by: Mentalist Brian Ledbetter
As a mentalist, I perform my stage show at colleges, corporate events, casinos, fairs, and theatres, as well as on luxury cruise ships all over the world. I’m so often asked by people who have never seen my show, “What does a mentalist do?” – which is not an easy question to answer because as a mentalist I present such a wide variety of unusual demonstrations during my show. I read minds, I make predictions which (hopefully!) come true, I cause objects to move without touching them, the list goes on.
Another common question I’m asked by people who have seen my show, “How do you do it?” I don’t claim to have supernatural abilities. I use the abilities everyone possesses; I just use them in very specific and developed ways. I use principles of psychology, intuition, illusion, and perceptual manipulation to make the totally impossible seem possible – and of course, it’s all about having a good time!
In other words, in any given moment I am employing a number of techniques and methods to produce the desired outcome. My show revolves around the notion that we, both collectively and individually, are capable of really remarkable things especially if we use our minds in creative and sometimes non-traditional ways. And often I accomplish the incredible effects in my show by using my mind in creative and non-traditional ways.
It’s not uncommon for me to use memorization techniques in my show – specifically mnemonic devices. A mnemonic device is any technique or system that aids in memory and the ability to retrieve or recall information. I’m going to teach you a simple way to remember a list of up to 10 items. This technique can be used to remember lists much higher than 10, and can also be used to remember seemingly arbitrary and hard to remember numbers. For example, in my line of work, I’m constantly traveling and I always use this system to recall my flight numbers.
I will teach you how to use this system to recall random numbers (such as flight numbers) and lists of items greater than 10 in a future article; for now, we will start with the basics: remembering a list of 10 items. Not only will you be able to remember the items themselves, but you will also remember their sequence. You will be able to rapidly recite the list forward AND backwards. And, because you will know the sequence so well, you will also know the number associated with each item – for example, if item number seven on the list was banana, and I said to you, “what is the seventh item on the list?” you would be able to immediately tell me with next to no effort that indeed the seventh item is banana.
I know this sounds like a difficult task, but once you understand how this mnemonic system works and you have only a small amount of practice, you will be able to very quickly and easily implement this technique and use it to make everyday life a little easier – I do!
Each number, one through 10, is connected with a word that rhymes, or at least sounds like the number. I always use the same words. For each item on the list, you will use your imagination to come up with a very vivid and unusual picture or scenario, in your mind, of that item with, or interacting with, the word that corresponds to each number. The more vivid, unusual, unrealistic, or outrageous the picture or scenario you imagine in your mind, the easier it will be to recall the list. Let me show you this technique with a simple grocery list.
1. GUN: (one sounds like gun) Item number one on our grocery list is ranch
dressing. I would imagine a gun firing at a bottle of ranch dressing, and imagine
that ranch dressing exploding. I would vividly picture that ranch making a huge
mess. I would picture the moment the bullet hit that bottle – it would create a
huge explosion of ranch – I would picture that ranch looking like fireworks. I
wouldn’t just think about it, I’d take a brief moment to really picture what it
would look like as if it were really happening in front of me and I was an eye witness to it happening.
2. SHOE: (two sounds like shoe – you get the picture) Item number two on our
grocery list is eggs. I would imagine myself about to put on a pair of shoes, but
there are eggs inside the shoe. They are in the toe of the shoe where I am unable to see. I don’t know the eggs are there. When I put on the shoes I would crush the eggs with my feet. I would picture not only the surprise of there being eggs in my shoes, but also vividly picture the inconvenient, disgusting, and difficult to clean the mess that would be made all over my feet and socks, and inside my shoes.
3. TREE: Item number three on our grocery list is bread. Because three sounds like tree, I would picture a big tree. I would imagine myself walking up to the tree
and as I get close to the tree I realize there are not leaves hanging off the tree, but instead slices of bread! Instead of thousands and thousands of leaves hanging from the limbs of this tree, there are thousands and thousands of slices of bread.
4. DOOR: Item number four on our grocery list is lemon. Because four sounds like door I would picture a door in front of me. I must get to the other side of the
door, so naturally, I must turn the doorknob to open it. I would picture myself
placing my hand on the doorknob and my hand becoming wet and sticky – this
door has a peeled lemon as a doorknob! What a ridiculous and outrageous
picture, but so useful in remembering the fourth item on the list is a lemon. I
would vividly imagine that wet sticky feeling and the fresh citrusy smell of that
5. HIVE: Item number five on our grocery list is onion. I would picture a beehive
buzzing with busy bees. As I got closer to the hive, I would notice that instead of
a beehive, it’s actually an onion. From a distance, it looks like a beehive, but
upon closer examination, that typical texture of a beehive is, in fact, the layers and skin of an onion. And for some reason the bees are confused – they’re swarming the onion as if it was their hive!
6. STICKS: Item number six on our grocery list is coffee. I would imagine opening
a fresh bag of coffee and being surprised that it doesn’t contain the usual coffee
beans I would expect, but instead a bunch of little twigs or sticks that smell like
coffee. I would picture putting those sticks into the coffee grinder, as I would
with coffee beans, and it produces very nice ground coffee.
7. HEAVEN: Item number seven on our grocery list is bananas. I would imagine a
scenario in a movie where heaven is depicted as being on top of clouds – the top
of the clouds being the floor or ground of heaven. I would picture myself
ascending or levitating up to heaven – through the white fluffy clouds and landing
on top of the clouds. But as I look out on the landscape of heaven, I would be
surprised to find that there aren’t the white fluffy clouds I was expecting as the
floor of heaven. Instead, there are trillions of bananas. Nothing but piles and
piles of bananas scattered everywhere, which I would vividly picture in my
8. GATE: Item number eight on our grocery list is broccoli. I would picture a solid
fence and a solid gate. I am trying to push the gate open but it’s not able to be
opened; there is resistance from the other side. As I push harder and harder it
starts to budge. As the gate begins to only slightly open I realize the reason I’m
having trouble opening the gate is that there is a huge mound of broccoli on
the other side. The biggest and heaviest pile of broccoli I will ever see, and I
must use a tremendous amount of force to push the gate open through this
massive pile of broccoli.
9. MINE: Item number nine on our grocery list is milk. Because nine sounds like
mine, I always relate the ninth item to myself – as if the list item were me, or
belonged to me. In this case, it’s very easy for me. I am lactose intolerant and
would never want milk! So, I would clearly picture how unhappy and straight up
miserable I would be to have milk.
10. HEN: Item number 10 on our grocery list is cheese. For the tenth item on any list, I always picture the face of a silly, goofy hen. Imagine how a hen would be
portrayed on a funny greeting card or in a cartoon. So, item number 10 being
cheese, I would picture a block of swiss cheese with many holes in it, and a silly
miniature chicken living inside the block of cheese and poking it’s goofy face
through the holes of the cheese and making funny faces at me. That’s a hard
image for me to forget!
Again, once you are familiar with this technique you can use this system to very quickly remember a list of any 10 items, facts, or figures – not just grocery items. You will be able to recall them forward and backwards, and be able to rapidly recall the number associated with each item. The key/trigger words associated with the numbers never change – they always remain the same yet you can use them to remember many lists. Although it’s wordy for me to explain (and sounds more complex than in reality it is), mastering this technique will not take long at all, and once mastered you can easily apply this technique to remember lists much greater than 10 – I’ll write more on that later!