The Peg System: How to Memorize Lists of Ten in Twenty Seconds


I first learned about the peg system through pickup. The idea was simple: rather than bore a girl with dumb stories about work and parties like every other guy, you teach her an interesting skill. The next day the one guy she remembers is the one who stood out and taught her something.

And they say romance is dead.

One such example is the peg system, a quick and dirty way to memorize lists of ten items in about twenty seconds. The way it goes is this: the girl writes down a list of ten items, you memorize it almost instantly, prove that you have it memorized, and then teach her how to do it. If you’re particularly crafty, you show off the skill and then tell her you’ll teach her next time you see her. (This backfires when Mystery happens to meet the same girl the next day and teaches her the same thing… but I digress…)

Fast forward five years and not only do I still remember the peg system, I’ve also taught it to just about everyone I know, boy or girl, and I use it on a regular basis to memorize lists. I showed it to someone a few weeks ago and they suggested I make a blog post about it. Viola.

To see it in action, watch this video. Just in case you can’t follow along and learn how to do it through the video, I’ve written out the instructions below.

The key to the system is memorizing this short rhyme. Say it out loud to hear the rhyming:

One bun

Two shoe

Three tree

Four door

Five hive

Six sticks

Seven heaven

Eight gate

Nine line

Ten hen

The easiest way to memorize this list is to associate a picture with each pair. For example, for one I imagine a giant cinnamon bun with a “1” birthday candle jammed into the middle of it. The more jarring the image the better you’ll remember it. For three you imagine a tree with a trunk shaped like the number three. And so on.

You’ll find that if you just go through the list once, making mental pictures for each number, you’ll be able to recite the list by memory. If you get stuck, just start thinking of words that rhyme with the number.

Once you have that list down, it’s easy to associate the new images with new lists to instantly commit them to memory. Take this excerpt from a list:

  1. Teapot
  2. Pencil
  3. Book

For number one, imagine a cinnamon bun with a teapot smooshed on top of it. For number two imagine pencils acting like legs with big red converse sneakers covering the points. For three imagine a tree with books hanging from every branch.

These weird images work instantly – no need to review. Just go through each item on the list, associate the matching image with it, and move on. It won’t feel like you have it memorized, but you actually do.

There are a couple hidden advantages to this method of memorization:

  • You remember not only the items, but also the order. This is useful if you need to memorize a list of steps to complete, or the order in which you make a recipe.
  • You will remember the list for a long time, probably until you memorize a new list. It doesn’t take any extra effort to keep the list in memory.

One last tip: if you’re doing this to impress someone, casually watch and memorize the list as they write it. When they’re done, pick it up, stare at it for one second, and then declare that you’ve memorized it.

(By the way, I hope you guys like these videos. I have two more lined up for Tuesday and Friday)






One response to “The Peg System: How to Memorize Lists of Ten in Twenty Seconds”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *