Three Laws Of Memory

“Nature is an endless combination and repetition of a very few laws.”

There are three great laws of memory which are as a rock under the feet of the earnest student in his quest for a trustworthy memory. These laws are at once the foundation and the crown of any sound and sensible memory system. Knowing these, the earnest seeker, for the right method cannot go wrong.

Those who have been skeptical about the value of memory systems, as well as those who have fancied memory-training to be a superficial species of mental freakwork would do well to study these laws carefully. These three are the A. B. C. of memory. All have been referred to before in this volume, but they require more elaboration. A comprehensive common-sense analysis of the best memory systems from the days of Simonides to the present time shows that they are all built around these three basic laws: Concentration—Association—Repetition.

These are not theories, nor are they haphazard guesses or experiments. In the realm of memoryland they work so infallibly and have been proven so conclusively, that they have all the dignity and authority of absolute laws. If you should read nothing else in this book, a mastery of the laws contained in this one chapter would put you a long way on the road that leads to success in memory culture.


Concentration has been discussed in the pre-ceding chapter, and because of its outstanding – importance will be treated more fully later on. Civilized, intellectual man must be a master of concentration. Imbeciles and idiots are almost devoid of concentrated attention. One chief difference between the mind of a monkey and the mind of a Plato is that a monkey cannot concentrate. He changes from one thing to another almost every instant. The sign royal of brain power is concentration.

In relation to the other laws, we must give it first place, using it as a basis for the association and repetition of facts to be remembered. We have already seen that unless there has been sufficient concentrated attention to clearly and firmly fix the picture in the mind to start with that only a blank film results and we have nothing to work upon. For practical application, this law may be stated as follows: Use enough concentration to register an impression sufficiently intense to be recalled or revived easily and quickly at will. Just how this can be done will be explained in Chapter VIII.

” Suffice it that you will do each and every-thing with better effect, with better heart, with better brain, for doing it with your entire attention, with concentration. You will find the humblest task, from dishes to ditch-digging, take on a new dignity, while to the higher requirements, in which intelligence is especially demanded, you will bring a power of perception that is new to you, and an increased energy in execution to delight both yourself and the world —the two beneficiaries of all good work.

” Other things there are, things important, even vital, to the successful memory, but concentration is its very essence. With the perfecting of this power, man becomes the master of his own mind—a wonderful kingdom, wherein memory serves with flawless faithfulness.” *

Concentrate on this quotation for five minutes, then make a written outline of it from memory between one line of thought and the one succeeding it. The law of association governs here, and is just as inflexible as is the law of cause and effect in other fields—just as unvarying as is the law of gravitation. The sequence of our thoughts is as much the result of law as is the fall of the apple from the tree—the rise and fall of the tides. Our ideas are always associated in some way, although in many cases we cannot clearly trace the connection. They come in groups, and each group, in turn, is associated with some other group.” *

The practical application of the law of association may be stated in this way for the use of the student: When recording a new impression on the memory tablets of the brain, think of a similar impression which has already been re-corded, or something related to it, in order to establish a mental association.

In analyzing the above, please note that it must be a similar impression already recorded. It is the modern psychological principle—likening the unknown to the known. Let us see how this works. We will take a few practical examples. Suppose you wish to fix in mind the shape of Italy. Liken it to an old-fashioned boot.


Now what do we mean by the law of association’ Simply stated, it refers to the ability to recall one fact by relating it to another fact which has been firmly fixed in the mind. In other words, it enables one to remember and recall something, which may be new, elusive, or difficult, by recollecting something which is a first cousin to it, with which the mind is well acquainted. To put it in the form of a metaphor, Association is a convenient peg upon which to hang the new idea, fact, or figure. Knowing where the peg is, you can easily find what you have hung upon it. There is nothing vague or indefinite about this procedure. The orderly and logical sequence of your thoughts is as much the result of a law as the rising and setting of the sun or the ebb and flow of the tides.

” Many of us fancy that our thoughts, when not impelled in a certain direction by the Will, come floating through our minds at random and in obedience to no law. When we see the apparent lack of connection between succeeding trains of thought, we may be excused for holding such an opinion. But this idea is far removed from the real state of affairs, for, although not clearly apparent, there is always a connecting link the shape of this country with an old idea already in your head. Suppose you wish to remember a new telephone number, Main 1492. Now there are perhaps a score of different ways you might recall that by linking it with some associated fact, but suppose we link it this way: Any school-boy has memorized the fact that in 1492 Columbus sailed out in the great main and discovered America. Now, by linking this new thing to the old established fact you can instantly recall it. But this bond of association must be made at the time you are making the original impression. When you try to think of that new telephone number, think, ” It is the same as the year Columbus discovered America-1492.” Ten years from now some of you may be trying to recall the name of the present president of the United States. Some of you smile at that, but I wonder how many of you can tell who was president ten years ago. Surely most folk will remember Calvin Coolidge by his phrase, ” I do not choose to run,” while every farmer is likely to associate him with the veto of the McNary-Haugen Bill for a long time to come. But if you want to recall the name of Woodrow Wilson, you can do so by thinking, ” League of Nations.”

We have heard it and read it over and over again the association is there and ten years from now or twenty years from now, if you are unable to think of . Wilson’s”—name, you can `,recall the ‘League of Nation and you will recall Woodrow Wilson immediately:

Your room number may be thirty five: ‘ ‘’It’ is ”worth while to know what your room number is in a strange hotel..” ‘To forget your room number is likely to’ lead to inconvenience, to say the leapt. Thirty- five—now, how an you remember that` Some write it on their ‘cuffs ‘and some try other ways: ‘,Suppose- you have ‘a’ brother, thirty-five heard” old—there the ‘law of association{ you have already established that in memory and later when you want to remember your room nnurnber you can’t think, The same as the age of my brother” and’ it will flash’ Intl your mind instantly.


