How to Visualize Images & Make Them Unforgettable

Learning how to visualize images vividly is the most important aspect of any visual memorization technique.

Not only that, it is the most fun!

Visualizing images is how you can be creative and transform your mundane study material into something magical.

For example, instead of rote memorizing Martin Van Buren as the 8th President of the United States, you can visualize a martian in a burning van.

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So much more fun.

The ways in which each image is visualized slightly changes depending on the strategy used and the material being learned, but the general concept is to take unmemorable material and turn it into an unforgettable image.

Despite what you may think, you already have an innate ability to remember an obscene number of images and details about a situation.

Picture your college dorm room, apartment, or house and walk through it in your mind.

Without much thought, you can visualize the exact color and position of most of pieces of your furniture and other decorations.

However, these are places you are very familiar with.

If you try to use locations you aren’t as familiar with or start implanting foreign images at these locations (one of the strategies), you may have difficulty.

Many people have difficulty translating facts they are trying to memorize into a memorable image, especially when first starting out.

Therefore, I’ve put together this handy list you can use each time you are memorizing something to ensure your images are the most memorable they can be.


How to Visualize so you Don’t Forget

1. Include as Many Senses as Possible

Including sound, smell, and feeling in your visual images will make them unforgettable.

Your objective is to create a scenario that is as vivid and real in your mind as possible.

If you are imagining yourself sitting on a Caribbean beach don’t just picture the beach, smell the ocean as you taste the cocktail you are drinking and feel the sand between your toes and the wind on your face.

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The more senses you include in your image the more real it will become and the easier it will be for your brain to hook onto the memory when you are trying to retrieve it.

2. Include Action in Your Pictures

Don’t just picture an object standing there, include action of some sort between the elements of your picture.

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The action can be anything from walking to swinging a baseball bat.

As long as it is a discernible action it will help.

You will remember your images much easier if you add motion to them.

3. Visualize Images as Unique and as Crazy as Possible

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Sex, violence, and drugs tend to be great ways to do this.

We’re learning how to visualize, not socially acceptable etiquette.

What’s in your head is in your head.

You won’t have to tell your best friend you picture her with glue stuck in her hair to memorize Glutamine, an amino acid for your biology test!

Many things can be done to turn a normal image into something vivid.

Here are some examples:

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  • Make it enormous
  • Mutilate it (let it burn baby)
  • Add monsters
  • Add aliens or things that don’t exist in real life like walking, talking couches
  • Make it sexual
  • Make it vulgar or violent

4. Use Vivid Color

You tend to remember images that have distinct color to them, especially if the color isn’t the image’s normal color.

Brighter colors stick out more than darker colors.

Try to give images unnatural colors, like a pink horse instead of a brown one.

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5. Pay Close Attention to Detail

The more detail you include in your visualizations the easier they will be to recall.

If you glance over them like a blur, you will never remember them.

When you are visualizing an image, focus on the specifics.

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What is the image made of?

What color is it?

How does it smell?

Pay close attention to how the images are oriented in relation to each other.

Several strategies use the positioning of objects to dictate the order in which they occur.

For instance, if two objects are interacting the object on the left may be the first item in a list and the object on the right may be the second.

6. Use Emotions

Maybe you’re picturing the poor alien getting burned in the van.

Associate that image with the pain you feel when you put your hand on a hot stove (everyone’s done it).

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If you can implant an emotion or a feeling and associate it with your images, you will significantly increase your chances of remembering it.

7. Connect the Images

If you are memorizing a list of items, connecting two of the images together helps you remember the next item in the sequence.

If your first image was a garden hose and your second image was a bumblebee, you could create some wacky image of bumblebees flying out of the garden hose.

Water is flying everywhere and the water lands all over the bumblebees.

The bumblebee aren’t dry, they just got soaked by the hose.

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If you forget the first word, garden hose, picturing the soaking wet bumblebee connects bumblebees to garden hose.

It will make it much easier to recall.

There are times when you might want to go through a list backwards.

Connecting the hose and the bumblebee by the water makes it that much easier to go backwards instead of forwards.

Connecting images is a very powerful tool, and in fact, there is an entire memory technique based on this concept.

Chapter 4 will discuss connecting images in great detail.

8. Eyes Open or Closed, it Doesn’t Matter

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There’s been a lot of research on this topic, but none of it is conclusive one way or another.

Like anything, you have a preference, so stick with it.

You will likely find it difficult to visualize with your eyes open at first, so start with eyes closed!

As you get better at visualizing you may be able to start opening your eyes.

You may find it difficult to picture images in great detail, or you can’t focus on a single image because your mind is racing with other images.

Don’t worry, this is fairly common.

You just need a little practice.

It’s like going to the gym for the first time, it’s rough and it sucks.

But, with a little work, your muscles start to get used to it.

Just like working out your muscles, you can work out your brain.

If you need some practice, try each of these exercises at the bottom of the article once a day.

In a week or two you should notice your images much more clearly and you should be able to focus much better.

Translating Words to Visuals


Associating new information with information your already know is the key to really memorizing something.

This is one of the hardest aspects of visual memory techniques.

It’s difficult to find the creativity to come up with memorable images that represent abstract concepts or very complex words.

Nouns and verbs are generally easy because inherently there is already an object and action associated.

But what about something abstract like a math formula or a foreign language?

