By Dominic O’Brien – 8 Times World Memory Champion

So, you’ve just gone through passport control and picked up your luggage after a long-haul flight and are looking to drive home. The airport bus picks you up to deliver you to your car but you’ve forgotten exactly where you parked it a couple of weeks ago. Luckily the parking ticket will reveal the number of your bus stop but you’ve also forgotten where you put that.

After scrambling through your luggage, you eventually find it only to realise you stepped onto the wrong bus in the first place.

Bill Clinton dancing the Foxtrot

Whenever I park my car, I use a simple memory trick to make sure I always remember where to find it. I use a combination of Assocation, Location, and Imagination or ALI to use an acronym as in the famous boxer Mohammed Ali. 

These are the three keys to developing a powerful memory and I use the same combination of these three vital keys to memorise anything whether it’s names, numbers, speeches, birthdays, facts and figures, to thousands of binary digits which is one the ten disciplines at the World Memory Championships.

On the subject parking, if you think of your memory as a high-performance car then Association is the engine of memory, Location the Map, and Imagination the fuel of memory.

Location is where we store memories. We navigate our way through our 3-dimesnsional world and deposit little memories of our experiences as we leave traces of foot-steps representing the multitude of episodes in our lives.

To recall these episodes in detail we just have to think back to the locations where we experienced them. Our brains act like our own personal ground positioning satellite to pin-point all our memories.

Personal reminiscences and places where they occurred are indelibly interwoven. What’s fascinating is that it’s a two-way street. Places evoke memories and memories trigger locations.

I have one of these smart digital, movie cameras and every so often it’ll automatically take a snapshot of a smiling face. It is programmed to recognize smiles and it stores them in a folder. As I think back over my life, I too have a portfolio of mental snapshots that I’ve recorded at significant moments in my life. 

Just think for a few moments about your own personal snapshots. You’re probably getting flashes of childhood events like birthdays, first experiences, moments of joy, tears and amazement.

These experiences are there for a reason. They represent emotional milestones in our lives that we use to guide us through the rest of our lives. We learn valuable lessons from them and they’re a way of protecting us – helping us make better decisions about the future.

This is an innate facility that we all have. However, it’s possible to create, artificial, non-programmed mental snapshots of experiences.

So why should the thought of Bill Clinton dancing the foxtrot help me to remember where I parked my car? Because if I parked my car at Bay 23 in Lot F then that’s the image I would create using mnemonics or memory coding.

In another post I will explain how to memorise numbers but briefly, any number can be converted to an image and so can letters. For example, the second and third numbers of the alphabet are BC, Bill Clinton’s initials. And if you are familiar with the phonetic or NATO alphabet then Foxtrot represents the letter F.

By imagining Bill dancing precisely where I parked my car then I know I will always be able to return to it.

If I pictured Charlie Chaplin playing golf can you work out where I parked my car?

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