Exercising the three mental faculties – Part 1: Memory

I’ve found it useful to divide the mental faculties into three categories: memory, awareness, and imagination.

Doing so has helped me clarify what I need to improve, and how to do so. I’ll talk more about each later, but I thought I’d share some exercises you can try for each faculty.

Today, I’ll share three exercises you can use to improve your memory. Most memory techniques are for helping you remember facts, numbers, objects, or abstract entities (semantic memory). I have yet to find a good exercise for improving episodic memory. If you know of any, please share in the comments.

Memory Palaces & the Major System (easy)

The memory palace technique helps you remember lists. Here is how it works:

  1. Think of a childhood home you remember clearly.
  2. Create a path through the home, with specific locations. For example: front door, coat closet, hallway, bedroom, etc.
  3. When you need to remember something, simply go to the next “empty” spot in your house, and place a crazy representation of what you want to remember, in that spot.
  4. To recall, just “walk through” your home.

To remember numbers:

  1. Memorize each of these sound-number pairs:
    0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
    s, z t, d n m r l sh, j k f, v p, b
  2. To remember a number, turn it into the sounds, add vowels (or the sounds w, h, y, x).
    For example: 14275 > TRNKL > Trainkill or Tranquil

For more on this, check out:

Minimal Learning Set and Mnemonic SRS (medium)

This is useful for learning a large body of knowledge very quickly. I am using it to learn Russian.

  1. For whatever you are trying to learn, spend some effort to find what themes/words/chords/ingredients are repeated most often, and focus only on that.
  2. For each element in your minimal set, create a mnemonic. For example, “man, human, person” in Russian is человек (“shelovek”). So I create an image of a human, standing triumphantly at the top of a peak, but he is hollow and crumbling. This human/man is a “shell o’ victory” > “shelovek”.
  3. Create Anki index cards for each element in your set. Make sure the cards can go both ways, and that the mnemonic is only on the hidden answer side. For example, I might be presented with “man, human, person” and the answer card would be “человек (shell o’ victory)”.
  4. Keep expanding your minimal set, and practice daily with the cards. Because of the mnemonics, you will learn each card very quickly.


Being Present and Letting Go (hard)

So far, this is the only exercise I can think of to improve episodic memory (the memory of experiences).

  1. Be completely immersed in the experience. Keep your thoughts on the present.
  2. Let go of the idea that this needs to be recorded to be remembered. Don’t journal, don’t take photos. Don’t post about it on facebook.
  3. If you feel compelled to recall the memory lest it fade, tell the story to someone.

I must say that this one if extremely frightening for someone like me; I feel memory is the weakest of the faculties. I have yet to try it, but I mention it here for completeness.


Do you know of any other exercises for improving your memory?
Or do you take issue with any of the above?
Let me know in the comments.




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