Update: I relatively quickly wrote this page a long time ago. It’s a real mess and it badly needs to be cleaned up and updated, but I still think that it includes plenty of valuable advises, including some important ones that are often missing or under-emphasized elsewhere. For more recent and more well presented resources that you can use, you can check out this page instead. Among other things, it includes a step-by-step, completely free and very short 5-day, 20 minutes a day training program. That short program won’t be enough for you to become an expert, but I believe it will make an important difference.

This is four-time USA memory champion Nelson Dellis trying to make memory training look cool. His "random memory tips" on Youtube are all fun and worth watching.

This is four-time USA memory champion Nelson Dellis trying to make memory training look cool. His "random memory tips" on Youtube are all fun and worth watching.

Until I can find the time and energy to translate everything on this site, here's this hopefully helpful beginner's guide along with links to most of the best online resources that you can find. This guide isn’t as complete or as well written as it should be, but it does include plenty of important advises. If you prefer, other very good guides for beginners can be found here, here and here.

Start with:

  • This recent New York Times article is an excellent short introduction to memory palaces and to the science that explain why they work so well.

  • This is a cheesy but very decent video introduction to the subject. See how someone without any training can, with some help, rapidly learn the list of all the 83 recipients of the Oscar for best picture. Just ignore the completely unfounded reference to a "superhuman brain" at the beginning.

  • All right so you know enough for now to move on and get to work! But if you’re looking for an excuse to procrastinate, click here for some links to all the most fascinating articles and news reports about the art of memory. Personally I think you should avoid wasting any time and you should start practicing now. However, be sure to go back to this page at some point in the future. Everything here is definitely captivating and well worth learning about.

Ok now it’s time to pay attention seriously!

  • Click on this video and then this one for 2 different techniques you can use to remember names and faces. You can also click on this one and this one if you want more examples. Basically it comes down to 1- Pay attention, make sure you're not thinking about something else when you hear the name. 2- Find a trick. It can be an image, someone you know with the same name or a similar one, a funny thought (something the person might be doing or thinking) or even a song. 3- Associate that trick with the person, ideally to some memorable part of his or her face. 4- Review. Names can be very difficult, more than other forms of memory training. But if you try hard enough, it shouldn’t be too long before your can double or triple your baseline level of skills.

  • What's called the linking method can serve as an alternative or a complement to memory palaces. It isn’t quite as powerful and useful as the memory palace, but it’s simpler. Basically every element is "linked" is some imaginative way to the previous and and the following elements inside some short story. This story can be built with or without using a memory palace. Practicing the linking method can be a very good creativity exercise. Here's a nice example of how it can work. Please note that stories you've built yourself should be much easier to remember than those built by others. I sometimes use that for songs and verbatim text memorization, using one image for one line or for up to 5 or 10 lines, depending on how easy or hard to remember I find the text to be.

Memory techniques aren't meant to completely replace normal learning. You should use focused attention, direct associations, logic, understanding and your natural memory for most things and use mnemonics mostly for what's harder to remember. You should also know that there isn't one "right" way to use them. To paraphrase someone else, memory techniques work even when they don't work. Just the fact that you're paying attention to something and you're playing around with it is enough to drastically improve your odds of remembering. Even if you didn't find the perfect mnemonic, you're making progress as long as you're making an effort to process the informations in a way that makes it more meaningful to you, Just get started and experiment.

How to start training:

There are no books that you absolutely need to read and there's no "level" you need to reach before tackling a memory related task, so there's nothing stopping you from doing some long term memorization right now. Why not start today with whatever you want to remember and with the names of the people you meet? But while it's not absolutely necessary, it's not a bad idea to also work on your general memorization abilities by doing some low-stakes training with list of words or other types of material. Even if you don't care initially about trying to memorize meaningless data, training them will build up your overall memory skills. Because you're memorizing as quickly as you can and you only have to recall the data once, you'll improve faster overall than if you only focus on long-term learning and you have to review everything several times in the long run. There's a good chance that you'll end up enjoying the process and you'll want to keep it going. But even if you don't, it's still a good idea in my option to go through that exercise at least once a while for a few weeks. Once you've reached a minimum level that you're happy with, you're of course free to stop with the "training sessions" and to focus only on long-term learning or on whatever you're interested in.

