How to Use Storytelling to Improve Your Memory

In the last post, we talked about some techniques for training your memory by doing exercises such as making lists of words that start with a particular letter of the alphabet, or trying to memorize lists of words to practice memory-training techniques. Here’s one way that you can incorporate multiple learning styles in a memory exercise: create a story using the list of things you need to memorize.

Making up a story does several things that will improve your memory. First, it stimulates your brain to be creative and come up with a way to use all of the items on the list, and this stimulation will start the process of locking those items in your memory. Next, as we saw with the “alphabet song,” using a story line will act like the melody line in a song, and create a sequence that will work to draw the items on the list in order, making them easier to remember, because you’ll “hear” the story in your head. Finally, creating a story will also create visual images in your mind, reinforcing the information that your brain can use to link, tag, and store the names and words along with the images. Let’s use the same list of random words starting with the letter J:

jumble
jockey
jackal
jewelry
jangling
jitterbug
journalism
jurisprudence

Take a minute and think of a short story that you might tell using all of these words. Remember, the story doesn’t have to make complete logical sense, it just has to be memorable, so that it creates vivid images in your mind and unique references that your brain can use to create memories and links to them. The shorter the story is, the easier it will be to practice and remember. What did you come up with?

Here’s our story:

The jockey rode the jackal as it did a jitterbug down the track, a jumble of jewelry jangling around its neck. The reporter decided that it was time to give up sports journalism and take up jurisprudence as a career, if she was only going to be sent to cover such silly stories.

Notice that the only j-words we used were those from the list, to make them easier to separate from the background.

Practice this technique, and compare it to other ways of memorizing a list of items. If this is a technique that works well for you, make a note of it, and remember to use it in the future.