Founder’s Note: Here’s the second part of Sunjae’s brief series on memorizing acupuncture points, Chinese herbs and anything else you need to memorize. He starts here by jumping into some specific techniques. In his third and final post, he’ll offer some examples that any student or practitioner of Chinese medicine will recognize. Enjoy – and feel free to comment on Facebook to let Sunjae know you enjoyed the post.
I’ll extend my discussion by illustrating some examples of specific aspects of the broad memorization methods, and how they work to help you memorize acupuncture points or just about anything else. If you missed the first article you can read it here.
There is a basic rule of thumb that governs the effectiveness of the association method, and this is that the amount that your imagination, senses, and emotions are engaged during the encoding/decoding process determines the effectiveness of the technique.
Let’s consider two different scenarios in the previous example. One person uses minimal effort in encoding; after coming up with Finland, 3 coins, and Wednesday, they encode into an image of 3 Finnish coins next to a calendar that has Wednesday circled on it.
Another person uses the same information to come up with a story: a superhero comes to Finland in a post apocalyptic future, finding the country in desolation, except for a lone arcade game in the middle of a square which only takes 3 coins, only on Wednesdays. Every Wednesday all the surviving children, having long ago formed tribal gangs, come to play the game, the only source of joy in their life.
The second person has completed the encoding step properly; coming up with a scene or image that conjures up a powerful emotional and internal sensory experience.
This type of information is easy to recall because of how we are emotional and sensory beings, and therefore when going to decode the information, it is that much more natural. The first person, by not using the technique to completion, is just adding the extra burden of additional dry information to memorize– this does nothing and in fact is totally counterproductive. Thus, the more one engages the senses and imagination, the more effective the technique will be.
When encoding into a story or scene, for example, don’t just imagine a blue car; imagine the biggest, fanciest blue car with shiny rims that blind you.
Don’t just imagine a boring piece of chicken, imagine the most delicious chicken in the world, that makes people faint as soon as they have a taste. The more ridiculous, outlandish, or striking the image/scene, the more likely it is to be remembered.
Another principle that guides these techniques is the power of story.
We are hardwired to respond to characters in stories and this can be used to your advantage of while using the association technique. Oftentimes information needs to be memorized in multiple discrete sets; for example 20 drugs that have a random name, mechanism of action, side effects. Encode the name of drug as a person, and then make up a story about that person that involves the properties of the drugs (each associated with something else, as described above).
Picturing someone you know, or even a celebrity, in a story or scene with imaginary or ridiculous proportions is an almost foolproof way to tie something down in short term memory– as long as you go to completion and practice decoding the information several times.
This brings us to the elaboration of the last step, decoding – and the importance of rhythm and repetition.
From a musician’s standpoint, when learning a new piece of music, rhythm is used, in a way, as a diagnostic tool to show where the weak spots are in a memorized piece. For example, the piece is played back at a slow tempo, along with the metronome, and when the musician stumbles on the notes and can not keep up the rhythm at a certain point, they stop and focus on that particular phrase, and then go back to the whole section. When the entire section can be played at a steady rhythm, the piece is played at a slightly higher tempos, which will again reveal new stumbling spots which can then be improved upon.
This same principle can be used to solidify the piece of information in the mind after the encoding/decoding process is complete; the importance of rhythm and repetition as a diagnostic tool. For example, let’s say you encode a few random bits of information into a scene, and then practice decoding it once. The entire process takes about 3 minutes to encode, and then 30 seconds to practice decoding the information.
It is easy and tempting to just move on at that point; after all, you just proved to yourself once that you locked away the information in a new mnemonic. However, the most effective way to solidify the information is to then repeat the decoding process in looping fashion with increasing tempo– until it gets to a natural, consistent rhythm where you don’t have to think about it so much.
Most people have a resistance to doing this, I think because it seems redundant and they underestimate the power of rhythm. This is probably even more the case when memorizing acupuncture points or other Chinese medicine related information. We have so much to learn, so much to take in, it’s hard to think about engaging in time consuming memorization techniques. But it is worth pondering; the question of how well you know something if you can’t smoothly recite it? Spending an extra 20 seconds per item to achieve this effect enhances the process exponentially as well as reveals where your weak spots are.
Some tricks to have in your bag when memorizing acupuncture points (or anything else)
1. Repetition. Similar to what we talked about in terms of rhythm, but on a larger scale. After the initial encoding / decoding / solidifying session, it’s important to come back to the information later; later that day, the next day, the next week. Each time it gets easier to decode and soon the mnemonic just fades like a biodegradable scaffolding, and the original knowledge remains.
2. Location. Another “trick” is using another hardwired aspect of our beings; our highly developed skills for navigation and spatial awareness. When you are faced with a long list of things to memorize, imagine walking through a very familiar place like your apartment. Encode each item to memorize into an image or object and imagine it in a certain place in the apartment (again following the rules that the more fantastical or disgusting or otherwise engaging images / objects do best), and when you are decoding, in your minds eye “walk” through the apartment, see the images / objects in the various places you put as cues.
3. Numbers. This is an added layer of complexity, but there is a way to memorize numbers that takes advantage of the ideas in this article. Basically it involves encoding each number into a consonant sound:
- 1 = t/d
- 2 = n
- 3 = m
- 4 = r
- 5 = L
- 6 = J, soft g
- 7 = K, hard g
- 8 = f, ph
- 9 = b, p
From there, a number like 5234 would then become L, N, M, R. This letter combination can be then filled in with vowels and turned into words: Lean Moray, Lone Mare, etc. The words can then be turned into images, and if a longer string of numbers is used, then the images can be combined into stories. I memorized 300 digits of pi using this method and it was not nearly as difficult as it sounds.
The number to consonant system and the letter to word technique takes a bit of practice to get used to, but it’s a worthy investment if you have to deal with numbers on a regular basis.
4. Details and summary. So far these techniques have dealt more with rote memorization techniques, and not necessarily the process of learning new concepts, which is much more difficult in general. I don’t have much to say on this topic (mostly because it is much more challenging, and personalized), except one thing: to not underestimate the power of summarizing. Much like using rhythm and repetition as a diagnostic tool to reveal weak links in information chains, summarizing can be used to ensure that you actually know what you just learned. It can and should be done on many scales; after a sentence, after a paragraph, after a chapter, etc. Organizing the information hierarchically as you take it in only serves you in the long run.
This is just a preview into the vast world of memory techniques, but the ones I’ve introduced here are the ones that I found most helpful while in school.
They can be creatively applied to anything that needs rote memorization in Chinese Medicine, in particular points and formulas. There were many instances when we needed to memorize entire databases of information, whether in pharmacology classes on the Naturopathic side, or herbal medicine on the Oriental Medicine side. By combining the techniques of storytelling, association, encoding, and the other techniques when necessary, taking in vast amounts of information becomes considerably more efficient and allows one to focus more on the actual processing and learning that is required in our education.
In my next article, I’ll discuss a few concrete examples of memorizing acupuncture points and Chinese herbal information using some of these techniques.