Date posted: 15/08/2019 5 min read

6 tips to improve your memory

Memory coach Tansel Ali learnt two Yellow Pages phone directories in just 24 days. Use his memory training tips for yourself.

In Brief

  • Memory coach Tansel Ali says he doesn’t have exceptional powers – just technique and lots of practice.
  • A key method to aid recall is building a story that combines visuals and narrative.
  • Simple rhymes can also be effective for remembering people’s names.

Tansel Ali, a four-time winner of the Australian Memory Championships, doesn’t believe he has exceptional powers. He says it’s all about technique and practice. Here are some of the methods he uses to train his memory. (You can delve deeper with his book The Yellow Elephant, available from CA Library.)

1. Create a story

If you build a story around something, it can be a trigger for accurate recollection. “Let’s say I’m trying to remember someone’s name, and they are John,” says Ali. “My father-in-law is John, and he loves playing golf, so I might picture this person playing golf with my father-in-law and the image can trigger the association.”

2. Visual association

To remember numbers, ascribe images to the numerals. “Say you want to remember a PIN and it’s 1234,” says Ali. “So one is a pen, two looks like a swan, three is a bird falling sideways into a boat and four is the boat, so you can build a story around that.” The number six can be an elephant with its trunk rolled up (hence the title of Ali’s best-selling book on memory training, The Yellow Elephant). 

3. Bite-sized chunks

Break down what you’re trying to remember into sections, and don’t spend time on trying to learn what you don’t need. If you’re trying to remember a year, such as 1916, you probably don’t need to remember the 19. When he was memorising the phone books, Ali had a set of images for one-, two- and three-digit numbers. 17 was a dog and 77 was a cat, and he had these pre-memorised images ready to go with each number.

4. Use your own images

You don’t need to follow Ali’s images. Use what works for you and images and associations that you make naturally. One of the keys to memory is to use your imagination.

5. Combine narrative and visuals

If you are trying to remember someone’s name, come up with some visuals then combine them in a story. Ali, for example, once worked with a young man called Vijayarangan Ramachandran. He broke up the name into Vijay [imagining a DJ at a nightclub], arangan [an orangutan], Ram a [ramming a shopping trolley], and chandran [‘chained’ and ‘ran’]. He then ordered the visuals into a narrative. A nightclub DJ is playing music when suddenly an orangutan jumps on the turntable. The music stops, then one of the dancers rams a shopping trolley into the DJ booth. Someone then chained the trolley to the DJ booth and ran off.

6. Reach for a rhyme

Ali also suggests adding a rhyme to people’s names to make them easy to remember. For example: ‘Mike on a bike’, ‘Roger the dodger’, ‘Sally in an alley’ or ‘Bruce has a goose’.

Read more:

Yellow Elephant: improve your memory and learn more, faster, better

Yellow Elephant: improve your memory and learn more, faster, better

Tansel Ali reveals techniques, tips and exercises to radically improve your memory.

Download from CA Library