The chances are that if you're over the age of 40, you've already started to suffer from a common malady known as: "But I had it just a minute ago!"
Somehow, your pen seems to have vanished into thin air. Sound familiar?
Or perhaps you've just opened the fridge door, only to find yourself staring into it, wondering what it was you were looking for. Or spent ages searching for your glasses, only to find them perched on top of your head.
Maybe you can't lay your hands on the jewellery you know you hid in a safe place. Or you find yourself continually worrying about whether you switched off the oven, put on your answering machine or locked the front door.
These kind of memory lapses are generally — and rather cruelly — known as 'senior moments' and very few people are immune. After all, science tells us that our memories start to wane after the age of 30, according to the Daily Mail.
My memory was just as bad as yours — until I developed my foolproof system several decades ago. Since then, I've made a very successful career out of showing people how to improve their memory — from film stars including Anne Bancroft and Mel Brooks, to politicians — and become known for everything from memorising an entire telephone directory to recalling the names of 1,500 people who've just been introduced to me.
In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb and tell you that my memory is 1,000 times better than yours — and I've recently passed my 90th birthday!
But yours can be equally as good as mine, and I'm going to give you some amazing tools to help you on your way.
Please stop thinking that your mental capacity, your memory capabilities, must inevitably decline as you move through 'middle age' and beyond.
Albert Einstein, the poet Robert Frost, artist Georgia O'Keeffe and performer George Burns are just a few of the more celebrated examples of people who have done some of their most creative work when they were well into their 70s, 80s and 90s — and they had highly functional memories and agile minds throughout those 'golden years'.
Let me stress it again, because it warrants repetition: you needn't accept a steep decline in your ability to remember as an inevitable part of growing older.
I know of no better mental exercise than simply to apply, or try to apply, my trained-memory techniques. But to break up the process, I also like to throw in a riddle, a puzzle, a 'thought provoker' — a mind-power exercise — every so often.
Practice these intermittently to exercise your brain cells. You'll find you have fun with them — just as you'll have fun, and success, with my memory-training systems.
WHERE DID I PUT THAT PENCIL?
Let me ease you into the Reminder Principle. I'm writing at my desk. Then I'm interrupted by the phone ringing. And when I put down the receiver, I think: "Where the heck is my pencil?"
Several minutes later, I finally find it tucked behind my right ear.
Aggravating, annoying and a total waste of time.
So, now let's imagine the next time the phone rings and I slide my pencil behind my ear, I force myself to see a mental image. I visualise the pencil going not behind my ear (that would be too mundane and habitual), but into my ear, point first. I can almost feel the pain.
The simple process of imagining the pencil stabbing my ear took just the minutest fraction of time. It was done without breaking my mental or physical stride.
Yet, in that split-second, I accomplished a great deal. I forced myself to think of an action that I wouldn't normally contemplate — stabbing my ear with a pencil.
And, by doing so, I grasped my mind by the scruff of the neck and said: "Pay attention!"
Back in my office, my phone call has now come to an end and I need my pencil. The moment I think 'pencil', an image pops into my brain. Again, I can almost feel the pain of the pencil entering my ear as I automatically reach behind it.
No time wasted, no aggravation. Mission accomplished.
This basic idea is the foundation of a system that will soon enable you to build innumerable memory steps for yourself.
CONJURE UP A SILLY IMAGE
I'm going to go off on a small, but important, tangent here to stress the importance of making your mental images ridiculous, silly, extreme, or even impossible.
Why? Because it's the everyday, ordinary, mundane things we tend to forget.
In fact, they often don't register in our minds in the first place — whereas ridiculous or extreme things make a lasting impression.
This principle has been known for centuries. There's a 2,000-year-old parchment called Rhetorica ad Herennium, for instance, that admirably sums it up.
"When we see things that are petty, ordinary and banal, we generally fail to remember them because the mind isn't being stirred by anything novel or marvellous," it says. "Ordinary things easily slip from the memory while the striking and the novel stay longer in the mind."
