How to remember something by Hedwig Von Restorff

So try to remember her name for starters!

Put simply, the Von Restorff effect states that we more easily remember things that are unusual, outstanding or out of the ordinary.

If you want to commit information to memory you need to take heed of Hedwig!

There are various ways of making things outstanding. These include:

Heightened Senses
Imagining things brighter, louder, smellier, delicious or disgusting makes them extraordinary.

Play with changes of scale or proportion, making things huge or minute. How can you Accentuate differences?

Humour relies on the juxtaposition of unexpected elements. Surreal or silly situations are memorable such as Monty Python’s or Spike Milligan’s sketches.

We are attracted and engaged by movement. Think of the difference between watching a movie compared with a photo album. How can objects interact with their environment in unexpected ways?

Sexy individuals attract our attention and stand out in our memories. Advertisers often exploit this – Sex sells!

Olympian Study Techniques

Another great idea from Phil Chambers

In honour of the 5 Olympic Rings, this month I decided to share my own 5 rings (or letter O’s) to help you study or assimilate information faster.


As Stephen Covey said, “Begin with the end in Mind”.

Before tackling the book it is important to set your objectives and define goals. Break your goals into smaller aims. How long do you want to work for per session and how much do you want to cover? Ask yourself why are you reading the book? What specific questions do you want to answer?
Asking questions before you begin enables your subconscious to go to work as soon as you open the book. You will be on the lookout for particular facts and will be more likely to spot relevant information. Often the answers will seem to leap out at you. Spend five minutes jotting down what you already know about the subject. This gets you in the right state of mind to engage with the book, boosts concentration and means that you will lay a firm foundation to build upon. Connecting new and existing knowledge is far more effective than trying to acquire information in isolation.


Go through the whole book very quickly. Pay particular attention to summaries, conclusions, illustrations, diagrams, graphs and headings. Look at the contents page and index. You may want to insert strips of paper to act as bookmarks so you can quickly return to points of interest. The aim of this step is to familiarise yourself with that layout and rough content of the book. Imagine you are attempting to complete a jigsaw puzzle. This part is analogous to studying the picture on the
front of the box and spreading out the pieces.

Obtain information and answers

‘Skim and dip’ through the book. Don’t be tempted to dwell to long on any one section. Make notes as you read (Building up a Mind Map is a good tool for this).  Be selective in your reading. Remember your questions. Most information tends to be concentrated at the beginning and end of chapters so pay particular attention to these. In the early days of the internet when the web was referred to as the ‘World Wide Wait’, images were often shown as progressive JPEG files. You started with a very blocky image that gradually became clearer as more data was downloaded. The process of reading works in exactly the same way. You start with a vague picture and refine it bit by bit as you assimilate information.

Omit difficult bits

If there are parts of the text that you struggle with, just jump over them and continue onwards. The more context you have the easier these parts will become. Getting bogged down in detail does not serve any useful purpose. Returning to our jigsaw analogy the more pieces you put in place, the
easier it is to see where the remaining parts fit.


The final stage is to tie things together. Return to noteworthy parts of the text, fill in any gaps and answer your questions. If you want to retain what you have learned from the book, especially if you are studying for an exam, you need to review. Take a 10 minute break after finishing your notes then re-read them. This initial reinforcement is vital to maintain recall. Schedule time in your diary to review your notes or Mind Maps: Review for a second time the following day, one week later, after one month and finally after three months. These five reviews will be enough to transfer the information to long term memory. Remember to celebrate. This may sound frivolous but it is very important. It associates study with reward and motivates you next time you have a similar situation. The whole time you are enjoying yourself your sub-conscious is assimilating, integrating and interpreting what you have been learned so that it is embedded at a deeper level.

Next time you have to study a book, think of the Olympics and follow the five rings.

How to remember Birthdays and Anniversaries

Courtesy of Phil Chambers

One such method is The Major System. It may seem a bit odd

to start with, but stick with me. You represent each digit

by a letter code, combine these to make words that you can
imagine as pictures. (Memories are essentially pictures in
your head).

Here’s the code

0 = s or z
1 = d or t
2 = n
3 = m
4 = r
5 = L
6 = j or sh
7 = k
8 = f or v
9 = b or p

So to code the number 21, you convert it to ‘nt’ and add a
vowel that has no meaning to give ‘net’. You can see a picture
of a net easier than visualising 21.

This takes care of the number part of a date but what about
the month?

You can represent months as numbers (January = 1, February = 2,
etc) but this starts to get complex as you’ll have to make
up words involving 3 letters. (eg 21st February = 21/2 = ntn
which becomes ‘Indian’). I think a better method is to
represent months by more direct associations and then use
these to ‘modify’ the images generated from the number part
of the date. Let me explain…

January = ice and snow (in the northern hemisphere – If you
are in Australia you could use a barbecue).

February = associations with Valentine’s Day: Hearts,
chocolates, roses, etc.

March = marching soldiers or March hares or Spring flowers

April = rain (April Showers)

May = dancing round a maypole with ribbons and bells

June = sunshine (once again only in the Northern hemisphere)

July = American associations (from Independence Day being 4th
July): The statue of liberty, the star spangled banner, etc.

August = Roman associations (August is named after Augustus
Cesar): Classical columns, togas, etc.

September = Autumn leaves

October = Halloween associations: Witches, ghosts, pumpkins

November = Guy Fawkes Night associations (in England):
Fireworks and bonfires.

December = Christmas associations: Christmas trees,
decorations, cards, presents, etc.

