Shift from “what to memorize” to “how to memorize”

Dear my memory,

Why were you so incapable of keeping the password of my Hotmail account? Because of you, I had to try several incorrect passwords which ended up shutting my account 2 years ago (because I registered my old phone’s address as a back up).
Why you couldn’t even say a line of any Japanese famous poem when I was asked to say?

Thinking back to my school days, I don’t have any good image toward memorization (especially when staying up all night before the exam) mainly for three reasons:

  1. I didn’t like the contents I had to memorize.
  2. I didn’t know how to memorize those things so I kept reading (or pretended that I was reading).
  3. At the time of exams, I couldn’t remember much of what I tried to memorize. And what I managed to remember didn’t remain after the test.

Yes, “Education with Memorization” (Teaching what to memorize) has been criticized because we live in the time when kids need to learn how to manage the information, not to gain the information since information is everywhere and accessible.

Although I agree with this statement, I am not totally against the memorization per se, because to a greater or lesser degree, we need to remember things and memorization comes in handy both in job and daily life (from memorizing important information to support your argument to remembering your passport number).

In this sense, I think it might be interesting to make a shift in education, from teaching “what to memorize” by imposing contents in some main subjects, to teaching “how to memorize” in a complementary course so that kids with different interests can memorize what they like. Because I personally believe in the power of learning what one likes, and if he or she learns technique to remember, that can be invensivle. I still remember one of my students who couldn’t remember multiplication table but remembered more than 700 Pokemon character and their power. There was other kid called as “the train master” who could explain which kind of train has which color and which part of Japan it’s running and so on.

In fact, I came to think about those things after finishing a book called “Moonwalking with Einstein (The Art and Science of Remembering Everything)” written by Joshua Foer (2011). In summary, this book shows a story of a journalist who became interested in the art of memorization and he himself tried to practice how to memorize things and finally became a champion of US memory competition.

The main points I got out from this book are:
The need of remembering in human history has been decreased over time
The memory is improvable by training and everyone can do it.
And the training requires technique and creativity.

Since I found the pdf version of this, I assume it would be fine to touch upon the secret (?) of how to remember things, which is called “Memory Palace”.

I guess to have an idea of what the Memory Palace is, it is easier to see the image below:

9_28_2014_moonwalking with Einstein

The left side is this book’s cover and it represents the memory palace.

In short, to apply this technique to remember, you need to do 2 things:
Visualizing or linking information you want remember and;
Putting it into your palace in your mind (the place to which you are familiar with)

For example, I will try to apply this to memorize 5 resolutions of the year which are as follows:

  1. Writing a blog at least once a week
  2. Doing meditation for 5 minuets after waking up
  3. Swimming 3 days a week
  4. Improving French especially listening
  5. Socializing more

And I chose my home in Japan as a memory palace for these information. So I would put those 5 information like this:

  1. When I come home (all the way from Chile), I take my black shoes off and put them in the seventh layer of the shoe shelf (writing blog (black) per week)
  2. Then I enter my room and the first thing that I see is 5 pieces of medication tablets on the bed (meditating when waking up for 5 minutes)
  3. To ease my weary from travelling, I go take a shower and find 3 swimming caps in the bathtub (swimming 3 days a week)
  4. After that, I go to the kitchen and find a French toast with heel of bread (in Japanese, “ear of bread”) (Learning French especially listening)
  5. Then I go to my dad’s room where the phone is and make a call to my friends I had not seen for long time and say “I am back!” (Socializing more)

That’s my memory palace for my resolutions and every time I want to recall my resolutions, I think of my palace with those images mentioned above. It is quite fun to link and create images in your familiar place.

As the book’s author pointed out and many scientists proved, we normally don’t use much of our brain. But he addresses that we can practice how to remember more, and above all, it is an art which requires creation.

I don’t know how much we can apply this technique to the daily life, but for sure it will be useful because there are much more things I want to remember (for example, I don’t remember much about the books I’ve read!!)

Instead of telling what to remember, teaching how to remember might promote more learning and creation, by allowing us to chose what to remember.

Had I learned that skill, I might not have forgotten my Hotmail password!
Let me finish this entry with one of my favorite quotes from this book:

To the extent that experience is the sum of our memories and wisdom the sum of experience, having a better memory would mean knowing not only more about the world, but also more about myself.


3 thoughts on “Shift from “what to memorize” to “how to memorize”

  1. takenoshita


    1. MD Post author


  2. Pingback: What it’s called matters | MD NO SUSUME

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