Sunday, 14 July 2013

Efficiency, work, the Major System, and your grandmother chest-pressing a huge cup of coffee.

My week of incredible productivity begins in earnest tomorrow: today I had to go to work. If you are trying to write a novel, plus a selection of songs, and get better at knowing the capitals of the world on, is there scope to sneak in a little bit of internet while at work? Perhaps I could think idly about my story while doing an easy task, like the washing up? Perhaps I could flat-out-skive for a half hour, pretend I've got something important to do downstairs, and rapidly read a couple of chapters of a book I've decided to read in a set amount of time?

No. Such behaviour is not only a bit naughty, but also inefficient, which is the worst sin of all. While I'm at work, I work. That's not to say that work doesn't give me the opportunity to practice some important skills.

For example, in order to perform the incredible feats of memory that I aim to achieve by 21st July (including memorising a pack of playing cards), I need to learn the mnemonic system known as the Major System, and develop a personal mnemonic system known as PAO (person-action-object). The Major System is basically a system of turning numbers into consonants, which you can then string together to make words which are much easier to remember than numbers. For example, under the Major System, the number 978 (the first three digits of any thirteen digit ISBN) would give you p/b (the consonants for 9), k/ q (the consonants for 7), and f/v (the consonants for 8). So if I wanted to remember the number 978, I'd make the word bequeath, or bike-foe, or something like that. I'd turn that into an image in my mind (obviously nouns are easiest to visualise), and then I'd remember that image until such a time that I needed the number. Easy.

This kind of system is actually incredibly useful in a working environment. For example: you pack 17 copies of a particular book into a box, then walk over to the computer to take them out of stock.  On your way you're asked by a customer where to find another book; a colleague asks you what date a particular event is happening; you see a book in the wrong place, completely out of alphabetical order, or even (horror!) in completely the wrong section, and you have to put it back immediately; and by the time you get to the computer, you've forgotten the number. Except! You remembered the number 17 as the word 'tick' (using the Major System), and you've imagined a little tic riding on your ear as you run the gauntlet between box and computer: a little tic, whispering sweet nothings in your ear, little snatches of poetry, praising the gleam of your hair and the milky smoothness of your skin, in its tiny little squeaky tic voice. How can you forget that? 17 books. Exactly. So, I'm improving my efficiency at work (woop!), and practising a skill that I want to learn for my own ends.

The Major System is a fun little mnemonic system (well I think it's fun), and it's great because you can use it straight out of the box, and it's easy to learn because the system has little mnemonic hints for every phonetic group (for example the number 2 translates to n, because n has two downstrokes; the number 3 translates to m, because m has three downstrokes). But, it's very difficult to use this system to memorise a deck of playing cards, because it takes so long to create the images. Professional memory athletes use a custom PAO system.

PAO works like this: for every number between 0 and 99, you assign a person acting on an object. For example: the number 1 is Arnold Schwarzenegger chest-pressing a 200kg barbell; the number 2 is your grandmother dusting a vase of fake flowers; the number 3 is Sam Drew drinking a cup of coffee. You want to remember the number 213, you take the person from your first number, the action from your second, and the object from your third: your grandmother chest-pressing a cup of coffee. That's a bizarre, memorable image. Particularly if you spend a little time thinking about it really clearly, and embellish the image with detail: your grandmother is wearing her favourite earrings, the pearl ones, and they dangle down as she lays on the weight bench; her wiry arms are straining with the weight of the huge coffee cup, filled to the brim with sweet milky coffee; she has to lift the cup perfectly straight or the hot liquid will fall on her... Can you see it?

The advantage of the PAO system, once you've created it and learned it, is that you can create memorable images very quickly.

As the week goes on, I'll be creating my own PAO system and researching other stuff to do with mnemonics, and I'll share all my findings with you, you lucky, lucky, people.

1 comment:

  1. The major system sounds fascinating! I did the same with visual pictures when learning to count in Chinese (6 is leo, so I'd picture a lion, 9 is geo, so I'd picture a sparkly geode...)