How To Remember Numbers

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The problem with numbers is that they are cold and unfeeling. Group a list of letters together and you have a word that represents something - an ^ image, an emotion, a person. Throw a few numbers together and you have, well, you have another number.

So many people find numbers awkward, slippery customers. And yet numbers play such an important part in our lives. Numbers are everywhere. Haven't we all wished, at some time or another, that we could remember numbers without writing them down...

Imagine you meet a woman (or man) at a party; she gives you her address -street, floor, and flat number - but you don't have a pen to hand. She goes on to tell you her phone number and fixes a time and day to meet again. The next morning you wake up and can't remember one iota of what she told you. (You can, of course, remember her name, having read Chapter 3.)

You wander downstairs, bleary-eyed and depressed, and open your post. The bank has sent a new Personal Identification Number for your cashpoint card. You think twice about writing it down, remembering what happened last time. On your way to work, you are concentrating so hard on remembering the number, you step out into the street without looking and a car knocks you down. Crawling around on your hands and knees, you find your glasses, glare at the car disappearing into the distance and try to remember its number plate.

A medic asks for your National Health and National Insurance numbers on the way to hospital; a policeman investigating your accident gets hold of the wrong end of the stick and demands your driving licence. Finally, when the hospital authorities conclude that you can only be treated privately, someone asks for your bank account details or, failing that, your credit card number.

Okay, so we don't all live our lives like Mr Bean. And these days, most of us carry around pens, filofaxes, even personal organizers. But there will always be occasions when we are caught out and need to memorize numbers. In the following chapters, I will explain how to remember numbers (up to ten digits) and, in particular, telephone numbers.


How can we be expected to remember six million, three hundred and eighty-seven thousand, nine hundred and sixty-four when we can't touch it, throw stones at it, smell it, pick it up, poke fun at it, marvel at its eating habits? It is inscrutable, inanimate, forgettable. To remember a number you have to breathe life into it, make it come alive by giving it a character, literally.

When I look at a number today, I see a person. If it's a long number, I see an entire scenario unfolding. Each number has been translated into a new language that I can understand and remember.

This new language is at the heart of what I have christened the DOMINIC SYSTEM. (If you like acronyms, I have managed to work one out for D.O.M.I.N.I.e.: Decipherment Of Mnemonically Interpreted Numbers Into Characters!) I originally designed it for competitions. Used properly, it eats numbers for breakfast. I can memorize 100 digits in a 100 seconds. Telephone numbers are small fry by comparison. (I explain how to crunch 100-digit monsters in Chapter 22.)

The DOMINIC SYSTEM works by stripping numbers down into pairs of digits, each pair representing a person. The formidable 81,269,471, for example, becomes 81 — 26 - 94 - 71, which in turn relates to four people. But before we get on to big numbers, I would like to show you a simple way to remember single digits.


The number-shape system provides a useful introduction to the whole concept of translating tedious numbers into memorable objects. It works by associating the physical shape of a number with its nearest, everyday look-alike object. Simple association, in other words. A 4, for instance, might remind you of the profile of a sailing boat. A 2 might suggest a swan. I have listed some suggestions below, but you must settle on what is best for you. Don't worry if it is not in my list at all.

0 = football, wheel, ring, sun, severed head, hat

1 = TELEGRAPH POLE, pencil, baseball bat, arrow, phallic symbol

3 = HANDCUFFS, Dolly Parton, workman's backside (aerial views)

4 = sailing boat, flag, ironing board

5 = curtain hook, seated lawn mower

6 = elephant's trunk, croquet mallet, metal detector, golf club

7 = boomerang high diving platform, cliff edge, curbstone

8 = egg timer, Marilyn Monroe, transparent potato crisp

9 = balloon and string, basketball net, monocle

I repeat, these are only suggestions. First impressions are, as ever, all important. You should choose the first image that enters your head when you see the shape of a number. Most people, when they look at a '1', think of something long, such as a stick, but if all you keep imagining is the profile of a garden fence or a guard standing to attention, so be it. Choose whatever turns you on. Be careful not to let symbols overlap with each other, though, and make sure that each one is unique. If 6 represents a golf club, don't pick a baseball bat as 1.

