The Serpentine Gallery will this weekend host an ‘ideas festival’ that explores the nature of memory, with high-profile guests and speakers including Michael Stipe and David Lynch. Ahead of the event, World Memory Champion Ed Cooke offers Scout readers his top five tips for improving memory
1. Make associations
Memories are associations. They link one thing in your mind to another. So to remember well, you need to form clear, vivid associations.
To remember that Boris Johnson’s middle name is De Pfeffel, you have to link him to this strange word. Imagine him chocking on a Pepper and making a “de-de-de” gargling sound. The link between Johnson and this image should get you, via “de-de-de Pepper”, to De Pfeffel.
2. Pay attention
Most of the time our minds are nearly empty when we hear a new name or fact – we simply don’t pay attention. When you are paying attention, your whole mind is taken over by what you’re focused on, and you can hardly fail to remember. To practise boosting your powers of attention, try looking at a leaf for five minutes without getting bored. If you can train yourself to do that, you’ll find you remember more of your surroundings, because you are more focussed on them.
3. Add narrative
Narratives are dynamite for the memory. You can storify almost anything to benefit your memory. You can turn your shopping list into a dramatic narrative involving peppers battling broccoli, tomato fights, baked bean barriers, sugar mounds. It may seem strange that this helps, but simply watch it in action.
4. Use your imagination
When we recall an event from the past, we’re imagining what happened then – it’s a creative act. So, to make things more memorable, you have to imagine them creatively. Keys do nothing for the imagination. But reimagine them as a hoop of living creatures – penguins or kittens, perhaps – and your excited imagination will find it easier to remember them.
5. More is less
It’s often easier to remember lots of information than little. We often forget because we don’t have a rich enough web of context to store a memory in.
It’s tricky remembering the name of someone you know nothing about. But if you get more details – where they come from, their favourite sitcom, whatever – they’ll come alive in your mind, and there’ll be more to connect their name and face to. Try the same trick for current affairs!