Association based` upon resemblance is preferable to cOntigtious association While the latter is often quite ingenious,-it is not con ducive to the higher -plane of thinking Men who have- cultivated the power of association by resemblance are able to relate groups of ideas and run from one set of facts to another with a facility which is bewildering to the untrained mind. Association through contiguity, however, is often a very simple and easy way to remember ordinary facts. Ideas are naturally inclined to be sociable. One idea calls up another, which in turn may bring with it a whole train of associated ideas. It takes a certain amount of imagination to associate old memories with new ones. Naturally, some ideas have a much closer relationship or intimacy than others, and naturally this makes for a stronger, more permanent bond of association in memory. It is well for the student to begin with these, and for the purpose of practical memory training, I would suggest that he work upon ideas in pairs, rather than a considerable number or groups. It is even possible to pair objects on a list to be memorized, so that you can recall them in the exact order of the pairs, as the scroll of memory unrolls. By the use of Apposition and Opposition this pairing can be done very easily. Apposition places two things side by side, enabling us readily to see the similarity of things. It is responsible for the effectiveness of the figure of speech known as the ” Simile.”

Opposition places two ideas or objects side by side which afford a contrast, thus impressing the memory with a striking difference between them. This process is best expressed by the rhetorical figure blown as ” Antithesis.” Thoughts as well as things fall very naturally into pairs. Every fact has a counter-fact—every idea a comrade. In fact, some ideas are so closely related that they may be called twins. Naturally, if you call up one, the other will closely follow, providing, of course, that the two were mentally photo-graphed at the same time, side by side in the same picture. Let us suppose, for example, that you wish to remember to pay your life insurance premium which is due on a certain date and must not be allowed to lapse. Every day you pass the building. where the agency office is located, but you always forget to go in and attend to the matter. Every day you see the entrance to this building and it is a familiar picture in your mind. Suppose the premium is due June twenty–second; only two days off. Now, fix this picture clearly in your mind. Over the entrance of that building hang your life insurance policy and across the face of it write in big red letters, ” Due June twenty-second.” Go over the impression a number of times and repeat it again and again on the day following until your visualization is perfect. Shut your eyes and see if the new picture is there. If you will do this—if your original picture was clear-cut and distinct and you have used enough repetition to develop the negative—you will remember. The first time you pass that entrance you will see your policy hanging there marked in vivid letters, ” Due June twenty-second,” and you will walk in and pay that premium on time. (Assuming, of course, that you have the money.) The association of ideas has always held a dominant place in the triumphs of memory; what the law of Gravitation is to physics the law of Association is to psychology.


The third great law is Repetition. In modem business phraseology, it is the ” follow-up.” Without it, all the painstaking work which has been done may fail of its ultimate result. With-out it, memory is only a transient thing. This is the law that makes for permanence. For the practical application of the student it may be stated as follows: To make any memory impression lasting and enduring, review it frequently, go over it again and again, until it is firmly fixed in the mind. Just as by following the same trail many times the path becomes deeper and more permanent, so by traveling the same brain path frequently, we deepen and intensify the impression until it becomes definitely established. In this age of modern psychology we have learned that it is not so much the bumps on the outside of the head as the grooves on the inside that count. (The old-time phrenologists to the contrary, not-withstanding.)


Some students have the foolish idea that too much memorizing is bad, but their tendency to avoid the law of repetition is to be deplored. Why study a thing just barely enough to remember it for a few days? Laird, in his splendid book, advocates ” overmemorizing ” and urges that it be made a habit. A few extra repetitions will make the impression sure. ” Overmemorizing is a margin of safety.”

Recency and frequency are two big factors in the use of repetition. Repetition should come soon, within half a day, at most, of the original impression. Repeat frequently at intervals thereafter, as often as necessary to make sure. Remember that repetition is the secret of permanency.


Those who understand the workings of the human mind know that a thing must be repeated many, many times before it finally sticks in the memory of the masses. As Mr. Dooley says, ” I belave anything at all, if ye only tell it to me often enough.” The master advertisers know this. Years ago we first saw the advertisement, ” Uneeda Biscuit,” it was repeated week after week, month after month, in all the leading national advertising mediums and followed up by the more positive suggestion, ” Of course—Uneeda Biscuit,” until the slogan finally ” soaked in “—became fixed in the memory of millions, and the growth of sales was enormous. ” Strong as the rock of Gibraltar,” has been repeatedly drummed into our consciousness, like-wise ” His Master’s Voice,” so many times have we seen these advertisements. The old Oriental systems of memory culture were based almost entirely on the law of repetition. ” The keynote and secret of the Hindu system is small beginnings — gradual increase — and frequent reviews.’”

In the ages before the advent of printing, the most civilized of the ancient peoples trained the mind to carry without omissions or mistakes their sacred teachings and philosophies.

Innumerable repetitions were necessary, so that there might be no errors. Many of these ancient; scholars developed marvelous memories in this way.

Bear this in mind, repetition is absolutely necessary to make memory impressions permanent. In this way we develop the negatives of the memory film pictures we have taken with our mental camera.


The great triumvirate of ancient Rome was never half so invincible as these three great laws: Concentration—Association—Repetition, which form the Triumvirate of the Kingdom of Memory. Every student should use them as powerful allies in his battle for memory supremacy. He is a wise man who works with law, not against it, or without it.






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