Disruptive Mnemonic

Trick to remembering things - Rearrange the items in your pockets

Imagine this situation: Your spouse/significant other/roommate/etc comes into your room while you are wasting time on the computer reading news, or playing a game or something. They ask if you if you will put a letter in the mailbox when you leave for the day. You say "sure" and resume your time wasting activity. A few hours pass and then you need to go to work. You get up, leave the house and go to work. Later that night you go home to an upset person asking why you forgot the letter.

OK; let's change things a bit. This time when you are asked if you put a letter in the mailbox, you say "sure" then immediately remove your phone from your pocket, and place it in your other pocket. Now a couple hours later when you go to work, you feel your pockets to make sure you have your phone and your wallet. When you feel for your phone, you realize it is not there and you think of where you last placed it. At this point, you will remember that you put it in your other pocket to remember the letter. You put the letter in the mailbox, then head off to work. Your phone resumes its position in the normal pocket.

I have been using this method for remember things for many year and it always works. I have not heard or read about it anywhere so I don't know if it has a name; I will henceforth call it the "Disruptive Mnemonic."

Why does this Disruptive Mnemonic work?

Let's think of our minds for a minute. Everyone of us has routines and schedules. Our minds tend to work the hardest when we are doing or learning something new; when we are just doing routine things however, our mind will often go into cruise control. We as human beings are capable of doing some pretty amazing things without really thinking about it. Some people walk and read a book at the same time. How can they do this? Because walking is so routine they no longer need to think about it. What about what people who drive? Even though it is very dangerous, people text, shave, eat food, put on makeup or various other things all while driving. They do this because driving is so routine, we don't really need to think about it (Note: Please don't do these things. They really are dangerous). You would never see someone who is still learning how to drive to send a text message at the same time; this is because they are so focused on driving.

And so things go with our memory. When we are in our routine or schedule our minds tend to relax. It is easy for us to forget things we don't think are very important, because we simple tend not to think or focus on these things. It is that way with taking out the trash or delivering a letter. These are things that we don't usually do on a daily basis so it is not routine. We can easily forget.

How to use a disruptive mnemonic.

The example I gave above was switching pockets with our phone. If you always have your phone in the same pocket, putting it in another pocket will force to think why. This will work with any item you keep consistently in the same pocket; keys, pen, lip gloss, wallet, etc.

This method works well for me because I am a guy and tent to keep a lot in my pockets. What if you are a girl and keep little or nothing in your pockets? If that is the case, you probably use a purse. You could rearrange the items in your purse. Perhaps you could zip up your purse only half way instead of all the way. Anything that will help disrupt your routine will help call your attention to whatever it is you are supposed to remember.

I started doing this when I was in Jr. High school. If I needed to remember something, I would get a scratch piece of paper and write a note on it. I would place it in my pocket and later in the day when I emptied my pockets I would look at the note and remember whatever it was I needed to remember. The thing is, I quickly realized that I never actually needed to read the note. Simply seeing the paper was enough for me to remember. I quickly learned that anything I did to disrupt my schedule would have the same effect.

The disruptive method is nice because you don't need anything fancy. No paper, no writing things down, no calendar. It works best for things you need to remember during the day (probably not a good idea for long term), and it only works well for about one or two items to remember. If you need something that is time or location sensitive, try to do something to disrupt a specific time or place. For example, if you need to remember something for work; place a random object near the things you take to work. If you need to remember something for lunchtime, put something in the fridge or lunchbox (or wallet if you go out to eat).

Any other memory tricks? Write it below in the comments.

About McKay


  1. I put a rubber band around my wallet, same idea

  2. Thanks, it works for me


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