The Memory Palace System

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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

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

The List

  • Potatoes
  • Ice Cream
  • Cheese
  • Ketchup
  • Eggs
  • Tomatoes
  • Onions

Visualizing the Process

  1. 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…
  2. 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…
  3. 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…
  4. 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…

Exercise Completed!

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.

Disclaimers

Before I call it on this article I would like to throw out a couple disclaimers:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Final Thoughts

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!

As a last note, also remember to check out the nootropics articles and brain nutrients list for additional enhancement and supplementation!

Mental Health and Prosperity

This is where we really start to delve into the purpose and goals of the overall enhancement process. Without getting too far ahead of myself, I’d like to give a couple short examples of the purpose of this series.

Sherlock Holmes

Do you wonder if Holmes’ superb attention to every minute detail and mind-numbing deduction is even possible?

Definitive proof on the subject would seem to be few and far between, but there is historical documentation of the real Sherlock Holmes – Dr. Joseph Bell, whose mental health and powers of deduction matched (or at least very nearly so) his fictional counterpart:

“Dr. Bell could deduce a man’s habits, his trade, his nationality, his mere appearance and his place of origin, by subtle observations. ‘Use your eyes, sir!’ he would tell a student observing a patient. ‘Use your ears, use your brain, your bump of perception, and use your powers of deduction.'”(1)

So now that we have determined that the Sherlock ability is, in fact, humanly possible, I’ll venture out an additional step or two (or a leap or three some may think) and postulate that not only is the ability humanly possible, but that it is in fact attainable; a trainable goal for any individual with a healthy and functional brain.

Nikola Tesla

Another remarkable individual with superior mental health was the mysterious Nikola Tesla. Had he traveled the same path as Sherlock Holmes, he would likely have displayed an equally impressive display of mystery solving prowess.

Thanks to his keen visual memory, he was able to invent, test drive, locate problems, fix them, and put together the final, fully functional prototype – all in his head! He developed his mind’s eye to such an extent that he could see images in his mind as clearly as he could see them in real life. This is one of the easier goals to attain thanks to its straightforward and less than abstract nature. Memory is simply a weaker representation of what we perceive in real life – when we remember someone’s face, the face is less vivid –  the sounds we recall are faint – the smells are mild.

The possibility of training the mind to see these memories vividly is very real – my goal is clear and the methods are concrete.

To reach Tesla’s level of visualization may take a long period of dedicated practice, but it’s possible, and even if you shoot for the moon and miss, you’ll land amongst the stars.

These two examples provide us with a limited preview of our mission, but only cover two of the six mental “powers” we are striving for.

My Mental Strategy Goals

The six strategies I’m referring to are:

  • Obsession (Mental Focus in Overdrive)
  • Vivid Mental Visualization (Crystal Clarity of Recall)
  • Innovation (Unbridled Creativity and Imagination)
  • Lightening Wit (Processing and Generative Speed often combined with Humor)
  • Terminological Command (Extensive and Effective Vocabulary)
  • The Art of Memory (Speed and Retention of Recollection and Recall)

These mental powers, disciplines, techniques; whatever you want to call them – the process of practicing these disciplines, is the key. It is the missing element in cracking the cognitive code of mental prosperity and potential.

Put aside doubt – research more, read into it, do whatever needs to be done to rid yourself of any debilitating uncertainty – High goals are only attained in the spirit of conviction and certainty.

If you trust the potentiality of your mind only to a certain degree, you will only have the chance to reach that degree or level of ability. Imagine if Alexander the Great had believed his potential to be limited to what others had done – would he have conquered the known world? He wouldn’t have, and instead of Alexander the Great, we (if we knew of him at all) would know him as “Alexander the third, king of Macedon” – one of the lesser kings of the Grecian empire.

But he took the path less traveled, and his surname indicates the outcome of the decision. In this world there are two types of people – “Alexander the Greats”, and “Alexander the thirds”. The first path leads to prosperity, the second to mediocrity.

What is your path?

The Missing Link to the Elite Mind

Many people wonder why they get bad grades, or why they aren’t smart. Others look for weak spots in their study and get advice on how to improve their knowledge. Some people curse their bad memory, while others ponder on ways to increase it.

