How do you think?

There’s a lot of thinking going on this week on this here blog. After today it stops. Right?

Well anyway. I was thinking about thinking last week and specifically how we think and remember things. When I do the odd bit of study for my Law degree and attend lectures, the only way I recall things is visualising the “story” I’ve read and heard about. Writing it down is all well and good but the text is only the crib notes for the visual masterpiece that I see in my brain when I commit it to memory.

I’d never put much thought into how I thought about things and how I remembered things but when i did some research (yeah I Googled) I found that visual thinking isn’t very common. So I asked people on Twitter how people thought. The answers varied wildly. How interesting.

Today is Leaving Cert results day with people doing really well and not so well and breaking down after years in the grind of trying to commit things to memory and then bringing them back and putting them down on paper. What ways did they do this? How do they put that information in and take it back out?

pain chart
Photo owned by gbSk (cc)

Do you see images? I see full in-depth movies with colour and wonderful layers if I have to recall facts about legal cases, I see the colour of uniforms, wonderful diamond encrusted rings and dark wooden floored barren houses when it comes to cases about the Law of Property. I see ginger beer and taste it and my stomach slightly turns at seeing a snail inside the bottle when I think about the Law of Tort.

As I mentioned in this blog post, I look like I’m daydreaming or switched off when I’m paying full attention. I guess I am daydreaming in a way.

What works for you? How does your brain work?

20 Responses to “How do you think?”

  1. John Braine says:

    I have a terrible memory have studied memory techniques using visual images in place of numbers. Combined with a peg system it works quite well. It’s called the…deep breath… SEM3 (Self enhancing master memory matrix).

    I wrote about it in more detail here if you’re interested:

  2. Darren says:

    My memory doesn’t seem to work right at all. I have no system, which may have something to do with it.

    When it comes to studying, I kind of picture the page I studied (so, handwritten mind maps work quite well), but I don’t think I actually picture the scene or story. That sounds like a lot of work. Do you do it naturally, yeah?

    Mostly, when I try to remember something specific, I hit a road block. I need some sort of trigger. Once my brain is triggered though, I can remember the tiniest detail about the topic. It’s messy and unpredictable. I should probably look into Mr Braine’s memory technique.

  3. Damien says:

    @John Interesting, will check that out

    @Darren Nope, comes naturally, no technique.

  4. MJ says:

    Stream of consiousness meets endless loops and connections, mixed in with a bit of breathless Roadrunner on speed. A muddle. Which turns into a spider diagram which I then have to number so that I get some sort of sequential order to things. It’s fun inside my head. The pictsies love it.

  5. Darren says:

    @Damien Damn you, Brainbox boy! πŸ™‚

  6. Gordon says:

    Pictures work for me. I often picture where I was when I had an idea or reading some material. It often happens that I have a mental picture (in black and white for some reason) of the view of the road outside my car window. I have a lot of ideas while driving looking out the car window (The front window, not the side window) probably cause its time away from the computer and I can’t do anything else.

    Smell apparently has a lot to do with recallso always bring something interesting to smell and sniff it later on to recall the events.

  7. As a study aid I visualise a room full of furniture and assign a subject to each piece. Making visual connections with abstract ideas is a great way to remember them. You just mentally walk into that room, look at the furniture and it comes back to you.
    When I was studying for my degree I’d print photos of the main thinkers I’d be answering questions on, then break their theories into 3-4 main headings from which various other subheadings would spring. The walls would soon be covered in foolscap and postits but I could see it in my head in exams and just follow the branches. Again, having the face to go with the name as a starting point meant I’d a visual cue from which I could remember other things. And I don’t naturally have a great memory.

  8. 73man says:

    I have no special technique for remembering but I can highly recommend a few weeks with a couch and a good psychotherapist for remembering stuff you don’t want to and is of little use to anyone but yourself. That is all.