I'll get to more serious long-term memorization in a moment. For now, here's how you can start doing a few exercises. I would start by choosing at least 2 or 3 palaces that you will use only for practice and for short-term memorization. Any real or imaginary place can work, but it's easier if it's a place you know well. My favorite palaces (homes and work place and so on) I like to keep them for training or for information that I only need for the short or medium term. You then let the images fade when you're done training or you don't need the information anymore. Those palaces you can reuse over and over. If you went fast and didn't do much reviews, just 24 hours of waiting time can be enough for the place to be "clean" again for something else. There are many different possible ways to organize your palaces, but 5 "loci" (a specific place where you will position your images) per room or area is a good, efficient and popular one. This video presents one possible ways to proceed. Of course you can choose to experiment with other ways, or improvise every time if you prefer. If you go along with this method, that means that you should divide your palace into a number of "zones" (a room or some arbitrarily defined area) and choose 5 predetermined locations for each one. Watch the video to understand. You decide what a "zone" is. It can be one small section of a parc, a much bigger section, one room, half a room, 3 rooms or whatever. If a room or an area is too small or boring, you can just ignore it or consider it to be part of another room or area. Or you can add some fictitious water slides in the middle to make it more memorable. If you're using a park or some outside location, it's up to you to choose what parts of it you will use and how you will divide it into different zones. You shouldn't put your images too close to one another, but it helps if they are close enough that they can interact with each others. Find a path that make sense in your mind, but also know that you can twist reality as you wish. For example I like to just go around clockwise normally in one room, but then on the next room I can start on the ceiling, fall down on the couch, go under a table, jump back on the table and then to the window and so on in some weird way that only makes sense in my mind. Don't let reality and the laws of physics limit what you can do. If it makes navigating all the interesting parts of a memory palace any easier (and eliminate the need to walk twice on the same path), I will burst through a few walls or ceilings and use one or two strategically placed portals to teleport myself from one place to the next in some convenient way.

So let's say you've built your first memory palace and you've divided it into 5 zones, with 5 loci per zone. That would be 25 loci in total, with each of those loci holding one, two or three pieces of information (you can place more than 3, but it will be less efficient and harder to remember). I would use this palace for random things that you want to remember for a short while and for practicing with list of words or anything. I think lists of words provide some really good practice for both beginners and experts because it's always a novel challenge that require creativity and improvisation and because unlike numbers and cards, you don't need any predetermined system. Some people place one words per loci, but most place 2, so that mean your small palace can hold a list of 50 words. But you don't have to memorize 50 words right away. In fact it might be better to start with just short exercices, a list of 20 words for example, or as many words as you can in 1, 2 or 5 minutes. What's nice about short exercises is that it's easier to notice and learn from your mistakes. It's also easier to find the time and motivation to do them. The goal here isn't to remember something permanently, but just to get better at the act of quickly turning random informations into images. Once you've memorized that information once, there's no need to think about it again later. Just let it fade and tomorrow if you want you can use the same palace to remember something else. Go slowly and the beginning, then later try to go as quickly as you can while still being accurate. Pushing your limits, making mistakes and learning from them is how one can improve at most skills, including this one.

Here are some good resources you can use for training. You could start with some of those random words and the completely free http://memorise.org/ . Personnally my new favorite site is memoryleague.com , free if you limit yourself to 3 tries a day, 25$ a year if not. You usually only have 1 minute to memorise as many words, names, images, numbers or cards as you can. For a beginner, 60 seconds can go by way too quickly, so don't hesitate to give yourself more time in the options. If you want to use to Memory League to memorise 50 words in 5 or 10 or 20 minutes but you don't yet have the skills to reach the required "level 10", you can use the "capture" tool on your computer to cheat up to the next levels. Or you can also just get the very affordable paid subscription that will allow you to memorize 50 words right away. The developpers plan to allow us to memorize as much as we want in the near future, but unfortunately that's not currently possible.

Another useful completely free site would be http://mt.artofmemory.com/training 

Here's how I would remember a list of 10 words in one room. Let's say I chose to use those 5 loci in this room bellow:


I will let the training website Memory League choose the words: variety, saxophone, chimpanzee, pointless, subtle, summer, triumph, restart, filthy and scenario. Now for each of those words I could come up with maybe a dozen ways to remember them, but because I don't want to write a novel here, I'll limit myself to just one or two examples per words. Also know if I was doing this just for me, I would use some associations that probably wouldn't make sense to you, and I would limit myself to simple blurry images with no more details than necessary. Knowing how much details are "necessary" is a skill that you will develop with practice. If you want to go along with this example and memorize those 10 words, open a second window and keep a picture of the room on one side the description on the other. Just reading the text probably won't be enough, you also need to make an effort to at least vaguely imagine those scenes happening in each corner of the room. You don't need to "see" everything clearly in your mind, you just need to be left with some vague impression.

  • Loci 1 - Variety and Saxophone : A stage is suspended from the ventilator. On it we can admire a "variety" of performers, the most prominent one is playing the "saxophone". Maybe it's the saxophone guy from the Simpsons.

  • Loci 2 - Chimpanzee and Pointless : A "Chimpanzee" is laying in bed, ruminating about his life. He looks at the show above and finds it super boring. He thinks about maybe waking up, but what's the point? Life is "pointless", he thinks. Maybe he also has a big point on his forehead.

  • Loci 3 - Subtle and Summer : A douchebag type of guy is looking outside the window and yelling cheesy pick-up lines at the girls outside. It's a hot "summer" day and the girls are walking around in bikini. One of them tells him he isn't very "subtle" with his lines. Or maybe the sun is saying the same thing? Mental note to remember that subtle comes before summer. An alternative would have been to represent those words using other completely unrelated words that sort of sound like those 2, for example by having a space shuttle landing on the summit of a mountain. Shuttle = Subtle. Summit = Summer.

