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Remembering to Forget or Forgetting to Remember ?


  • There is a well used word play phrase used in hypnosis - 'you can remember to forget or forget to remember'!
  • This section on memory has been included as a resource to help you understand how memory works (or not!) and how you can improve your memory.
  • There are many studies on memory and memory improvement techniques that you can learn. This is only a basic introduction to help you understand memory in relation to using hypnosis.
  • From the time you are born, all of your experiences, everything that you have learned, and everything that you have been exposed to during you life is stored in your memory to some extent. You are who you are based on this exposure and experience.
  • By understanding how memory works you can begin to understand how and why hypnosis works. This will also allow you to understand how to use hypnosis when working with patients in therapy.



Hypnosis can be used to enhance learning by means of:

  • Accessing imagery

  • Accessing prior emotional states and situational context cues

  • Using eye accessing cues

Hypnosis can also be used to help retrieve memories, by means of regression and revivification. This can be important for therapy. However, these memories need to be treated with caution. As memory is a reconstructive process and false memory is a risk.

Hypnosis and memory can be combined:

  • to enhance the memory

  • for therapy


Using Memory in the Context of Hypnosis

  • Memory and hypnosis can be combined to enhance the memory or it can be used as part of a therapeutic intervention.
  • Hypnosis can be used to enhance learning.
  • It can be applied to help:
    • Access imagery
    • Access emotional states and situational cues
    • Interpret and use Neuro Linguistic Programming(NLP) techniques
  • Through hypnotic regression and revivification you can help someone retrieve forgotten memories. This can be important for therapy.
  • Some recalled memories need to be treated with caution, because memory is a reconstructive process and false memory is a possible risk.
  • You will learn and understand more about the application of memory in hypnosis as you work your way through the course.


What Is Memory and How Does It Actually Work?

A number of steps and processes are involved when we try to remember something.

  • First we have to experience or acknowledge something to remember it. We not only have to notice it, but we have to have it register in our minds.
  • If we make a conscious decision to remember something we will have to direct our attention to it. The more times we think about or focus on the thing we want to remember, the more we are rehearsing it by playing it over in our minds. This is called Registration and Rehearsal. When we do this continuously, we transfer the memory into our short term memory which retains information for immediate reference and recall. For example, when you are working out a maths problem in your head you retain all of the variables in your head as you add, subtract, multiply or divide them.
  • Research has indicated that humans can manage about 7 (plus or minus 2) single pieces of information in their mind at any one time, and that they can remain in your short term memory for up to 20 seconds or longer if you keep mentally rehearsing them.
  • When you keep rehearsing and mentally repeating the information, it will eventually be transferred in to your long term memory. When you want to remember something, say a telephone number or house number, you will have stored it in your short term memory and maybe written it down on a piece of paper as a reminder. Each time you refer to it and use it, the more you rehearse it and embed it in to your long term memory, where it is stored more permanently.
  • When you want to use information stored in your long term memory you will need to recall it. This is called Retrieval.
  • Sometimes retrieving information stored in our long term memory isn't easy. Can you remember a time when you tried to remember something but couldn't, and then later on the information popped in to your head when you were not trying to recall it? Why does this happen? What makes us forget things that we know we know?

Retrieval processes

There are four main processes involved in retrieving memories. These are:

  • Recognition - A cue (auditory, visual, kin-aesthetic, cognitive, etc.) triggers an immediate association with information stored in our long-term memory. This results in recognition and is the first stage of memory retrieval.
  • Reintegration - One or more recognition cues will stimulate the retrieval of various components of a specific memory that are then placed into short-term memory. At this stage these are not associated and represent the raw building blocks of the memory.
  • Reconstruction - These various components are organised by association into a format that forms the recalled memory.
  • Recall - This is the overall term given to the processes involved in retrieving a memory. Recall can be explicit (deliberately trying to remember) or implicit (automatically remembering).

Why do we sometimes have difficulty remembering something?

