by Len Horridge


Use the concept of making intentional associations in order to improve memory retention.

We are continually making associations anyway. We make associations between information (of all types) and the environment we are in, between that information and our mental states, and between information and our stream of thoughts.

When things are associated in memory, thinking of one helps bring the other to mind.

Have you ever retraced your path when you have forgotten where you put an object, such as your car key? Often, as you approach the place where you put it, you are suddenly able to remember the act of putting it down on the table or in your briefcase. This is association. The memory of putting the key down was associated with your memory of things in the environment. It was just a matter of finding the right retrieval cue, in this case the environment.

You can make associations work for you by making them intentional. When you are having difficulty recalling new material, you can help bring it to mind by thinking about what you have associated it with. In other words, make it easy to retrace your mental path by leaving vivid clues and signs.


There are a variety of memory systems that make use of association and they fall under the grouping of peg systems. The basic principle is to create a series of pegs in your mind on which to place the thing you want to remember. Access the peg, and you can access the memory connected to it.

Vivid associations

When seeking to memorise something new and unfamiliar, try pairing it with something you know very well, using images, puns or musical cues.


The association does not have to make logical sense. Often, it is associations that are particularly humorous or silly that stay in your mind.

If you need to go out to buy a newspaper, cat food, apples and toilet paper, turn this into a picture! Picture your cat, reading a newspaper, sitting on a toilet, under an apple tree. Okay, it’s a rather bizarre image, but it’s one that will stick!

Some people remember names this way. For example, they may remember the name ‘Robert Green’ by picturing Robert playing golf (on the green), wearing green clothes or covered in green paint (see Remembering names).

Make your images 3D, with bright colours and movement, and add a touch of humour! Turn them into a story if the sequence of the information is important.

Look at the topic on Creative Thinking if you want help with letting loose your innate creativity.

Self association

One way to process information more deeply, and also to create meaningful associations, is to think about how the information can be personally meaningful.

You might think about how the new material relates to your life, your experience, or your goals. If you can link new information to memories already stored (mental hooks or pegs), you’ll have more cues to help you recall the new material.