When I’m running out of the house for a gallon of milk and eggs and one of my kids says, “Oh, Mom, we also need peanut butter,” they are used to me responding with “One run purple racehorse…”
My ex-father-in-law taught me this memory trick over 20 years ago, and I still use it almost daily. He told me he learned it at a Dale Carnegie workshop, and I believe him, but any search I come up with on the web doesn’t mention purple racehorses, so I’m going to tell you the way I do it.
I think the easiest way to tell it would be by example. Let’s say you have to run for the store for five items, and you don’t want to make a written list for just five items. Those items are eggs, milk, toilet paper, ground beef, and laundry detergent. The first thing you have to do is link each item with its number on the list. First, we have one, which rhymes with run, so we picture a purple racehorse. You want to picture something kind of outrageous, so it’ll stick in your memory (you also want to keep the base memory, or “peg”, in this case the purple racehorse, the same every time you use the method). Make it vivid and with movement and sound, if you can. Now picture that purple race with eggs. Maybe it’s running on eggs, making a mess as its hooves hit the eggs and yolk and white splatter everywhere. Hear the pounding of the hooves almost, but not quite, drowning out the crack of the egg shells. Got a good visual? Good.
Now we’ll move on to number two. Two rhymes with zoo, so we’ll picture a bunch of monkeys. The second item on our list is milk, so we’ll picture the monkeys playing with gallons of milk. They are throwing them around their monkey cage, and some are breaking open, spilling milk everywhere! Take a second to implant this in your memory, and move on.
Three rhymes with tree. Now, I picture a big, picturesque apple tree sort of tree, but you could use a Christmas tree if you prefer. I would picture the tree as if someone had TP’d it, even wrapping the trunk with it. It’s almost completely covered with toilet paper, with just a few bits of green peeking out here and there. And now that is set in my memory.
Four rhymes with door, and I picture a big, rough-hewn dungeon door, although any door that is distinct enough for you would work. Now I visualize the ground beef getting stuck in the door, and oozing out underneath. It’s really yucky, but I’m not going to forget it!
Five rhymes with hive, so I visualize a bunch of bees flying, each carrying the item in question (unless the item itself suggests some other action than carrying). In this case, I picture them carrying big ol’ jugs of laundry detergent, and I hear them buzzing with the strain, their little cartoon-like bee faces turning red.
Now, the cool part of this is it takes just a few minutes to permanently memorize the rhyming “peg” for the number. After that, you can use this any time, anywhere, and it only takes as long as it takes to list the items to memorize them. And it works in both directions – if you asked me, “What number was toilet paper?” I’d immediately picture the tp wrapped around the tree and know it was number three. If you said, “What was number 2?” those monkeys come immediately to mind and I know that #2 is milk.
Here are the rest of the numbers, up to 9. I know it can be done up to 21, but I never learned past 9, and honestly, if I need to remember 10 things, it’s time to get out an index card and write them down.
One: run: purple racehorse
Two: zoo: a bunch of monkeys
Five: hive: a bunch of bees
Six: Stick: a big, sticky stick
Seven: Heaven: golden stairs and pearly gates
Eight: Gate: a rusty, squeaky gate
Nine: wine: a romantic table setting
I hope this trick helps someone else. It’s been an absolute wonder in my life, and it really works for me.
This post is linked to: Works for Me Wednesday