Mental Model

You will never forget The Happy Homunculus!
If you've been following along so far this week, hopefully I've convinced you that almost anything can be made more memorable by creating a vivid visual image complete with novelty.  But, perhaps you're skeptical that these techniques would work in a "real world" situation.  They just seem to be so much work!  Everything to be remembered now needs to go in a spot in a memory palace and rhyme with some bodily function?  Untenable.

Perhaps.  But embedded  in these techniques of memory are more general mnemonic principles that can be used more regularly and more easily than memory palaces and rudeness.  Specifically, the key to a strong memory is detail.  The more the better.

For me, that is a counter-intuitive concept.  Before, the picture I had in my head of memory is like a hard-drive on a computer.  For every file I added (a detail) the less space I had for more files.  But, the more I thought about the brain, the more I realized that is not a correct way of thinking about memory.  Our brain provides a structure of pre-existing concepts.  Somehow, these complex concepts are embedded into the network of our brains, and different concepts can be reconnected in new ways to form new memories.  In this way, "memory" isn't a new file on a computer, it is a new set of links between concepts already in the brain.  Therefore, to create strong memories, we need to add as many details as possible because every new detail is a new connection that links a new concept with an existing one.  The more new connections, the less likely we are to lose all the connections over time and forget.

So, when you encounter something new that you need to learn, spend a little bit of effort creating an elaborate mental picture, or model, or the process, system, or fact you need to remember.  The more details you can layer on to the mental model, the more inter-connections you will create and the more likely you will be to remember any single detail.  Yes, this requires some effort up-front.  Is your goal to remember things or be as lazy as possible?  Wait, don't answer that.

Mental Model

Task: Create a detailed mental model of a system or process you need to remember.

Info: In my work, I need to remember a combination of systems, principles and facts.  I'm sure the same can be said for you.  So, when you encounter some new information, try to combine as many details into a mental picture of the problem as possible.  Imagine each part of the process as physical objects interacting.  Imagine how the components might meet, and create a mental picture for the process of interaction.  Label and anthropomorphize each component or person.  In addition, try to imagine how the new information relates to old information you have.  How do the concepts connect?  Can you create a mental model of the new system?

Goal: Maximize the detail of your mental model.

What do you think?  Are you still in the memory = hard-drive camp?  Convince me that I'm wrong in the comments!

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