  • Loci 4 - Triumph and Restart : I think of Donald Trump celebrating his "triumph" in the latest election. Another great Trump triumph and a new "restart" for the nation, he thinks. Maybe he's scanning the library looking for books about himself. Or maybe he sudenly stops moving and one his his aides has to restart him by turning the giant key that is attached to his back?

  • Loci 5 - Filthy and Scenario : Near the entrance of the room, a porn director stop filming to yell at Trump and tell him that his election is the most "filthy" "scenario" he has ever come accross.

There you go. Don't be a perfectionist when choosing your images and you'll improve quickly. Your images don't have to be detailed or feel real, they only need to leave you with a very vague but still strong enough impression to help you find the related info later on (relevant link here). With 5 rooms like this one you could remember a list of 50 words in order in not that much time. Those types of exercises aren't necessary to become good at memorizing, but they are useful at developing your overall abilities. It might feel hard at first because it's a new skill. It's like you're going skiing or ice skating for the very first time. You can sort of do it but it's difficult and uncomfortable. It will feel much easier, and you'll be faster and more efficient, after more regular practice spread over a few weeks. Below is the average results at 5 min random words exercise of previously untrained volunteers practicing with a memory palace 20 min a day. Their results more than double after 2 weeks. And the website they were using to train had very harsh scoring rules (basically you need to get everything right or it doesn’t count). If you’re curious, more details about this particular study can be found here and here. So don’t get discouraged! Keep training and your brain will adapt to this new challenge. If you get bored with random words, try some of the challenges here (images in particular is fun and beginner friendly and highly recommended)

5 min random words.JPG

You'll probably never have have to remember a list of 50 random words, but you might have to or want to remember a bunch of bullet points for a presentation you'll be giving, or some concepts from an interesting book you've read, or some notes for an exam that's coming up. When those situations arise, the process will never be exactly the same and you'll have to improvise at least a little, but at least you will have a good general idea of how to tackle the task and you'll have complete confidence in your ability to succeed. 

You can take whatever you want to remember, distill it down to a bunch of keywords and memorize those keywords just like you would memorize a list of random words. How many keywords do you need? It depends on how difficult the material is and how familiar you are with it. Try to use as many as you need, but no more. If it’s a subject you understand well, just a few keywords should be enough. But sometimes two or three keywords can be necessary for just one particularly difficult word.

How to remember information for the long term:

The art of memory is powerful, but no mater how good you become, most of your images will fade if you never review them. Whether or not you're using mnemonics and memory palace, you should know that the most efficient way to get information into your long term memory is to use what's called spaced repetition and retrieval practice. This isn't just my personal opinion, there are at least a few dozens gigatons or peer-reviewed researchs to back up that statement. Retrieval practice is basically just testing yourself. Don't just reread your notes, close your book and see how much you can recall without any aid. That's not just a way to verify what has been remembered, it's also an extremely powerful way to learn. A related technique is what's called the "Richard Feynman technique", named after the famous physician. See this video and this one for the details.

"Active recall is everything. When it comes to learning any type of material, in my opinion, the only activity that really matters is trying to replicate the information, from scratch, without looking at your notes, as if you were lecturing a class. If you can do that, you know it. If you can't do that, you don't know it. It's brutal, it's intense, it's also incredibly efficient. It's the most efficient possible way to learn. (...) Active recall is the only game in town. Any other activity throw it out of your study skills arsenal." (author Cal Newport during an interview.)

He is mostly right, although I don't agree with that last phrase. The other fundamental piece of the puzzle is spaced repetition: many reviews at the begininning and less frequent reviews with time. 

