1. Front Door 6. Stairs
2. Table Hallway 7. Your bed in your bedroom
3. Sofa in your lounge 8. Wardrobe
4. TV in your lounge 9. Bath
5. Kitchen 10. Toilet
 Once you have chosen the 10 locations in your house, practice visualising the journey both forwards and backwards so that you have a clear and vivid image of each place and that every time you mentally “walk” the journey, the order of the places is always the same. In your mind you may have seen something like this:
 “The blue FRONT DOOR opens into a long hallway. Walking past the ornate wooden HALLWAY TABLE, you make your way into the lounge. In the corner of the lounge is your favourite orange SOFA opposite your TELEVISION. At the far end of the lounge is the door to the KITCHEN with its bright white worktops and blue and white tiled floor. In the hallway again you go up the STAIRS to your bedroom and sit on your large wooden framed BED. In the one corner stands your large WARDROBE. Back onto the landing you walk into the bathroom and see the white BATH next to the matching TOILET.”
  Now let’s look at the list we memorised in the Section on the Number Rhyme System. It was:
  Tomato   Birdcage   Chair   Pencil   Donkey   SoapTelephone   PathBed   Doughnut
Now using the principles of a super power memory (The Secrets Underlying a Super Power Memory) associate each item on the list with a stage of your journey. For example, associate a tomato with your front door, a birdcage with the hall table and so on. When you have done that, try and recall the list by mentally visiting each stage on your journey.
 Once you had associated the items on the list with the locations your journey may have looked like this:
 “A large red tomato the size of a football, just thrown against the blue FRONT DOOR, oozes its tangy juices as it slowly slides down the door’s shiny surface. Into the hallway, the tall red bottomed birdcage on the ornate wooden HALLWAY TABLE rattles noisily as you bump into it. As you enter the lounge you step back in surprise as someone has placed a massive chair on top of your favourite orange SOFA. You wanted to watch TELEVISION but unfortunately it is not working because of the six foot long pencil that has been pushed through the screen. You decide to have a drink but you can’t get into the KITCHEN because a large donkey is sat on the floor braying loudly. You have had enough, so you decide to go to bed. On your way up the STAIRS you keep slipping over the yellow bar of soap that can be found on each step. You finally make it to the bedroom but cannot get into your BED because a large purple telephone is in the way and is ringing quite loudly. All of a sudden, the WARDROBE door bursts open as two workmen start laying a path across your bedroom floor. You go out onto the landing and into your bathroom only to see a four poster wooden bed sat in your BATH. And if that wasn’t bad enough, a huge sugar coated doughnut is in the pan of your TOILET.”
 To remember the list, just walk through your journey in your mind and you will see the tomato on the door, the birdcage on the hallway table etc.
 Now you have another technique for remembering lists. With this technique you can remember absolutely anything you want to for example speeches, information for exams or any other information that you need to have at your fingertips. It is a very flexible system and its potential, is only limited by the number and length of the journeys that you are able to create in your mind.
Before you do anything else look at the following list of words for no more than two minutes:
 Tomato   Birdcage   Chair   Pencil   Donkey   SoapTelephone   PathBed   Doughnut
 Now look away and try and write down the complete list (no cheating now). When you have done that get a friend or member of your family to test you by asking you to recite the list either backwards or in any order that they choose for example the 4th followed by the 2nd followed by the 8th etc. Could you do it without a mistake? If you could not do it, read on and find out how you can. If you could do it, read on anyway and see if the method I am about to describe is the same one that you have used.
If you cast your minds back to April’s article, I covered the secret principles of a super power memory which were: 
Order and/or sequence
Positive images
 Now if you take the first letter of each word in the list as Tony Buzan has done (adding an S between the “A” of Association and the “H” of Humour) you will have the following mnemonic to help you remember the principles of a super power memory:
The “A” of SMASHIN SCOPE stands for Association and in April, I likened a mental peg system to the cloakroom at a theatre. When you take your ticket to the attendant after the performance, you expect to get your coat back because your ticket corresponds to the peg on which your coat has been placed. For a mental peg system to work we need to be able to take whatever item we wish to remember, put it on a peg and then recall that item by going back to the peg at a later time.
 One of the easiest types of peg systems to use is the NUMBER RHYME System.
The Number Rhyme System works by taking the numbers from 1 to 10, picking a word that rhymes with the number and then creating a vivid image of that word which then becomes representative of that number i.e. the mental peg. When we then think of that number the peg image will instantly spring to mind. So consider the following:
One rhymes with wand – imagine an enormous magician’s wand.
Two rhymes with shoe – imagine a big multicoloured shoe that is as large as a house.
Three rhymes with tree – imagine a large tree with bright green leaves.
Four rhymes with door – visualise a big door, it might be your own front door.
Five rhymes with dive – can you see a big blue and white diving board?
Six rhymes with bricks – imagine a pile of red bricks.
