By Ibraheem Dooba
When I was about 23 years old, I was invited to do a presentation in Lagos, Nigeria. When I got on to the stage, I did two things that amazed the audience. One of them was to ask them to ask me any question about a magazine that was just published.
The magazine was published by the company that invited me – the publication was reasonably thick and had just come off the press. I also wrote a regular column for the magazine. So I asked the participants, most of whom were clutching the new issue in their hands, to quiz me.
So they asked me questions like:
What is on page 45? I told them it was an article by Mr X about XYZ.“On which page is ABC?” They asked. I told them it was on page 60. The more I answered their questions, the more puzzled they became. Even if the magazine wasn’t new, even if it was two years old, how could someone memorize the entire contents? They wondered.
The second thing I did was to give numbers to participants; say, from 1 to 50. I can’t remember the exact number. After that, each person would shout his number and a random item. For example “number 25, computer.”
“I will memorize them as quickly as you mention them,” I promised.
Now it was time to recall what they gave me. “You can ask me to recite from the beginning to the end or from the end to the beginning that is, backwards,” I challenged them confidently.
“Or you can just ask me randomly.”
This one excited them. They wanted to make it difficult for me so they started shouting random numbers. Someone would put up his hand and say “what is number 22?”
And I would tell them. If I forgot, I simply told them “am coming back to number 17.” Which added some drama to the whole performance because someone would say “ that is brilliant but you have not given me my number.”
“What is your number?
“17!” he would shout.
“17, 17, 17,” I pretended it was giving me trouble, “17 is apple!”
This second presentation that I performed in Lagos that morning is what I’m going to teach you today. You can then use it to instantly memorize your study material in school or to do your performance to surprise your family and friends.
I’ve also used my memory ability to get a fiancée and used it to make new friends as a new foreign student on campus by memorizing all the names of the new international students after introducing themselves once.
I will tell you these two stories before the end of the chapter. For now, let me show you how to instantly recall a list of items in order and out of order. That is, forward, backward or randomly.
The technique is called the memory palace or the Roman Room method. Let me demonstrate how I taught my 10-year old son. So you should follow along and learn the skill.
First we used our house as a location within which to place things for memorization. The house itself was divided into sub locations. In my son’s case we picked three rooms. Each room had five places to make a total of 15 places that he could use as memory anchors.
We started with the living room or the parlour. Here are five things in the living room:
1.The door to the living room 2. The fan switch
3. TV 4. Chandalier and 5. Couch
We paused at this point. I made sure he overlearned these five things because they are fundamental to the memory technique. So he learned them backwards and forwards.
So go ahead and do the same. Everyone’s location is different. But my son’s number 1 to 5 are common to almost everyone. So you can adopt his own. If not, write your own sub locations now:
Now overlearn your sub-locations in such a way that if you’re woken from sleep you can recite them without effort. Don’t worry, these are the only things you would be called upon to use wrote memorization.
Tell someone to quiz you. If you got them correctly, increase your speed. Then increase the speed one more time until you’re absolutely confident that you can do this.
After that, my son tackled the second room in the location: the kitchen. Here are the sub locations or items he memorized in the kitchen:
6.Freezer 7.Stool 8.The bag of rice in the store
9.Gas cooker 10. The wooden box of tea bags
Like the first five, he committed 6 to 10 to memory thoroughly. Now it is your turn. Go into a second room in your house or school and list five more places or things that are a permanent feature of the room. You can also use my son’s list. Whatever you decide, Write down your list below:
Now, like in the first room, thoroughly commit these to memory.
The third room in the location is my son’s own room. There, he memorized numbers 11 to 15 which are: 11. Bathtub 12. Sink 13. Laundry basket 14. Bed 15. Ceiling fan.
Use my son’s sublocations or write your own: 11. ___12. ___13. ____14. ___ 15. ___
Like the other two rooms before this, master these sublocations before we put them to use.
Once you can say from 1 to 15 by heart, you’re ready to spectacularly transform your memory. Here is how.
Tell someone to write a list of 15 items. The items should be concrete nouns such as laptop, cow, Abuja, etc. Tell that person that you are going to memorize the list after hearing it once. Now, the person should read the list to you slowly at first. For example, number 1, laptop. Number 2, cow and so on.
Association with your sub locations
As the volunteer reads you the list, associate each item on the list to the corresponding places on your location. For example, if number 1 is laptop, and the number one in your location is the door to the living room, you should associate the two in a crazy and memorable way – the crazier the better. For example, as you walk to the living room, the laptop in your knapsack emerges and morphed into the door transforming the door into a huge colourful computer screen. You wouldn’t forget that image.
If the number two is cow, you should associate it with the number two on your location which is the ceiling fan switch in my son’s location. Imagine a cow switching on the fan with its horn. As it struggles to do that, the sharp horn pierced the switch which resulting in a spark stinking up the house to the extent that you had to call the firefighters.
Do the same thing with the remaining items on the list. After that, tell the person that you can recall everything on the list from 1 to 15 or backwards from 15 to 1.
With time, using the same system, you can memorize a list of 50 items in one minute without effort.
The more elaborate the connections, the stickier the memory. And the more senses you engage, the better your memory. As you continue to make up these zany images, your memory will naturally improve.
Here are the two stories I promised:
A new genius on campus!
We were all new international students on campus, so to help us adjust to the new school and country the university organised a rich and fun orientation week.
So other than driving around the many cultural sites in the country, we also sat in halls to receive presentations. During one of those sessions, we were asked to say something that made each person special. When it came to my turn, I said I had a very good memory. ”And to demonstrate that, I can recall everyone’s name after they introduced themselves once.
This was obviously a huge departure from the boring introduction. So the hall immediately accepted the challenge. But still they didn’t actually know what I was doing to do, therefore, they were underwhelmed. Probably they were thinking: ”Is this a joke? What does he mean he would remember everyone’s name – as many as we are?”
But it is said that the test of the pudding is in the eating. So everyone started introducing themselves. Basically, ”my name is blah blah blah.”
I paid attention to each person’s introduction and worked the magic of associating the names with the unique features of their faces. Which was quite a challenge since many names I had not heard in my life.
So after everyone had introduced themselves, each person would stand say ”what is my name?”
It sort of became a reverse introduction. Whenever I said a name, there would be a big applause.
So I said everyone one’s name except that of one plucky guy. ”What is my name?” He taunted me. I searched everywhere in my brain, but couldn’t find his name. I tried again, but it was no use. When he decided I had suffered enough, he revealed his secret: ”You couldn’t remember my name because I didn’t tell you my name!”
This is a chapter from Dr. Ibraheem Dooba’s new book, ”The Secret of Straight-A Students: Have Fun, Study Less, Remember 400% More and be Better than Your Professors.”