Develop Your Visualization Muscle

This is the most powerful idea in the entire metalearning handbook. It is the highest leverage (most bang for your mental buck) learning activity you can perform.

Most memory improvement programs have you perform exercises to develop your ability to visualize and manipulate pictures in your mind's eye. They suggest several memory tools based on this skill, such as peg lists and picture stories, which are sometimes difficult to apply in the fast paced information blitz of day to day work. However, the exercises do mobilize latent memory capacities that seem to spill over into several aspects of knowledge work. By having done the exercises, and by applying them in certain situations, the student seems to be doing something in their mind that improves their ability to remember things in all situations. The following mini-version of the peg list exercise will give you an idea of the principles involved.

Peg lists show up in almost all memory training books. This technique involves committing a series of number-picture associations to long term memory, and then using them whenever you need to remember lists of things. For example, here is a list of number-picture associations for the numbers one through five:

  1. Space Needle, since it looks like the number one
  2. Door, since it has two positions, either opened or closed
  3. Stool, since it has three legs
  4. Horse, since it has four legs
  5. Star, since it has five points

The first step is to memorize this list so completely that when anyone mentions any number, you immediately can think of the picture, and vice-versa. You should be able to walk the list forwards and backwards. This is an excellent chance to try the periodic review strategy discussed in the last section. Try writing them out several times, or calling a friend and describe this weird memory exercise which involves a list of five items, "a Space Needle, a door, etc."

Once this peg list has been transferred to long term memory, you are ready to use it to remember a list of items. For example, let's say you needed to remember to perform the following five tasks tomorrow and didn't have a pencil to write them in your schedule:

  1. Call Joe
  2. Meet with Sue Carpenter
  3. E-mail Acorn project team
  4. Read new "Snowball" strategy report
  5. Write bubble sort routine

In your mind you could associate the above tasks to your peg list items as follows:

  1. Imagine a G.I. Joe army figure climbing the outside of the Space Needle with a giant telephone in one hand while shouting "Call Me" in Pig Latin.
  2. Imagine a carpenter working on your office door telling you as you walk in that you are likely to get sued if it doesn't get fixed.
  3. Imagine your team members standing on a bunch of stools under an oak tree picking acorns and throwing them into a mail bag.
  4. Imagine riding a horse reading the report as the horse balances on a snowball plowing down a hill over your competitors.
  5. Imagine a pen full of star shaped bubbles with numbers on them that float up in sorted order.

The next day when you get to work, you ask, "What was the first thing on my list?" This triggers the memory of the Space Needle, which triggers the memory of G.I. Joe climbing it shouting "allCay eMay" and so forth. While this probably seems ridiculous, it is a great exercise for strengthening your visualization muscle.

There are some drawbacks to using peg lists in day to day work. In addition to taking a fair amount of time to dream up word pictures for each item you want to remember, there is the issue of figuring out how to manage all the different lists. You almost need a peg list to remember your peg lists. Additionally, it is more difficult to apply this technique to a list of concepts than a list of objects.

Another reason you should not fill your mind with ludicrous imagery on a habitual basis is that thoughts are things. Any time you think a thought, you increase the probability that it will come into existence. Lastly, once you develop the skill of being able to create, remember and manipulate visual images deftly in your mind, you must discipline your use of this skill. You must be careful to limit your mind to positive imagery or at least use negative imagery with extreme caution! (Note 10/27/2015: I actually have a very good reason for saying this that will surprise you. Will blog about it ASAP.)

Mind Maps is a registered trademark of the Buzan Organisation.
Copyright © 1996-2015 by BrainDance Software Inc