I strongly recommend using a spaced repetition software like the free and awesome Anki. (Update: Anki is great, but some aspects of its design can initially be a little intimidating for beginners. If simplicity is important for you, you should probably use a site called Quizlet instead.) You could of course not use any software and just rely on your own instincts to choose when and how you should review, but if you're anything like me you probably shouldn't trust your personal self-discipline and judgement. You can use the web version here https://ankiweb.net and/or the much more complete offline version here http://ankisrs.net/. The mobile versions are only useful for impromptu revisions in random places. All those versions can be synched to each others. And here are some alternatives if you prefer: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_flashcard_software (Memrise is a popular and more user friendly one, especially for languages). Don't be intimidated by the gray interface and the many possible options and ways that you can customize everything. At it's core, Anki is just a flashcards program where you write something on one side and see if you can retrieve the answer before checking the answer on the other side. You can use flashcards produced by others, but you should know that it's usually not a good idea. Making your own cards and choosing what should appear on it is an important part of the learning process. Those cards can be very simple ("Brazil" on one side and the capital "Brasilia" on the other") or more complex, adding pictures and sounds and all your notes about electromagnetism and so on. Depending on how easily you can retrieve the answer, Anki will calculate how long it should wait before asking you again. No need to reply in writing, just click to indicate how easy or hard it was for you to retrieve the answer. The algorithm is made to optimize long term retention in a minimal amount of time. Here’s a 5 minutes video to explain the basics as well as some optional useful features. And here’s another video explaining how to make particularly memorable flashcards. I personally don’t follow every single one of those recommendations, but it doesn’t mean that those aren’t good advices. Anki’s algorythm is made so that for moderately difficult informations, you will remember correctly about 90% of the time. If you want to know everything at any given point, you will have to do some more frequent revisions. To do so you can open a deck and click on “options” or “custom study”. Or you can go in the “tool” section above and select “create filthered deck” and review everything in a particular deck. Personally, for informations that I want to be able to reproduce anywhere in any circumstance, I like to be able to answer quickly and I prefer to remember 99% of everything correctly instead of 90%. For that reason, I went to the options and entered a maximum review delay of 2 months. That means that everything I want to remember very well will be briefly reviewed at least once every 2 months. If you're tackling large amount of informations, thousands of words for a new language, this isn't the most time-efficient way to proceed. If you can just accept the fact that you won't always correctly remember everything, in the long term you'll be able to learn a whole lot more than if you're a perfectionist. Also beware of your natural temptation to first review what you already know well and enjoy those little shot of dopamine you get when answering everything easily. It’s of course preferable to first and foremost focus your time and attention and energy toward those more problematic and difficult parts.

I know I'm repeating myself, but even if you foolishly decided to avoid using mnemonics and memory palaces, you should still develop the habit of testing yourself and reviewing periodically using spaced repetition. Spaced repetition + retrieval practice = being able to remember amazing amounts of information. Of course, the hardest part is to kick yourself hard enough to get you to actually do the work, but it's definitely worth it if you care about knowing stuff long term. Now if on top of that, you can also use mnemonics and build some memory palaces, there are almost no limits to what you will be able to remember. If on most days you can sleep 8 or 9 hours on a consistent schedule, do at least 5 minutes of intense physical exercises and sit down in front of Anki or some alternative for some reviews, after a while you'll be amazed by how much you can manage to remember. Don't just tell yourself "yeah sure I'll review regularly". You won't do it. At least most people won't. Choose exactly when and where you'll be making your reviews. Make a strict plan and stick to it. Also know that research shows it's easier to acquire a new habit if you do it immediately before or after something you're already doing. Every monday to friday after breakfast for example. Check some of the links at the bottom of this page for more good tips on how to create new habits.

How to build a memory palace for long term retention

Unlike memory palaces used for training or short term informations, those built for the long term most of the time should only be used for one purpose. One palace for one subject, build more as needed. When creating new palaces, it's not necessary but I like to take pictures of them, put those pictures in a power-point document (use the "insert multiple pictures to multiple slides" feature) and maybe add numbers to the specific locations that I will use. It will be useful later on if I neglect to review them (bad habit) and need to relearn many parts. This is how I like to proceed, but you should know that this isn't the more time-efficient way. Unlike palaces used for training, it's not necessary to visualize your palace and choose all your loci in advance. A simpler approach, which world champion Alex Mullen recommends, would be to just pick any place you can visualize, even if your memory of it is blurry and partly incorrect, and start placing images in whatever ways you want to. If you have trouble remembering some parts of the place that you want to use, either just ignore those specific parts or make up a semi-fictitious but somewhat coherent version of them in your mind. You can then start placing things related to some subject in one section and things located to some other subject in some other section, and then come back later and add details as needed. And you can use the palace partly as a mean to structure and organize the information. That way the planning phase is almost non existent you can concentrate on the important work. If information about one particular subject ends up being scattered in many different places, that's not ideal but it's fine. Don't worry about it. If you worry too much about planning everything perfectly, you'll waste a lot of time and you'll never get around to the important work. 

Place the images close enough so that they can interact with each others, but not too close so that it doesn't get confusing. I'll place anywhere from 1 to sometimes up to 5 pieces of information on any single spot (a table for example). Most of the time 2 or 3 pieces of information per place works best, more can sometimes become confusing. For safety, you should probably note both the information memorized and (super briefly) the mnemonics used in another word document. For more details on how to proceed, follow the lead of current world memory champion Alex Mullen

As I said before, use attention, direct associations, logic and understanding and your natural memory for most things and use images for what's more difficult to remember. Focus how a minority of what you see, hear and learn. Use the Pareto principle and identify the 20 or 10 or 5 or 2% of information that matter the most, those that will give you the maximum amount of results (whatever “results” you’re hoping to achieve).

