The main memory technique that is used by memory champions is called anchoring and descends from memory techniques used by the Ancient Greeks (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Method_of_loci for more). It takes advantage of your brain's overwhelming abilities in visual and spatial processing to create often absurd and always interesting mental images that are very easy to remember.
A Memory Journey is a journey through a place that you are familiar with (such as your house) where you use items as anchors for the things you need to remember. As a bonus, you can remember these frontwards and backwards (like a wonkavator).
Step 1: Pick Special Objects to Be Anchors
1. Pick a familiar location for your memory journey such as your house.
2. Choose objects that are special to you in some way, the more emotional you can make things, the more memorable it will be.*
3. Draw a line from object to object so you know what path to take.
4. Commit the list to memory by walking through it in real life or in your mind.
*All of my musical instruments (objects that I care about deeply) are destroyed or defaced each time I anchor something to them, making it easier to remember.
Step 2: Get a List to Memorize
I wanted to be able to recite the alphabet backwards so I memorized the alphabet list that follows with my memory journey.
1. Apples, Almond Milk
2. Bacon, Butter, Black Beans, Blue Berries
3. Cow, Chocolate, Chicken
8. Hot Dogs
11. Kangaroo, Kiwi
15. Orange, Onion
16. Popcorn, Pasta, Potato
18. Rooibis tea, Rhubarb, Rutabega
19. Salsa, Sweet Potato, Squash
20. Tortilla chips, Taco shells
21. Umami *
23. Watermelon, water
24. Xanthum Gum
25. Yams (canned yams to differentiate from sweet potatos)
Let's do an example together where we peg the first item on the alphabet food list (Apples and Almond Milk) to the first item of my memory journey (Front Door).
*Alternatively you can use Umbrella here instead of Umami (I don't eat many foods beginning with U)
Step 3: Use the Memory Journey for the First Time
1. Look at my front door (pictured on previous page)
2. Imagine the door suddenly turning into hundreds of apples
3. The apples start falling to the ground
4. When the apples strike the ground the burst like so many water balloons filled with Almond milk.
Well done! Now that you used your imagination, you don't have to try to remember this, you will remember it automatically when you think about the door!
Anything that you can do to make more extraordinary images will be equally more memorable. For example, for stop three of my memory journey, the Piano, I imagine a herd of cows grazing and chewing the heads off of live--sometimes headless--chickens that make up the white piano keys, and smothering their mouths in chocolate that makes up the black keys. There's a lot of mooing and random arrhythmic piano music.
Now go and think of your own! (You might be a natural but my imagination is getting a thorough workout which is bleeding into other things I do with my brain such as reading and rote memory increase.)
Update: I used my memory journey for the first time in the wild (that is, after church, because it was faster than scrounging for a pen and pad). My mom and I came up with a short grocery list where I anchored broccoli, eggs, milk, mushrooms, and potatoes to just the front door.
Some good lists to memorize:
A list of the 12 Brain Rules
A list of all the films with Kevin Bacon
A list of the 100 most common words in Spanish
As always, if you can learn something by understanding its meaning, learn it that way.
But for things that are unrelated that you need to remember, anchoring is great because you always know where to find things.
(Thanks to Dennis Wong for his creative commons splash of milk)
Step 4: Visualize the Non-visual
Sometimes, things that you need to remember are not very visualize. But, it's not that hard to turn non-visual or abstract things into visual things with a little creativity.
'Honor' is an abstract thing but to turn this one I into a visual scene I just think of an honorable soldier or knight being honored by a king with his sword. Or you could just think of a medal of honor.
Another abstract thing I once had to memorize is Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS plastic). To visualize this one, I break it up into Acryl (I think of a can of Acrylic spray), nitrile (I think of dynamite), butadiene (I think of a dying butte), and styrene (I think of a clear styrene cup). Now that they are separate it may be necessary to reattach them to one another frankenstyle. (I think of a rocket made out of all of these parts.)