Everyone marvels at the intelligence of someone they know at one point or another, but a only a select few develop a plan to emulate or surpass that individual.

This brings us to the topic of the link that causes drastic improvement of the mind; the bridge between the current state of your brain – and the elite mind it has the potential to be (think Einstein, Tesla, Da Vinci, etc.).

That link is memory. Well not just memory, but the exercising, improvement, and technique-developing strategies of the “Art of Memory”.

The Decline of Memory

‘Why is memory so important?’ someone asked me recently.
‘Why is it so underrated?’ I replied.

Memory has become an exceptionally undervalued tool in our modern culture. The reason for this can be blamed, at least partially,  on technology. The decline of the cultivation of memory began with the Gutenberg printing press. One of the most important functions of memory at the time was the preservation of tradition, history, and knowledge through memorization and oral regurgitation. The advent of written language, printing presses, typewriters, and then computers made it more efficient to simply record information on paper or digitally. This resulted in the demotion of memory from the most vital element of human intelligence to a convenient but nearly obsolete skill (perception in this case, is far from reality).

The ancients had deep sense of respect and awe for the skill of recall:

The Grecian poet and play writer Aeschylus, said “Memory is the mother of all wisdom.”

Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman orator and statesmen wrote: “Memory is the treasury and guardian of all things.”

They viewed the learning, storing, and retention of information as an art, and employed many different techniques to hone this skill.

How Memory Supports Intelligence as a Foundation

What they understood, and we seem to have forgotten is this:

Memory is the foundation of all intelligence.

Here is a short list of examples to back that statement up:

  1. Short-term memory is critical to multitasking anything.
  2. Remembering names, events, and happenings in a friends life for instance – this is essential to maintaining relationships.
  3. Humor – one of the most enjoyable aspects of any relationship – relies completely on memory of jokes, stories, funny experiences, witty sayings, etc.
  4. Long-term memory serves in learning a task and completing it well over the course of time.
  5. Think about doctors – medical procedures, terminology, and many, many other things must be committed to memory.
  6. Lawyers have to memorize their deposition and hearings notes, and often the points they want to make during the trial.
  7. Psychologists and therapists rely on their memory of the human psyche to evaluate and treat their patients.

The Case Made Against Memory

This list can go on forever, but then again, the opposite end of the spectrum is convincing as well.

  1. Why memorize a tedious list of information when it takes 5 seconds to Google it?
  2. Funny commercials or moments on your favorite shows can be sent over e-mail, or found on YouTube – why waste brain cells remembering the whole story if you can just send a link?
  3. You don’t need to remember how to change your oil because you can find a DIY video or instructional in less than 30 seconds online. Housework is the same way – replace the gutters? Google here I come.
  4. How about cooking? Grandma’s favorite recipe is plagiarism like every other recipe in existence – and allrecipes has them all.
  5. Shopping list – smartphone app
  6. To do’s and weekly chores – i-calendar

The Verdict…

While it is true that technology has made some forms of memory nearly obsolete, it’s obvious from the first list that we still rely heavily on our memory, and that losing strength in this skill is detrimental to our intelligence. Consider your life without memory. Pretty bleak. And BORING. People practically lose their personality when they disregard their own memory, and here is an even more important thought:

Consider your life – your job, career, friendships, business relationships, etc. with a flawless memory:

  1. You remember everything that is going on in your relationships
  2. Your multitasking ability helps you in your job, hobbies, sports
  3. Your first impression skills are upgraded because you actually remember names, where and how you met, what they were wearing, and what you talked about

That sounds good – but is it possible? A flawless memory is pretty hard to come by, but if you do your research you will find that it is both possible and plausible to expect hard work and discipline in the art of memory to yield returns in the form of a photographic, and even eidetic memory.

