The PAO System: Remembering Like a Memory Champion

Before we discuss the PAO System, take a moment and reflect on the former chapters.

Each of the strategies we have discussed uses techniques to take either numbers or lists of items and transforms them in a memorable image.

All of the strategies use some sort of peg, whether its an actual object, like the Peg System, or a location in a memory palace, like the Journey Method.

In each system a single object or location is associated with a single item that needs to be remembered.

That’s pretty inefficient if you think about it.

If cars were created to only hold a single person and you and your wife were going to your child’s sporting event, you would all have to take a separate car.

PAO System 1

It doesn’t make sense then, to only memorize a single item at a single location in a memory palace or with a single peg, does it?

There are 206 bones in the human body.

That’s 206 locations you would need if you were trying to memorize them inefficiently.

If your palace had 10 locations per room it would take 21 rooms to remember them all (bet your house only has about 10-15).

What if, instead of 21 rooms you only needed 7?

You wouldn’t have to spend so much time defining memory palace locations or pegs.

With the PAO System, if those 206 items were numbers, you would actually only need about 3.5 rooms.

206 items is pretty elementary.

This is the exact system professional memorizers use to memorize thousands upon thousands of numbers and items in a row.


What is the PAO System?


The Person-Action-Object System (PAO System) is a method used to combine numbers that need to be remembered into a single image.

It was originally designed for numbers, but I’m going to show you how it can easily be adapted to anything.

For numbers, the system works like this:

Numbers 00 through 99 are associated to a person, an action and an object.

For instance, number 15 might be Albert Einstein pouring chemicals into a flask.

PAO System 2

The number 54 might be Ellen DeGeneres dancing with a cane.

PAO System 3

The number 39 might be Chuck Norris round house kicking a flower pot.

PAO System 4

To memorize the sequence 541539, we create a single image using the person, action, and object of each two digit number.

The person for 54 is Ellen DeGeneres, the action for 15 is ‘pouring’ and the object for 39 is a flowerpot.

The single image would be Ellen DeGeneres pouring water into a flowerpot.

PAO System 5

As long as you know the PAO to image associations, this single image represents six numbers!

That’s extremely efficient compared to what we have learned before.

This strategy is used in conjunction with a memory palace and the Journey Method.

You would still encode this image at a single location in your memory palace, but with this example, it’s 6x more efficient than the strategy we learned before.

The example above is a 2-digit PAO system (each image represents two numbers).

There are some people, like professional memorizers, that have 3-digit systems.

For comparison, in a 3-digit system, a single image represents 9 numbers instead of 6.

Using the PAO System


The images in the previous example weren’t random at all.

They were specifically chosen based on a set of criteria.

In the (2-digit) PAO System, every pair of digits from 00 to 99 is encoded with a person.

To perform the encoding, each digit from 0 to 9 is associated with a letter.

Here are the number-letter associations.

Number 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0
Mnemonic A B C D E S G H N O

This table should be fairly straightforward to memorize.

The first five numbers are the first five letters of the alphabet.

Six starts with ‘S’ (F is skipped), and seven and eight are the seventh and eighth letters in the alphabet.

Zero looks like ‘O’ and to make the series consistent, ‘N’ is the letter before ‘O’, so it represents nine.

So the images to represent 541539 weren’t random at all, they were specifically chosen.

Each 2-digit number are the initials of a person.

Ellen DeGeneres (ED = 54)
Albert Einstein (AE = 15)
Chuck Norris (CN = 39)

Each 2-digit number is associated with a person.

That person is performing some action and that action is being done with or onto an object.

It’s better if the action and object can be easily associated with an individual, for instance, everyone knows Chuck Norris for his round-house kick.

PAO System 6

So, to use the PAO System to memorize numbers, you need to create a person, action, and object association for every two-digit number from 00 to 99.

I’m not going to lie, this is a lot of work because you need to not only create your list, but it needs to be memorized.

No one said memorizing like a memory champion was going to be easy.

Fortunately, tons of people use this system, so lists of people you can pick from already exist.

All you have to do is chose the ones that make the most sense to you.

What you will find is most people use the initials as loose interpretations, meaning they don’t need to be exact.

For instance, 80 = HO, and instead of coming up with these initials, many people use Santa Claus because he goes Ho, Ho, Ho.

Many people also use fictional characters (like the names of actors’ and actresses’ characters in television or movies) instead of actual people themselves.

Adapting the PAO System to Lists


As we saw with numbers, the power of the PAO System lies within its ability to compress information into easy-to-remember chunks (one car instead of 3 cars!).

PAO System 7

The letter-number associations and the premise of the PAO System typically revolve around numbers, but the same type of strategy can be applied to a standard list of items.

With lists and objects, instead of a single crazy image being stored in a single location of a memory palace, a ‘story’ is stored.

Earlier I eluded to the fact that memorizing all 206 bones in the human body would take only seven rooms in a house with the PAO System vs 21 rooms with the standard memory palace.

Why is it three times less?

Because we can apply the same strategies discussed for numbers to lists.

But, instead of a person doing an action on an object, we have an item in a list interacting with a second item, and a third item.

It’s essentially a combination between the Link Method and the Journey Method.

For each location on your journey, instead of memorizing a single image and linking it to the next location to create a story, take three images and create a story in a single location.

This will make your memory palace 3x more efficient.

Final Thoughts about the PAO System


The PAO System is likely the most powerful systems in existence to memorize numbers.

The world records I’ve cited throughout these chapters show how powerful it really is.

Keep in mind that this strategy cannot be learned overnight.

It requires dedicated practice to truly master it.

For anyone who just wants to remember a small series of numbers, your better off learning the Peg System or the Major System.

There is another big downside to this system: you don’t have nearly as much creativity as the previously mentioned systems.

In my opinion, half the fun about memorizing is being able to come up with the craziest scenarios.

With the PAO System, the people, objects, and actions already defined for you.

There is little room for your own ideas, which can make it difficult to remember images at times.

I realize that almost no one reading this article will actually implement this system.

There are very few people that legitimately need to memorize thousands of numbers in a row (unless for some reason you enjoy doing so).

This chapter was written to show how all of the strategies are related, are different, and how you can make your own strategy more efficient.

You finished Chapter 9. Congratulations! You now have a solid foundation for applying these techniques to memorize anything you want. One complaint I here frequently is that developing and practicing your own system takes more time than rote memorizing the material.

You need to think of these strategies as techniques you can apply at any time for the rest of your life.

But, to some extent, I can acknowledge that complaint.

Therefore, the dedication of the rest of this website will be to take specific topics and apply these strategies to them.

They will build a foundation that you can easily learn to master whatever subject you want.

I invite you to continue reading, and if you have suggests on topics you want covered, leave them in the comments.

Thanks for reading!


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