There are a couple of common methods you can follow to help you translate words into images.

1. Use Similar Words


You can convert any piece of information, concept or word, to something familiar by breaking down the sounds that make up the word and then thinking of memorable images of the parts.

Visualizing images that are similar to the sound or meaning of the word is one way to create images.

If you were trying to memorize all of the bones in the body, Scapula and Pelvis would be quite difficult to conjure up memorable images for.

Instead, you can break them down and use sound-a-like words.

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Scapula and spatula are almost identical, so you can use a spatula as an image to represent the more complicated Scapula.

With Pelvis, the immediate thing that comes to my mind is Elvis, which rhymes with Pelvis.

I would picture Elvis singing to remember Pelvis.

The most successful way this technique works is if you break down the words phonetically (by sound) and not by spelling.

2. Use Associated Words


Often times there isn’t a word that relates well enough phonetically to the word you are trying to remember.

In that event, you can use images that remind you of the word in question.

For instance, Alaska sounds “I’ll ask her” (“uh-las-kuh”) if you break down the word.

“I’ll ask her” is very abstract and difficult to associate an image to, so instead, we can use an image that represents Alaska.

When I think of Alaska, I think of Eskimos in their igloos.

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The Eskimo represents the harsh winters of Alaska, which is easier than breaking down the word.

Word associations could be anything that you immediately think of when you think of a word.

If you are trying to remember to go to the ballet show you purchased tickets for and you immediately associate Ellen Degeneres with dancing, use her dancing instead of breaking down the word phonetically.

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3. Use Stressed Syllables


Cmarbidge did a sdtuy taht swohs the oerdr of leetrts in a wrod do not mettar, olny the frsit and lsat ltteers mtater.

Dspeite this scteenne bnieg tltoaly out of oredr, you can sitll raed it.

This profound research opens some insight into how the brain works when you read sentences.

Their study showed that the human mind doesn’t read every letter in a sentence, it tends to only read the first and last.

Similarly, if you focus only on the stressed syllables of words, your brain is able to remember unstressed syllables without much effort.

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This has two huge implications.

The first is that you can greatly reduce your efforts and focus your time on a small portion of the word to remember the entire thing.

This is excellent for science or medical related material and foreign languages.

Second, if you are learning a foreign language focusing on the stress of the syllables will help you pronounce vocabulary accurately.

This is such a huge point that I’ve dedicated an entire series of posts entirely on learning a foreign language.

Here are some examples using the bones of the human body.

The stressed syllables have been bolded to highlight the only portion of the word you would need to associate images with to memorize the whole word.

CLAVicle
SCAPula
HUMerus
RADius
ULna
feMUR
patELLA
TIBia
FIBula
CRANium
MANDible
STERnum

If you wanted to memorize Patella, by focusing only on the stressed syllable, all you have to memorize is “ELLA”.

You can do this any number of ways.

Perhaps you imagine the letter “L” walking and talking.

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If a word has more than one syllable and you can incorporate an image to represent it “smoothly and naturally” then include it.

For example, you can visualize a baker stirring a bowl of number soup to memorize Sternum (stir-num).

Adding the syllable “num” to your picture is very simple and smooth.

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How to Practice Visualizing


It’s time to practice.

The more you work at being creative, the more memorable your images will become.

Start simple, then move to more complex visualization tasks.

Exercise 1

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Take a simple object like an apple and observe it for one minute, absorbing as much detail about its shape, color, smell, and how it feels.

Then, close your eyes and reproduce the picture in your mind with as much detail as possible.

Push out all of the other images that try to force their way in, only focus on the object.

If you are able to hold the image in your mind, start to rotate it and twist it around imagining how it looks from every angle.

Exercise 2

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Look around the room you are currently in and observe it for one minute.

Close your eyes and reproduce the entire room in as much detail as you can.

Picture yourself standing in the middle of the room.

You are the person in the middle of the room.

Rotate 360 degrees and as you rotate imagine how all of the objects in the room move with your movement.

Exercise 3

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Look around the room you are currently in and observe it for one minute.

Close your eyes and reproduce the entire room in as much detail as you can.

Move around the room and picture how everything shifts with your movement.

Interact with a couple of objects in the room using all of your senses.

Pick objects up and experience how they feel.

Take a bite of some food off your kitchen counter and feel the sensations in your mouth as you chew it.

Turn your TV on and listen to your favorite show.

Exercise 4

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Visualize the room you are in and add strange and crazy scenarios to each object.

Maybe your couch starts on fire.

A family of killer bees breaks a window and flies through it and steals your TV.

Your lamp post can move and it walks around the room doing martial arts.

When you do this, keep in mind the 7 visualization techniques: include as many senses as possible, include action, make the images crazy, use vivid colors, use as much detail as possible, and use emotions.

Exercise 5

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Draw pictures of your imagination.

Stop.

Before you totally skip this exercise, here’s a picture I drew of a martian in a burning van.

As you can see, I’m no artist.

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It’s totally fine if your drawings look like kid renderings, just keep them to yourself or people might think you are crazy.

In all seriousness, it works.

You will have a very difficult time forgetting the pictures you draw even if you want to.

You just finished Chapter 2. Congratulations! Now it’s time to dig into the visual memory techniques that will allow you to remember anything. First up is a method called the Peg System. I’m going to show you exactly how to use the Peg System and how you can use it in your everyday life.


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