Brain Exercises to Help Keep You Mentally Sharp

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I am over 70 years old. I can remember 500 names at a time or numerals consisting of an almost infinite number of digits. When I’m not applying my memory systems, then my memory isn’t as good as when I was young. But, when I am using my memory systems, I remember better than anyone alive today!

You can use my systems to regain memory. Bob Norland did. He wrote to me when he was 75. Bob had had a stroke, and doctors told him he would never be able to remember again. His daughter brought him my systems. Now 80, Bob still works, but can’t write with his right hand. So when he takes orders on the phone, he must rely on his memory for names, order numbers, prices and phone numbers.

When I was just starting out back in the 1950s, the big memory guru was David Roth. I first met him when he was 91. A few years later, he told me the Rotary Club was throwing him a party for his 94th birthday. He said, “I won’t do much, just get everyone’s name and telephone number and repeat it back person by person.”

He died at age 96, with his full mental capacity. Applying these ideas keeps you young.

One-a-day mental exercises

Mental exercises are the key to keeping your memory sharp. I do crossword puzzles regularly. I also do “one-a-day” mental exercises. They force me to think. Here are three examples (answers at end of article)…

1. Take a pad and pencil

Draw a line, from left to right, about one inch long. How can you make it shorter without erasing, cutting or folding the paper?

2. Chickens are 50 cents each

Chickens are 50 cents each, ducks are three dollars each and turkeys are 10 dollars each. You want to spend exactly 100 dollars, but also take home 100 birds. How many of each bird should you buy?

3. Look at the Roman numeral EX

How can you add one symbol, and make the number 6?

Working the “systems”

All you need to do to use my systems effectively is stay alert and aware. They’re based on ancient memory systems going back to Aristotle, with a few twists of my own. I use these systems constantly, whether walking down the street, driving or waiting in line. Here’s how to start…

• Original awareness

You can’t forget something if you never remembered it in the first place. Turn that around, and you’ve got the solution to remembering: If you remember something originally, how can you forget it?

• Observation

Essential to original awareness anything you wish to remember must first be observed.

• Association

This is the best way to sharpen your observation, and thus your original awareness. In order to remember any new piece of information, it must be associated to something you know or remember in a ridiculous way.

• Linkage

Once you associate an item by picturing it in a ridiculous way, you can link it to anything else. That’s how you can remember long sequences.

Let’s say you want to remember the following six words, in sequence airplane, tree, envelope, earring, bucket, sing. Here’s how…

Airplane: Picture an airplane. Now you want to link “airplane” to “tree.” Think of a ridiculous image that connects, or associates, those two things in your mind’s eye.

Examples: A gigantic tree flying instead of a plane, an airplane growing up out of the earth like a tree, airplanes growing on trees, millions of trees as passengers boarding an airplane. These are crazy, impossible pictures.

Envelope: Picture millions of envelopes growing on a tree. See it clearly, just for a second.

Earring: You open an envelope and millions of earrings fly out and hit you in the face. Or you’re wearing envelopes on your ears instead of earrings.

Bucket: A gigantic bucket is wearing earrings.

Sing: The gigantic bucket is singing.

Putting it all together

Your first image is of an airplane. Then a gigantic tree is flying out of an airplane. When you think of tree, your next “link” is of millions of envelopes growing on a tree. You open an envelope and millions of earrings fly out. A gigantic bucket is wearing earrings. The gigantic bucket is singing. Practice thinking of those images and you’ll have the sequence. Using the same method, you can remember 10, 15, 20 or 30 or more items in sequence.

Making the connection

Making your pictures ridiculous is key. Four ways to do that are…

• Replacement

Picture one item as a substitute of the other. For example, imagine a tree flying instead of an airplane.

• Change amount

Try to see things bigger than life. That’s why many of my suggestions are “gigantic.”

• Exaggeration

That’s why I often suggest you see “millions” of an item.

  • Action

Action is always easy to remember. The link, tying ridiculous images to each item, can work with anything. You can even do it with numbers. It’s easy, once you learn how to associate each number with a specific image.

For names, even foreign words, you make your image by substitution.

Example: Let’s say you want to remember the states in alphabetical order. After “Minnesota” comes “Mississippi.” How to link them? Well, you can’t picture Minnesota, but you can picture a “mini soda.” Now, imagine a “Mrs. Sipping” a “mini soda.” So, when you think of mini soda (Minnesota) you will automatically think of a Mrs. Sipping (Mississippi).

We all forget mundane things. It’s the unusual, the obscene, and the violent that we remember. That’s what makes the systems work. The use of images in memory systems isn’t new. Aristotle wrote, “We must speculate with images.” I added the ridiculous aspect. For kids it’s not a problem. I asked some kids to visualize a piano coming out of their ears. Adult’s sometimes have a problem with that. But kids don’t. One said, “I saw a piano coming out of my ear and a platypus was playing it!”

Society dulls your imagination. Don’t let it!

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