I read a book which says that to remember the lists of arbitrary objects, we should take a well-known ordered list (so that you know what is on the first place, what is on the second) and associate the items of this familiar list with your target list items. This is especially important for abstract objects because our brain can memorize only visual pictures (you can visualize familiar things). For instance, instead of directly memorizing the 10 abstract amendements to (US) constitution, (1.Freedom of Speech, 2.Right to Bear Arms, 3.Protection From Quartering Troops, 4.Freedom from Unreasonable Search and Seizure, and etc), you translate them into a list of visualizable amendment images, (1. Speaker, 2. Gun, 3. Soldier, 4. Spotlight, 5. A picture of you, 6. Judge riding a fast motorcycle, 7. Jury, 8. Excessive amount of money, 9. Making a right turn with your hand over your mouth, 10. State Capitol building). Then, you come up with another, well-known list of visualizable loci objects, e.g. (head top, nose, mouth, ribs, liver, joint, cap, fibula, ball, sand),

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Finally, you invent 10 stories, to map the loci items to the amendment images. In overall, ordered loci list serves as a list of keys that we can iterate and, by means of vivid stories, map to the target abstract items.

Yet, I see that you memorize 4 lists (original list, keys and images and stories) in place of single amendment list alone. This is 4x more information. It would be ok if the associations were natural and teach me the world around me. However, they must be absolutely bizzare because they do not exist, unnatural and, secondly, the outlandish pictures are much better memorizable (they call this thinking out-of-the-box)

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Also, inventing the stories is too creative task for me. I feel like I waste too much mental energy to create garbage, the stupid associations in my head. Is it right? Won't this mnemotechnique create a mess in my head?


Idriz Zogaj, Daniel Kilov and Joshua Foer are memory athletes that popularize the approach in TED conference.

  • $\begingroup$ Any exercise that train your memory is good for it. Memory doesn't create garbage, it forgets, so don't worry. $\endgroup$ Dec 4, 2013 at 17:36
  • $\begingroup$ Wait, I do not how to reconcile the memorizing with forgetting. Might be we should not memorize them in the first place? $\endgroup$
    – Val
    Dec 4, 2013 at 17:42
  • $\begingroup$ Well mnemotechniques are not for everyday use, you should have something very difficult and very important to memorize. $\endgroup$ Dec 4, 2013 at 17:46
  • $\begingroup$ Well, that is interesting. The book that I refer says that its author manages to memorize the hundreds of students that he cursorly met in the seminars and advises these methods to be used in the daily life. Also, Idriz Zogaj proposes these techqniques to fix the world education system at TED talk. $\endgroup$
    – Val
    Dec 4, 2013 at 18:19
  • $\begingroup$ If you need some information daily you're going to memorize it by practice, unless you have awful memory, then of course... $\endgroup$ Dec 4, 2013 at 19:06

2 Answers 2


Just a few words on mnemonics before answering your question. I have been practicing for two years. First because I was impressed how easy it was to remember items using these techniques. My personal best time for learning the order of 52 cards is 1min 40s, which is not really good compared to real competitors, but the point is that practicing 30min a day during 3 months can be enough to get this kind of performances. Of course to do that you have to learn a code that binds numbers or cards to predefined images. I can't be more specific because I would risk to be off topic.

However don't expect too much from these techniques concerning real world knowledge. With training you can learn fast as hell a list of words, but learning more semantic knowledge is - I think - more challenging. If you find good images, It can provides you a perfect recall, but you would need spaced repetition to ensure it on the long term. If you don't repeat, you take the risk to loose everything you learned, more than with classic methods I think. Unfortunately, I don't have many sources apart from my experience and experiences of friends to back up this claim. However, I found a study by Wang et al. (1992) cited in part 7 of an interesting review on learning techniques by Dunlosky et al. (2013) which found this effect on the use of mental imagery on vocabulary learning. There is no absolute proof that mnemonic techniques can work for everything, but (1) it's interesting to see how it works (2) it is funny, especially memory palace building (3) if you spend enough time to learn a code, you can learn phone numbers, credit cards, poker odds and things like that very easily.

