Tag Archives: Learning

4 Tips on Overriding Your Hippocampus For Longterm Memory Storage

There is a part of your brain, the hippocampus, that plays as a gatekeeper keeping short term memories from entering your long term memory. It also does other things, but for now it’s just a gatekeeper.


I find illustrations of the hippocampus not very helpful (A.K.A. BORING) and instead imagine a hippo in Roman gladiator battle gear slaying an endless oncoming barrage of useless memories. He’s a champion in my mental Colosseum and his name is Hippopotamus Campus.

If you can imagine Hippopotamus Campus, then good. The following will be helpful. If your mind rejects Hippopotamus Campus, then good. Your hippocampus is working and Hippopotamus Campus is winning.

Whether you’re into my mental imagination or not is irrelevant. With the right tools and technique, you can make your mind into a beastly trap that dwarfs even the legendary poke’mon master ball.

Memory Tips and Tricks

Storing things into long term memory is easy. And as I mentioned in my long term memory article, it’s safe to assume you’re not going to run out of mental disk space anytime soon. So don’t hold back, and go all out:

1. Be interested


Being interested arms the information in your short term memory with a sense of importance. Memories such as near death experiences, or romantic first kisses have a tendency to stick in your head.

If you don’t care, your chances of remembering are as bad as remembering where the attendant crew was pointing to while wearing a silly yellow rubber duck floating device.  (Virgin America got it down right with their music video.)

2. Use your senses


The more vivid you can make something appear in your imagination, the more likely it’s going to pass through the gatekeeper.

Leveraging the strength of visual and spacial parts of your brain are key if you want it to stick. Try to make the best mental movie you can of what you’re trying to remember. With enough cues, you should be able to reproduce the movie back into it’s original form.

3. Ask a genius question


Use one of the two questions every genius always asks. “How is this like something I already know?” Not only does it allow you to rapidly understand something new by finding likeness, but also it attaches a new memory to an already existing one en-strengthening both of them.

4. Person Action Object


The Person Action Object technique are used by Memory Champions in the Memory Olympics (yes, it’s real. No, they’re not all geeks. Some of the are body builders and mountain climbers.).

It uses the power of chunking by taking a person, and object, and an action and combining them into one memory.

Elon Musk eating a Spaceship.
Steve Jobs stomping on the apple watch

These things tend to stick in our heads. The more bizarre, the better.
Applying this technique can allows champions to to remember anything from a shuffled deck of card in a couple of minutes (the world record is under 21.90 seconds), to an auditorium of hundreds of audiences names and faces.

Needless to say, these tools can all be applied in everyday life and make you seem like you’re on Nootropics

Short Term Memory

We are constantly being bombarded by an plethora of ephemeral sensations from moment to moment. By deciphering these overwhelming hints we’re able to make sense of our ‘real world’.

Having to store every minuscule detail of our lives being shoved through all our senses (current temperature, pain [or lack of], colors, smells, orientation, speed of movement,  pressure of air against my skin, and much much more) would not end well.

Fortunately, we can only store a limited amount of information in our short term memory and we have a gatekeeper, the hippocampus (in Ali’s World, he is a Roman gladiator named Hippopotamus Campus), [to attempt] to keep nonsense information passing through into our long term memory.

Here’s how things work:

Rules of the Short Term Memory Game

  • Short term memories don’t last forever

Your short term memories are rapidly decaying. You’re already forgotten 99% of the previous moment you were in. You’ve probably forgotten most of what I’ve said since you started reading this post.

The truth is, your short term memories are going to last anywhere from a couple of seconds to up to a minute (if you train really, really hard).

Basically you’ve got 10-15 seconds to find a way to store information you want before Roman gladiator Hippopotamus Campus slays your thoughts and throws them into the eternal abyss.

  • Short term memories can be preserved

Two ways you can keep your short term memories around longer than a couple of seconds are rehearsing and chunking.

Rehearsing: Just think about it. Literally. Rehearsing new information for the first time gives that memory another 10-20 seconds to linger around. When someone tells you their name, at least repeat it mentally. Psychologists are finding that what you vocalize, or even sub-vocalize, reinforces memories and keeps them around much longer.

