Memory Training Techniques

Daniela Schinzelová

The brain is an amazing organ but not many people are aware of its abilities and what can be achieved by training this organ properly. After reading this article you will know the basics about what a human brain needs and what can be achieved by patience and endurance. Particular examples and instructions for “beginners” are included. 

Memory Training Techniques

The human brain is not very big, but its performance is unbelievable and it will probably never stop fascinating scientists. Experts have actively examined this human organ for over 150 years, and they still have plenty of work to do. 

As far as the physical properties of the human brain are concerned, we know how this organ appears from outside, what it consists of and what it needs in order to work properly. All this information can be discovered by a dissection. If we want to know how the brain works, however, we need special devices, time and volunteers, and even these are not always sufficient.

Nevertheless, we have discovered a lot about the process of remembering, recollecting and forgetting. These facts about memory are enough to change our lives, make them easier and reduce the amount of notepaper we use.

What is the brain? This may seem a trivial and simple question. However, it is very important to realize that the brain is a muscle. The best place to show how muscles work is a gym. People go there regularly, even several times a week. They learn how to perform, choose and change types of exercises in order to strengthen all kinds of muscles. They must also exercise patience, because they are aware of the whole process of building muscles. However, once somebody looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger, this does not mean that without continuous training they will always look the same. Patience, endurance and motivation are crucial words in terms of strengthening your body. Does it sound off topic? The human brain works very much in the same way. Training the brain is not so demanding in terms of place, however, and instead of increasing the volume of muscle, it improves speed and accuracy.

As already mentioned, training the brain is really easy to do anywhere. There are hundreds of opportunities to do so every day – by remembering your shopping list, telephone number, PIN, daily itinerary, names, maps, vehicle registration numbers, numbers of buses, trams, underground trains etc. In short, it is easy to train when shopping or waiting in a queue, in a car when stuck in traffic jam, without anybody noticing. 

Can good memory and older age go together? Dominic O’Brien, a champion in memory training techniques, shares his personal experience:

I was 34 years old when I entered the first World Memory Championships, back in 1991. I believe that my memory is in a much better state than it was 20 years ago. I am now in my 54thyear, and while many of my peers are complaining that their memory is starting to deteriorate, I certainly can’t say the same. I believe that my constant work with memory techniques – whether I’m teaching, coaching, performing or competing – has kept my powers of recall and concentration in fantastic shape. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that my memory is still improving.[1]

A champion’s words support the fact that the brain is a muscle that can be improved by constant training. As a result, it disproves the generally-made assumption that memory deteriorates with age. It does worsen with age, but only if do not train your brain. This is not always possible, however: some illnesses and disabilities prevent full training and improvement.  

Anyone who still doubts the effectiveness of brain training and does not want to believe that such a thing is possible should check out a competition called the World Memory Championship, founded in 1991 by Tony Buzan and Raymond Keene OBE. Since this time, this competition has been held annually (except for 1992).

This championship includes ten disciplines: “1) Names and Faces, 2) Binary Numbers, 3) One Hour Numbers 4) Abstract Images, 5) Speed Numbers, 6) Historic / Future Dates, 7) Random Cards, 8) Random Words, 9) Spoken Numbers, 10) Speed Cards.”[2]During these disciplines, competitors are given a list of faces and names and within a given time they must remember as many names and faces as possible. They are also given pages with binary numbers (just ones and zeros) and must write them in the correct order. One of the most popular disciplines is the remembering of packs of cards which are randomly ordered. Dominic O’Brien managed to memorize a single deck of cards in 38.29 seconds. In 2002, he was able to memorize 54 decks of randomly ordered cards with just a single sighting of each card with only eight mistakes (he corrected four mistakes out of the eight) (O’Brien, D., 2011, p 73).

The counter-argument is that such results can be achieved only by a genius. Dominic O’Brien is a good example of hard work and endurance. In his book You Can Have an Amazing Memory, he describes his childhood and how and why he started to train his brain. In short, Dominic explains that he was thought to have dyslexia and describes how he was not able to pay attention at school. As a result, he was not expected to have a good career. Then Dominic saw a performance by Creighton Carvell, a champion in mnemonics, and was so inspired that he became determined to emulate it. But as the internet was not yet an all-encompassing resource, and as this was an uncommon topic, he couldn’t find a webpage or a book about the know-how involved. He tried to discover by himself how Carvell did what he did. In the end, Dominic would compete against Carvell in the championship and eventually defeat his idol. Why? Because he was motivated and hard-working, just like the boys in the gym.  

Muscle men uses various proteins and mass gainers to help them build their muscles. The brain has its stimulants, too. There are meals that either support brain function or inhibit it. 