  9. I’m not sure really. When I’m presented with new information I either absorb it straight away (most of the time) or else it sinks in slowly (if I find it unique or complex). Generally I’ll stop talking and just be silent for a while when the latter happens. Sometimes it can take hours, days or even weeks for me to process something like that. More a subconscious thing

    I like reading text and being able to doodle on it. Condensing it down and summarising it. I can think visually but I don’t do it as my preferred method. Sometimes emotions over run my thought. I’m not sure if it is intuitive or not.

  10. SinΓ©ad says:

    I tend to remember bullet points pretty well. If I write things in a list I’ll normally remember how many items were on the list and also the letters it starts with.

    Being able to visualise everything sounds amazing. I can visualise pages and pictures that I’ve looked at with pretty good recall but nothing compared to your imagery!

  11. I see everything in patterns and have to turn them into simpler patterns… I remember stuff so long as I’m not trying too hard to actually remember the info(eg. couldn’t remember any answers for my business studies exam) but most the time I’ve a pretty impressive memory (can quote articles I’ve read about the 70s NY Punk scene word for word several years after reading them)

  12. Steve says:

    To be honest, I use different means. My main technique is to take a mind-photo of the page im studying for a few moments and keep different sections apart. That way when remembering I can picture the page and then remember the content of that section.

    I also use the abbrev technique whereby for bullit points i form a story or saying. Then i have the initial of each bullit point and this helps remember.

    Finally, I read something, lie back and visualise it in a diagram or flowchart form. If certain things dont flow, I make them.

  13. Mike says:

    If I need to memorise an access code for example I visualise the sequence path of the numbers if possible or memorise by association with places ,bus number etc
    I reckon if you exercise your brain regularly it helps your memory
    Designing a blog is great exercise

  14. Trinity says:

    Do you think because you write? or write because you think? πŸ™‚

    Me… I’m like Johnny Mneumonic, I can carry nearly eighty gigs of data in my head πŸ™‚

    I’m a visual tinker mostly, I mean thinker! I think way too much and have an excellent photographic memory. If I’m studying or reading something, I visualise that page in my head, sometimes I may read it aloud.

    I am, therefore I think really!

  15. Ronan Lupton says:


    I have excellent photo recall when dealing with relatively complex issues, but always found that for law and certain management subjects (where volumes of data had to be retained, I needed to hone other techniques).

    So …..

    I did a course in speed reading and memory techniques with Sean M. Kelly his main TLD seems not to be working, but the blog is good. Taught me quite a lot.

    I found speed reading effective after practice. Memory pegs too, but my main success rates were with mind maps. Sean was a champ memory man.

    As you know I am about to finish the BL course and the amount of legislation, cases, times, orders etc can be daunting. Use of left and right brain in tandem is most useful and affective.


  16. @Damien I remember stuff visually like you. I’m extremely lucky (and it is luck) that I’ve always had an great memory. It gives you a great advantage when you’re considering all the angles to make a decision.
    The more of the “picture” you can see the better your deceision will be.
    I’ve tried the cramming method with bullet points etc. for exams and it works but only lasts for a day for me. I need the story, and even better if I tell the story to someone else it’ll be imprinted for ever.
    Isn’t the human imagination amazing?

  17. Jo says:

    This is fascinating. I love your movies Damien, but sadly I can’t begin to work out how I’d apply it.

    Bullet pointing works for me too – and then when I have to reproduce it I brainstorm it then sort it back out into headings, topic sentences and bullet point the content of them. And then I force all my students to do that too, if they won’t work out what works for them πŸ™‚

    Most imprtant, I need to be writing, to write it down, watch the word spill out from the pen, that solidifies them in my head.

    I love the picture ideas though, the furniture and the pictures on the wall.

  18. Philippe Soum says:

    Could anyone help me with Major System pegs beyong 100.
    I mean picture words for number 101 till 999.


  19. John Braine says:

    Philipe, that list is in the Tony Buzan’s book, “Use Your Memory”.

  20. Philippe Soum says:

    Hi John,

    I have checked that list in “Use your memory” but many of those words I
    can’t understand and can’t remember easily. Do you have a simpler list.