The linking system is a simple yet inspired mnemonic device described in Derren Brown's Tricks of The Mind. The book has an entire section dedicated to memory improvement exercises and is well worth checking out. You can buy Derren's audio book (narrated by the freakishly talented psychological wizard himself) at Amazon.
Your First Task
We're going to memorize a list of 20 random words, first in our short term memory and then commit them to long term memory. If that sounds like a lot of bother, consider this: you are only going to look at each word once, and you will be able to recall all 20 words effortlessly - forwards and backwards - in days or even weeks from now.
First, have a go at memorizing this list the old fashioned way. Look at each word as many times as you like, repeat it in your mind, then look away and quickly scribble down as many as you can remember. They don't even have to be in the right order...
OK, we can all agree that the old fashioned way is fairly taxing. Even if you remembered all 20 words I am sure it took a lot of concentration and the words weren't necessarily in the right order. Therein lies the problem.
Using The Linking System
Now let's do it again using the Linking System mnemonic device. This time you're going to picture each object in your mind - in a way that is both highly vivid and unusual - and then link it to the next word in the list by having the two objects interact together. Those are the three key ingredients that make it work so well: vivid, unusual, interacting.
Bear in mind that while my description of the method may sound quite laborious, in practice it only takes a minute and you can replicate this over and over in different ways, for any type of list. Now - read this list and visualize each image very clearly in your mind.
> Telephone/Sausage: Imagine trying to dial of one those old fashioned phones using a flaccid, uncooked sausage. Visualize how it feels in your mind.
> Sausage/Monkey: There is a monkey in the jungle, stood over a barbeque cooking delicious sausages. He's wearing an apron and chef's hat.
> Monkey/Button: You are standing in your bedroom getting ready for work while having a highly trained monkey button up your shirt.
> Button/Book: Imagine a book entirely about buttons, and in order to open it you have to open a line of large colorful buttons down the side.
> Book/Cabbage: You open up a different book to find the pages are covered in sweaty, stinky old cabbage leaves. How disgusting for you.
> Cabbage/Glass: A street artist has sculpted an amazing giant cabbage out of glass. It sparkles and makes a lovely 'ting' sound when he flicks it.
> Glass/Mouse: You are drinking a glass of red wine, but when you go to take a sip there is a naughty mouse sitting in your drink! He burps loudly.
> Mouse/Stomach: Oh no! You drank the mouse anyway to teach him a lesson and now he's scurrying around in your stomach.
> Stomach/Cardboard: A heavily pregnant woman tapes a large cardboard box around her belly to protect the baby from being bumped.
> Cardboard/Ferry: A cruise ship is sinking in the ocean because, in an attempt to save money, it was made from cardboard and is now all soggy.
> Ferry/Christmas: This year you have replaced your Christmas tree angel with a tiny model ferry. Perhaps this is how sailors celebrate Christmas.
> Christmas/Athlete: You and your family are running through the snow on Christmas Day, trying to beat Kelly Holmes to the finish line.
> Athlete/Key: Kelly Holmes wins the race and is awarded with a giant golden key. She struggles to hold it up above her head as it's so heavy.
> Key/Wigwam: An Indian chief uses the giant key to enter his wigwam. His is the only wigwam in the village to have such tight security.
> Wigwam/Baby: The latest New Age fad is to lay your baby to sleep inside a wigwam (Dream Catcher included). See the sides of the wigwam suck in and blow out as he snores loudly.
> Baby/Kiwi: The baby eats copious amounts of kiwi fruit for breakfast. See him gobbling down all the gooey green goodness. He loves it.
> Kiwi/Bed: Imagine tucking a giant kiwi fruit into a big double bed, and reading him a bedtime story. You love that goddamn fruit.
> Bed/Paintbrush: After painting your bedroom walls red, the bed no longer matches. So you paint the bed covers with sloppy red paint, of course.
> Paintbrush/Walnut: When you finish painting, you use the end of your paintbrush to crack open a giant walnut as a reward. Mmm, crunchy.
That little romp around Derren Brown's psyche was fun, wasn't it? I may have tweaked the imagery slightly to fit my own imagination, and feel free to do the same yourself if any of those images won't stick straight away.
Now, look away from the screen and recall the list, starting with the first word: telephone. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised... Off you go.
How did you do? Pretty good isn't it? Now surprise yourself even more by recalling the list backwards, starting with: walnut. Go on, then.
This impressive memory feat is actually very easy - and that's because you're turning dry, meaningless information into fun, visual images. It evokes emotion and that makes it far more memorable. The fact that each word links together also makes it very easy to memorize data in order and not miss anything out.
The linking system has some other really handy uses too. For instance, if you want to remember to call your friend Dave when you get home, imagine Dave standing at your front door. He's holding a giant cell phone, or standing in his underwear (whatever floats your boat - remember it has to be highly vivid and highly unusual). When you approach your front door, the hilarious image of Dave in his Y-fronts will pop into your head, as if by magic, and you'll remember to make the call.