Remembering anything abstract is a problem. Numbers are no exception. Despite that, there are a number of well documented ways to remember numbers. There are also a number of poorly documented ways to remember numbers which take a little more work. Let’s see if we can add some clarity.
The basics of all of the memory schemes that focus on numbers is the same – convert the number into something concrete and remember the associated concrete thing. Alas, this means that the person that wants to be able to easily memorize numbers is going to have to do considerable preparation work and practice.
As an aside, it turns out that playing cards are basically numbers. Most of the memory tricks that work for numbers work just as well for cards. With a little creativity, learning how to remember a series of digits leads to being able to remember the order of cards in a deck.
A Tiered Approach to Memory for Numbers
My first recommendation is to decide the magnitude of the number-based memory skill you wish to develop. At a minimum, I think everyone should be able to easily and robustly remember sequences of numbers and symbols up to 16 characters long. This level of skill gets you the ability to remember license plates, phone numbers, and credit card numbers and can have quite a bit of utility in daily life. Students of math, physics, chemistry, and many other fields often need to learn the value of certain numerical constants, and 16 digits will generally cover this need as well.
If you want to be able to perform a party-trick or two you should aim for being able to remember sequences of up to 100 digits. This gives you the ability to memorize the order of cards in a shuffled deck of cards, for example.
If you want to go to the extreme and enter memory competitions and memorize tens of thousands of random digits, then you need to approach the problem a bit differently but there are techniques for that as well.
This gets us three distinct tiers. The tools I see in the mental toolbox at each tier are listed in the table below:
|Skill Level||At least one of the following||At least one of the following|
|Daily Use – License plates, phone numbers, credit card numbers||10 digit Person Association
100 digit Person Association
Number Association SystemNumber Rhyme System
|Memory LinkingMemory CoinMemory Journey|
|Party Tricks – up to 100 digits, shuffled decks of cards||100 digit Person Association
|Superhuman – Memory Competitions||PAO
1000 digit Person Association
For example, if you decide you’re in the “Daily Use” tier you may choose to use the Number Association System in conjunction with Memory Linking. If you’re in the Party Trick tier, you might decide on the 100 digit Person Association method plus the Memory Journey.
My personal preference, and the level of skill I’ve developed for myself, is the 100 digit Person Association and both Memory Coin and Memory Journey. I have limited interested in party tricks, and I have no desire to enter memory competitions, so something like the PAO system is simply overkill for me.
I considered both the Major System and Dominic System, and while I can understand their concepts and can see their potential power, I think my brain is allergic to them; they just don’t work well for me. On the other side of the equation, I find the Number Shape and Number Rhyme system too limiting.
As I learn more about remembering numbers, I’ll return to this article to keep it up to date. I’ll also add links to each of the memory techniques listed here so readers can click through and get descriptions of the techniques. Alas, I find most of the commonly available descriptions of the techniques rather weak, so I plan on writing my own. I hope it’s useful for you.