Seven rhymes with heaven – visualise a set of pearly gates surrounded by white fluffy clouds.
Eight rhymes with gate – imagine a bright yellow wooden gate at the bottom of a garden path.
Nine rhymes with wine – can you see a large bottle of red wine?
Ten rhymes with hen – visualise a large brown clucking hen.
I have used the words that instantly spring to my mind when I think of each number and a rhyming word. You can use my suggestions or come up with your own. It really does not matter as long as every time you think of a number, the same rhyming word and its image springs to mind. The more you apply the principles of SMASHIN SCOPE, the more vivid and hence more memorable your images will be. Once you have chosen your words and created your mental image for each rhyming word, practice and test yourself until you are confident that the image for each number is firmly implanted in your memory.
 Let’s consider the list that I gave you earlier:
1. Tomato 2. Birdcage 3. Chair  4. Pencil  5. Donkey  6. Soap  7. Telephone  8. Path  9. Bed  10. Doughnut
 To remember this list, use the principles of SMASHIN SCOPE and associate each number rhyming peg image with an image of the corresponding item on the list.
 For example you could imagine a donkey wearing a multicoloured bikini performing a beautiful swallow dive off a diving board (Number 5). Make the image as vivid as possible by exaggerating the motion, enhancing the colour of the scene, including the springing sound of the board as the donkey leaps into the air and the splash as it hits the water.
 Now do the same for the rest of the items on the list. It should take you no more than about two minutes to do the entire list. So with your own imagination, associate the following images together:
 A magician’s wand (one) with a Tomato.
A big multicoloured shoe (two)with a birdcage.
A large tree (three) with bright green leaves, with a chair.
A big door (four) with a pencil.
A big blue and white diving board (five) with a donkey.
A pile of red bricks (six) with a bar of soap.
Heaven (seven) (pearly gates and white fluffy clouds) with a telephone.
A bright yellow wooden gate (eight) at the bottom of a garden path.
A large bottle of red wine (nine) with a bed.
A large brown clucking hen (ten) with a doughnut.
 Now get someone to test you as you did before.
I am quite sure that you will be able to remember the list in any order you want.
If you do make any mistakes it may be because some of your imagery is not vivid enough or your associations are not strong enough.
With a little practice you will overcome these problems and you will have no difficulty recalling any item on your list.
Use this system any time that you need to remember a list of 10 items. There are other techniques for remembering longer lists but they will be covered at a later date.
In Tony Buzan’s book Use Your Memory (to be reviewed later this year) he writes that the Greeks understood that there were two underlying principles for perfect memory. You must ASSOCIATE (link) whatever it is you wish to remember with a fixed location in your mind (later articles will cover how you can do this) using your IMAGINATION throughout.
 We now know that the upper part of the brain is divided in half (see this month’s amazing brain fact) and that each half specialises in different mental traits. In order to enhance your ability to remember and bring together the features of both sides of the brain, you should include the following when you ASSOCIATE and use your IMAGINATION to produce mnemonic imagery:
 Most of the great natural memorisers blended their senses and introduced the following elements when they memorised:
1. Vision
2. Hearing
3. Sense of smell
4. Taste
6. Kinaesthesia (awareness of bodily position).
So the more that you involve your senses, the greater your ability to recall the information that you have learnt.
2. Movement
 Ask yourself which of the two situations are you likely to remember the most? First of all consider an oak tree in a forest of oak trees. Now consider the same oak tree swaying violently while the trees around it are seemingly unaffected by whatever is causing the movement. The motion gives the mind more possibilities for it to ‘link in’ and thus remember.
3. Association
 Association is one of the keys to a good memory. If you leave your coat in a cloakroom at a theatre, you will be given a ticket. When you return you expect to exchange the ticket that you were given for your coat. That is because the ticket you had was associated with the peg that held your coat. The same works with your memory. You will have a series of pegs in your mind (to be covered next month) which you associate with what you want to remember and when you recall, you go to that peg and the association will prompt the information stored.
4. Humour
 Have fun with your memory and make all of your images funny, absurd and ridiculous. If you watch pedestrians walking past a lamp post in a crowded street nothing really stands out until someone does not watch where they are going and……….
5. Imagination
 Einstein (see the section on The great Minds) said “Imagination is more important than knowledge”. Your imagination is vital to a good memory and the more you use it the better your memory will be.
6. Number  As Tony Buzan says, “Numbering adds specificity and efficiency to the principle of order and sequence”.
7. Symbolism
 A picture speaks a thousand words and so a more meaningful image that represents something boring or abstract will aid the memory process.
8. Colour
 If we introduce the facilities of both sides of the brain into our memory techniques our overall performance improves – Colour is a feature of the workings of the right side of the brain. Also the more colourful the image, the easier it is to remember.


