How to Remember Great Ideas You have at Inconvenient Moments

How to Remember Great Ideas You have at Inconvenient Moments

Have you ever figured out the solution to world peace at a red light?

Or had a million-dollar idea for a business as you are about to drift off to sleep?

What about solving a vexing personal problem while in the shower (the one place you can't write anything down)?

Sometimes when our conscious mind is not occupied with an urgent task we are more perceptive to truly great ideas and intuitions emerging from the depths of our unconscious.

Memory System Falling AsleepThe problem, as any thinking person knows, is that these sporadic moments of brilliance are subject to the tyranny of urgent, yet unimportant distractions and will quickly slip back into your unconscious if you don't record them, sometimes immediately. Have you ever started your morning in an unexplainably excited state punctuated by brief moments of deja vu that hinted at some great idea on the cusp of your conscious mind? How frustrating is it when, in a flash of inspiration, a bulletproof solution to a dire problem you are dealing with comes to mind, only to be lost?

Great ideas are not a new thing. For the majority of human history, easy ways of recording great ideas were either non-existent or very rare. Quite impressive that people who lived much shorter lives than us managed to build the pyramids, create democracy, develop medicine, raise skyscrapers, and explore the entire globe all without the convenience of an iPhone or a laptop. Humans accomplished these momentous things using memory systems which have been honed for the past 2500 years to maximize the performance of the most powerful computer on this planet, the one in between your ears. Memory systems are a powerful (yet mostly forgotten by society) art that will ensure you never again forget a great idea.
Human History

Some utilizations of memory systems are quite complex and require weeks or months of practice to master, such as memorizing long numbers, decks of cards, remembering people's names, etc. Lucky for us, the memory system technique for memorizing great ideas at moments we can't record them is quite simple...

Step 1: Visualize the Idea


Pick something you can see in your mind's eye, that clearly represents the idea.

If your great idea involves some kind of product that is part of a million-dollar idea, visualize the product.

If your great idea involves a person you know, visualize that person.

If your great idea involves an idea that is intangible or is more of a philosophical concept that can't be represented by a physical object, you have a couple of options.

Pick a substitute word - Pick a word that sounds like the object you are trying to visualize. For example; let's say the thing we want to remember involves Minnesota (Unless you've been there it's pretty hard to visualize Minnesota), instead visualize a mini soda, a small soda can. Better yet visualize many mini sodas.
Pick an associated visual - Pick something you can visualize that reminds you of the thing you are trying to remember. For example; let's say the thing you want to remember is 'justice' - visualize a courthouse with the pillars in the front. Or let's say your idea to remember is that you need to find a person who is a great salesperson (you can visualize a salesperson in a suit but a person in a suit might not be specific enough) visualize a person you know who is a salesperson. If your visualization is a step or two removed from the idea you are trying to remember that's fine.

Step 2: Pick a Trigger

Now pick something you will encounter later that will trigger what you want to remember.Memory TriggerIf you have a million-dollar idea while going to sleep this could be something you will see when you wake up, like your bedroom furniture, your bathroom, your front door, etc. If a thought you want to capture pops into your head while at a red light, your trigger could be your garage door, your parking spot, or even your roommate whom you will see when you get home! If it happens while you are in the shower, then your towel or even your underwear would make a great trigger!

Step 3: Create an Absurd Association

The most important step of the process is to create a really striking and bizarre visual association between the important thought and the trigger.
Absurd Visual AssociationThis absurd association should involve at least one of these:

  • Substitution
  • Out of Proportion
  • Action or Violence
  • Multiplication
  • Sexiness (If you are like me your private thoughts tend to be dirty more often than not. So, by all means, feel free to make absurd associations sexual - it certainly helps to make them more bizarre!)

Here are some examples:
Great Idea to Remember: I should call Caren about speaking at our fundraiser.
Trigger: Christmas tree you see when you arrive home.
Absurd Association: Imagine Caren beating and destroying your Christmas tree with a disproportionately large microphone.

Great Idea to Remember: I should establish 30-day net terms with my food vendor for my small business.
Trigger: Your towel, getting out of the shower!
Absurd Association: Imagine your calendar (30 days) growing legs and arms and doing a sexy dance, while wearing your towel, then your calendar grows a mouth and starts to eat your towel! Then your ferocious anthropomorphic towel goes into your kitchen and starts devouring all your food.

Great Idea to Remember: I should sell my car to my cousin who needs a car.
Trigger: Your morning coffee cup.
Absurd Association: Imagine yourself driving your car and in front of you appears 20 clones of your cousin, but your cousin's body has been replaced with a giant coffee cup. You race ahead and run over your cousin's coffee-cup-bodied clones!

Using audio-visual memory triggers

When you consume a piece of particularly valuable information use a memory trigger to make sure that information is benefiting you at some point in the future. For example...

Sometime within the next month, you are going to be having a conversation with someone about blogging and you are going to use the phrase information equity (it’s going to make you seem really smart and progressive). Here’s the memory trigger you are going to use.

Memory Trigger: the word blog

Association Stream: every time you hear the word blog think blah > Then imagine a person’s mouth making an ‘O’ shape as they say blah-blah-blah > Now imagine a fraction sign inside their mouth (which is making a zero shape) That zero represents the amount of information equity their blogging creates.

Reinforce the mental association: Mentally say the word blog, then mentally yell at yourself BLAH! BLAH! BLAH! (while visualizing the mouth). Do this 3 times (should take about 30 seconds).

Initially forming these memory triggers will feel a little odd and will take some mental energy and creativity but as you do them often it will become natural and automatic.

Memory bookHenry Lorayne, who wrote one of my favorite books on memory systems, kept his cigarettes next to his bedside (like a lot of smokers do), when he got a million-dollar idea in the middle of the night he would knock his cigarettes on the floor spilling them. He would then associate his million-dollar idea to his cigarettes, the first out-of-place thing he would notice in the morning. Now hopefully you don't smoke (It's one of the least limitless things you can do) but I bet you have something you can place next to where you sleep that you could use the same way, like your cell phone, change, watch, books, magazines, etc.

The first few times you do this it may take a few minutes to come up with your visualization, trigger, and absurd association but after just a bit of practice, they will come to you in moments.

This memory system works pretty consistently. No more forgetting the million-dollar ideas you come up with while showering or at red lights. No more pulling yourself out of bed in the middle of the night to find a pencil and a pad.

The Memory Book
Category: Book


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