The same principle was used by ancient philosophers when they were teaching students and wanted them to remember an important point.
Whack! The philosopher would deliver a hard slap to a student's face. This undoubtedly hurt, but the boy usually managed to remember the important point.
The same applied in 19th-century America, when people were moving West and claiming land. A father would take his firstborn son out to show him where their property ended — and then he'd slap him to ensure that the boy remembered what he'd seen.
The problem is that slapping hurts, so I prefer to do it mentally.
And a ridiculous or extreme mental image achieves exactly the same thing: it focuses attention — but without pain.
WHERE HAVE I LEFT MY KEYS?
Let's say you've just come back from a shopping expedition and unlocked your front door.
As you enter, you drop your keys, without thinking, into a plant pot in the hall. Later, of course, you can't remember where you put them and a mad hunt around the house ensues.
The real problem, however, is not that you forgot where you put your keys. It's that you didn't consciously remember where you put them in the first place.
So, you needn't have worried that your memory might be failing — because the fact is that you never actually used it.
Let me repeat: information must register in your mind in the first place in order for it to be remembered.
Back to those elusive door keys. From now on, you'll never put down your keys without forcing yourself to be 'originally aware' of where you're putting them.
And the next time you put them down, you will also form a mental image of two vital entities — the keys and the place where you're putting them.
Make it a silly, outrageous or impossible image.
You may, for instance, 'see' a gigantic key growing in a flowerpot. Perhaps you're watering it to make it grow.
A few hours later, you decide to go out to buy a newspaper — and you need to lock the door on your way out. Now, where on earth did you put those keys?
Think 'key' — and you'll see a key growing in a flowerpot! Problem solved.
Here's another example. Your partner asks you to help with something. You put your glasses on the TV set as you rush out of the room. When you come back, you spend half-an-hour searching for your glasses.
No more. Now, as you put your glasses on the TV set, visualise the TV antenna going through the lenses of your glasses, shattering the glass into a million pieces.
Or 'see' a gigantic pair of glasses dancing on television. Believe me, the next time you need the glasses, you'll find them.
And what about that special pen you bought as a gift and hid in your underwear drawer?
How do you remember that secret hideaway?
Easy: as you put the pen in the drawer, imagine lots of blue ink squirting out of it and ruining all your expensive underwear. Astonishingly, it really is that simple.
OH, THAT'S WHAT I CAME IN FOR!
You've just sat down to eat when you decide you'd like some ketchup. So you get up and go over to the fridge — then promptly forget what it was you came into the kitchen for.
But this need never happen again. What you should have done, in the instant you realised you needed ketchup, was to form a silly mental image — perhaps of gallons of the stuff pouring over you.
Job done: you've trapped a fleeting thought and you'll know exactly what to take from the fridge.
DID I LOCK THAT DOOR?
Are you one of those people who suddenly sits up in bed, wondering if they've locked the back door?
If so, you're making yourself anxious about something that's easily remedied.
Next time you lock the back door, 'see' yourself inserting your head or your tongue into the keyhole.
Yes, it's a truly silly image. But by visualising it, you've forced yourself to pay attention to a habitual, mundane action that barely requires any thinking.
So, later, when you need to remember if you've locked up, you'll recall the image and know that you have.
Apply the same idea to help you remember that you've unplugged the kettle before going on holiday.
As you pull out that plug, see your head — or your partner's — coming out of the socket.
Or maybe you want to remember to take your umbrella when you leave the house. If the last thing you normally see when you leave is, say, the doorknob, 'connect' it to the umbrella.
Form a silly picture in your mind. Perhaps the doorknob is really a dripping-wet umbrella that's opening and closing, and you're finding it hard to grasp as you try to leave.
When you look at that doorknob, you'll know that you have to get your umbrella.
And don't forget to take it with you when you leave the office — if you always say goodbye to a colleague before you leave, you can make that fact remind you of the umbrella: just visualise yourself saying goodbye to a gigantic, wet umbrella.