Concerning your practical questions, a good approach would be to check how the community proceeds to use mnemonic strategies. Have a look on the Mnemotechnics Forum on ArtOfMemory.com for example or their wiki. I think you would get more reliable advices than in books. For example the peg technique you mention (i.e. loci object in your words) is clearly less popular than the use of real place as locis. It has two main advantages :

  • It provides a good organization (your list order follows the spatial order of your locis). Then to remember your list, you just have to do a mental travel.

  • It is easier to store an image in a place, no need to find specific association, just picture your mental object like if it were really in your loci and let the magic happen.

Then, to answer your question, you really just need to memorize 1 thing : the images. Loci are just a powerful way to retrieve these images, like a storing device. Images are chosen to be firmly tied up with the item you want to learn so you don't have to spend time to learn the association you made. Images don't have to be 'absolutely bizzare', it makes things more memorable but it's not an absolute condition. Trying to prove this, a study found no effect for learning a list of words, but I don't have the reference now. Same remarks for the stories. It makes things more memorable, and can provide you some links between the images, but again it's not an absolute condition. Moreover, stories can be very short, like a simple action or context linking the image 1 and the image 2.

You should not waste time and energy on creating associations. On the opposite, you should relax and let them come to your mind, and take the first things popping up. This kind of creativity is not a sort of adult-creativity for which time and work is needed, but rather a sort of child-creativity for which you just have to let your imagination take the control of your thoughts. It should not be a painful task, on the contrary, you should get some fun.

Wang, A. Y., Thomas, M. H., & Ouellette, J. A. (1992). Keyword mnemonic and retention of second-language vocabulary words. Journal of Educational Psychology, 84(4), 520.
Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4-58.


The thing about memory, is it requires Long Term Potentiation (LTP) to be effective. The synapses are not reliable like some other tissues of the body; for instance cardiac muscle, where the junctions between muscle cells are designed to fire without fail, the brain is reliant upon being primed with attention and repetition to create reliable synaptic communication.

This poses the first dilemma of memorising and storing such an excessive number of unrelated lists. Essentially they are only related because you are stating that they are related. The initial list is unrelated and the lists themselves are not related from one to the other. Given that attention is required to prime the brain for LTP, the more disjointed the list the more difficult it is to remember, as it is literally uninteresting. It is a chore to recall unrelated lists. It is easier to remember things that are fun, stimulating, that we find interesting. This is one of the problems with rote learning.

So the memory system is limited. So is the ability to access this system. Study on working memory, notably Miller's Law all show that the brain is limited, whether it is by a magic number 7 +- 2, the human memory is fallible.

Marrying these two concepts, I would conclude that the fewer steps made between recalling a list of eclectic items and the interesting mnemonic created to recall this the better.

The idea of a mnemonic is to reduce the size of what is being recalled (hence to take the load off working memory) and to make the list make sense, hence increase the likelihood of placing the list into the long term memory.

Within this you are also mixing the difficulty of semantic memory with the use of mnemonics and visualisation as a process of assisting memory. The idea of each is that they are encapsulated processes to assist with memory merging them does not necessarily improve the efficacy.

Here is an example, it can be replaced with any form of sentences.


The concept you have presented is too complicated for me to spend the time mocking up a draft from this to demonstrate why it is too complex (which speaks volumes), suffice to say, choose the above, or create a long winded path to try to remember.

Disclaimer: this is my idea, based on some things I know about the brain.

  • $\begingroup$ Actually,the concept isn't too complicated at all.I use a variation of this technique and using this,I can actually say the alphabet backwards.Also,this is probably one of the easiest mnemonics to date.Using spatial repetition,it is possible to commit large amounts of information to long term memory. $\endgroup$
    – rah4927
    Jan 30, 2014 at 13:19

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