Are You A List Maniac? How To Build A Better Memory.


Does this sound like you? You wake up every morning, checking your to-do lists, thinking to yourself: “OK, I have to be at A and B this afternoon and do X, Y, and Z before I leave.” As you are doing B, you are thinking about C, and as you are thinking about C, you remember you have to do D and E.

If that doesn’t get your head spinning like the possessed girl in The Exorcist then I don’t know what will. So, is it true – do you need to be exorcised? Don’t you want to re-claim your life instead of doing mindless task after mindless task?

Use Your Brain For A Change

You probably won’t be able to just throw all your lists in the trash today and still remember all the important things you need to get done. Instead – just like a drug addict – you need to ween yourself off of this nasty habit. You need to build confidence in yourself, in your mind, that you will know what you need to get done as each moment calls for it. Here are a few simple tips to get you started:

  • Mental notes are better
    Your brain is a powerful tool, so use it! List maniacs build a habit of not trusting themselves enough to remember what to do. Because of this they never practice memorizing and find themselves becoming more and more dependent on list-making in order to keep in control of their world.
    Some people are so bad at memorizing that they even forget to bring their lists out with them. Thus, they find themselves walking into the office or a grocery store without a clue on what they need to do get done. They have completely detached themselves from their own life, without a reminder written on a little piece of paper, these people end up like zombies, aimless and barely (if at all) conscious of their surroundings.

  • Use Your Imagination
    The first thing to know is that there are essentially two main aspects of memory that are relevant to the everyday person: encoding and retrieving. The best way to encode is to build impressionable associations between you and what you want to remember. “Impressionable” meaning something that sticks in your head.
    Say you need to drop something off at the post office after you are done at work. Try imagining a mile high version of yourself walking from work to your place of destination. Imagine a humongous letter in your hand (maybe the size of a small house). The more detailed you are the better the memory will be; so also imagine birds in the sky flying into you and the ground shaking as your feet hit the pavement (almost like the State Puff Marshmallow man in the movie Ghostbusters).
    The more crazy you are with it the more likely you will be able to retrieve it. Often the best method is to take a situation from your everyday life (like walking home from work) and then exaggerate it in a way that reminds you what you need to do. A huge letter in your hand is a great symbol reminding you to go to the post office and drop something off.

  • Actively Build Associations
    Now let’s say that you also want to get a haircut after your post office visit. What could you add to your “State Puff Marshmallow” version of you to remind yourself that you need to also stop off at the barbers? It could be anything, maybe a pair of scissors in your other hand or you can imagine yourself with a huge orange fro.
    The idea here is to add elements to your imagination that serve as reminders. You can add as many things as you want and, theoretically, remember as much as you need without ever having to find pen and paper.

Try This Exercise!

Now we are going to take all the things I mentioned above and try them out. I want you to find a friend and tell them to make a list of 20 objects. Once they have created the list, I want you to take some time to study it…

    1. Apple
    2. Car
    3. Guitar
    4. School
    5. Clouds

Once you have the list I want you to use your imagination and actively build associations to try and remember the whole 20-item list.

  • Let’s work with the example above:
    The first pair we need to make is Apple and Car – so why not imagine an apple with four wheels, cut out inside to make it look like a car, with a steering wheel, leather seats and all.
    Now, we need to add a Guitar to it – maybe you can have a nice-looking, blue and glittery Fender on the top of your new AppleCar.
    Next is School – so imagine that you are driving on a road and in front of you is your old High School building.
    Now, Clouds – imagine above your school are these really nasty storm clouds: raining, pouring, thundering and lightning on top of your high school building.

  • Now try it with your friends.
    Those associations I made above were just right off the top of my head, but you can do this however you want. Some associations are going to be more effective for you personally than others: so it is up to you to experiment and find what works best.
    I apply these principles to all different aspects of my life. They can be particularly useful for studying tests that rely on heavy memorization. They are also just fun to show off to family, friends, and coworkers.
    In Harry Lorayne’s book he mentions other mnemonics that help with names and numbers. I will try and touch on these techniques in future posts.

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