Some things stop us from remembering. Three known common things that cause us to forget are:

  • a) Something interferes with the transfer of memory from short term to long term memory.
  • b) Some memories can disappear if we do not consider them important enough to retain, or they can be suppressed by the dynamic processes of our long term memory, in order to protect us from a traumatic emotional expression, for example.
  • c) And sometimes a memory is just too difficult to retrieve. We may have stored the memory during a particular state of mind or in a particular contextual setting we were experiencing at that time. And then we can only remember the memory when we again re-experience that state or context.

So how can we help remember things?

Specific and effective cues are important for retrieving memories. Retrieval approaches include:

  • State Dependent Memory can be recalled when we are in the same psychological state that we were in when we first experienced the memory.
  • Context Dependent Memory can be recalled when we are in the same contextual setting we were in when we first experienced the memory.
  • Organisation approaches are methods, techniques and systems (loci, peg, link, etc) of improving your memory which involve changes in the way memories are organised or structured. These can improve the transfer of short term memory to long term memory, or they can be used to aid effective retrieval.

Let's look at some of these approaches and techniques.

  • Loci systems have been around a very long time. They were used by the Greeks and Romans to remember speeches. Loci is Latin for ‘places’. These places become ‘pegs’ upon which to hang the things you want to remember.
  • There is the Roman room technique which involves imagining a room you know well, or the room you will be in when you need to remember, and making associations between the things in the room and the things you need to remember.
  • Similarly, you can use a route system which involves mentally following a route you know well, making associations between the things you see along your route and the things you need to remember. This is particularly useful if the sequence of the things you need to remember is important.
  • These can be applied quickly and are useful for remembering information at short notice. Many of your stage and television mentalists use these approaches in their acts.
  • Loci approaches can also be combined with other techniques like the link system below to remember clusters of useful information and help with examination study.
  • Link techniques help formulate memorable mental associations by means of:
    • exaggeration
    • substitution
    • absurdity
    • emotion
  • Forming links between things by means of exaggeration, substitution, absurdity and emotion:
    • is the basic method of all memorising systems
    • connects items and information which have no logical links
    • can be used to correct absent mindedness
    • gives you an impressive party trick
  • Peg techniques are useful when you need to remember the order or position of things in a list. So that the exact position of the items can be recalled individually, or the whole list can be recalled in any order, for example.

Let's try a few of these systems and see how they are applied and how you get on with improving your memory.

  • Here is a list of ten items and you want to remember them in the order they have been presented, or you want to recall a particular item and its position.
  • 1 Sun, 2 Glue, 3 Flea, 4 Floor, 5 Jive, 6 Bricks, 7 Heaven, 8 Slate, 9 Mine, 10 Pen.
  • Because there is a strong connection between the number and the item you will remember it.
  • This is an easy example as the item names rhyme with the numbers as well.
  • Associating 1 to Sun by remembering that there is one sun will help you to remember it in that position, or imagine nine miners in a mine.
  • Let's make it a bit more complex. Assume that you wanted to remember another 10 item list.
  • By combining them and creating related mental images, you are more likely to be able to recall each item in any order from any list.
  • For example, if you had another list where the third item was a car, you could imagine a flea driving a car.

Using substitution by making the abstract more concrete will help you to remember things.

  • The more abstract something is, the more difficult it is to remember.
  • The mind is much better at remembering things that can be seen, touched and tasted.
  • Any abstract concept can be made concrete and memorable in this way.
  • Think of an abstract concept such as freedom, now think of something more concrete to associate with it; fall of the Berlin Wall for example.
  • You can extend the potential of the link and route systems by using substitution, therefore making it possible to apply them to abstract concepts, foreign language vocabulary, names of places and people.

Here is an exercise for you to try:

  • Spend a few minutes learning the first sequence of ten words. Then use the link method in a relaxed state or light trance to learn the second ten.
  • Sequence 1: cat – sky – table – grass – lamp – horse – book – computer – cake – pencil.
  • Sequence 2: cup – rock – sofa – teapot – cigar – salad dressing – bottle – fireside rug – ball – teeth.
  • Try to apply the link technique.
  • Now try and use substitution to memorise your own lists of things.



Buzan T (2006) Use your Memory: Understand Your Mind to Improve Your Memory and Mental Power BBC Books Version: August 09 10

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