Actors don’t all have excellent memories, sometimes they just act like they do.
Researchers have looked to actors for memory clues with the idea of using these actor based techniques to counter cognitive decline. They found that the secret to actors’ memories is acting; they focus on the meaning of the words and the physical and emotional motivations of the character saying them.
Beyond that, actors break down a script into a series of logically connected chunks using techniques called mnemonics, which are clues and tricks of association that can help them, and us, remember. Here are a few mnemonic tricks worth remembering…
1. Actively experience it. Engage with what you want to learn physically, mentally, and emotionally; use your senses to relate it to colors, smells, sounds, and texture.
2. Use acronyms. They’re a familiar part of our everyday language, NBA (National Basketball Association), SCUBA (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus), LASER (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation). Make your own by rearranging a shopping list. It doesn’t have to be a real word (this isn’t scrabble!), it just has to be something you’ll remember.
3 .Use acrostics. These are especially useful if you have to remember items in a specific order or if an acronym isn’t easy enough to remember. Like the first 10 U.S. presidents: Wobbly Angry Jet Made Misstep After Jamming Very Heavy Traffic = Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Munroe, Adams, Jackson, Van Buren, Harrison, Tyler.
4. Explain it to someone else. When you focus on explaining the meaning of the material to another person you’re more likely to learn it and it will stay with you longer than if you just memorize it.
5. Make vivid visual associations. This is a great trick for remembering names. Associate vivid images with people whose names you want to remember. Rose is a rose. Michael is a mike. Nancy is fancy; a fancy Nancy is Nancy Sinatra. A big guy named Robert is ‘Big Bob’.
6. Employ the movement principle. Memory is aided by movement. In one study, actors who learned lines while making an appropriate motion — e.g., walking across a stage — remembered the lines later without the movement.
7. Adapt the material to your learning style. Visual learners (that’s most of us) should read it, sing it, say it, recite it, or rhyme it out loud. Auditory learners need to hear it read to them, or listen to tapes.
8. Organize information. Writing things down is underrated. Keep contacts and addresses in an address book or a digital equivalent. Keep a note book handy and organize important notes.
9. Use the Loci Method. Ancient Greek orators and storytellers relied on this technique to remember epic narratives (like Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey).
To use this technique you must identify a common path that you regularly walk through your home or neighborhood. You must have a vivid visual memory of the path and the objects or landmarks along the path.
The number of objects or landmarks depends on the amount of material you want to remember. For instance, if you want to commit a speech to memory, first divide it up into chunks. Each separate idea or paragraph can be a chunk. Then assign each chunk to an object on the path. As you stop before each object you mentally associate each chunk of information you want to remember with the object or landmark.
10. Chunk Information. Chunking is arranging a long list into smaller easier to remember units. Social Security numbers and phone numbers are examples. Most of us are able to remember groups of groups of 3 to 4 numbers.
11. Pay attention. It takes about 8 seconds of focus to process information and encode it into the brain. Multi-tasking shorts circuits the process.