9. Order and/or sequence


 By adding order and/or sequence it is easier for the brain to randomly access any piece of the information learned.


10. Positive Images


 The more positive and pleasant your mnemonic images are, the more likely your brain will want to return to them.


11. Exaggeration


 Exaggeration of size, shape and sound will enhance the image. If you saw a 10 foot high mouse wandering around your home town, I am sure that you would remember it!


So if you apply all of the elements above to your mnemonic imagery, then your are on your way to developing a good memory. All that you need now is a mnemonic technique to apply these principles to. I will cover such a technique next month.






Socrates (470-399 BC) is one of the most famous figures in philosophy. He was born in Athens and spent most of his time talking to people in the city. He never taught people, he just drew out ideas and arguments from people by feigning ignorance and asking questions. He very often revealed a person’s ignorance in this manner by identifying the weaknesses in their thinking. Often this was done in public places and so he tended to make people look quite foolish in front of their peers. Sadly this may have led to his downfall as in 399 BC he was sentenced to death for”introducing new gods and corrupting the youth”. He died after being forced to drink poison.


Much of his thinking and many of his ideas were captured by Plato (who was one of his students) because he never wrote anything down. Socrates said, “One thing only I know and that is that I know nothing.” It was his desire to establish a strong foundation of knowledge that led him to seek answers to his many questions and become a philosopher.


Alexander the Great


Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) was king of Macedonia, a position inherited at the age of 20 from his murdered father. Educated by Aristotle and inspired by Homer’s The Illiad, Alexander was driven by the desire to conquer the world and an extreme thirst for knowledge.


A true and courageous leader of men, he inspired those he led and achieved the absolute loyalty and devotion of his men by fighting with them and alongside them. A brilliant strategist, he won many battles, often against seemingly overwhelming odds. His most significant battle was the final defeat of Darius and the half-a-million-strong Persian army by Alexander’s army of just 47,000. His drive and persistence saw his empire rapidly expand across the Middle East and into Africa and India.


He founded the city of Alexandria in Egypt that quickly grew into a major regional port and a centre of culture and learning. Alexander died in 323 BC aged just 32.



Napoleon Hill was born in the US in 1883. His early career as a reported helped finance his way through law school. He was given an assignment to write a series of success stories of famous men and as a result, met the Steel Magnate Andrew Carnegie. Mr Carnegie commissioned Hill to interview over 500 of America’s successful men to find a success formula that could be used by the average person. It took Hill over 20 years to produce his book, a classic in the Personal Development field called “Think and Grow Rich”. This book has sold over 7 million copies and has helped thousands achieve success. The secret to success is very simple but you’ll have to read the book to find out what it is! Hill, however, identified 13 principles of success which I list for you here:




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Specialised knowledge


Organised planning



Power of the Master mind

Control of urges

The Subconscious Mind

The Brain

The Sixth Sense




 In Buzan’s Book of Genius, Einstein is touted as a serious candidate for the supreme genius of all time.


Although expelled from school for being a disruptive influence, Einstein showed tremendous interest in the physical world at an early age.


