The Mental Filing System has a special application immeasurably useful to every one of us in almost every aspect of our lives—it also tells you how to remember numbers. Telephone numbers, addresses, important dates in history, birthdays, and anniversaries are only a few of the items you’ll be able to fix in your mind now that you know the key words. The ability to remember numbers sometimes means the difference between making or losing a sale or passing or flunking a course in school. You’ve surely known crises when a number remembered correctly would have meant everything to you.
We’ve shown that it is far easier for the mind to retain a vivid image than a completely abstract number. The process of substituting the key words for numbers, and composing a picture with them, will teach you how to remember numbers. Here is a telephone number: 7189. Using the key words for the numbers, we get policeman, alarm clock, revolving door, mailbox. These form themselves into a picture readily. Close your eyes and see a policeman throwing an alarm clock through a revolving door and hitting a mailbox. Visualize every bit of the scene clearly—the policeman’s brass buttons dazzlingly bright, the shattered glass as the alarm clock crashes through the revolving door, and the broken mailbox surrounded by spilled letters. If the image is vivid enough, you’ll never forget the number: 7189.
The device is simple. Let’s see if you know what famous date in history this picture represents: from inside the general-delivery window you watch two automobiles in a head-on collision. Get it? The date of the Norman Conquest, 1066.
The formula for remembering an anniversary is simplest of all, for you work with three digits at most. Let us say your wife’s birthday falls on July 23. July is the 7th month, so we’ll call the date 7-23. The picture is ready for you: a policeman (7) trying to fit a pair of trousers (2) on the legs of a chair(3). Get the image clearly in your mind, and the little woman will never have cause to complain again.
The key words for the numbers one through nine make it possible for you to form a picture for any number. (Since I haven’t given you a word for zero, you might use wheel. It’s easy to remember because a zero is round like a wheel.) However, the next chapter will give you an additional list of key words, up to one hundred. Numbers of more than four or five digits may be more easily retained if you use the key words for the higher numbers, fitting fewer objects into your image. I’ll give you an example of what I mean. My automobile license number is 428467. If I make my mental picture out of only the first nine key words, I have to find a place for a table, a pair of trousers, a revolving door, another table, an automobile, and a policeman. But by breaking the license number into groups of two digits, I need use only three objects in my picture instead of six. The key word for 42 is Elephant, 84 is Light, and 67 is Bell. I remember my license number by picturing an elephant with a light tied to his trunk and a bell to his tail: 42-84-67.
But fortunately, most of the numbers that we have to remember are short ones, rarely over four digits, and the key words you already know will in general suffice to keep them in your mind. In all frankness, I don’t recommend your learning the additional key words just to help you remember longer numbers. You might as well jot down your license and social-security numbers in your notebook.
You will be able to master how to remember numbers, once you memorize the whole list of keywords. The first ten key words are the ones you will use the most. Knowing the next five, as you do, will often help a lot, as for example in a long shopping list. I’m including the list of key words from 16 to 100 in order to make this training complete. I don’t suggest your sitting down and learning them all immediately. First, go about using the first fifteen. If in a couple of months you feel that knowing associations for higher numbers would come in handy, get at the list and study, the key words. Take ten at a time, learning them just as you did the first ones, and put them to work as soon as possible in your daily affairs.
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