THE SECRET TO REMEMBERING YOUR PIN
I'm going to give you a way of remembering numbers that's hugely useful.
It does involve a bit more work, though: you need to learn ten simple sounds, each one of which will represent a number.
OK, here are the ten pairs. Memorise them until you can recite them out of order; you'll never regret it.
0 = s (and soft c, z) 5 = l
1 = t (and also d) 6 = j (also sh, ch, soft g)
2 = n 7 = k (as well as hard c, hard g)
3 = m 8 = f (and v, ph)
4 = r 9 = p (also b)
Let me just stress what should be obvious to you now. The Phonetic Alphabet enables you to make numbers meaningful by making them visual in your mind.
How on earth would you ordinarily visualise, say, the number 147? It's all but impossible.
Now, however, if you want to remember 147, you can just think of a truck.
Why? Because number 1 is 't', number 4 is 'r' and number 7 is 'k'. Put them all together and the word most people come up with is 'truck'.
Of course, you might instead make the words: trick, track, drake, drag, dark, derrick or turkey. The beauty is that none of these words could mean anything but number 147.
Moving on — how about remembering a six-digit number? Couldn't be simpler.
Let's say the first three digits are 147, for which we already have 'truck'. The next three are 952. Using the Phonetic Alphabet, you'll translate those numbers to 'pln' or 'bln'.
Bln makes me think of balloon. Good, now I have a truck and a balloon.
I'm going to link them by visualising a lot of balloons pouring out of a truck — or a balloon driving a truck.
Like magic, isn't it? Next time you think of the balloon driving a truck, you'll instantly come up with the number 147952.
IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
You're driving to somewhere you've never been before and stop to ask a pedestrian for directions.
The trouble is, by the time he's talked you through two rights, two lefts, another right and three forks in the road, you can't remember any of it!
With a little practice, however, you'll be able to memorise the lot. Here's how you do it. Make up an image for yourself for 'right' and 'left'. I visualise a boxer throwing a right jab, for right, and a red Communist flag for left. And get used to substituting an image of smiles for the word 'miles'.
You're told to go to the third light. Now, 3 in the Phonetic Alphabet is the sound 'm'. So make the shortest possible word with 'm' — let's say 'Ma'.
Then visualise yourself giving Ma a right-jab punch. That's it: your brain has now registered that you'll be turning right at the third light.
Go about two ('n') miles. (Visualise the figure of Noah, who smiles). You'll come to a fork in the road. (A gigantic fork is smiling). Take the left fork. (A gigantic fork waves a red flag). And so on.
With a little practice, you can do this instantaneously. In the example, all you'd need to remember is to give Ma a punch, see a smiling Noah, then a smiling fork and another fork waving a red flag.
PUZZLES TO BOOST YOUR BRAIN
A rich Arab dies and leaves his 17 camels to his three sons.
The camels are to be divided as follows:
Half to the first son, one-third to the second son and one-ninth to the third son.
The three sons can't seem to work it out without chopping up some of the camels!
A wise old Arab happens by on his camel and solves the problem immediately — without cutting up any camels.
Do some mental exercise — try to work out how the wise old Arab did it.
The wise old Arab adds his own camel to the 17, bringing the total number to 18. The camels are then divided as follows:
Half of 18 = 9 for the first son;
One third of 18 = 6 for the second son;
One ninth of 18 = 2 for the third son.
After each son takes his allotted camels (9+6+2=17), the wise old Arab's camel remains, so he remounts it and rides off . . .
ALL AT SIXES
A house painter has to paint numbers on the doorway of each of one hundred houses.
The numbers are to be consecutive from 1 to 100.
The question is, exactly how many 6s will he have painted when he's completed the job?
Work mentally, not on paper. Counting on your fingers is OK.
Twenty sixes. Most people answer 11 sixes, because they go through the numbers 1 to 99 — 6, 16, 26, 36, etc — remembering two for 66, but forgetting that each number in the 60s has a six.
• Article adapted from Simple Secrets For Keeping Your Brain Young, by Harry Lorayne.