How to Memorize Numbers
Here is a tutorial for memorizing numbers, one of my best areas of memorization. In fact, I currently hold the US record for memorizing the most amount of digits in 5 minutes – 303 digits. I’d like to think that aside from memorizing names & faces, number memorization techniques are by far the most useful in the everyday setting. Too often we rely on our iPhones or Blackberry’s to store all the numbers we need to know. What happened to the days where you knew all your friends’ phone numbers by heart? We’ve become mentally weak. None of us try to use our brains, especially for things that feel like it is straining our brain (memorization of numbers, calculation of numbers, etc.). This is a shame because it’s basically like we all used to have firm abs and now we don’t go to the gym anymore so our tummies feel like soft jelly. YEAH.
Investing a bit of time to develop your own number system is DEFINITELY worth doing. It is such an amazingly useful tool and I highly recommend it. With a bit of practice, you’ll eventually be looking at numbers like they mean something (not just like they are some abstract symbol) and you’ll be able to create stories out of them that are far more memorable than the actual sequence of symbols that they are. So here goes….
HOW TO MEMORIZE NUMBERS
This is an explanation of how I memorize numbers. When I first started I was only able to do 40 or so digits (in about 10 minutes) by pure brute repetition. But after a few weeks of practice I was able to get it up to nearly 100 digits in 5 minutes perfect. Now I can do roughly ### digits in 5 minutes and I get better at it all the time (sorry…not revealing my current best scores….for competition purposes, but lets just say its over 200 digits and its A LOT). All it is is practice. There is no person that CAN’T do this, trust me. Just practice. It will come.
To memorize numbers, you need two things:
1. A specified image for each set of numbers (either a 2 digit or 3 digit system – ill explain below)
2. A mental “journey” to store each image when you memorize them.
When I first set out to do this, I decided to start with a two digit system. There is a 1 digit system, but it is not very powerful for memorizing large numbers – I won’t discuss that here. A two digit system takes every 2 digit number from 00 to 99 and assigns a unique image to each. If you are serious about learning how to do this, you need to sit down and work out all 100 images. It takes some time to write, and to learn completely, but once you have it in your head, its there forever and you can use it at will. 3 digit systems also exist, but require more time (1000 images) and effort to learn. The payoff is huge if you have the time to learn it though. The world record for memorizing numbers in 5 minutes is 405 digits, using this system. Amazing!
So with my 2 digit system, I sat down and came up with images for 2 digit number. The reason we want to assign images to numbers is because the memory works best with pictures/images. This is why we can easily remember things that happen in a movie, but find it difficult to memorize a set of numbers. A movie is visual and entirely made of pictures, while numbers are abstract symbols that have no attached meaning. We need to attach meaning to numbers. By “image,” I mean make each number pair represent something. This “something” can be anything, but I personally choose people (I find it easiest to imagine people). By “people” I mean someone who is either a friend, family member, cartoon, or a celebrity (basically someone memorable). Next, I also give every number pair or “person” an action. By “action” I mean a verb that makes sense and relates to the person. For example, my mother is the number 65 and her action/verb is cooking (because she always cooks). You always want to make the associations between person and action to be natural. What I mean is that you shouldn’t be giving your mother the action of playing cricket or something (unless she actually does play cricket!).
So, you should go through each of the 100 people you have representing each number pair and ask yourself “what do I imagine this person doing?” Whatever comes to mind first should be the action. This is because when you are memorizing the numbers at high speeds, you don’t want to even think about what the number pair stands for what, it needs to be natural, like being able to read a foreign language fluently.
Now, you can also enhance the system even more. The method I just described above is called the PV method (Person/Verb), but you can also add an “object” (PVO). So for my mother who is the number 65, her action/verb is cooking, and her “object” is a cooking pan (makes sense right?). Ok so, now, when I’m memorizing numbers, I split it into groups of 6 digits. Why 6? Because 2-2-2 (Person-Action-Object). I make a little story. The first pair is the person, the second pair is the action, and the third pair is the object. So for example, 65 is my mother, 66 is Satan (his action is setting something on fire), and 87 is Michael Jackson (his object is a nose). So, if I ever encountered the 6 digit group 656687 in a sequence of numbers. I would see that as 65-66-87 or “My mother – setting fire to – a nose” (again, Person-action-object). Let’s flip the order around. Say the group was 876566, that would be “Michael Jackson – cooking – fire.” This mini-story is what I memorize, not the actual numbers!
Turning the numbers into people:
When I teach people this part, I usually have them start with the obvious numbers that stick out to them (23 is michael jordan’s number, 66 is the devil’s number, etc.). These are easy to associate to people because they are already associated with people. Different people might have different associations for numbers and people, so it’s not a fixed thing. 01 might remind someone of George Washington (the first president) while others might see the same number as Lady GaGa because she is always #1, at the top of the charts….who knows….everyone’s mind works differently. You have to go with what comes to mind first.