As you will start to notice, memory systems tend to be very
culturally specific and one person’s associations do not
generally correspond with someone else’s. It is always best
to come up with your own associations but let’s work with
mine as a guide for the time being.

Going back to our example of 21st of February this can be a
NeT  scooping up chocolates (for Valentine’s Day).

21st June (My Birthday) would be catching the Sun in a NeT.

To remember who each date refers to, just make an additional
association. So for my birthday imagine me wielding the net.

Once you have learned two digit codes from 01 = soot to
31 = mat you can code any date and easily remember all the
birthdays of your friends and family.

AIM to improve your memory

AIM to improve your memory even more. Attention Interest Meaning

This article is courtesy of Phil Chambers Learning Technologies Ltd with a few of my own ideas thrown in.

Summary: Pay attention and your improved memory will will surprise you. Invest in attention and it will pay great dividends. When it comes to remembering stuff, create more interest and make it relevant to your circumstances and have fun. Be as wacky as your imagination will go and this added meaning will serve your memory well.


I could write at great length about memory principles, techniques and systems but this month, I thought I’d just give you three valuable tips that can combat the everyday failings of memory that convince many of us that we must be going prematurely senile.

So you remember them they spell out the simple acronym AIM!


How often are you fully in the moment giving your full attention to your surroundings?

With our every busier lives we have more and more demands on our time and our attention. Inevitably we disregard and filter out what is deemed unimportant at that moment.

For example, on the way to an important meeting, where you parked your car is not going to be at the forefront of your mind so is not paid attention to. When you come in from work, you put your keys down and focus on your kids, spouse, whoever is more important to you. Hours later your
have to waste time looking for your keys because you paid no attention to where you left them.

Similarly, imagine you’re a meeting some for the first time. You want to make a good impression so are thinking about what you are going to say to them while they are telling you their name. You are not paying full attention. It is little wonder then that you instantly forget it.

The insidious thing about inattention is you don’t notice it happening. The consequence of not being able to recall whatever, happens hours or sometimes days later so is you don’t make the connection to the cause. As a result you make the incorrect assumption that the there is a defect
in your brain, that you have a bad memory. This false belief starts to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you accept forgetting as inevitable you don’t even try to memorize things. You end up writing everything down and either get swamped in notes so you can’t find the information you need quickly or worse, you forget where you put the note. Rather than relying on note making or trying to ‘fix’ the problem with your brain by buying brain training software. Just invest a bit of attention
and stop forgetfulness before it occurs.

As you walk away from you car, look back for a second and deliberately observe the landmarks that identify where you left it. Is it near a distinctive tree, a lamppost or a particular building? This will be enough to lock the information into your memory.

When you meet people, focus on them. Listen each person’s name. Repeat it in your head or back to them out loud. If it is an unusual name, check that you heard it correctly. Ask them what it means. Ask them how to spell it and then repeat it back to them exactly the way they said it. Spelling it BACKWARDS in your head will really cement their name – for ever!

The simple act of paying attention will make a massive difference.


Are you interested in a particular sport or have a hobby that you are passionate about? Isn’t it easy to learn facts about it?

Ask a young football fan about their team. They can name all the players, all the scores of the matches that season and for years gone by, who scored the goals and when. This is a huge amount of data that they can recall effortlessly. Ask the same person about what they learned in their physics lesson and they are stumped.

Interest plays a massive role in memory. The brain is terrific at discarding unimportant data. If you’re not engaged and interested in something then you don’t assign it significance. The brain assumes that the information is unimportant so doesn’t store it.

We all sometimes have to learn stuff that we find tedious and dull. How can you make it more fun? Can you make it relevant to your life?

Say, you have to learn Newton’s laws of motion. If you’re not a physics geek like me then I guess this probably doesn’t strike you as fun. If, on the other hand, you are taught how Ronnie O’Sullivan can make a 147 break in snooker or how a rocket gets to the moon then that is interesting. Basically, this involved the same physics.


If something is meaningless it is hard to remember.

In the World Memory Championships competitors remember hundreds of binary digits. What could be more meaningless than endless stings of ones and zeros? They are able to memorize them because they give them meaning. Each group of digits are converted into a character or an action. Buy using placing these in familiar locations they take on meaning. For example, if Albert Einstein was firing a gun at Marylyn Munroe in you’re your living room, I think you might remember that!

The more unusual you make a mental picture the more memorable it becomes. So even though you will never actually see Albert Einstein fire a gun at Marylyn Munroe in your living room (mainly because they are both dead) – your imagination can make it seem real.

In everyday life, the same rules apply. If you’ve left you mobile phone at home and you don’t have a pen and paper to hand but a gorgeous girl (or hunky guy depending on your proclivity) gives you his/her number, you need to remember it.

If numbers are important to you then you can learn a complex system to make them stick in your memory. If you don’t feel like the work required to do this, you can give them meaning in another way.

Say the number 0207  9921101

Break it down:

0207 99 21 101

Your bedside clock read seven minutes past two in the morning, you are awoken by someone playing Nena’s Eurovision hit ‘99 Red Balloons’.

It’s you neighbour’s 21st birthday party

As you look out of the window to complain you see 101 Dalmatians bounding down the road.

Doesn’t the story mean more than the number?

With these three simple techniques and no complicated mnemonics you can make you memory work better. If you want to make it super-human then you do need to learn some more sophisticated techniques. For most people though, knowing where you left the car keys, remembering the names of people you meet and the phone number of a hot date would be
a pretty good start.