In the first group are products that include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. The reason for this is as follows. The membrane and the protective layer of brain cells are created from molecules of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. As the human organism is not able to produce these fatty acids, the brain relies fully on our consumption of fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna and trout. Omega-6 fatty acids can be found in various kinds of seeds, nuts and different oils such as sunflower, corn, soya and sesame. As well as the fatty acids mentioned above, there are antioxidants (vitamins C, E and other substances) that destroy free radicals from smog, pesticides and cigarette smoke. Antioxidants include vegetables (e.g. spinach, avocado, beans), fruit (e.g. grapes, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries), nuts (e.g. almonds, walnuts), red wine, green tea, dark chocolate etc. On the other hand, excessive consumption of fried fats, which are often included in fast food, increases the probability of cardiovascular or Alzheimer disease (Michelonová, 2013, pp. 174-175). Except for the fact that frequent consumption of heavy meals has a negative impact on human health, after eating a hamburger and fries it is best to rest and not to overload your brain. To digest this heavy meal, the stomach needs a lot of energy and blood (also from the brain), which results in tiredness (Gamon, D. & Bragdon, A., 2001, p 219).

As well as consuming these kinds of food, it is essential to take care of your physical health and reduce stress as much as possible – in short to relax, think positively and do physical exercise. 

Having gone through the basic theory, it is time for the practical part and some tips and exercises from experts. The first question is what is going to be remembered. This can be words in a row like a shopping list, some facts about animals for a test, numbers and dates for history classes, your daily itinerary and what needs to be done, birthdays, names, telephone numbers or an account number. There are techniques to remember all of these, but it is important to realize that there are lots of them and not everybody finds every technique the right one for them, as each person is different. One needs pictures, another visuals, but even more importantly each person has been to different places, has met different people and has different emotions, and as a result has different associations, which are crucial in mnemonics. 

What does an association mean? For example, if ten people hear word “dog”, each person calls on different experience of this animal. One loves it and imagines a nice little puppy, another was bitten by a dog and imagines a frightful Rottweiler, a third takes her/his idea of a dog from a film or memories from childhood. Personal experience is crucial in this case, and this is why mnemonics based on our own experience work so well.

Other important terms here are “Ways” and “Mind Palace”. Generally, this is about placing objects of remembrance in places very familiar to us, such as our home, a workplace, a school, or a way to the bus station, park etc. Examples are always more comprehensible:

Here is a short shopping list: 10 eggs, 2 bars of chocolate, 8 apples. 

The first possibility, which is includes only in the method “Ways”. Imagine rooms in your house/flat. I will use my home for the description. The first place can be a bedroom. Imagine that you are sitting on your bed. You have not noticed the eggs lying there, and now they are smashed. You hear the crack and you feel the liquid and eggshells. The second place can be a living room. You look at a table loaded with bars of chocolate. The sun is shining on the bars of chocolate through the window and the chocolate is melting and starting to leak to the floor. The third room can be a bathroom. Imagine a bath full of apples or grated apple. You are lying in the bath. You can smell and taste the apple and feel cold apples on your body. 

 The second possibility included in the method “Ways” is connected with associations. This time, instead of places in the home we can use places in a particular supermarket. Firstly, you go through the door – usually made of glass. This part is really individual and everybody will imagine something else. Again, I will speak about myself. Under the term “glass” I imagine a window with sunlight coming through it, and I can feel the warmth. When I connect this image with an egg, I create a picture of eggs behind such a window. Due to the warm temperature, little chicks are emerging from the eggs. The second place I can see is a white shiny “floor” and a “long” space behind the cash desks. It always takes time to get to the other corner, so when I connect this long corridor and a bar of chocolate I imagine a skateboard made of a chocolate bar and me riding on it. The third place is a “garden sector” full of plants. This reminds me of a beautiful garden (maybe the Garden of Eden). In the middle, there is an apple tree full of big, red, juicy apples.

A third possibility is to connect these images with numbers. The shape of the numbers resembles certain objects or animals. Under the number 10, for example, I imagine a golf club and a golf ball, and as a result I imagine myself playing golf with eggs. (I like mini-golf and I play it quite often, so it is close to me – it is important that you imagine YOURSELF in the situation, to make the image stronger). For number 2, I imagine a swan covered with chocolate or a chocolate swan, a swan that has just eaten my chocolate – in a bedroom for example. For number 8, I imagine a snowman made of apples or a living snowman having a bath in apples or standing in the garden sector of the supermarket. Numbers are also spoken aloud, so you can find words that rhyme with them and include this into your vision. Example: ten=hen, two=glue, eight=plate, one=sun. 

Sometimes it is great fun to use all your senses and to play with your imagination. It might seem that creating such images is time-consuming. However, it will take you no longer than it would to take notes. More important still, by using your brain instead of a pen, you keep your brain fit, so heading off problems with forgetfulness later in life. To sum up, there are many methods for how to memorize a shopping list, numbers, new faces and names. The most important thing, however, is to find your own way of remembering and practising. 


  • O’Brien, D. 2011. You Can Have an Amazing Memory. London, United Kingdom: Watkins Publishing.
  • World Memory Sports Council. 2016. 10 Memory Disciplines,
  • Michelonová, P. 2013. Zdokonalte si paměť. Praha, Česká republika: Euromedia Group.
  • Gamon, D. & Bragdon, A. 2001.Mozek a jak ho cvičit. Praha, Česká republika: Portál, s. r. o.

[1]O’Brien, D. 2011. You Can Have an Amazing Memory. London, United Kingdom: Watkins Publishing, p 183.

[2]World Memory Sports Council, 2016, 10 Memory Disciplines,