The Ultimate Guide to the Link and Story Methods
Are you confused by the link method and the story method?
Seriously, the sheer number of definitions is enough to make your mind melt.
Well, never fear. On this page, I’m going to do my best to reduce the confusion.
Because the reality is this:
Linking and the use of stories to help you learn faster and remember more are tied at the hip.
But… each has its own superpower. And it’s the differences between them and how you apply the right mnemonic device in the right situation that matters.
So if you want to know how to memorize a story so you can learn faster, or want to leave the narrative aspect behind and go for pure linking, this training is for you.
Here’s what this post will cover:
What Is The Linking Method?
A link is literally part of a chain. If you have a gold necklace, for example, each loop links to the next one until the circle is completed by a clasp.
When it comes to memory techniques, a link is the element we use to help us create an association that “triggers” information we want to remember.
In many memory courses and books, linking is described in terms of a chain. Everyone from Bruno Furst to Harry Lorayne presents it this way.
For example, in some memory trainings, the memory expert will give you a list of words like:
They will suggest that you:
- Create an image that reminds you of the first word in the chain, and
- “Link” the next word to the first.
For example, you would imagine that the hero uses a drill on a spacecraft that is blasting out music.
This way of using linking sounds a bit like a story, doesn’t it?
If so, then it is the story that is doing the linking.
And no doubt, having a narrative to think back to is helpful in recalling the list. It also has a weakness though. If you can’t remember how the story started, or a link in your chain goes “missing,” then your hopes of remembering the list quickly falls apart.
When Is This Version Of The Link Method Helpful?
Do you want the truth?
I really don’t know. It’s up for you to practice it and use it in different situations.
What I can tell you is that I rarely if ever use it this way. I don’t memorize random words for no reason, and I personally think it’s a shame memory books use such examples.
Really, the only time you need to memorize random words is when it’s actually not that random. I’m talking about when you go shopping and need to get tomatoes, carrots, celery, and bread. In such a case, it does make sense to see a tomato stabbing celery and bread with a carrot.
But why waste time on memorizing such a list when you could just write it down? If you’re going to memorize your shopping list, at least get a bang for your buck by memorizing it in a foreign language.
That extra step will give you practice so you can memorize complex terms, like medical definitions, more foreign language vocabulary, and names for new people you meet or important people you learn about.
The Ultimate Linking Supplement: Spatial Linking
The Memory Palace technique – sometimes called the Method of Loci or the Roman Room Method – is the ultimate link for a few reasons.
First, let’s think about that necklace again.
Rather than using a memory system where your links must provide both the connection and the trigger for the target information, the Memory Palace lets you divide the two things.
So imagine a necklace with eight links. That’s like a Memory Palace with two rooms. In each room, you simply use the four corners in each.
(Of course, you can make much bigger Memory Palaces with many more Magnetic Stations, but let’s just keep it simple for the sake of explanation.)
Now what you’ve done is created a no-brainer, easy-to-follow journey with rooms as the linking structure. Then, you can place your hero on or near corner one of your Memory Palace. That hero is linked to the space itself and you don’t need to “link” it to the drill on the next corner.
NOTE: I call these corners “Magnetic Stations.” I use this term for two reasons:
First, it’s like each place in the Memory Palace has a fridge and my associations are like a fridge magnet. I can then use the imagery to stick information I want to memorize in place, just like I would store concert tickets in real life.
Second, magnets have the ability to repel certain things. For example, when I use this kind of linking, my mind pushes away all the distractions. I’m focused just on the information on hand.
Now, this doesn’t mean I can’t have the hero and the drill interact. If it’s useful to do so, the hero can move from the first corner to the second. But I’d rather have some kind of image that is working to help me memorize the word “hero” first before moving on to the next word.
My “link” for that word would drill into the word itself, leading to the use of something like a favorite superhero eating a Hershey chocolate bar in a weird way before blowing a smoke ring. I explain more here:
Now, there is a story element going on here, but it is not the story method of such. Rather, it’s more like having a vignette on each and every station of the Memory Palace.
The real benefit of the Memory Palace as a base or meta-linking structure is how it helps with recall. You don’t have to think back to how the story started. You can think back to where you placed the first link, which gives you two chances to kickstart your list of associations.
Link Method Examples That Will Make Your Memory Pop
There are potentially millions of examples one could give.
The problem is this:
In 90 BCE, the unknown author of Rhetorica Ad Herennium warned against weakening students by giving too many examples. It counsels the teacher of memory to give only a few so that students quickly learn to create their own. It’s like the old saying goes: Teach people to fish so they can feed themselves.
I actually think we need to take it further:
Teach people to fish, hunt, and farm so they can eat whatever they want. Eating fish every day is boring!
Jokes aside, here are some of the best blog posts on my site that are packed with mnemonic examples:
In addition to the best coming from your own efforts, great mnemonic examples are the ones that:
- Connect with multi-sensory levels of your imagination
- Come from your personal experiences with people, locations and pop culture
- Dig into the alphabet based on the “hero” example I gave above
Why is the alphabet so crucial?
The answer is simple:
It’s the ultimate necklace! Think about it: A-Z is a pre-memorized set of “locations”.
So if you want to always have “links” ready to go, get out a piece of paper and write out associations for each letter of the alphabet. Like this:
Z = Zorro
Y = Yankovich (Weird Al)
X = Xylophone
W = Weathervane
Go for a mixture of objects and people.
Ideally, all of your objects will connect with people or places in some way. For example, I don’t just think of a weathervane in an abstract way. I’m thinking specifically about the weathervane used as a weapon in the movie Warlock.
