Memorising shopping lists, pin numbers, and names & faces

Danny Scott / 30 December 2015 ( 19 August 2019 )

Follow these clever-but-simple tips from memory experts for remembering almost anything - from shopping lists to where you left your keys.

How to remember shopping and other lists

If you want to remember a list of items, perhaps when you are going to the supermarket, make each item part of a bizarre-but-memorable story.

Let’s say you are going out to buy Marmite, a birthday card, paracetamol and bottled water.

Tell yourself a few times the made-up tale of how you once dipped your finger into some Marmite and signed a birthday card with it, but it was such a mess that trying to read it gave you a headache. You had to take some paracetamol and calm yourself down with some water.

It sounds daft, but it’ll stick much better than just trying to learn the list in the normal way. 

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How to remember telephone numbers and PINs

Think of the numbers 0-9 as visually appropriate objects. 0 might be a football, say, 1 = rocket, 2 = swan, 3 = handcuffs, 4 = sailboat, etc.

If your PIN is 1234, it suddenly becomes a rocket being fired at a swan that’s been handcuffed to a sailboat.

How to remember where you put your keys

Every time you put your car keys down, take note of where you’ve left them and repeat it five times. ‘The car keys are on the stairs’.

Add a little image to help… picture yourself driving the car up the stairs wearing nothing more than a woolly hat and your seatbelt.

Train your brain my memorising a pack of cards

It’s perfectly possible to memorise a pack of playing cards in order, both as a neat trick and to improve your memory by giving it a workout.

As with the numbers example above, give each card an appropriate image. The king of clubs could be Sir Alec Ferguson, for instance, the ace of spades could be Alan Titchmarsh, the two of diamonds might be your favourite earrings.

Learn each image off by heart, then when you see a sequence of cards in order, place the image that corresponds to each card along a familiar route, such as the walk from your house to the station. 

So, the king of clubs, followed by the two of diamonds and the ace of spades, could be: Alec Ferguson, wearing earrings, stood outside next door’s front gate, with Alan Titchmarsh sat on the wall next to him and so on until all 52 images are arranged along the route.

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How to remember names and faces

Next time you’re introduced to a stranger at a party, take the time to really think about their name and what they look like.

Try and link the two. That bloke Gilbert who looks a bit like a fish? Think: fish = gills = Gilbert. The host, Lucy, is very tall, so remember her as ‘Leggy Lucy’. Again, the more bizarre your link, the easier it is to remember.  

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.