PAO memory technique

PAO is one of the most advanced and yet fun to use techniques. PAO means person-action-object. It is commonly used in memory championships. As far as I know (could not find a link) PAO was invented by card-counters. Each card face was associated with personality – Kings, Queens, Princes – and even with specific royalty of the relevant time. The order of cards was easily associated with some sort of activity, like a party. Here is an example of a typical PAO system for cards. The PAO system was later modified for numbers and popularized by Joshua Foer. An example of PAO for 0-99 shows how typical numbers can be remembered.

The speed of proper PAO method is approximately 0.5 seconds par marker. Memory champions remember a deck of cards in 25 seconds. To achieve this speed PAO is encoded into very fast-paced visual cutscenes. The triplet of person, action and object comes to mind not as a story but as a single image. Below are some simple tips from here:

1. choose actions that are distinguishable. For instance, do not have Bob Dylan strumming a guitar, have him smashing it into pieces. Do not have Schwarzenegger bicep curling a dumbbell, have him doing a human flag. Do not have Barney Stinson adjusting his tie, have him ripping his suit.
2. do not use any clothing article as objects. If you do, make sure it is noticeable. For instance, do not ever use a tie because any male in your list can be associated with it. Do not ever use heels because any lady in your list can be associated with those. You may use Kira-Knigley-style-fancy-hats, though.
3. use objects that are not too small or too large. Do not associate Clint Eastwood (I am using reference to Gran Torino) with his honorary pin; do not associate him with his gran torino either. Instead, use a stool. (apparently he mocked Obama by talking to an invisible stool at the 2012 Republican Convention; I have yet to watch it)
4. before you try to memorize any number, run through your PAO list until it is ingrained in your brain and that seeing any one element brings to mind the other three becomes your second nature

If this tips sound familiar, it is because they are shared by all memory methods. The three parts of PAO reinforce each other and create memorable markers, that can be easily linked into mental films. Alternatively you can chunk PAO into triplets where the person comes from the first detail (number), the action from the second number and the object from the third number.

A very different, logical approach to PAO is provided by Use Cases. To make use cases more lively I imagine my personalities act accordingly to the application script. For example I do not imagine Registered User can edit acticle but I imagine Jonathan Levi editing article on parkour in my blog. Specific and graphic persons and actions should be maintained.

It is best to have positive and funny PAO imagery, since you will occasionally and unintentionally share them with your friends. Some of my friends consider me quite a clown, since I tell aloud some of my PAO imagery when describing how things work. Alternatively I see people become drowsy when my personalities come from obscure historic references. Choosing the right personalities for your PAO you ensure that your message gets through when you relive the PAO links.

Like any other advanced memory scheme, PAO is great for chunking. Each personality can do a lot of things on a given set within your memory. Chunking objects in a way that is handy for your personality is a great way to ensure they are not forgotten. You may combine PAO with loci and Major System. In this way personalities can move between rooms, or be trapped in compartments, tell obscure sentences (Major system, subject-specific mnemonics) and do all sort of amusing things.

There are many ways to collect personalities. You can use any sort of celebrities, your personal acquaintances, culture phenomena, animals, magical creatures and combination of thereof (chimeras). You can collect personalities systematically, including persons as pegs (a person for number), persons as perspectives (optimistic, pessimistic, emotional etc), persons as subject leads (Bill Gates = IT, Warren Buffet = financing etc).

I am always looking for new personalities for fill my PAO pantheon. Here is great resource for personalities, actions etc. Here and here are complete PAO references for 100 numbers.

Recently I had a funny conversation with my agent in India.

LG: A stupid question. PAO memory method uses personalities to do various things. An Hindu can probably imagine several hundreds of deities doing all sort of things. Does that provide competitive advantage over other memory methods?
SS: Having many deities is similar to the celebrities one might know about. They’re not totally disparate and there are underlying threads of mythology and theory connecting them. I wonder how mental athletes do it.
Say you need to say that rising dollar correlates with falling gold. The imagery is Ganesha putting his foot on a golden bar, while raising a basket of dollars.
Now say that you need encode that FOMC interest rate correlates both gold and dollar: Ganesha trumpets with his trunk while holding gold bar in one hand and basket of dollars in another.
You can generate whole stories with Ganesha, if you assume that Ganesha symbolizes macroeconomic policies.
And if you need to describe tax barriers, you can use the same Ganesha to remove barriers,
Now if you need to imaging lucky hedge funds you can use Lakshmi, for military complex use Kali etc.
For example when Kali dances, the oil fountains skyrocket etc.
SS: Haha, that is indeed interesting and new to me! thank you for this approach it will come in handy…

PAO is an old method that recently became popular due to its versatility and speed with which we generate and manipulate the imagery. And this is not surprising, since imagining people doing things is maybe the most natural activity of human imagination.

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3 Replies to “PAO memory technique”

  1. The notion of to be able to give the impression that you are possessing a solid turn in get to get to your
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  2. Lev,

    Thanks for your post. Despite spending time on developing my personal version of a PAO for numbers using the Major system ( See free course at ( PAO numbers using Major system-Aron); I still do not use this enough for great speed Yet, . It helps immensely when I am doing work that literally requires transposing numbers from one application to another. In other words tasks that requires keeping the numbers in storage beyond immediate memory and thus for recent and long term storage. Thus, I am using this system using it simply with remembering phone numbers, passwords, addresses, numbers in reading material, or directions. .

    1. Thank you for your input.
      The original methodology is tuned for fixed dictionaries.
      The method requires adaptation to be used for other things.
      See for example – this is partially PAO and partially loci
      When you imagine use cases, you build several actions and objects on the same person and then you build further actions ON THE SAME PERSON.
      Thus a person acts very similarly to pegs, but with up to a million items in the supported list.

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