Chunking: We do this one all the time. For illustration,  let’s make up a phone number. Let’s try 800-PIE-SURF or 800-743-7873. By combining a string of numbers into 3 chunks, we end up only use up 3/7 of our short term memory slots while being able to recall all 10 digits (beyond our normal short term memory capacity). Maintaining three chunks for a period of time is much easier than seven, let the whole ten string of ten digits.

You can either remember 800, 743, 7873 and prolong your memory for a few mere seconds. Or, if you’d like the memory to defeat Roman gladiator Hippopotamus Campus and land into your long term memory, you could create a visual episode in your mind. Try imagining a delicious slice of pie surfing on a giant phone with an 800 number, “800-PIE-SURF”.

  • Mental capacity of 7 plus or minus 2

George Miller, one of the founders of cognitive psychology, found that humans can remember 5-9 pieces of information at any given moment. I find Miller’s Law of reflecting all over our world. Our world filled with evidence that on average, we can only remember 7 pieces of information at once.

That must be why texas hold ’em requires 5 card poker hands to be made out of 7 available cards. Or in scrabble, we use up to 7 tiles to make words with.

Seven colors of the rainbow, (arguably) seven continents and seven seas. I suppose if there was an eight, it was either forgotten or chunked so that we could easily remember seven things again. It’s not that seven is magical in any way, rather a mere sign of the limit of our teeny mammalian brains to process and understand things before we quickly forget them.

Becoming a Super Learner

Recently I’ve been taking a course on udemy.com called “Becoming a Super Learner”. Initially, I was reluctant to even look at the course. I kept ignoring the course for a long time, despite how many times it kept popping up in my face on that site. I finally ended up taking it based on the number of students enrolled and their feedback and their promise of me being able to process and retain large amounts of information.

Although I’m just over 30% finished with the course and have only gone over the basics/fundamentals, I’ve already noticed my reading comprehension and reading speed increase. Also, by following their exercises whenever possible, I’m able to remember large chunks of information and memories about the past are noticeably becoming more vivid lately.

I’m more active as a reader creating as visual mental markers as possible. Reading is a lot more engaging and fun, and I can’t wait to read more to build up my mental image vocabulary and inch closer to speed reading (at least 800 WPM) with full comprehension.

Mind Maps for Super Human Learning

I recently came across a book called “Use Both Sides of Your Brain” by Tony Buzan and decided to give it a read. Like the title says, I was really able to take advantage of the strengths of both sides of my brain.

Both Sides Brain Book and Mind Map Book

Use Both Sides Brain Book and Mind Map Book

Both books are about making ‘mind maps’, in summary a visual web of ideas. The rules are pretty simple: one central idea in the center. They recommend a visual picture / drawing of a central idea and drawing protruding branches. It’s supposed to be one word per branch, but I prefer using one idea/thought per branch.

The idea is that linearly approaches are the least creative ones and that the mind works non-linearly. For example, you may be working on one topic when suddenly you have a flood of brilliant ideas that are unrelated to the current topic.

People are much better at remembering things they’ve seen before and places they’ve been in before and describing them fairly accurately in comparison to abstract ideas or a linear list (such as a grocery list or a list of words in alphabetical order). This tool leverages our spacial and visual memory and allows us to connect words visually in a way that makes most sense to the individual making the map.

I’ve been using these maps to learn large amounts of vocabulary and being able to review and retain them quickly and easily.

Learning Chinese
Learning Chinese

These maps assist not only with learning new concepts and vocabulary but also getting a clearer idea when making complicated life decisions that have many pros and cons to consider.

Git Overview
Learning Git Summary

Although it requires a few extra minutes of jotting down ideas into a visual map, it’s a really great tool if you want to unleash the power of your mind.

Needless to say, I’ve been relentless on applying the technique at every opportunity. I decided to take on learning multiple languages, plotting out what I want to do with my life, planning a curriculum for an online class, and rapidly understanding new technologies such as GIT Version Control.