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How the world’s best memorizers remember things

Hint: It involves more creativity than you might think.

How the world’s best memorizers remember things
[Source photo: Jonaorle/Pexels]

We’re living at a time when the act of memorizing isn’t a requirement to get through day-to-day life. Worried about forgetting someone’s birthday? Just set an automatic reminder. Don’t know the route you’re supposed to take to that restaurant you’ve only driven to once? Enter the destination on your GPS of choice. Forget about remembering your emergency contact’s phone numbers. In a 2023 survey of 423 respondents over the age of 16, 21% admitted to typing “What’s my own phone number” into Google.

Katie Kermode isn’t one of those people. The British front-end developer has won several memory competitions and championships, both in the U.K. and internationally. Today, she’s ranked among the top 100 memory athletes in the world.

Kermode continues to use the techniques she honed in memory competitions in her day-to-day life, such as her weekly calendars. Below, she shares some of those tips and practices on how to train your brain to memorize things—memory athlete or not.


When doing any memory-training exercise, Kermode creates a “memory palace.” She recommends picking a building you know well, like your house or your workplace. Alternatively, you could pick a specific object. “This is the place where you’re going to put your memories,” she says.

She gives the example of someone who is trying to memorize the names of all the different queens and kings of England. To remember their names, she suggest anchoring them to a different location or object. She then recommends making up a unique story or anecdote about each king or queen and that location or object. Once you’ve done that, you can take a “journey” through each of those locations or objects—which represents your memory palace.

“If they’re just names, it doesn’t really mean anything, but if they all have a different place, you can create a whole story and environment around each one,” says Kermode. “So, every time you learn a new fact, you have somewhere to put it and it helps you anchor that new fact somewhere.”


The second technique that Kermode employs is to create “instances of things she was going to remember.” For things like “digits, cards, if it wasn’t something concrete and easy, I had to have a system that converted it into people or objects, or something that you can more easily imagine in a certain place.”

For numbers, Kermode would use “the major system“—a mnemonic technique that converts numbers into letters, and vice versa. For instances like memorizing calendar events, she picks something that sounds similar to the day the calendar event takes place. For example, if on a Monday she has a dentist appointment, she might pick the “moon” as the association because it sounds similar to Monday. She’d then imagine a giant tube of toothpaste on the moon or a dentist operating on somebody’s teeth on the moon.

The combination of creating “journeys” through a memory palace and relying on a system or association, says Kermode, tend to be what memory athletes use to prepare for competitions. “There are some nuances and differences between competitors but ultimately, it’s a combination of those things.”


Recent research has shown that exercise and physical activity can have positive impacts on the brain, particularly when it relates to memory. The Washington Post recently published an article about a 2024 study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Researchers scanned the brains of 10,000 healthy individuals between the ages of 18 and 97. The study discovered that those who did moderate exercise for 25 minutes at least four days a week had bigger brains than those who didn’t. The differences were especially prevalent in the aspects of the brain that are responsible for thinking and memory.

Kermode, who says that she is by no means a brain expert, says that she personally finds herself to be more alert if she tries to memorize something after exercising.


In addition to exercise, Kermode also says that sleeping and eating healthy can have a significant impact on her memory. “If I’ve not slept well and I got into a memory competition,” she says, “I know I’m going to perform badly.” She recalls a time where she briefly fell asleep during a memory competition, after a long day of travel and jet lag, and saw her performance negatively impacted as a result.


Lastly, Kermode sees memory training as anything but a chore. She says that it can actually be a creative exercise. The memory palace technique, for example, requires you to engage in a storytelling exercise, some of which she admits can “get quite funny, particularly when you use people that you know.”

While she believes that most people today are too impatient to memorize things, she urges them to think otherwise because “it’s really rewarding when you do.”

“You can take time out and remember what you learn, and it’s quite relaxing, in a way,” she says. “I think it’s a shame that we don’t memorize anything at all. Those abilities are still there. We just need to use them.”

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