Once you have as many of those numbers taken care of (it may not be that many, actually), you need to transform the rest of the number pairs that may not be so obviously linked to a person. There are different ways to do this but I do it as following – look at each digit of the number pair and assign the following letters to each number:
1 – A
2 – B
3 – C
4 – D
5 – E
6 – S
7 – G
8 – H
9 – N
0 – O
Most of those makes sense – its just matching the number to the nth letter of the alphabet. The few exceptions are 6,9, and 0. I chose S for 6 because 6 sounds very “s”-like and N for 9 because it sounds very “n”-ish. 0 is O because the zero looks like an O.
So for each number pair, I create a two-letter pair. So 72 would translate to GB, which I then translate to the initials of a person (George Bush). It may be slow at first when you memorize to translate back and forth between numbers and letters, but with time it will become instinctive. Here are some of my examples (some may seem totally random, but they have just become what they are with time. You must do the same…whatever makes sense to you, do it!):
00 – vampire (used to be Ozzy Ozbourne, but it was easier to think of a vampire – they both suck blood from things haha)
01 – Alice in Wonderland (for some reason 01 just looks like Alice to me)
02 – Jedi (Obi Wan Kenobi 02 = OB as in OB1 )
03 – Jack =Black (03 = OC, Jack Black was in a movie called “The OC”)
04 – Oscar De La Hoya (04=OD)
05 – Abraham Lincoln (Abe is on a 05 dollar bill)
06 – Steve Jobs (06=OS, as in OSX operating system for the Mac)
07 – James Bond (like 007)
Storing the numbers in your memory:
So now the numbers have meaning. When you are about to memorize some numbers, you need a place to store all the numbers or “people,” “actions,” and/or “objects.” To do this, take a familiar place like your home or your work place and make a mental journey through it (it can be any place you know well). While doing that, choose between 20-30 (depending on how much you want to memorize) different points of interest (POI). These POIs can be rooms or even pieces of furniture – doesn’t matter – they just needs to be significant. Make these journeys through the POIs make sense, don’t jump around, make it go in a sensical order. For example, I use my home as a journey with these POI:
5. brothers room
6. sister’s room
7. tv room
The journey you come up with should be intuitive and you shouldn’t need to memorize it. If you do, you’re trying too hard – find something simpler or easier or more familiar to you. A good idea is to maybe work your way clockwise through the POIs. For example, in my home, I start in my bedroom and next I go to my bathroom because it is the closest room. I don’t jump to the kitchen from my room because there are other rooms in between – I go in a logical order. Once you have the journey mapped out in your mind, make a mental run through before you use it for memorizing. Imagine yourself walking through it. These journeys that you create will be reused. They are, in a sense, your hard-drive. The more you create and use, the more Gigabytes you have to store things. For numbers I have over 10 different journeys I cycle through when I train (each with over 40 POIs). If you do a bit of math…If I used all POIs and all journerys, I would have 400 different slots for memorizing things. For numbers, I can put 6 digits in each slot, so that allows my brain to memorize a 2400 digit number no problem. The even cooler thing about these journeys, is that I can create an infinite amount. I’ve lived in so many different houses and countries over the years, that I have a lot of other journeys that are waiting to be used. I only stick to these 10 journeys because I am extremely comfortable with them and I have no desire to memorize 2400 digits in one sitting lol (maybe 500, but that’s it haha).
Ok, now you are ready. Get a really long number to memorize. When you begin memorizing it, take the first two digits. What you want to do is take the first two digits and visualize the person associated with it doing the action of the second number pair, with the object of the third number pair. You want to visualize this person/action/object happening in the first room in your Journey (in my case, my bedroom). Let’s take the example from earlier:
We had my “Mother setting fire to a nose”, so we need to store this in the first location of my journey – my room. On to the next 6 digits…I create my image, and then store it in the second location of my journey (the bathroom). Etc…
That is what I memorize. I visualize these things happening in each of those locations. Try to use as many senses (try to imagine sound, color, smell, etc. ) as possible to make the images more vivid. Once you have one image in your head, move on to the next group of digits and the next POI. Don’t look back. You’ll be surprised how much your brain can remember without reviewing! That is the beauty of this technique – no review is needed – you can just look at each number group once. Keep working in number groups until you reach the end of your memorization time. To recall the numbers, just go back to the first POI of the journey you used and your first image should be waiting for you there! Then make your way around all the POIs and translate the images back to numbers. I know it sounds crazy but it works.
Building up speed:
At first, memorizing a lots of digits will be slow. It will seem like you are memorizing a lot and it might seem extremely mentally draining. That’s alright, your brain has probably never done anything like this before. With practice, it will become normal and easy.
One thing to note, after using your journey for the first time, you will remember whatever you stored in them for a good while. You have to let it be forgotten (this might mean waiting a few days before you re-use the journey). What I do in the meantime, since I train everyday, is I have multiple journeys that I alternate between everyday while the other ones get “forgotten.” There is nothing from stopping you from creating multiple journeys.
Anyways, that is it. Hope that helped! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or if anything was unclear.