How to Remember Great Ideas You have at Inconvenient Moments

Have you ever figured out the solution to world peace at a red light?

Or had a million-dollar idea for a business as you are about to drift off to sleep?

What about solving a vexing personal problem while in the shower (the one place you can’t write anything down)?

Sometimes when our conscious mind is not occupied with an urgent task we are more perceptive to truly great ideas and intuitions emerging from the depths of our unconscious.

The problem, as any thinking person knows, is that these sporadic moments of brilliance are subject to the tyranny of urgent, yet unimportant distractions and will quickly slip back into your unconscious if you don’t record them, sometimes immediately. Have you ever started your morning in an unexplainably excited state punctuated by brief moments of deja vu which hinted at some great idea on the cusp of your conscious mind? How frustrating is it when, in a flash of inspiration, a bulletproof solution to a dire problem you are dealing with comes to mind, only to be lost?

Great ideas are not a new thing. For the majority of human history, easy ways of recording great ideas were either none existent or very rare. Quite impressive that people who lived much shorter lives than us managed to the build pyramids, create democracy, develop medicine, raise skyscrapers and explore the entire globe all without the convenience of an iPhone or a laptop. Humans accomplished these momentous things using memory systems which have been honed for the past 2500 years to maximize the performance of the most powerful computer on this planet, the one in between your ears. Memory systems are a powerful (yet mostly forgotten by society) art that will ensure you never again forget a great idea.

Some utilizations of memory systems are quite complex and require weeks or months of practice to master, such as memorizing long numbers, decks of cards, remembering people’s names, etc. Lucky for us the memory system technique for memorizing great ideas at moments we can’t record them is quite simple:

Step 1: Visualize the Idea

Pick something you can see in your mind’s eye, that clearly represents the idea.

If your great idea involves some kind of product that is a part of a million-dollar idea, visualize the product.

If your great idea involves a person you know, visualize that person.

If your great idea involves an idea which is intangible or is more of a philosophical concept which can’t be represented by a physical object, you have a couple of options.
Pick a substitute word — Pick a word that sounds like the object you are trying to visualize. For example; let’s say the thing we want to remember involves Minnesota (Unless you’ve been there it’s pretty hard to visualize Minnesota), instead visualize a mini soda, a small soda can. Better yet visualize many mini sodas.
Pick an associated visual — Pick something you can visualize which reminds you of the thing you are trying to remember. For example; let’s say the thing you want to remember is ‘justice’ — visualize a courthouse with the pillars in the front. Or let’s say your idea to remember is that you need a find a person who is a great salesperson (you can visualize a salesperson in a suit but a person in a suit might not be specific enough) visualize a person you know who is a salesperson. If your visualization is a step or two removed from the idea you are trying to remember that’s fine.

Step 2: Pick a Trigger

Now pick something you will encounter later that will trigger what you want to remember.

If you have a million-dollar idea while going to sleep this could be something you will see when you wake up, like your bedroom furniture, your bathroom, your front door, etc. If a thought you want to capture pops into your head while at a red light, your trigger could be your garage door, your parking spot, even your roommate who you will see when you get home! If it happens while you are in the shower, then your towel or even your underwear would make a great trigger!

Step 3: Create an Absurd Association

The most important step of the process is to create a really striking and bizarre visual association between the important thought and the trigger.

This absurd association should involve at least one of these:

  • Substitution
  • Out of Proportion
  • Action or Violence
  • Multiplication
  • Sexiness (If you are like me your private thoughts tend to be dirty more often than not. So, by all means, feel free to make absurd associations sexual — it certainly helps to make them more bizarre!)

Here are some examples:
Great Idea to Remember: I should call Caren about speaking at our fundraiser.
Trigger: Christmas tree you see when you arrive home.
Absurd Association: Imagine Caren beating and destroying your Christmas tree with a disproportionately large microphone.

Great Idea to Remember: I should establish 30-day net terms with my food vendor for my small business.
Trigger: Your towel, getting out of the shower!
Absurd Association: Imagine your calendar (30 days) growing legs and arms and doing a sexy dance, while wearing your towel, then your calendar grows a mouth and starts to eat your towel! Then your ferocious anthropomorphic towel goes into your kitchen and starts devouring all your food.

Great Idea to Remember: I should sell my car to my cousin who needs a car.
Trigger: Your morning coffee cup.
Absurd Association: Imagine yourself driving your car and in front of you appears 20 clones of your cousin, but your cousin’s body has been replaced with a giant coffee cup. You race ahead and run over your cousin’s coffee cup bodied clones!

Order on Amazon or read my book review

Henry Lorayne, who wrote one of my favorite books on memory systems, kept his cigarettes next to his bedside (like a lot of smokers do), when he got a million-dollar idea in the middle of the night he would knock his cigarettes on the floor spilling them. He would then associate his million-dollar idea to his cigarettes, the first out of place thing he would notice in the morning. Now hopefully you don’t smoke (It’s one of the least limitless things you can do) but I bet you have something you place next to were you sleep that you could use the same way, like your cell phone, change, watch, books, magazines, etc.

The first few times you do this it may take a few minutes to come up with your visualization, trigger and absurd association but after just a bit of practice, they will come to you in moments.

This memory system works pretty consistently. No more forgetting million dollar ideas you come up with while showering or at red lights. No more pulling yourself out of bed in the middle of the night to find a pencil and pad.

Originally published at




Adventuring philosopher, Pompous pontificator, Writer, K-Selected Biohacker, Tantric husband, Raconteur & Smart Drug Dealer 🇺🇸

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

“Aren’t you a bit too young?”​

12 Ways to Build an Ideal Life for Yourself

Are we the luckiest human beings alive #Day3

This is time for reflection. A time to look inward.

What Is The Impact Of Spoken Word?

Focusing On The Negative Is Suffocating

Fighting Yourself

‘Five minutes a day’

Three blind contour drawings of hands in different poses.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Jonathan Roseland

Jonathan Roseland

Adventuring philosopher, Pompous pontificator, Writer, K-Selected Biohacker, Tantric husband, Raconteur & Smart Drug Dealer 🇺🇸

More from Medium

Why Is It Difficult To Learn A New Skill Well Enough To Make Money From It?

Mollie McGlocklin Wants to Help Sharpen Your Sleep Skills

6 Books Guaranteed To Change Your Mindset

Powerful 5 Positive Thinking Books For The Happiest Life — Mystorylovers