Increase Your Intelligence

Interview with Josh Cohen

1: When is having a good memory Important? That is, what’s the point of a good memory?

I think that a large part of our whole identity is based on our memories. Having knowledge gives power over one’s ability to shape their own life. Knowledge is based on memory.

1.5: When did you realize having a good memory was important to you?

My whole life has centered around my interest in learning new things. Knowledge is not possible without memory. But I never realized the potential of memory until I actually tried these techniques.

2: What are some “memory miracles” you have witnessed or experienced?

When I teach memory techniques to people, I often start by showing them how to memorize 60 items of binary data (zeros and ones) backwards and forwards. Everyone disbelieves that it is possible for them to perform this memorization feat, but most people are able to do it within about 30 minutes.

2.5: What have you learned with your skills?

It completely changed my life. I was so impressed by the first memory technique that I learned that I became obsessed with figuring out how my mind works. I started constantly observing my thoughts to try to figure out how the mind processes information, because almost all of our thoughts are based on memory in some way.

I mostly use the techniques for learning new information about my interests, memorizing poetry, and learning foreign language vocabulary. I’m also going to compete in some memory competitions in 2013, so I am currently revising my mnemonic system in preparation for that.


3: Can People Improve Their Memory Skills? – And apply this to practical purposes?

Definitely. Memory techniques make memory fun. Sometimes people tell me that they are not visual thinkers or that they cannot learn these techniques for some reason. My response is: if you can walk around town and find your way back to your house, then your brain is suitable for learning how to use memory palaces. Just about anyone can improve their memory abilities with these techniques.

3.5: How have you or someone you’ve seen improved their memory skills?

I’ve been organizing a memory club in the San Francisco Bay Area, and since most of the people that attend are beginners, I got a chance to see how quickly people can improve.

I’ve been able to teach people how to quickly memorize all the US presidents or all the bones in the human body within just an hour or two.

4: You run a website: Tell us a little about what you do there and perhaps any highlights on the site?

After I discovered memory techniques, I decided to make a blog about it. The blog kept growing, so I added a forum and wiki, and now we have about 1,300 registered members.

Some of the highlights are: a memory wiki where you can read about many different types of memory techniques, and a forum where you can ask questions about memory techniques. The website is free.


5: What are 3 ways people can improve their memories right now?

I think that the easiest memory technique that people can use is association. The mind remembers things more easily when it can relate those things to existing knowledge.

For example, if you want to remember the Spanish word for a bill at a restaurant, you could take the Spanish word, cuenta, and find an English word that is similar – like “count” – and then picture a waiter counting how much money you owe on top of the bill. Then, when you need to think of the word for a restaurant bill in Spanish, you can picture the waiter counting the money, which will remind you of the word, cuenta. Studies have shown that this kind of word association greatly increases the ability to memorize things like vocabulary words.

The second way is to learn how to use a memory palace. It’s very easy and only takes a minute to learn. You can start by using your body as a memory palace. Memory palaces are good for remembering lists like shopping lists. Basically, you turn each item that you want to memorize into a visual image that you then imagine being placed on parts of your body or around a room that you are familiar with.

So, for your shopping list that includes the items: bananas, bread, and lettuce, you could imagine a bunch of bananas balanced on your head, a baguette poking you in the eye, and lettuce coming out of your nose. Then when you get to the supermarket, just walk through the same imaginary locations on your body and you will be able to recall all of the items in your shopping list in order. I have not written down a single shopping list since I took up memory techniques a couple of years ago.

Those first two methods – association and memory palaces – make up the foundation of most of the advanced memory techniques.

A third way to quickly improve your memory is to take the information that you are trying to learn and imagine yourself teaching it to another person. If you’re reading a school textbook, write down the main points that you need to know in a very concise list. Then close your book and cover the list and try to explain the concepts to an imaginary student. It’s difficult to memorize something if you don’t understand it, so trying to explain it ensures that you have complete understanding.