Likewise, with Zorro. I think specifically of Antonio Banderas’ performance of this character. That was particularly important when I was learning German, a language packed with Z words.
For example, “zerbrechlich” means “fragile.” I simply saw Banderas as Zorro at a Berlin movie theatre with a few other images to help me memorize the sound and meaning of this word.
The next steps are to make sure the “links” are multi-sensory and then add some more German words. 5-10 at a time in a single Memory Palace is a decent sweet spot, though some people can memorize many more.
It’s just a matter of:
- Thoroughly studying the techniques
- Preparing your Memory Palaces and images in advance
- Practicing through consistent application
What Is The Story Method?
So far, we’ve seen that story elements play into every variation of the link method.
But you can also:
- Use stories themselves as sources for a Memory Palace
- Memorize stories using story structure
Using A Story To Memorize
In the first case, you’d be taking locations from novels and movies and using them to create a Memory Palace. For example, at the beginning of The Name of the Rose, we meet Adso in his chamber.
Even without the movie version to show us an image of Adso where he sleeps, we can imagine a medieval bedroom. Since most rooms have four walls, we can use them as a Memory Palace.
To use this version of the story method, pick a movie or novel and make an inventory of locations you can remember. Ideally, you work based not on every little last detail — instead, work with just what comes naturally to mind.
For example, in The Matrix, I readily remember:
- The hotel
- Neo’s apartment
- The dance club
- The interrogation room
- The desert of the real
- The bridge of Morpheus’ ship
- Neo’s chamber
- The Oracle’s waiting room
- The Oracle’s kitchen
- The subway
- The hallway with the final showdown between Neo and Agent Smith
While I was writing the list, I remembered even more, such as the street with the woman in the red dress, the dojo, and more. Just going through one movie makes for incredible memory exercise!
To use this version of the story method, mentally arrange these locations to suit your learning project. Using the chronological order we see them in the movie makes the most sense, but you could also arrange them alphabetically or in whatever way feels right for you.
Next, start to “link” your information inside the story. Now, unlike your home, this kind of Memory Palace comes “pre-loaded” with all kinds of imagery to work with.
For example, if you want to memorize a phrase like meliora sequimur. This is the Latin motto for Brisbane, which means, “We aim for better things.”
You can take the mess hall on Morpheus’ ship and have Mouse complain about the “meal’s aura” “meliora” and have a giant second-hand from a clock ticking over his head. From there, you have many choices.
However, you can probably already tell… The story memory technique is not the greatest method for speed, efficiency, or even effectiveness.
I haven’t talked to every memory expert under the sun, but so far I don’t know anyone who works this way — though Idriz Zogaj mentions something like this when speaking about a memory competitor he knows, but the explanation is second hand and therefore a bit vague.
That said, a close parallel is the use of video games. I’ve used Donkey Kong and have heard of people using the Legend of Zelda, Skyrim, and all kinds of fantasy locations to help them learn faster and remember more. It’s really up to you to learn and practice the techniques.
How to Memorize a Story
Now, you’re probably thinking I’m going to suggest the Memory Palace technique.
But before we talk about memorizing stories, we need to consider:
What exactly is it that we want to memorize from or of the story?
- Do you want to recite a story verbatim?
- Do you want to recite the highlights?
If it’s just the central points of the story, then here’s what I suggest: Memorize story architecture instead.
Most stories worth memorizing are built like this:
- The hero is haunted by something from the past
- The hero experiences a conflict between their conscious desires and unconscious needs
- The hero struggles with some kind of social force (like a job they hate)
- The hero encounters a dilemma and needs to act but has no easy solution
- The hero faces a crisis that demands a decision — and they usually have to take the least likable solution
- The hero needs allies or has to learn some kind of skill
- The hero meets an enemy and has a battle
- The hero defeats the enemy, usually be learning something that dissolves the conflict between the conscious desire and unconscious need
- The hero’s victory resolves into a better world
Obviously, there are endless variations and other potential plot points, such as the call to adventure and refusal of the call.
The point is that when you know the basic plot structures, all stories become instantly easier to memorize. Because you can see the skeleton, the tendons and muscle on the surface settle into your memory with much greater ease.
Story Method Examples
Personally, I’ve used my deeply internalized knowledge of story structure in many ways.
For example, when I tell people about how a story went, I can unfold the details pretty much as they happened because I simply follow the configuration of plot details. I was also a film studies professor for a number of years, so that helped.
But it’s also helpful for when you need to write stories.
For example, can you see the ghost haunting me in this story? How about the crises and the decision?
Link Method Psychology: The Mindset of a Memory Master
Phew — that was quite a deep dive into linking!
In sum, if you need to memorize a list of items, having the words themselves interact with each other based on mental imagery can work.
However, if you need to memorize information that is a bit more ambitious, you’ll probably want more robust techniques.
The good news is that neuroscientists like David Eagleman think the brain has space for a zettabyte of information. And like a computer’s hard drive, everything you memorize requires space.
My suggestion is that before you start practicing any of the memory techniques available to you now, think about your goals first.
Then pick the technique that is most likely to help you accomplish your mission.
If it’s just memorizing grocery lists, then you’re good to go with the information on this page. Of course, a lot of people will tell you it’s the easiest, but that’s only true if you have small goals.
Bottom line: if you want to not only deliver speeches from the top of your head, but know the stories you’re sharing deeply, it only makes sense to memorize story structure.
You will quickly go beyond the story method and become an expert in it, rapidly memorizing story details almost on autopilot.