Introduction to Memory Systems
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The Link or Chain System
Linking or Chaining is one of the simplest forms of mnemonics yet it is very flexible and effective. The terms are used interchangeably and refer to the same system. We will use Linking to describe the process.

Previous chapters have already provided you with everything you need to use this technique. When you learned to associate something to something else that you already knew you were forming a ‘link’ between them or ‘chaining’ them together. With the Roman Room and Familiar Path we used this same concept but just introduced a way to allow you to remember more than one item.

With Linking we expand on the idea of building associations. The only difference is that you associate items to be remembered to each other as opposed to things you already know.

Linking is an effective way to memorize information in sequence. You begin with just a few items and increase the number as you progress. There is no limit to the number of items that can be linked but will probably find its greatest value is with short lists.

To illustrate the difference we will create a link using the same items that we added to the Roman Room.

They were:
  1. Book
  2. Electric Fan
  3. Cow
  4. Sunflower
  5. Rope
  6. Music CD
  7. Screwdriver
  8. Suitcase
  9. Checkbook
  10. Watermelon
Other than being challenged by friends impressed with your memory it is unlikely you will have to memorize such an unrelated list of objects. But here we go…

Before you begin you have to have something to associate the first item in the list to. It is best to use the objective or purpose of the list. Assume that this is a list of items that you will be shopping for at the local mall. As you read try to form vivid images of the following in your mind:

Start by imagining yourself arriving at the mall and walking up to the front door. When you try to open the door you see that it is a huge book. You pull back the cover but every time you try to go by another page blows in your face. You look over and see that the pages are being blown by an electric fan plugged into the wall. The fan is making a strange sound. It is mooing like a cow! The cow is mooing and kicking its heels! It is absolutely thrilled because it is enjoying a feast of sunflowers. The sunflowers are not too happy about this and they are trying to run away but they can’t escape because they are tied up with a rope and laughing hysterically at the rope’s performance. The loose end of the rope is doing a dancing rope trick to the sound of disco music coming from a CD. The rope is off beat because the CD is constantly skipping so a man offers to get a screwdriver to fix it. He opens his polka-dotted suitcase and pulls out a very long screwdriver and fixes the skipping. You are so relieved that you get out your checkbook to pay him but instead he asks you to buy him a watermelon.

As you can see it requires some free thinking to associate so many unrelated items. If when reviewing your list you find there is an item or sequence in the linking you are having trouble recalling just add more elaboration until the association is vivid and clear.

If you are still finding the visualization difficult don’t panic. With practice they will start forming without effort. Just go with your initial associations and elaborate as necessary.

Once you have memorized a list using the linking system you should be able to pick up the list from any point in the link and move backwards or forwards effortlessly, recalling the associations between the items.

The Link System is very flexible. You can use it to create and recall more permanent links such as To-Do lists, multi-step procedures, assembly instructions, etc. or on-the-fly links for travel directions, shopping lists, etc.

Care to test your linking skills? Following is a list of ten tasks that you have been asked to accomplish at work today. Use your creative linking skills to memorize the ten tasks.
  1. Wash the Boss’s Car
  2. Sharpen the Pencils
  3. Make Coffee
  4. Type a Report
  5. Deliver a Presentation
  6. Fix the Photocopier
  7. Answer the Telephone
  8. Sell a Customer New Shoes
  9. Meet with the Bank Manager
  10. Lock the Doors
Whew… what a day! If you feel that you have prepared an excellent linking solution for remembering these ten tasks please write it down and send it to us. We will add the most creative entries to The Memory Institute web site with appropriate credit. Email your solutions to

Quick Review:
  • Linking associates items in a list to each other.
  • Linking is ideal for short lists but can be used with any number of items once you become proficient with the technique.
  • Broken or missing links during review or recall can be repaired using elaboration to strengthen the association.
  • Linking allows you to reconstruct the entire list from any point within the link by moving forward or backward through the associations.
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