The ability to remember numbers has many benefits. You can, for instance, memorize and recall such important sequences as:
- Social Security numbers for everyone in your family
- Your driver's license number
- Credit card numbers
- Birthdays and ages
- Street addresses
- Phone numbers (Yes, the ability to memorize these still comes in handy. You never know when you're going to make a hot date at the swimming pool with no cell phone in sight!)
The good news is that there are specific mnemonic techniques for memorizing numbers. They're easy to learn and easy to use.
The typical go-to method is the Major Method. It's not called "Major" because everyone uses it, but because its fame is often attributed to Major Beniowski. We now know that an earlier version of the system already existed, invented by the French scholar Aime Paris. Paris, renowned for his number memorization techniques in the early 1800s, earned the honorable title of "professeur de mnemonique" from the Athenee University in Paris.
Other terms for Paris' method are the "phonetic mnemonic system" and the "digit-consonant" system. No matter what you call it, the basics of the Major Method consist of linking numbers with sounds. There are complex renditions of the Major Method, but the simplest goes like this:
0 = s 1 = d, t 2 = n 3 = m 4 = r
5 = l 6 = ch, j or sh 7 = k 8 = f or v 9 = p
Putting the sounds together involves inserting a vowel. To memorize a simple number like "22," you could insert "u" to make the word "nun," or if you're familiar with Indian bread, you could use "nan."
To take a longer example, "animal" could help you recall the number "235" because n = 2, m=3 and l=5. But is this enough?
What we need is to take these images and make them large, bright, vibrant, strange, bursting with color and energized with action.
For example, imagine needing to memorize "22235."
We already have "nun" (22) and we already have "animal" (235), so let's add zany action by having the nun attack the lion.
If the number were 23522, you could just reverse the image. Now the lion is attacking the nun.
By making sure that the words we create from the phonetic sounds are linked to the numbers, we make everything much more memorable.
You can think of this action-based "associative-imagery" as a kind of mini-story or vignette. In the scientific literature, images like nuns attacking lions are sometimes called "story mnemonics."