THE NUMBER-SHAPE SYSTEM
In the last chapter we established the ground-work for all our
memory systems. We learned that memory is a linking process
and that it can be aided by exaggeration, by movement, by
substitution, and by being absurd.
We now move on to the first ofthe Peg memory systems. A
Peg memory system differs from the link system in that it uses
a special list of items which never change, and to which the
items you wish to remember are joined or linked.
A Peg system can be thought of as a clothes cabinet which
contains a number of hooks for hanging clothes on. The hooks
never change, but the clothes which are hung on the hooks can
be infinitely varied. The first system we shall use is a fairly
short one which uses the numbers from 1 to 10.
It would, ofcourse, be possible for me to give you the system
outright, but it will be far more valuable ifyou create most ofit
yourself. I shall therefore explain exactly how to construct the
system, and shall then progress to its practical use.
The first Peg system, which we shall call the Number-
Shape system, requires initially that you think ofa noun which
you are reminded of by the actual shape of the number. For
example, and to make your task a little easier, the memory
word that most people associate with the number 2 is swan,
because the number resembles very closely the shape of a
I shall list the numbers from 1-10, leaving a blank beside
each number for you to pencil in the words which you think
best approximate the shape of the other nine numbers.
These words will be your constant memory hooks, so try to
make sure that they are good visual images—words to which
you will be able to join other ideas without too much difficulty.
Give yourself not more than five minutes to complete the list
from 1-10, and even if you find some numbers impossible,
don't worry, just read on!
Number shape memory word
Many readers will have realised while making up their
Number-Shape memory words that what they were doing was
using their creative imagination, while at the same time using
the basic concept of linking! In other words, you were taking
two basically unconnected items, a number and an object, and
associating them by substituting the idea of shape.
You will probably have come up with words similar to the
1 Pole, pencil, pen, straw, penis
2 Swan, duck.
3 Double-chin, breasts, mole-hills
4 Table, swastika, sail
5 Hook, pregnant woman
6 Golf club, cherry
7 Fishing line, cliff, boomerang
8 Bun, hourglass, shapely woman
9 Flag, sperm, tadpole,
10 Bat and ball, Laurel & Hardy
Now, having worked out your own memory words, and
having seen some other suggestions, I want you to select the
Number-Shape memory word which for you is the best one.
When you have done this print it large and clear in the box
below, and put a large X through each of the previous lists.
From now on you will be interested only in the words you have
selected, and should forget the other choices.
Now I want you to test yourself! Close your eyes and
mentally run through the numbers from 1-10 in order. As you
come to each number mentally link it with the final Number-
Shape memory word you have selected. When you have done
this run through the numbers in reverse order, again linking
them with your chosen word, and finally pick out numbers
randomly and as quickly as you can, Unking the words to the
numbers. Do this exercise now.
If you managed to do this fairly successfully, you have
already accomplished a memory feat which most people would
find difficult, ifnot impossible. And what is more you will find
that these associations will be so strong it will not only be easy
to remember them, it will be almost impossible to forget them!
The use of this system is quite simple, and involves of
course the idea of Unking. Suppose we have a list of ten items
that we wish to remember not simply by Unking, but in
numerical order, reverse numerical order, and random
numerical order. The simple link system introduced in
Chapter 2 would help us somewhat with the numerical order,
but would certainly leave us straining to rattle-off reverse
order and random order! The Peg system leaves us with no
such problem. Let us put it to the test.
You have been asked to remember the following list of
To remember these items in order all that it necessary is to
link them with the appropriate Number-Shape memory word.
Remember that when you link them the associations should be
exaggerated, should be moving where possible, and should be
absurd. Give yourself not more than three minutes to compete
your memorisation of these items, and then test yourself as
you did when you were creating the system. That is, mentally
run through the items in order, in reverse order, and random
order. Start this exercise now.
As a guide to those readers who might have had a little
difficulty, the following are examples of possible associations:
1. For telephone you might have imagined an enormous
telephone pole being toppled, with a giant telephone either on
top ofit or being broken by it; or a telephone with the receiver
which turned into a large pencil or pen every time the phone
2. For farmer you could have pictured him being attacked
by a giant swan or duck, or riding fairy-tale-style on one of
these giant birds.
3. The waterfall could have been cascading down an
enormous double chin, over a woman's very ample bosom, or
onto molehills which were flattened by the water's force.
4. Aeroplane can be remembered by imagining it covered
with swastikas, crashing into an enormous table, or being
absurdly propelled by means of a giant sail.
5. Meat fits very nicely onto a large hook, or a pregnant
woman can be thought of as 'meaty'!
6. If golf club was your choice for number 6 then you
can imagine teeing off at an apple instead of a golf ball; or
the apple might be thought of as a giant mutation on a cherry
7. Your fishing line could be cast into an enormous teapot;
or you might be pouring tea over a cliff instead of into a cup;
or a neatly placed teapot could be imagined being knocked off
the table by a boomerang.
8. Buns (as they often are!) could become rocks; the hour-
glass could be enormous, passing rocks instead of sand for
telling the time; or a shapely women might have her shape
ruined because her clothes were stuffed with rocks.
9. The bicycle could be imagined as having an enormous
Union Jack on the front which obscured the rider's vision caus-
ing him to wobble all over the road; it would be imagined
(substituted for) a sperm racing to conception; or it could be
imagined ploughing through a swamp filled with enormous
10. And finally the bat ofthe bat and ball could be thought
of as a large hatpin; or some typical Laurel and Hardy prank
with a hatpin could be imagined.
The examples I have given here are ofcourse only examples,
but they are included to indicate the kind of creative thinking
that is necessary to establish the most effective memory links.
I am sure that many of you will have devised some excellent
associations, and what is necessary now is that you practise this
system, and make sure that your ten Number-Shape memory
words are completely second-nature to you.
One of the best ways to make sure of this is to test yourself
with members ofyour family or with friends. Ask them to make
up a list of any ten items, and to read them to you with about
a five-second pause between each item. The second they have
spoken the word make your association, consolidating it
before they reach the next one.
You (and they!) will be amazed at the ease with which you
can remember the items, and it is most impressive when you
are able to repeat them in reverse and random order.
Do not worry about getting previous lists of items confused
with new ones. As I mentioned before this little Peg system
can be compared to coat hooks—you simply remove one
association and replace it with another!
In the next chapter I shall be introducing another small
system similar to this one. The two can then be combined to
enable you to remember, just as easily as you have remembered
ten items, twenty items! Later on in the book more sophistic-
ated systems will be introduced which can be used for storing
information you wish to remember for a long period of time.
The present systems are for more immediate purposes.
Give yourself about a day to become skilled with the tech-
piques you have learned so far and then move on to the next