Advanced Memory: The PAO System

Newton Sneezing on a Sandwich

Using a PAO memory system is a must if I’m going to get anywhere in the world of memory athletes. PAO stands for Person-Action-Object.

Upgrading to a PAO System

I used to use the Major System to remember numbers and cards (find out more about the Major System here). There’s nothing wrong with the Major System by itself, but I know it won’t be enough for any memory competition.

Still, in developing my PAO, I’ve incorporated the Major System as closely as I could. This way, should I get lost while learning the PAO, I can rely on the consonants as a clue.

For example, should I stumble on number 04, I know that the person, action, and object will all have the sounds s – n. With some luck, I’ll be able to figure out that Isaac Newton is sneezing on a sandwich.

Why use a PAO System?

Admittedly, there is more upfront work in preparing this system. But, once I’ve mastered the technique, its benefit is efficiency. The way that information is compacted into a single scene turns six digits into one little vignette.

For example, using my PAO chart, the number 713904 turns into a vivid image of Catwoman mopping a sarcophagus. Combine that with the power of a memory palace, and we’re off to one heck of a start!

How the PAO System Works

I’m going to use a two-digit PAO. That means every set of digits from 00 to 99 has a person, action, and object attached to it. When we read off a number, like 713904, we first break it into a series of two-digit numbers. In this case: 71-39-04. The first two digits correspond to the person. The second two match up with the action, and the last two are tied to the object.

If you look at the chart below, you’ll see that 71 is Catwoman, cutting, and cat. We only need the person — Catwoman — from this selection. Similarly, 39 is Miss Piggy, mopping, and map. 39 is the second set of digits, so we need mopping. Lastly, 04 is Salman Rushdie, serenading, and sarcophagus. Since it’s our last number, we’ll take sarcophagus.

Of course, we want to visualize these vignettes as vividly as possible. We also want to place the story inside a memory palace, but that’s another story.

I have posted my PAO chart below. As I work through the PAO, I may swap some of the items, but this is a good starting point. I’m also making ‘flash cards’ for each of the PAOs. I’ll update this article when they’re done and post it as well.


Simon Cowell Sucking a Squirrel
Simon Cowell Sucking a Squirrel
00Sylvester Stalonesassingsausages
Steven Tylerstranglingstork
02Isaac Newtonsneezingsandwich
03Supermansmokingsea monster
04Salman Rushdieserenadingsarcophagus
05Shia Labeoufsalutingsalamander
06Swedish Chefshootingshark
07Simon Cowellsuckingsquirrel
08Sigmund Freudsiftingsaffron
09Scotty Pippensipping spiders
10Tony Sopranotazingtoaster
11Tony Tigertighteningtits
12Trevor Noahtuningtuna
13Toni Morrisontemptingtomato
14Tony Robbinstracingtree
15Tommy Leetiltingtelevision
16Tommy Chongteachingt-shirt
17Tia Carreraticklingtaco
18Tina Feytransferringtaffy
19Tom Pettytappingtable
21Nikola Teslanotarizingnuts
22Nick Noltenaggingnanobots
23Nelson Mandelanumbingnamplates
24Nancy Reagannursingnurse
25Neil ArmstrongnailingNile
26Noam Chomskynavigatingnachos
27Nick Krollnickingnecks
28Ned FlandersneighingNewfies
29Natalie PortmannappingNorth Pole
30Marge Simpsonmoisteningmusic
31Mr. Tmottling meat
32Minnie (Mouse)manglingmoon
33Marvin the Martianmimingmuumuu
34Mr. Rogersmarkingmermaid
35Mario Lemeuxmilkingmelon
36Macho (Man)mashingmushroom
37Mark Cubanmakingmacaroni
38Morgan Freemanmoving (*too close to transferring?)muffin
39Miss Piggymoppingmap
40Richard Simmonsracingraisins
41Raymond Holtrattlingrutabega
42Richard Nixonransackingrainbow
43Ralph Machiorememberingram
44Road Runnerreadingrailroad
45Rob Lowerolling(bread) roll
46Richard Bransonrechargingradish
47Russell Crowerockingraccoon
48Roger Federerrefusingruffians
49Russell Petersrappingraven
50Lisa Simpsonlisteninglizard
51Leon Trotskylitigatinglitter
52Link (Zelda)lungingLincoln
53Lightning McQueenlamentinglama
54Leia Organalordinglure
55Louis L'Amourlayinglollipop
56Lon Chaneylatchingleech
57Lara Croftlickinglockbox
58Laurence Fishburnelaughingleaf
59Louis Primaleapingleopard
60Charlie Sheenchest compressionscheese
61Chris Tuckershittingshingles
62Chuck Norrischunkingchainsaw
63Charles Mansonshimmyingchum
64ChercheeringChristmas tree
65Charles Lucky Lucianoshoulderingchallis
66Chester Cheetahcha-cha-ingchakra (floating eye)
67Chaka Khanshakingcheque
68Chris Farleyshufflingchef
69Charlie Chaplinshapingchaps
72Candy, Johncanjuringcandy cane
73Karl Marxcummingcamel
74Keanu Reevescarryingcrab
75Kenny Logginskillingcoyote
76Carol Channingcrushingketchup
77Captain CavemankickingKitkat
78Kung Fu Pandacoughingknife
80Frank Sinatrafistingfossil
81Father Timefightingfetus
82Fiona (from Shrek)faintingfawn
83Freddie Mercuryfumigatingfoam
84Franklin Rooseveltfartingferret
85The Flashfilmingflamingo
86Frederick Chopinfishingfish
87Fidel Castrofuckingficus
88Fred Flinstoneoffendingfife
90Patrick Starpassingpussy
91Pete Townsendpettingpatella
92Pam Andersonpaintingpenus
93Pac Manpumpingpumpkin
94Professor Xpiercingparrot
95(Emperor) Palpatinepeelingpelican
96Prince Charmingpushingpachyderm
97Penelope Cruzpackingpike
98PT Barnumpeeingpufferfish

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