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What’s a mem?

Mems are little ways of remembering things. You’ll already know and use lots of them, without perhaps being aware of the fact: I’m talking about little phrases like “30 days has September, April, June and November”.

Mems, I should of course note, are also known as mnemonics. Excellently, the word ‘mnemonic’ is so difficult to remember that it rather requires one of itself- a mnemonic- to help one remember it. Which is, let’s face it, pretty silly. We much prefer the word ‘mem’.

Mems are astoundingly effective for learning things: words, facts, relationships. Their effectiveness has been demonstrated empirically- and in two distinct ways. Through Science, in countless psychology experiments; but also through the interesting empirical device of the Memory Competition.

So psychology has demonstrated 3x increases in retention where mems are used to assist learning. But perhaps just as persuasively, and very interestingly, competitive memory competitions have also demonstrated the utter indispensability of the mem for the speediest of learning- and in a very original way.

In a memory competition, whatever works, works. That’s to say, if you have a better technique than the next person, you’ll likely win. Quickly in a competitive environment, the best techniques out. Much more quickly than in Science- because the goal is much simpler.

As a result, the World Memory Championships, which have been going on for 19 years (during which World Records for memory have risen almost by a factor of ten), have served as a brilliant filtering mechanism for what works and what doesn’t in the realm of memory-technique. I’ll blog about this more in the future, but, in a nutshell, mems are one of about three constants across all the serious competitors- they’re part of the basic toolkit of someone who wishes to super-power their learning. There won’t be a single person who’s made it to the competition taking place in London later this month who doesn’t make liberal use of mems. People who don’t can’t compete effectively, no matter how gifted they are. The championships have served as a research program: and what’s been found out is that mems are gold.

That is: it’s turned out that if you want to remember stuff quickly and effectively and robustly, you should use mems.

We will soon be discussing in great detail on the blog the ins and out of mems: why they work, how they work, when they can be put to work.

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