A trick to expand your memory

How easy is it for you to remember the four digits 9, 1, 0 and 2? If I asked you again after one day, would you be able to recollect them?

Now what if you rearranged those digits as ‘2019’. Would you find it easier to remember now?

What I just demonstrated here is a trick that lies at the heart of the methods that international memory champions use. Neuroscientists called it chunking.

Our working memory can hold a limited number of items at any given point – about 4 to 7. That is why it is hard to memorize a mobile number, since that number has more than 7 digits.

However, there is a loophole that we can exploit. What I refer to as ‘items’ is flexible. If I stated the 4 digits 9-1-0-2 without any correlation, they would occupy one slot each in working memory. If I grouped them together into something that ‘makes sense’, like a recent year, they can be compressed into one single slot in working memory. This compression trick is called chunking – to create meaningful chunks out of random bits of information.

Chunking lies at the heart of learning. Our brains can chunk telephone numbers, chord progressions in a song, patterns on a chessboard or programming constructs that we have seen before. Every word you read is actually random letters of the English alphabet that your brain has seamlessly chunked together.

To memorize anything, make sense of it. Once it makes sense, it is easier to remember. If it doesn’t make sense, what’s the point of remembering it anyway?

Inspiration: The Science of Thinking

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