If you ever fear not having enough memory palaces, realize that this fear is completely unfounded. The world is too vast and you will NEVER run out of places to use. You can watch this and this for some advises on how to find new ones. You can also go on this site to explore more than 200 magnificent virtual ones. Google Street view is also a potentially powerful resource

How to remember numbers:

I wrote a ton on this subject for this website and unfortunately I can't translate most of it now, but here are the main points. Numbers are memorized mostly the same way one memorize anything else: by converting the information into some unusual images and by storing those images in some well-known place that you can mentally walk through later on. My stories for a deck of cards or for a set of 100 digits will look similar to my stories for random words. The problem is that numbers can’t easily be converted into images without using some pre-established system. But once you have such a system and you've become good at using it, memorizing cards and numbers can be easier than just about anything else. Most people who can easily memorize large numbers use some variations of the following 2 systems: the Major system and the PAO system. If you only need to memorize numbers once a while and you aren't too worried about speed, I would recommend just learning the Major system or some variation (This one I think is quite good. Or you might want to learn my personal version instead, especially you're inclined to think in French or in Spanish.) and just use it to improvise images like they explain in the video. Another option would be to build what's called a 1 digit PAO system. It should take less than half an hour to build one and it should take care of most of your daily needs. If you're not particularly interested in memorizing large numbers, that should be more than enough. If you want something more efficient, that will take some more work. I would then recommend either a 2 digits Major system or a 2 digits PAO system. Both systems can be extremely efficient. A 2 digits Major system is a lot faster to get used to. A 2 digits PAO system is very fun, but it will take a good while before using it can become second nature. I will discuss the pros and cons of both systems bellow.

You should probably start with a 1 digit PAO system like this one: 

I think you should start with that not because it's the best choice in the long term, but because it works fine for most people and it requires very little work to build such a simple system. Half an hour maybe? If you think "oh I will just go directly to the more advanced stuff",  that's great but in the past how often have you declared some ambitious goal for yourself and then never got around to actually do it? With this you can build it quickly and then actually start using it the very same day. Nothing will stop you from upgrading to a more advanced system later on. However if you’re sure already that your motivation level is high enough and that there’s no way you’ll give up before mastering your 100 images, just skip the next paragraph and start working on your new awesome system.

So how does that supposedly simple 1-digit PAO system works? PAO stands for Person-Action-Object. Each number from 0 to 9 is pre-assigned to a character, doing some action to some object. You choose whatever characters and actions and objects you prefer to use. If you want to remember a 3 digit number like 942, you would use the character for the first digit (9, so Osama Bin Laden in the example above) doing the action of the second digit (4, so swimming) using the object of the third digit (2, so some disgusting cat litter box). You would then place Bin Laden swimming through the cat litter box on your kitchen's table or wherever you want in your memory palace. The next Person-Action-Object would appear somewhere nearby and so on. Your small 25 loci 5 rooms memory palace could then comfortably hold 75 digits. Let's say you're more down to earth and practical and you just want to remember that your friend's address is 873 Berri street, you could just imagine Eric Cartman breakdancing with the American flag (character for 8, action for 7 and object for 3) among a bung of berries (for Berri street) in front of your friend's appartment and voilà! If you want to remember those 50 keys dates from world history, build a memory palace with 50 loci. In each of those loci you would improvise an image to represent the event and you would add a character from your PAO for the century, an action for the decade and an object for the year. Hopefully you don't need a mnemonic to remember the millenium. If you review them right like I explained before, those 50 dates will stay in your long term memory for as long as you want to.

Then if you're motivated, build either a 2 digits Major system or a 2 digits PAO system:

A 2 digits PAO works the same way as a 1 digit one, but with 100 caracters, 100 actions and 100 objects to choose and become familiar with. See this video for more details. It's fun and efficient but it's also a lot of work. It also does some of the creative work for you, which is both an upside and a downside. I’ve come to believe that this isn’t the right choice for most people. It’s what I did, but it’s not what I would do if I were to start over again.

The Major system is much quicker to get used to and it can be just as efficient. I now also think that training with this is a better way to improve your overall memory skills, more so than training with PAO. To learn how it works, you can check eigher this video and/or this article or this one. It's a letter code system that works by converting numbers into consonant sounds, then into words by adding vowels. You first assign consonant sounds (not letters) to each digit, then use those letters plus some other letters of your choice to generate visual images that can be memorized in place of the numbers. For example, 5 is an L and 3 is an M, so 53 could be represented by a LiMe while 35 (M and L again, in different order) could be MiLk. I usually advise putting 2 images per each loci. So for 5335, you could have an anthropomorphised lime either breastfeeding or buying some milk or swimming in milk or slipping on milk that was dropped on the floor and so on. Or it could be you adding some lime to your milk to make it taste better. For 3553, you would have milk and lime again, but in a different order. You could use the same images with a mental note that milk comes before lime, or you could use the way they are positioned (milk above lime, or milk to your left and lime to your right), but the best choice I think would be to modify the way those 2 images are interacting. Maybe milk could be raining on a lime tree to make it grow faster, or a lime could be found hidden inside your glass of milk.

