How to Get a Photographic Memory: 6 Tips to Become a Better Visual Learner
If you’ve ever met someone with a so-called “photographic memory,” then you know what a superpower this skill can be. Whether it’s remembering phone numbers, grocery lists, or to turn off the lights, a photographic or “eidetic” memory can help in all aspects of your life. In fact, every single memory champion in the world uses a variant of visual memory techniques.
In this article, I will show you how anyone can gain a photographic memory just by practicing a few minutes a day. No brain exercises required!
Last Updated July 2023
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1. Discover your innate photographic memory
When I tell people I teach memory and learning courses, their first response is always the same. “OMG! I need that. I’ve always wished I had a photographic memory.”
Well, I have good news for you: you do! You just don’t know how to use it (yet). As I teach in my SuperLearner program, it turns out that we are all wired for visual memory. Research shows that pictures are much more memorable than other forms of memory. This is thanks to millions of years of evolution, during which visual memory gave us the greatest survival advantage – at least, after smell and taste. This, incidentally, is why we always remember smells and tastes so well!
If you think about it, you don’t remember the exact words you heard on the news during a historical event like September 11th; but, you will never forget the shocking pictures. You will also remember where you were, and what your surroundings looked like.
This is why the first step to developing your visual memory is to acknowledge that you already have one!
2. Improve your memory by visualizing what you want to remember
Now that we know why visual memory is superior, it’s time to put this knowledge to good use. Many students are surprised to find out that my SuperLearner course is almost 70% about improving your memory. Long before diving into speed reading, brain exercises, or brain health, we build a solid foundation by developing short-term memory and the ability to recall. This all starts with improving the way you memorize new information.
Here’s the idea. For anything you want to remember, imprint in your mind’s eye a vivid picture describing that piece of information. At first, this will be tricky. You won’t have the creativity or the techniques to convert many types of information to pictures. Start small. Memorize your grocery list by picturing each of the items. We can all visualize apples, milk, and cereal, right? Now imprint in your mind’s eye exactly how that picture looks. What color? What shape? What size?
Over time, you will develop this skill to the point that you’ll be able to do it without thinking. I remember a friend telling me he was learning Portuguese, and a visual of a map of Brazil popped into my head.
But in order for these mind photos to be memorable, they’re going to have to be unique and creative, which leads me to my third tip.
3. Create novel, unique, outrageous, and connected visualizations
Across my courses, one of the most important things I teach is the idea of making your visualizations memorable. After all, if you begin visualizing everything you want to remember, you’re going to have thousands of pictures floating around in your mind. How do you keep them all straight and remember them all? By making them unique.
Most memory athletes agree that the best way to do this is to make them bizarre. Violent, sexual, or just strange imagery tends to work particularly well. Don’t worry. These visualizations are just for you, so you can feel free to make them as weird as you want.
While you’re at it, try to make these visualizations connect to things you already know. Our brains rank information based on how well it relates to the things we already know and care about. By using images of people, places, or things we already know in our visualizations, we can then increase our likelihood of remembering them. We can “trick” our brains into thinking that these visualizations are important by association.
This is why most memory athletes have set visualizations for specific items. The number 23, for example, might always be Michael Jordan.
Once you’ve become proficient in visualizing these creative, bizarre pictures, it’s time to apply them to a wider range of memory challenges.
4. Expand your skills by converting everything to pictures
I know what you’re thinking. This is all well and good for grocery lists, but what about things like numbers? What about abstract or complex concepts?
For this, you’ll want to learn more advanced techniques for “converting” information into pictures. Then, you can actually use your eidetic memory to memorize anything. These techniques include The Major Method or the “Person Action Object” (PAO) system used by memory competitors. Tools like these, combined with a photographic memory, allow you to memorize dates, phone numbers, credit card numbers – you name it.
5. Take it to the next level with the memory palace technique
If you’re a fan of Sherlock Holmes, you may have already heard of “the memory palace” technique, or “the method of loci.” But guess what? It’s not just fiction! Every single memory athlete and champion has used this one powerful eidetic memory technique for decades. In fact, it’s even believed that the ancient Greeks used it to memorize tomes like The Iliad and The Odyssey.
The basic idea is this. Take the visual mnemonics or “markers” you’ve created, and place them throughout a building you know. This could be your office, your home, or a store you frequent. This serves an additional benefit beyond just organization. These places are already stored in our memory, so adding connections to them strengthens your memory of new information.
You’ll be surprised to discover that your brain is loaded with the layouts of hundreds of different buildings you’ve visited over the years. Our brains do this for the same reason they remember pictures: evolutionary advantage. If you’re a paleolithic caveman or cavewoman, it’s a great idea to remember where you put things, or how to navigate your environment from memory. For this reason, our brains store locations and their layouts automatically; we don’t even have to try. I bet you remember the layout of your parents’ room growing up – even if you haven’t been there in decades. This information is sitting dormant in your brain, waiting to be used. The memory palace technique piggybacks on that infrastructure, using it to enhance and organize your photographic memory.
In my popular TEDx talk, I demonstrate this by using a memory palace to remember the talk, and describing where we are as we go along:
6. Practice, practice, practice
As I mentioned before, you already have an eidetic or photographic memory. It’s always there, memorizing the things that it determines are important. But if you’re not in the habit of using it deliberately, you can’t guarantee that it will memorize the things that you want to remember.
For this reason, the best advice I can give you is to actively use your visual memory in everyday situations. A lot of what we are doing as we train our eidetic memory involves “tricking” our brains into memorizing the things that we want to remember. This is why we visualize. It’s why we make that imagery bizarre. It’s why we create memory palaces. And it’s why we link our visualizations to images we already remember.
This habit takes time, and it won’t come naturally at first. But just remember, if you don’t visualize, you’re unlikely to remember.
So the next time you meet someone, don’t just repeat their name back – practice visualizing it. Picture Mike holding a microphone or suntanning in the hot July sun.
The more you practice, the more this will become second nature. In time, you’ll wake up and realize that you finally have the photographic memory you’ve always wanted!
Once you have a solid foundation of memory, the sky’s the limit. You can build upon that foundation with skills like learning a new language, reading faster, and more.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and learned something you’ll put to good use. To keep learning with me, consider checking out my Become a SuperLearner course. Or, if you’re pressed for time, check out my 5 Day Memory Mastery course also here on Udemy.
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