Last year in September 2012 I was in one of my journeys to the local library to see if some new and interesting books have made their way to the bookshelves. As I was reading titles and introductions to the books, I reached one that caught my attention. It was Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer. He is a journalist at New York Times.
I noted the title down into my smartphone so that I would later check on it. Back home, after doing some research I decided it was a book well worth reading. There are several important techniques and tricks that I learned from the book and since it is full of references and resources, I started reading other books (Rhetorica ad Herennium by Cicero is one of them) which relate to our ability of memorizing large chunks of data.
So, one of the techniques that I decided to try out was the PAO (Person-Action-Object) technique and it is mostly used in memorizing entire decks of 52 poker cards. Some people use this method to cheat on poker games or on other card games with the purpose of making money.
You first need to create you own PAO system and then you start practicing the technique until you are able to stick to memory one or more decks of cards in the least amount of time possible.
Here are the steps into creating your own PAO system (assuming you now have the deck of cards):
1. You need to assign to each card a person doing an action with/on a certain object. For example, you start with the hearts:
In my PAO, the ace of hearts is Sylvester Stallone punching a speedball. This is the image in my head:
So, the Person is Sylvester Stallone, the Action is Punching and the Object is the speedball.
Then, let’s take the Ace of Diamonds:
In my PAO, the Ace of Diamonds is Charlie Sheen drinking whisky. So, the person is Charlie Sheen, the action is drinking, and the object is whisky. This is the image in my head:
Thirdly, let’s take the Ace of Clubs:
In my PAO, the Ace of Clubs is Johnny Bravo calling the police. The person is Johnny Bravo, the action is calling, and the object is the police. Here’s the image:
Now, you need to do this will all the cards from the deck: all the clubs, all the spades, all the hearts, and all the diamonds. You should write down onto a piece of paper each card with the PAO assigned to it.
2. Be inventive. Try not having similar images and similar places assigned to more cards because it will make you confused when applying the technique.
3. After having the PAO system ready, you should start practicing with the deck of cards by looking at each card and the PAO assigned to it and trying to memorize them.
I really suggest that when you start memorizing, do it with all senses, not only with the eyes. For example, my Ace of Diamonds is Charlie Sheen drinking whisky. When I try to memorize this PAO, I’m also trying to hear Charlie Sheen talking and I’m also trying to think of how it feels like drinking whisky.
When you do this, you engage all your senses into creating memories and I have learned that this type of memorizing is far more efficient than just trying to photographically (only with the eyes) stick something to memory.
4. Now, assuming you are good to go and you know most of the cards and the PAOs assigned to them, you are ready for the next step.
Shuffle the deck of cards. Now start browsing through the cards starting from either side of the deck. You will create groups of 3 cards, which means there will be 17 groups of 3 cards (51 cards) and one card that is alone, which makes up for the 52 cards in the deck.
To get a better understanding, let’s assume that the first group of 3 cards from your deck is: Ace of Hearts, Ace of Diamonds, and Ace of Clubs. You will stick to memory the PAO applied to the entire group like this:
P (Person) from the first card. – Sylvester Stallone
A (Action) from the second card. – Drinking
O (Object) from the third card. – Police
So, you will have an image of: Sylvester Stallone drinking police. Kind of weird, right? 🙂
That’s great because the weirder it gets, the more rapidly it will be stuck into your memory.
You can imagine Sylvester Stallone drinking whisky with the police. Or you can imagine Sylvester Stallone drinking from a bottle of whisky that has a police badge on it. It’s up to you. Be inventive!
Just start memorizing and sticking to memory and I’m really sure that you will find and adjust the best PAO system for you.
In my case, it took me approximately an hour to define and refine my PAO system. Then, the first time that I tried to memorize a deck of cards it took me 20 minutes (to stick to memory) and I had only 3 cards wrong.
The second time it took 18 minutes and I got only 1 wrong. The third time it took 18 minutes and I got all of them right. Then, in a matter of two weeks and 6-7 trials I managed to do it in 8 minutes and have all of them correct. I guess that a month or two of regular practice can get you to memorize them in 1-2 minutes, or even less.
5. One of the most important steps is to combine PAO with the Palace of Memory Technique.
Here’s the idea. When you memorize a deck of 52 poker cards, you will have 17 PAOs combined (like the example above) and another PAO (for the card that’s left). So you have 18 images.
Through the Palace of Memory technique, you will place all these images inside a place or on a route that you are very familiar with. Let’s say, your house.
You can start going from the balcony, in the first room, then in the kitchen, and then in the bathroom. For example, our first PAO will be Sylvester Stallone drinking whisky with the police. I will put this image in the balcony.
So, Stallone is drinking whisky with the police in my balcony. Can I join you guys? 🙂
Then, you have the next PAO in the bed or on the couch of the first room, then the third PAO on the kitchen table or on the fridge, and so forth. Make sure you know well all the 18 points in your Palace of Memory.
I suggest you write them down as well. So you should have written down your 52 PAOs for the cards and the 18 places in your palace of memory.
Combining the PAO system with the Palace of Memory technique helps you create an order in the actions and in the deck of cards and it also helps you efficiently be able to recall the cards in the right order.
Don’t get overwhelmed. It’s actually pretty simple. You just need to get started and spend a little time creating these two systems. Then, it’s all practice! And you’ll have a lot of fun on the images that you get from combining the cards.
Everyone can do it and everyone can do it pretty well. Here’s Simon Reinhard memorizing a complete deck of 52 poker cards in 22 seconds:
You don’t have to use these techniques to cheat on games and I really recommend not doing that. However, you can impress your friends with it after practicing for a while.
This is also a good memory exercise that engages all your senses and various regions from your brain, which helps you keep your memory in a good condition besides that it really improves it.
Here’s the best website (in my opinion) that helps you create your own PAO system, if you’re out of inspiration. There are also dozens of other resources to help you with memory palaces, number systems, and playing cards systems.
If there’s something that I am not clear about or if it’s something that you don’t understand, please let me know in either of the comment sections below. I’d also like to hear your thoughts on this and how you have been able to practice and to apply this technique.
How much did it took you, for the first time, to memorize a deck of cards?