Some people use the major system to improvise mnemonic images on the spot. It works fine and that’s good enough for most day to day memory tasks. But if you want to become really good and fast, you’ll have to create a set of pre-made images for every number. It is recommended to have at least one fixed image for every number between 00-99. This isn’t as much work as it sounds like I will talk about how to become familiar with such a system bellow. At least half of your images should be objects or something else, not characters. About 1/3 characters and about 2/3 objects or something else seems like decent ratio.

The original Major system is great, but I personally made some changes to it to make it more intuitive for me and for French (and Spanish) speakers. Here's my version along with a ton of suggestions for each number. It’s a matter of personal preference and there’s a good chance that my version isn't the best choice for you. Here's another version that I think is quite good. You can also of course make your own personal version. If you do, personally I think you should keep the same basic sounds because they include most of those we commonly use and also because you will be able to recycle all those publicly available major system based lists out there.

Note that with any system you choose, you don't have to always strictly follow all the rules if you don't feel like it. The letter code is there to help you become familiar with your system faster, but nothing is forcing you to follow it if you don’t want to. After a while, you'll just see 35 and think "MiLk" without having to think of the code. I don’t necessarily recommend that, but in theory you could just choose a bunch of images you like and almost randomly assign them to numbers and with enough practice, using it will become second nature anyway. You can also keep the letter code but break or adjust the rules when you feel like it. You could for example decide that 13 is gonna be some monster from an horror movie, 50 is will be the rapper 50 Cent and 52 will be a deck of cards. Sometimes it will be harder to find a fitting image for some combination of sounds. In those case you can check out some of the tools and publicly available lists found here: https://artofmemory.com/wiki/Major_System Or you can get creative with the code. The image made with the N and C/K/G sound could be something straightforward like a NuKe, NiKe, a NiQab or Nicolas Cage, or you could decide that it will stand for "aN eaGle", for "No Go", for "uNiQue" or for some word you made up. In each case, it's up to you to decide what exactly will those words represent.

Apart from the different letter code systems, other ways to assign images to a number include using direct associations (http://mt.artofmemory.com/wiki/Mnemonic_Association_System_for_Numbers), categories you choose (those may be similar to what is explained here http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tim-ferriss/how-to-memorize-a-deck-of_b_2638940.html), what one could call the “I just feel like it” approach (which is what I did, but it's not something I would recommend if you're not motivated to put in a ton of work) or some mix of the above. I know others think that this is a bad idea, but I've made a lot of changes to my system until I became almost perfectly happy with all its components.

How to remember cards:

Want to memorize a deck of cards? You could build a system just for that by doing something along those lines. But what I think would be much more simple and efficient would be to build a system for numbers with at least 100 images for 00 to 99 and use 52 of those images for both cards and numbers. Cards and numbers will then become variations of the same discipline. If you already have a system for numbers, you can learn to memorize cards in just a few minutes. If you don’t yet have a system for numbers and you’re in a hurry to memorize a deck of cards as quickly as possible, you could just start choosing and learning images solely (for now) for the 52 numbers that also happen to represent cards.

Just bellow are two logical ways to convert cards into numbers. You could make up another if you prefer. One simple solution would be to use something along those lines: 01 to 13 for clubs / 21 to 33 for hearts / 41 to 53 for clubs and 61 to 63 for diamonds. Another way, the one I prefer, is described bellow:

  • 01 : 10 of spades 02`: 10 of hearts 03 : 10 of clubs 04 : 10 of diamonds

  • 11: Ace of spades 12 : Ace of hearts 13 : Ace of clubs 14 : Ace of diamonds

  • 21 : 2 of spades 22 : 2 of hearts 23 : 2 of clubs 24 : 2 of diamonds

  • 31 : 3 of spades 32 : 3 of hearts 33 : 3 of clubs 34 : 3 of diamonds

  • 41 : 4 of spades 42 : 4 of hearts 43 : 4 of clubs 44 : 4 of diamonds

  • 51 : 5 of spades 52 : 5 of hearts 53 : 5 of clubs 54 : 5 of diamonds

And so on until the nine of diamonds. I'm sure you noticed that the very first digit give you the card's value while the second one gives you its suit. 1 is for spades (one spade), 2 is for hearts (2 bumps), 3 is for clubs (3 leaves) and 4 is for diamonds (4 sides). 2 of spades to 2 of diamonds will be 21 to 24 for obvious reasons. Aces will be 11 to 14 (ace = 1 because it's the best card or whatever ). For 10 of spades to 10 of diamonds, just imagine that we are removing that first "1" to remember that we will use 01 to 04. Now we still have the jacks, the queens and the kings. Personally I use 16 to 19 for kings, 26 to 29 for queens and 36 to 39 for jacks. Six sort of rhymes with spades, so 6 = spades. I associate 7 with luck and love, so it will represent the hearts. 8 divided by 2 equals 4, so diamonds (4 sides). 9 is clubs for some other silly reason that you can think of (I have one, but it only makes sense in French). So that means that the queen of clubs will be a 29, the queen of hearts will be a 27 while the king of diamonds will be an 18.

