Without any technique, numbers—whether they be telephone numbers, anniversary dates, PIN numbers or product codes—are very difficult to remember. However, I memorised over twenty thousand digits in eighteen days. If I hadn’t used a technique and instead just repeated them ad nauseum, I would not have remembered more than seven or eight digits.

Have you ever forgotten an important birthday or anniversary? Or perhaps you’ve been at the checkout and forgotten your PIN number. How did you feel? It can be embarrassing. The Major system provides a great way to memorise numbers. In the Major system, you create peg words. Pegwords are words used to replace numbers so that they can act as conceptual hooks. Onto these hooks, we can hang, or attach, items in a list. With some practise, this approach makes memorising numbers a piece of cake. It may seem confusing at first, but don’t despair: it gets easier and easier the more you use it.

The Major system uses the phonetic sounds of the alphabet for each digit. When you substitute the digits with the sounds, you can then create a peg word. For example, by substituting the digit 1 with a ‘d’, and the digit 7 with a ‘k’, you would have a ‘d’ and a ‘k’ to represent the number 17. We don’t stop here. Since there are only ten different digits—0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9—and there are twenty-six letters in the alphabet, the creators of the Major system left some spare letters for us to use when we create peg words! The spare letters are all the vowels—‘a’, ‘e’, ‘i’, ‘o’, ‘u’—and ‘h’, ‘w’ and ‘y’. When forming peg words, you can select any of the spare characters to insert before, between or after the substitute letter(s). In the case of number 17, your peg word could be the word ‘duck’ (‘ck’ makes the same sound as a ‘k’ when it is spoken).

Below is a breakdown of the numbers and their corresponding sounds.

0 = S, Z, soft C (e.g. ceiling)

1 = T or D

2 = N

3 = M

4 = R

5 = L

6 = J, SH, CH, soft G (e.g. Germany) DG (e.g. nudge)

7 = K, CK, hard C (e.g. cat), hard G (e.g. goat), hard CH (e.g. chorus) QU (e.g. grotesque)

8 = V or F

9 = B or P

Using the information above, you can make a hundred peg words, from 0 to 99. For example, as a peg word for the number 1 you could have: ‘tea’, ‘toe’, ‘hat’ or ‘at’. Number 2 could be ‘Noah’, ‘in’ or ‘one’. Play around with different combinations of numbers and see if you can make up words for them. Below is a table of a hundred peg words I have come up with. Check how these words correspond with the above numbers. You are welcome to use the table below or make up your own peg words.

ake some time to familiarise yourself, or even try and memorise these peg words or the set of peg words you make up yourself. If memorising, you can start by memorising ten at a time at your own pace. Write down your peg words on paper, then test yourself. For starters, I recommend going through the numbers slowly, at a speed you are comfortable with, so you have enough time to recall the peg word. Once you engrave these peg words into your head, you will be armed with a powerful memorisation tool!

So, how would you memorise the number 714277? Begin by pairing up the digits to get: 71 42 77. Then all you have to do is remember what your peg words for those numbers are and make up a creative little story using them. For example: 71 = cat, 42 = Arnie (Arnold Schwarzenegger), and 77 = cake. So the story could be something like this: ‘the CAT jumps into ARNIE’s birthday CAKE as he is about to blow out the candles, creating a huge mess’. This story is much more memorable than a simple 714277, isn’t it? We have now associated images and incorporated our senses to make a number a memorable thing! Once you have practised memorising numbers in pairs, you can also try making up peg words three digits at a time. If we use the same example as above, we’d have: 714 277. 714 = gator, 214 = enter. The story could be: ‘the alliGATOR sprung out of the lake and started to fly towards the do not ENTER sign, eating and ripping the rusty sign into shreds’. Since when did alligators fly? In your mind, anything can fly. Use your imagination to make really wild and wacky stories. They don’t have to make sense, as long as you link the peg words together and the story is memorable to you. Using humour and drawing in each of your senses makes the memorisation even stronger and helps you to recall more quickly.

Practise memorising with the numbers below and pair them up. While it may seem daunting, with a bit of practice at creating images and building them into stories, you will find that it gets easier. In no time you will be a master of memorising numbers.

3 0 8 8 4 4 0 6 6 7 4 5 2 2 9 7 0 1 2 1 8 0 9 6 7 2 3 2 6 3 0 2 1 0 4 0 6 8 3 9
7 3 9 7 9 5 4 8 5 1 2 6 0 2 8 4 4 4 9 1 9 0 9 7 3 8 2 9 3 1 3 5 0 8 4 3 1 3 0 8
8 5 4 7 9 8 2 8 3 0 9 7 5 2 3 2 7 2 8 5 5 4 1 8 7 2 2 6 1 8 7 8 6 8 6 6 2 4 8 4
9 6 1 0 6 6 4 4 8 7 4 8 5 3 9 3 6 6 3 0 5 3 1 3 0 3 6 1 5 7 1 4 5 2 8 2 8 3 9 8
5 0 3 6 9 6 8 9 2 0 9 6 1 9 2 8 5 7 2 8 1 6 5 8 7 1 4 9 1 0 3 7 7 1 4 9 9 9 0 8
5 9 1 9 5 7 3 9 7 6 4 8 2 6 8 7 7 9 5 3 7 6 8 1 6 1 5 7 8 1 4 1 5 2 5 0 4 3 8 3

(Excerpt from The Yellow Elephant)

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