How to Memorize Anything Through the Power of Imagination and Exaggeration

Nikolaos Panaousis
Jul 22 · 5 min read
Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

You are a life-long learner.

You love to read, learn new things, and apply your newfound knowledge in different areas of your life.

At times, however, you become overwhelmed because of your presumed inability to acquire and contextualize new information quickly and effectively.

We live in a fast-paced world, there is no question about that — but when it comes to learning, fast-pacing can hinder your ability to learn and retain new information.

Luckily, you are a very observant individual, and you have detected a pattern in your daily life that can help you fundamentally change the way you process and interact with information.

What is this pattern, one may ask? Well, you have been reading non-fiction for quite some time now, and you have been struggling to wrap your head around new concepts, ideas, and words. (Yes — college students struggle with this experience perhaps more than anybody else.) When it comes to reading novels and other information presented in the form of stories, though, you find it much easier to understand what is being conveyed to you.

You exclaim, “Story-telling. Narratives. Imagination. This is the answer.”

When we read, words enter our minds and interact with our imagination, sparking our brains’ currents and creating direct pathways for memory retention. Humans are wired to engage with their imaginative powers and their ability to tell stories; it is, in part, how we have survived for thousands of years, carrying our traditions and cultures to the present.

You are now certain that your struggle to retain information derives from the fact that certain pathways in your brain are not working to make it happen. Which is true. Non-fiction that lacks a story format and cues for mental image-building forces you to employ an extra step to fully immerse yourself to the content and acquire a true understanding.

The Extra Step:
Imagination and exaggeration — two powerful forces for our brains!

Starting in small increments, you decide to test this idea by trying to learn a new vocabulary word (highly recommended) using a little bit of imagination and an extra bit of exaggeration!

The word is — checks a random word in the dictionary — “Squeamish.”


What the hell does this even mean?

You check for the definition: Someone who is excessively fastidious and easily disgusted.

You know that you will simply forget the meaning of the word if you close the dictionary and let it be, but instead you try and create a mental image around the word:

You imagine yourself walking walking towards a closed door; you open it, slowly, and you glimpse inside a bedroom. The room is a mess — clothes are thrown all over the floor, the bed is unmade, and the bookshelf by the wall is stacked with trays of food and water bottles. You look down at your feet and you see a mouse trying to flee the room. Upon encountering this situation, there is an obvious expression of disgust in your face. Your friend says, “why are you so squeamish?”

Can you forget the word now?

It need not be so exaggerated, of course, but it certainly committed the word to your memory forever. Now, you will use the word at the very next instance in which it becomes applicable, and you will feel great about yourself! You committed something to memory and found an applicable context to use it. You, then, repeat the process.

You also realize that you can create strong mental images around any other word or concept to help you remember them, and you further realize that by connecting many related concepts in a form of a story makes your textbook reading experience much — much — easier.

That’s it. You just hacked your brain!

Just remember — don’t to be squeamish!

Hey — it’s Nik. Since I included an example on how to memorize a new word, here is another seemingly inefficient — yet, unexpectedly effective — method I used to learn an “unlearnable” SAT word (phrase) a few years ago. Yes, I still remember it, without effort or repetitive practice!

Assuming you know how to read the phonetic alphabet — I don’t — the first word of this Latin phrase sounds somewhat similar to the word mayor.

I, then, divided the second word to two parts. Cul sounds like, well, cool. And PA usually stands for Public Announcement — or Pennsylvania — or — well, you know.

So, this is what I ended up with: A mayor who was composed (was cool), issuing a public announcement to apologize for a wrong or an error he committed.

And, just like that, another word has been committed to memory.

This might seem like a very complicated process to go through when memorizing a word, but with practice such associations can be created in an instance — and it is very hard to forget words once you create so many reference points around them.

I hope I was of help!

    Nikolaos Panaousis

    Written by

    Writing, talking about global affairs, creating connections, researching, and staying engaged locally and globally. 🌍

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