You can then start by memorizing just 10, 20 or 30 cards. When you're ready for a whole deck, for recall it's easier to use a second deck (placed in whatever order you prefer, usually by suits and aces to kings) that you will then reorder in the same order as that pack you just memorized. It's also how we do it in competition. With some practice, the recall and reordering phase should take less than 5 minutes, otherwise it doesn't count. Click here to see how I do it. When you'll become a pro, it will sort of look like this (the epic music is optional).

How to learn your new system:

Most people skip that step, but once you’ve chosen all your images, I think you should build some memory palace where you use them all in order, 5 or 10 images or pao per zone. I would quickly review that palace once a while, especially at the beginning. Having that journey well memorized will help if one day you forget what 67 stands for. Also try some of the exercises on this page. One exercice I highly recommend both for learning your system and for becoming faster at using it would be to gather 100 playing cards and write 00 to 99 on each one. If like I suggested above you decided to use 52 of images for both cards and numbers, you could just use a regular deck of cards and add 48 cards with writing for those 48 numbers that don't represent any playing card. You could also buy a blank deck here. So carry that deck around and go through it while "seeing" the associated images as quickly as possible, without any memory palace and without memorizing anything. If you're using something like the Major system, you could just see one image at a time or practice linking 2 or 3 or 4 images at a time. If you're using PAO, look at 3 cards at a time and practice seeing it as a single image. That exercice takes much less time and effort than a memorization session and it's very useful to become faster. If you can convert digits and cards into images in an instant, it's a huge time and energy saver in the long run. If becoming fast is important for you, it’s never a waste of time to go through that exercise as often as possible.

For a long time I was carrying those 100 cards (52 regular cards and 48 cards with just numbers) everywhere with me and I was reviewing them once or twice a day in the metro, as quickly as I could while still very briefly “seeing” the corresponding images. During the weeks before a competition, I would do that exercise much more often.

For a long time I was carrying those 100 cards (52 regular cards and 48 cards with just numbers) everywhere with me and I was reviewing them once or twice a day in the metro, as quickly as I could while still very briefly “seeing” the corresponding images. During the weeks before a competition, I would do that exercise much more often.

That's it for now, I'll come back later and add some more links and helpful details. In the meantime if you want to learn more about the art of memory, about learning in general, about the brain and about other fun and useful related subjects, you can check out some of the other links included here or in the "Ressources en ligne", "Comment développer n'importe quelle habileté" and "Bibliographie" parts of this website.


Here are some poorly presented important informations:

- Don't try to memorize everything. When something can be understood and remembered by just paying attention to its internal logic, use that instead.

- Don't be too much of a perfectionist when it comes to choosing your images. Use whatever comes to mind, even if it seems like a terrible idea, has almost nothing to do with the original subject and only represent one small part of that difficult word. It may not be perfect, but it will still help. Better having to review the information a couple more times than spending too much time trying to find the perfect image.

- When choosing images, use whatever element you think might help you: images, sounds, odors, touch, narrative (why the is hell is the characters doing that), linking to place, linking to the subsequent or previous image. With practice you will be able to speed things up, cut corners and only use the bare minimum you need for later retrieval. Read those 3 blog posts for some good tips on how to become faster and more efficient: https://mullenmemory.com/blog/2015/4/10/the-power-of-narrativehttps://mullenmemory.com/memory-palace/visual-clarity ;  https://artofmemory.com/blogs/everettc/how-i-overcome-plateaus-and-keep-improving

- Be patient, just because something didn't work the first time you tried doesn't mean it won't work later. Practicing the art of memory, like any hard skill, after a while literally change parts of how your brain works. See that fascinating study covered in CNNScientific AmericanSmithsonian and The Guardian.

- If you want to become fast, you need to practice intensely (focus completely, go a little bit outside your comfort zone), intelligently (analyze your mistakes, experiment, see how you can get over obstacles) and often. But although practicing for hours can help, you should know that if you practice regularly and efficiently you can still improve without having to invest too much of your time. Ten minutes of intense daily practice are probably worth more that five hours just once a week.

- Can you acquire the discipline to establish some strict studying and practicing schedules and stick to them, even it's just 15 minutes a day four days a week? For memory training, for studying and for most skills, that's the hardest part, and the most important one.

- Your mind will not work efficiently if you don't take care of your body. You should prioritize sleep (at least 7 to 9 hours a day, enough to wake up refreshed without using an alarm, at the same time every day as much as possible), healthy eating and exercise, in that order. Unless you only care about the next few hours, sacrificing any of those three pillars for more time is almost always counter-productive.


