Use These Techniques to Memorize Visual Sequences

Author: Kate Findley
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By Richard Restak, MD, The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences
Edited by Kate Findley, The Great Courses Daily

A picture is worth a thousand words—and so is a melody. Dr. Restak explains how you can boost your memory while watching your favorite show. He also shares memory techniques employed by Ghengis Khan.

Family watching tv together
Our brains are capable of memorizing visual sequences that we can accurately replay in our memory to think about them again. Photo by dotshock / Shutterstock

Memorize Visual Sequences

You can not only boost your brain—specifically the right hemisphere—by memorizing details of a room or a piece of artwork, but you can also memorize entire visual sequences. Record a television drama, and then replay it in your mind scene by scene. 

Watch it again, and check for the correctness of your memory. Or you can record a documentary and mentally replay the program with its interviews and commentary. 

Alternatively, watch a basketball or an ice hockey game while simultaneously recording it. After a score occurs, review in your mind what you observed and then play back and see if how clearly you remembered the scoring situation. 

Other memory exercises involve mental chess and short games of chess. You can voice record the first dozen moves of a short game, recording it slowly and distinctly. Then set up the board and play it while listening to the recording. 

Mentally move the pieces, not moving with your hand. If you lose clarity, open your eyes and physically move the pieces up to that point in the game. When finished, replay the game from memory.

Melody and Memory

You can also use sound as a memory aid. Have you noticed that poetry is easier to memorize than prose? 

The brain loves the repetitive sounds and rhymes. That’s why metric poetry is easier to learn than non-metric poetry. During preliterate times, messages were conveyed in rhyme. 

In Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, author Jack Weatherford describes the practice in Khan’s army where everyone, including Khan himself, was illiterate.

He writes, “The Mongol warriors used a set of fixed melodies and poetic styles into which various words could be improvised according to the meaning of the message. For a soldier, hearing the message was like learning a new verse to a song that he already knew.” 

To ensure accurate memorization, the officers often composed their orders in rhyme. Additionally, rhymes and melody can be used to enhance language for people who have suffered strokes. You can use melodic intonation therapy, putting words or concepts to be memorized into a melody and singing the melody.

Benefits of Memory Exercises

What do all these memory exercises have in common? They force you to pay attention to what you’re trying to learn. Inattention is the greatest contributor to poor memories. 

Additionally, they encourage you to emphasize a visual format: We are visual creatures. The more vivid, dramatic, and bizarre the image, the more likely we are to remember it. 

Memory techniques will hone your attentional abilities, help you link your memory with other cognitive processes such as learning and creativity, and may help stave off Alzheimer’s disease. Memory is individual, but it’s also cultural. 

As a cultural Darwinian once said, “What has been done, thought, written, or spoken is not culture; culture is only that fraction that is remembered.” 

Using a memory technique to develop a super power memory links you to the larger cultural currents. If you remember more, you experience more. By enriching your memory, you enrich your life.

Memory involves more than simply facts. We respond emotionally to our memories. Think of 9/11. You don’t just remember where you were but also how you felt. 

Therefore, memories are vital to our personal development and also connect us as a society. Memorizing visual sequences, using the power of association, and linking our memories to stories are just a few of the tools we have at our disposal for sharpening our memory.

This article was edited by Kate Findley, Writer for The Great Courses Daily.
Dr. Richard Restak is Clinical Professor of Neurology at The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. He earned his MD from Georgetown University School of Medicine. Professor Restak also maintains an active private practice in neurology and neuropsychiatry in Washington, D.C.

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Use These Techniques to Memorize Visual Sequences
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