As illustrated by the image above, memory is quite complex, but the more tools we have to harness our thoughts and power of recall, the simpler it becomes.
I have been using the Memory Palace System for a few months now, but only for little things like grocery and topic lists (lists of points I want to make in a conversation or debate). However, recently I’ve been using it to memorize poetry, passages of the Bible, and other important documents, and have found that it has enabled me to memorize passages in less than half of the time it would normally.
So a poem that would take 30 minutes to add to my mid/long- term memory now takes less than 15 minutes. There are, however, both advantages and disadvantages to the technique that we’ll discuss later.
The History of the Memory Palace
The memory palace, also known as “the Method of Loci”, is the oldest mnemonic technique dating back to the ancient civilization of Rome. It’s development is generally accredited to Simonides of Ceos, who stumbled upon the observation that the human mind recalled locations and imagery far more readily than other mental devices. There is more history to it than all that, but for the sake of time, we’ll leave it at that.
Creating the Mind Palace
- In order to remember the list below in accordance with the method, you need to create a mind palace. It is recommended to start with the room you know best, a bedroom, bathroom, or office for instance.
- Before you can effectively memorize the list, your room must be recalled to near perfection. You need to be able to walk through the room and note every object in the room in a methodical order that should be followed every time you use the technique. In my memory palace for example, I always walk in through the front door, take an immediate left and observe each and every picture, painting and piece of furniture in the room, traveling clockwise, then continue on to the next room and do the same thing.
A Shopping List Example
The Method of Loki is the reference of memory to spatial mind maps. A good way to test the technique is by simply doing it – take a shopping list for example:
- Ice Cream
Visualizing the Process
- As you walk into your room, place a mental image of a bushel of potatoes, baked ones, complete with all of your favorite toppings; melted butter, dripping cheddar cheese, freshly cooked bacon bits sprinkled over the molten cheese. Take a bite of one of the steaming fresh morsels. Note the taste, texture, and intoxicating aroma…
- As you walk through the door, still munching on that heavenly bite of loaded potatoes, you must step around them to get to the next image…
- The wall is covered with frozen ice cream, that thanks to the magic of imagination, will not melt until you shovel a generous portion of your favorite flavor into your mouth. It is cold, sweet, and that wall looks amazing with all of your favorite toppings dripping down it. As you pass the table however, you are greeted by a toxic stench…
- There are mounds of rotting, moldy cheese on the table, dripping off of it, the putrid green sludge dribbling onto your bare foot, squishing between your toes. The stench is unbearable, nearly causing you to vomit – you move on to the next piece of furniture/wall/room…
Continue through the exercise in this manner, creating images that appeal to at least three of your senses, always to the extreme, whether delicious bliss or rotten revulsion. Once you are finished, you will be able to recall each item with ease, as you walk through the room and recall the images you have created.
Notes on the Method
Keep in mind that the more you practice this exercise, the quicker and more efficient you become at it, and also the more rooms you can add for recalling more items. Many people have devoted well-known castles, literal palaces, and famous buildings to memory for the purpose of memorizing large quantities of information. This method is highly effective in recalling lists, numbers, speeches, poetry, bible verses, historical documents, plays, and more. It is really up to your imagination what you can do with it, though most ancient Romans (Including famous orators Cicero and Quintilian) and subsequent civilizations typically used it as a rhetoric device.
Before I call it on this article I would like to throw out a couple disclaimers:
- This technique is great for quick storage of vital information into your mid to long term memory. The brain is like a wax tablet and the more you repeat a memory, the deeper the etching. Conversely, the longer you go without repeating the memory, the more likely the memory is to fade.
- As the saying goes “if you don’t use it, you lose it”. This is true even when using a mnemonic device as strong as this one.
- The memory palace typically works well as a supplemental technique, but should not be solely relied upon. It helps quite a bit with the initial memorization, but for this particular style of memorization muscle memory is necessary, thus auditory repetition (Tibetan Buddhist style) is superior.
A philosophy that has proved itself time and time again is the concept of perfect practice. I am currently honing my practice of memory techniques and info graphic presentation, and as you can see from the image above, I have a good deal of fine tuning to do!
That being said, I would like to invite you to follow the progress of my goals, and share your own – in the process of goal setting, there are not many better practices than sharing in the success and failure of others, giving and receiving help and advice, and documenting your progress in a public environment. So share your thoughts, your goals, aspirations, progress, etc. Looking forward to hearing from you!