Some important concepts: 


And some more awesome links about different subjects: (for most conferences and interviews, better convert them to mp3 files and listen while doing something else: https://www.dvdvideosoft.com/fr/products/dvd/Free-YouTube-to-MP3-Converter.htm)

Getting sufficient sleep, and sufficient quality of sleep, is the single most important thing you can do for your health, your mood, your energy and your memory. Even if you think you know what you need to know about the subject, take the time to listen to this talk and/or this interview. It’s very interesting and extremely important information. I always knew sleep was important, but I never how much until about a month ago when I started listening to that guy and reading his book. It’s probably more important than diet and exercise combined. There are many things one can do to improve the quantity and quality of his sleep, but regularity is the most important, and sadly it’s what I’ve most neglected all my life. Go to sleep early and wake up at the same time every day. And sleep 9 hours every single day with no guilt if that’s what you need to wake up refreshed without using an alarm (it’s possible that you may only need 7 or 8, I need about 8.5 to 9). I know that’s a lot of time but it’s worth it. That’s not laziness, it’s just about making sure your brain and body are working optimally. It will help a lot with every single thing in your life.

The author of Moonwalking with Einstein uses spaced repetition and mnemonics to learn 1100 words of Lingala, a language spoken in parts of the Congo and Angola, in only 22 hours spread over 3 months: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2012/nov/09/learn-language-in-three-months

About the very important concept that is deliberate practice: http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/classroom_qa_with_larry_ferlazzo/2016/04/peak_an_interview_with_anders_ericsson_robert_pool.html ; http://jamesclear.com/deliberate-practice-theory https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gWl4liX4PNw et https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uoUHlZP094Q Use those principles to get better at anything.

Check out this video 6 year old girl who used a memory palace to learn all the US presidents in order.

Here's an extract from a recent book about the memory techniques used by preliterate people. This isn't yet mainstream science and I was skeptical at first but read most of the book and came away convinced that the author is a serious and hard working researcher who did her homework and actively sought disconfirming evidence before printing anything. This is amazingly interesting and consequential. Her website is: http://www.lynnekelly.com.au/the-memory-code/

Click here for a good quick overview of the history of the art of memory.

Excellent free online class about learning. And here's a short video overview of the excellent book that served as a basis for the class.

Do you have what's called a “Growth Mindset”? Most people don't, but they really should learn to develop one: https://www.gatesnotes.com/Books/Mindset-The-New-Psychology-of-Success ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUWn_TJTrnU et https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-71zdXCMU6A

About how passion and perseverance over the long term are much more important than IQ or "talent": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H14bBuluwB8 et https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-ONEAcBeTk

You don't have to always be on your phone and on Facebook. Concentration and focus and discipline are skills that can be developed. I was deeply influenced by Cal Newport concept of "Deep Work" and it has had a very positive effect on my life: www.vox.com/…/15382…/cal-newport-taking-life-back-technology [full podcast here]

Interesting and fun Ted talk about procrastination: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arj7oStGLkU Articles by the same guy: https://waitbutwhy.com/2013/10/why-procrastinators-procrastinate.html

About 40% of what you do on any given days is a result of your habits, not of conscious decisions. Changing those habits is hard and it takes a while, but it can make everything else so much easier, and it can change your life. Here are some links to help you understand and influence that process: http://jamesclear.com/habit-guide ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMbsGBlpP30 ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=voX0gUn_JOI ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ls_VFIU1Dv4

About willpower https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5BXuZL1HAg

I now start every day with a few minutes of intense physical exercises followed by about 10 minutes of meditation. We now know that extremely short workouts with a few moments of strenuous exertion can be just as beneficial as 45 minutes of more moderate exercises: https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/04/27/1-minute-of-all-out-exercise-may-equal-45-minutes-of-moderate-exertion This means that lack of time can no longer be used as an excuse. As for meditation, I'm pretty sure I would never have taken up that habit if it wasn't for the overwhelming amount of serious research about the benefits of that practice. It's a subject that one can spend years exploring, but everything you need to know can be told with just a few words here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/09/meditation-skeptics_n_5954090.html More details here. Both meditation and physical exercises will help improve your memory and your ability to focus, but that's just one of at least 50 different reasons why you should start developing those two habits.

Former US champion Nelson Dellis recently started posting a series of "Random Memory Tips" on Youtube. Check them out, they're all excellent.


I can be contacted at francisblondin@artdelamemoire.org

If you are on Facebook, the group "Apprendre à apprendre - Memory training and other fun and useful subjects" is open to all. If you want you can also “like” the Canadian Mind Sports Association Facebook page and/or add me "Francis Blondin" as a "friend" or click “follow”.

I'm sometimes available for workshops or conferences for schools or businesses or individuals. I don't mind presenting in English as long as you don't mind my French-Canadian accent and my very good but still imperfect grasp of the English language. It's always an interesting experience for both me and the participants and I can almost guarantee that everyone will leave pleasantly surprised by what they were able to remember. I talk about memory techniques and other important subjects related to learning, self control and life habits. Of course just one workshop isn't enough to radically transform everyone's abilities, but it's enough to let beginners get a clear understanding of what they can manage to achieve with some efforts.