By 16 he had already written a paper on the relationship between electricity, magnetism and the ether. His famous quote “Imagination is more important than knowledge” was testimony to his own use of day dreaming to explore the universe.


When he imagined himself riding on a sunbeam and arriving back where he started from he concluded that the universe must be both finite and curved.


Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, confirmed by observation of eclipses, took the scientific world by storm in the early part of the twentieth Century and then 20 years later his equation e=mc2 led to the generation of the atomic bomb.


As well as a phenomenal scientist, he was also an accomplished violinist. Einstein died in 1955 having spent his later years playing the violin, sailing and working for world peace.





William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564. Married to Anne Hathaway, he was a dramatist and poet and is considered to be the greatest English Playwright. He wrote 36 plays, 154 sonnets and 2 narrative poems and today his works have been translated into 50 languages. His work is considered to be the yardstick against which works of drama are compared and he is the most quoted writer of all time – the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations devotes about 10% to William Shakespeare.


Vocabulary is a measure of genius and if you consider that the average person’s written and verbal vocabularies are both about 1,000 words and that the average person can recognise about 5,000 words, Shakespeare’s use of over 25,000 different words in his written work is quite remarkable. Not only that but if you consider the subjects dealt with in his work (classical literature, sciences, history and politics to name but a few), you quickly realise that he was an extremely intelligent and well-educated intellectual. Little is known about his life and there is debate in some quarters as to who he really was but it is clear that he can be considered to be one of the great minds of all time




Charlie Chaplin is considered one of the great masters of comedy. Born in London, he moved to America when he was already an experienced stage performer. An enormously energetic man, he made over 35 films in his first year in Hollywood and was still performing his remarkable stunts into his fifties. A socially aware mind, Chaplin used his art form to inform the American public of the Nazi menace before the states entered the war. After the war his political conscience led to his opposition to the Communist witch hunt in the 1950s and his subsequent expulsion from his adopted country. Famous for his tramp trademark, Charlie Chaplin is a wonderful reminder of the days of the silent screen. Although living in exile from his beloved America, Chaplin was awarded a knighthood in 1975 in recognition for his services to comedy. Charlie Chaplin died in 1977.

Abraham Lincoln


Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809 in Kentucky into extreme poverty but eventually became President of America. During the American Civil War Lincoln gave the now famous Gettysburg Address and his decision to appoint General Ulysses S. Grant as Commander-in-Chief of the Northern Armies was probably one of the significant turning points of the war. Although it cost him his life, he was fanatical that slavery should be abolished in his country. Lincoln was assassinated In Washington on 14th April 1865.


Throughout his life, his most striking characteristic was his determination to succeed in the face of continuing failure. Consider the following:


1831 – Failed in Business


1832 – Ran for State Legislature and LOST


1832 – Lost his job


1833 – Went bankrupt and took 17 years to pay off a debt


1835 – Sweetheart died


1836 – Had a nervous breakdown


1838 – Defeated in his attempt to become speaker of the state legislature


1840 – Defeated in his attempt to become elector


1843 – Ran for Congress and LOST


1848 – After successfully running for Congress he LOST when seeking re-election


1849 – Rejected in his application for the job of Land Officer in his home state


1854 – Ran for the Senate of the United States and LOST


1856 – Sought Vice-Presidential nomination and only got 100 votes


Despite all of these setbacks Abraham Lincoln was still elected President of the United States in 1860. Even in the face of adversity, it pays to keep on going. Failure is guaranteed if you stop trying.







 Some of the questions we have received so far are included here – we’ll add progressively to this area whenever the pagebuilding schedule allows.


Answers to the questions can be found further down this page. If you have a question that isn’t dealt with here, why not e-mail me – michael2006 (at) – and I’ll see if I can help. Please note, however, that with an exceptionally busy schedule it isn’t possible to reply to everyone who writes 🙂


1. What advice can you give for developing the visual memory skills of young children?


2. You seem to concentrate on the use of visual imagery for memory, what auditory systems are there?


3. I work in a court of Law as a translator and need to remember what is being said as I translate. Can you help?


4. I am doing a science project at school on Memory. Where can I get some information?


5. You have recommended Dominic O’Brien’s Books in your reviews section but I can’t seem to get hold of a copy. Why is that?


