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How to Use the Alphabet List Technique

Learn how to use the Alphabet List Technique in this Howcast video about memory techniques featuring memory expert Barry Reitman.


My name is Barry Reitman. I'm the author of "Secrets, Tips and Tricks of a Powerful Memory" and I'm going to discuss how to use the alphabet for remembering a list of things that you want to remember.

Essentially we're just going to use A-B-C-D-E and so on, instead of the numbers one, two, three, four and the rest, but we're going to make them picturable. I usually try to use animals. For number one, A, ape, and I picture a large ape. The number two, bear, and I picture a bear. Later on, I'll connect it to whatever I want to remember. Number three can be chimpanzee, a smaller ape. Number four can be a deer. Number five can be an elephant, E, elephant, and so on.

So now I take the list of things that I want to remember, be it a shopping list or notes for a speech that I'm going to make, or things I'm studying that I want to remember in order and I just make a silly picture of the animal with the item that's in that place on the list. So if the first thing I want to get at the supermarket is tomatoes, I'm not going to picture an ape eating a tomato. That's almost natural, an ape eating a piece of fruit or vegetable. I'll take a tomato and I'll throw it at the ape. Maybe have him duck a couple of times, and I'll hit him, and I'll see that tomato splatter all over that ape's face. That's a silly picture. It's a stupid picture. It's kind of a violent picture. That will make that picture stick in my mind.

If the next item on my list is a loaf of bread and I want to use a bear, a grizzly bear, again might almost be natural, the bear breaks into the campsite and gets a loaf of bread. So what I'm going to do is have a bear sandwich. No, I'm not even going to slice it. I'm going to take a whole bear, shrink it down, and put it between two pieces of bread.

The next number on my list is C, chimpanzee, and perhaps the next item that I want to get from the store is shoe polish. Well, that might work. I'm going to take shoe polish and picture myself polishing that chimpanzee's feet. And he's kind of in to it. It's something unusual. I can deal with that. As long as I see that picture, I'm good, and I'll go through the alphabet. Again instead of one, two, three, four, I'll go A-B-C-D as these animal pictures.

Now when it comes time to go to the store and see my list in order, ape. I know that ape is number one in my animal system, and I know that I saw that ape ducking those tomatoes I was throwing him. I saw that picture. How can I not know it? Tomatoes is the first thing I have to get. The second number is bear, B, number two, and the second item... What was the second item on my list? Well, I know, I shrunk down a bear and I had a bear sandwich, I have to get some bread. And on, and on, and on, as long as that vocabulary of animals for alphabet is a part of you. As long as you know that vocabulary, you don't have to ask yourself, "What is number two on the list?" All you have to ask yourself is, "What silly picture did I see with the bear?"

And that's how it works, and it works.

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