Thursday, October 29, 2009

Memory Peg Systems

Memory peg systems provide a systematic way to use visual image "pegs" with material you are trying to remember. Peg systems are used by all memory wizards who put on shows exhibiting their extraordinary memory ability. They are also used by Las Vegas "card counters."

The basic idea in these systems, typically called “peg” systems, is to have a set of pre-memorized mental image “pegs” on which you hang images of items that you need to remember. A popular version of this is a room system. The process begins with picturing in your mind a room where certain conspicuous objects are unchanging, both in type and location. Then you use images of these objects as pegs for making associations. Suppose, for example, you want to memorize a to-do list and the sequence in which things have to be done: send e-mail to boss, call your dentist office for an emergency appointment, have lunch with a client, send a check to the water company, and a host of other things that I won’t list to keep this from being tedious. You might then use your bedroom pegs this way: you enter the door, which has an image of your e-mail system, Then your turn left to see your dresser, which has dentures sitting conspicuously on the top. Then you see the lamp on the dresser, which was turned off but now switches on to reveal a lunch plate. Next you see your bookcase with your checkbook falling off the shelf into a bucket of water. You continue this peg-linking process as you mentally move around the room from object to object and the mental images you need to associate with them.

You can use any room in your house, as long as the anchor pegs don’t change (such as furniture that you move periodically). You can also use other familiar rooms (garage, office, church, restaurant. I describe this and other peg systems, including a system for remembering numbers, in my book.

I recently came across a peg system by Dean Vaughn that I like. His system uses an imaginary numbered room system. This relies on an image of a cube, representing an empty room. Locations in the room are identified by number, beginning at one corner and moving around the room (wall to corner to next wall, etc.). Including the top and bottom of the cube, this gives peg anchor locations for 10 items. And if you need more than 10 items, you can create other rooms for 11-19, 20-21, etc.

You can start numbering at any point as long as you are consistent. I like to start with the wall facing me as point #1, because this is the center of the overall image. Here is an example of how I used this system this week to memorize a speech about writing as a career: to an English club at Blinn College in Brenham, Texas. After creating my mental images, I had them all memorized after about two to three rehearsals, and gave a 45 minute talk without notes and without even my hard copy of the numbered cube--not bad for somebody my age.

Here is how I did it: I made a numbered-cube template and saved it to use any time I want to develop a talk. Then for a given talk, I load the template in PowerPoint and read in appropriate icons to act as pegs. For example, my writing talk was on the subject “The Who, What, Where, Why, When, and How of Writing.” Icons are picked on the basis of what comes to my mind when I think of the word. For example, “who” makes me think of a hoot owl; “how” makes me think of an Indian. Many of the icons are sound-a-likes, or “audionyms.” For example, for “what,” I picked “hat,” for “where” I picked “hair,” for “when,” I picked hen.

For each topic icon, I write beside or underneath it in pencil a few key words and create mental images to represent the ideas associated with those key words. When I rehearse, if I can't recall all the images for a given peg, I look at the key words and reinforce the image or make one that will work better for me.

As the talk's preface, I decided to talk about my writing life, which I represented with the icon of a person (me) typing. Then I attached associated mental images (not real ones put on the template) to that icon (my high school, my college newspaper, a sample of my research papers, and a sample of my books). Next in the talk, I wanted to cover the topic of who do you write for. First, I discuss that a true writer writes because he must, that is he writes for himself. So I picture the owl looking at me. Then, I cover the theme that writers should know their audience and market, so I imagined the owl rotating its head as owls do to look away from me to look at a crowd of people. Well, I could go on with elaborations to the point of tedium. I assume you get the drift. The basic idea is to use images that make sense to you and associate them with your pegs.

Source: Vaughn, D. 2007. How to Remember Anything. St. Martin’s Griffin, New York.


  1. So you could also extend the 10 point room model into a Rubik's Cube of nodes so 3x3x3 27 x 10, a 270 point memory system.

  2. I think it is easier just to use a succession of cubes, numbered 11-20, 21-30, etc.

  3. Interesting technique with the cube. I have to read more about it.

    The peg system is indeed the basic for most of the memory athletes like myself. It is extremly effective. See for yourself how world memory champion Ben Pridmore is breaking his own record in memorizing a deck of cards in an astonishing time: His record on Vimeo.

    If you want to find out more about the explicit techniques he is using check out my series about How to become a Memory Champion.

  4. I think the best way to do that is just to keep your mind sharp, for instance in school the teachers always tell us to use calculators, but if you do math in your head, you don’t rely so much on technology as well as you keep your mind healthy in a way. Also, try perhaps reading more, have a look on this website as well they are giving such kinda a services how to improve my memory


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