Once you have familiarized yourself with the ten key images, you can start using them as props to store and recall simple pieces of information, including position, quantity, and lists.


Let's assume you wanted to remember that a friend of yours, or maybe one of your children, came second in a swimming competition. Try to imagine him or her being presented with a swan on the medal rostrum. Or perhaps the reason they came third is because they were wearing handcuffs throughout the race.

Similarly, whenever you visit your aunt, you can never remember which flat it is. To remember that it is number 7, imagine that she has taken to hurling boomerangs around her lounge. (She's getting a little eccentric in her old age.)


Your boss has asked you to go out and buy eight cases of wine for the office party. On the way, you visualize him sitting at his desk timing you with an egg-timer - typical of the man. Or perhaps your local wine merchant has miraculously turned into Marilyn Monroe. Make a mental note of how out of place she looks, particularly in a sequin dress.


In Chapter 2, I showed you how to remember a list by using a journey. That system is the basis for my whole approach to memory. There is, however, another simple way of remembering a a short list of things in order by using number shapes. Applying your ten shapes, link the following people, in sequence, to the corresponding numbers.

1. Boris Yeltsin 6. Dali Lama

2. John Major 7. Charlie Chaplin

3. Elvis Presley 8. Steven Spielberg

4. Mother Teresa 9. Gary Lineker

5. Frank Sinatra 10. Prince Charles

(use 0 as the 10th position)

If a telegraph pole is your symbol for 1, imagine Yeltsin shinning up it to mend the wires. (Telecommunications aren't all they could be in the former Soviet Union.) Picture John Major feeding swans instead of talking to the press. Elvis Presley is singing a duet with Dolly Parton, and so on, until you get to Prince Charles being beheaded. (You have to be prepared for some gruesome scenes when you are improving your memory. If it helps, there is a precedent; Charles I was executed in 1649.)

Personally, I prefer to use the journey method (I find it more structured), but this is a good way of exercising your imagination and you might find it easier. A word of warning, though: when you get beyond ten items on the list, it becomes a little complicated without a journey.

The number shape method plays a small but important part in the dominic system. When I am breaking down a long number into pairs of digits, I am often left with a single digit at the end. For example, 37485915274 becomes 37 - 48 - 59 - 15 27 - 4. I know the last digit represents a sailing boat. In the next chapter, I will show you what the pairs of digits represent, and how to combine them all in one image.


My fear of revealing this system to you is that you might be the one person who uses it to break my world records. If you do, I hope that you will pay me the courtesy of acknowledging as much at the award ceremony!

As I said earlier, the trouble with numbers is that they have no resonance. There are, of course, notable exceptions like 13, 21, 69, 100. By and large, however, numbers have little significance outside their own world, which is why they arc so difficult to remember.

Enter The DOMINIC SYSTEM. It is based on a new language, so you need to learn a new alphabet. But don't worry, it couldn't be simpler. There are only ten letters, which refer to 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. Ascribe a letter to each digit, and you begin to pull numbers out of the mire of anonymity.

Let me explain how I arrived at the various letters. Zero obviously looks like the letter O. The first, second, third, fourth, and fifth letters of the alphabet are A, B, C, D, E. Why does 6 not translate into F? This is a personal foible of mine. If it troubles you, or you are a stickler for logic, replace S with F. Personally, I prefer S. Six is a very strong S word. It susurates, and sounds sexy.

The seventh and eighth letters of the alphabet are G and H; although the ninth is I, I have chosen N, because NiNe is a strong N word.


Memorize this alphabet, and don't continue unless you are certain what each digit stands for.

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  • robinia
    How to remember phone numbers without writing them down?
    8 years ago

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