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the blog of wolfram schroers

Memory improvement — Overview

This is the overview article of a series that covers a complete system for long-term memory improvement and success. See the links below to the other sections.

Table of contents:

Introduction
The basic link system
Spaced repetition
Establishing regular learning habits
References and further reading

Introduction

Using our memory effectively is a key skill in modern life. In the following I will focus on how you can improve your memory to achieve both immediate results as well as long-lasting success.

The techniques discussed in the following consist of three key building blocks:

  1. The “link system” for memorizing information.
  2. Reviews using the “spaced-repetition” techniques.
  3. Establishing regular learning habits.

On the web I have found discussions of these three topics, but never one that advertises its combination. This is where the following articles help to bridge the gap and form a consistent and complete system that will allow you to learn fast and efficiently.

See below for a brief discussion of each topic and further links to more detailed articles on each technique.

The basic link system

Detailed article on the link system.

The first building block, the link system, dates back to at least the times of the ancient Greeks. Back then paper was unavailable or extremely expensive. Still, public speakers could memorize and recall very long speeches – sometimes several hours long. Today we do not have the limitation that we cannot use paper anymore, but we still need to memorize more information than ever.

The link system is simple to learn and can be used to memorize information fast and efficiently. In its basic form, it works with simple objects that can easily be visualized. Once this first step is mastered, it can be used to learn more abstract information and concepts.

The reason why I recommend to start with the link system first is that it guarantees fast results and is not much work to put into practice.

Spaced repetition

Detailed article on the spaced-repetition technique.

The idea of “spaced-repetition” is much newer – it was pioneered only recently in the second half of the 19th century. Spaced repetition tries to optimize our learning pattern; modern computers and software can help us to acquire new knowledge as fast and reliably as possible.

The basic principle dates back to a book written in 1885 by Hermann Ebbinghaus and has been refined in modern computer software today.

Establishing regular learning habits

Detailed article on the building habits and working efficiently.

The best technology is in vain if we don't use it. Therefore, the third ingredient to effective learning is establishing regular learning habits. Unlike the link system building habits does not yield immediate results and is more of a long-term strategy. On the other hand, this long-term strategy may well be the most important ingredient to long-term success and consistent results.

However, in reality regular, consistent work turns out to be very challenging to implement. Hence, this article discusses the reason (yes, there is a reason!) and how to do it in practical applications.

References and further reading

There is a plethora of literature in print and on the web on the subject. A good starting point for the link system is the Wikipedia article which links to further articles discussing memory systems.

For learning more abstract concepts Harry Lorayne's classic book The Memory Book: The Classic Guide to Improving Your Memory at Work, at School, and at Play (Paperback) provides an excellent introduction to the topic. If you just want to get only one book and read it, this is the one you should get. Translations are available in several languages.

Another great blog targeted at various sorts of mental feats — not only limited to memory topics — is Grey Matters. It is a vast collection of resources which is worth a visit even if you are only interested in memory systems.

The relatively new concept of adding in emotions in memory work has been found by Dr. McGaugh, see this article for further information.

Spaced repetition software and training programs based on the technique is discussed in this Wikipedia article. My personal favorite is the program called Anki.

There is a huge pile of web resources on forming and keeping habits. Few of them, however, are backed up by actual peer-reviewed research. This article on the Psyblog cites actual research, but is a little short on practical advice. Among the useful advice I have found is the Zen habits blog, a post in I Will Teach You To Be Rich and an article in Psychology Today. While a few people have been successful with the more conventional techniques focusing on creating motivation and utilizing will-power, I find that accumulating small changes over time is more effective and yields long-term effects.