6. What Memory Books do you recommend?


7. Will my memory decline with age?


ANSWERS to above questions:


1. A friend of mine who has 3 sons gives the following advice on developing visual memory skills – “the things I have found most constructive in developing visual memory with my own kids have been (a) circular jigsaws [for the usual colour-variations but also for the differently-shaped pieces] and (b) Solitaire (“patience”) where there’s a need to remember what’s happening on all seven lines of cards. With the latter I taught first with actual cards then computer Solitaire (where they are aiming for a “higher speed”) helps to make the process of remembering more automatic.”


A visitor to the Project HappyChild website told me about something that helped him – “The one thing that helps me is this game I played as a child that involves a pack of cards on each of which is pictured an animal and its name, e.g. Leo the lion; each character occurs twice in the pack and the idea is that you deal the cards out face down before then turning over two at a time and trying to remember their position; when you can put two identical cards together they are eliminated; this goes on until you’ve eliminated every card.”


Perhaps you can still get this game, or something similar, from your local toy shop.




2. The majority of the books that I have studied (and please note that the extent of my research is far from comprehensive) on Memory Techniques have concentrated on visual systems that encourage the generation of imagery to assist in the memory process. None that I have read so far have explained a purely auditory technique. The reason for this I feel is that most of the books have been written by people who use and rely on visual systems. One or two of the more learned authors have recommended use of all of the senses in creating mental imagery but very little beyond.


The best reference that I can recommend is a book called “Accelerated Learning” by Colin Rose (Published by Accelerated Learning Systems Ltd ISBN 0-905553-12-8). This has about 8 pages on Sensory systems and examines the three learning styles (visual, auditory and Kinaesthetic). The techniques associated with knowledge of this styles have a wider application in human development and understanding in a field that is today known as Neuro Linguistic Programming. You may want to look at a couple of NLP books. I can recommend “Unlimited Power” by Tony Robbins.



3. As I do not speak a second language myself (yet) I can only give you a couple of ideas that you might want to try. As far as practice is concerned, I would suggest that you only try and remember key words as someone speaks. For Example: “Well your honour, I was travelling down the highway late last Thursday and I was in my car with my brother Vinne and his girlfriend Delores. We were doing about 30mph and then all of a sudden, this truck appeared from nowhere, hit the rear of my car and forced us into a telegraph pole.” As these words are spoken, if you pick out the key words like “highway”, “brother”, “truck” and “pole”, you will only have 4 words to remember but the context in which they were spoken will be triggered by each of those words. That way you will have less to remember, but you will still be able to recall what was said. The other thing that I would suggest that you do in conjunction with picking out key words is to still take notes but to use a Mind Map (see the Project HappyChild website) instead of conventional notes.



4. The best place to go is to a library, either the one you have at school or your local public library. I suggest that you look in the psychology section and any good text book in that area will give you lots of information. Your librarian will also be able to help you if you tell him or her exactly what you are looking for.


Another good source of information is of course the internet. I would recommend any book by Tony Buzan and there are also videos and books by Lana Israel (an American girl who did a project for a Science Fair in her 7th grade on memory!!!) which you will find reviewed on the site here. You might like to try out some of the techniques that I have written about on the HappyChild website.



 6. If you have a look at the book review section you will see a range of books that will help you improve your memory. If you find any that are not on my list, please let me know so that I can add them to my collection.


7. Excluding any serious mental illness, your ability to learn and remember should get better the older you get! The reason that most people think their memory or ability to learn is not as good as it was is purely because they have not used it as much as they once did. As a principle of memory is association with what we know and our experiences, the older we get, the more we know , the greater our experiences and so in theory, the more that we should be able to learn. Another reason for the apparent decline in mental performance is that as we get older we generally become less active (compared to our youth), less aerobically fit and so our brains receive less oxygen than it used to.


I would suggest that to convince yourself that you have fabulous mental potential at any age, you should read The Age Heresy by Tony Buzan and Raymond Keene (Published by Ebury Press ISBN 0 09 185150 5) which shatters all the myths about the so called limitations of the ageing process. If you are in the US (and I am not sure if the book has been published over there) contact Buzan Centres in Florida 407 881 0188, they may have copies.


You might also want to try using some of the memory systems I have written about on the Project HappyChild website to prove to yourself that your memory is and can be very good indeed.




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