…and a Story to Back it Up

 

Two neighbors decided to build a work shed (one suggested how great it would be to have a storage place for his tools and an additional place of refuge from his nagging wife, and the other followed suite). The first made a list for the materials he needed:

  •  Wood
  • Concrete
  • Paint
  • Shingles
  • Nails

After he had made his list, he spent one evening traveling to the hardware store for nails, the next evening buying paint, and the next finding deals on concrete and wood. Then he began to work. He looked over into his neighbor’s yard (expecting to see him starting or gathering materials as well) and was shocked to see a freshly painted shed in the yard, complete with tools and radio music blaring through the open door. “How the…”

Then he remembered – his neighbor had a habit of finding, collecting, and storing materials he thought he might need for the future. He had areas on his land and in his garage neatly organized into sections of materials: wood in one, hardware in another, paint, shingles, etc – he had everything he needed before he started!

So while his neighbor was busy gathering materials, he was utilizing the materials he already had to build his shed.

We use information like the second neighbor used his material. Sometimes it is not efficient to spend time memorizing information you will rarely use, or information you can easily gather on the Internet, but there are many forms of information and knowledge that you will likely use on a daily basis, and some that is good to know even if you didn’t.

The Art of Memory

Most individuals in today’s society have forgotten or were never taught the importance of memory, and suffer a distinct disadvantage because of this. Don’t fall into the same downgrading mindset – your memory can be drastically improved using techniques that ancient scholars used – increasing in the art of memory heightens fluid intelligence and even physically increases the Hippo campus primarily, as well as other areas of the brain.

I’ll leave it at that for now, but I urge you – take up the hobby of memorization – The Art of Memory.

This is the missing link between the average mind and the elite mind. It can seem tedious, but using the right techniques, it’s really not. It’s rewarding, and in the long run it’s a critical investment that will pay intellectual dividends.

Nature vs Nurture Case Studies 3 and 4: Shizuka Arakawa and Alexandra Kosteniuk

I have a ton of examples that we may revisit at a later date, but for now, I’m eager to get to the meat and potatoes – I want to share the formulas, techniques, and strategies, and tactics that I have learned that will unlock your mind’s hidden potential.

This will be our last set of Nature vs Nurture Case Studies, but I hope that this has offered some convincing evidence of how the mind works – how it is cultivated, molded, exercised, and trained to excellence, as opposed to the common school of thought which attributes strong talent and ability to genetics; natural aptitude.

The Brain Muscle

It has been proven, or very nearly proven anyways (it is nearly impossible to truly “prove” anything) that the human brain operates a lot like a muscle. Here is a great article I enjoyed reading on that subject.

The mind has to be treated like a muscle – exercised, trained, fed a healthy diet, etc. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you may have a genetic “swinging chance” to become an intellectual powerhouse.

You have the ability to shape your brain into what you want it to be. But it takes time, dedication, and the right tools. Enough said on that. Here are our last case studies until further notice:

Case Study #3: Shizuka Arakawa

Shizuka Arakawa was a Japanese figure skater since the age of 5. She won the Olympic gold in Turin in 2006 at the age of 24. “A study of figure skaters found that sub-elite skaters spent lots of time working on the jumps they could already do, while skaters at the highest levels spent more time on the jumps they couldn’t do … and that involves lots of falling down before they’re mastered. Falling down in figure skating means landing on your behind, protected by a thin costume, on hard, cold ice.”Colvin says that Arakawa landed on her derriere “at least” 20,000 times before gaining gold. It’s not inherent talent. It’s deliberate and uncomfortable practice. (1)

 

Case Study #4: Alexandra Kosteniuk

Here is an excerpt from her website:

“Hello everybody! My name is Alexandra Kosteniuk, I am the 12th women’s world chess champion. I was born on April 23, 1984 in Perm, Russia. I started to play chess at the age of 5. During my chess career I have achieved many titles and won various prestigious chess events: at the age of 14 I became a woman grandmaster. In 2001, at the age of 17, I reached the final stage of the women’s world chess championship and became the vice-champion of the world. In 2004 I became the European Champion among women and in 2005 I conquered the Women’s Russian Championship. The peak achievement of my career was in 2008 when I won the women’s world chess championship in Nalchik, getting the world crown and the 12th women’s world champion title. I have been playing for the Russian National Team since 2002, together with my team I won the Chess Olympiad-2010 and became 3-times winner of the European Team Championship (2007, 2009 and 2011).” ( http://kosteniuk.com/)

Her secret of success – extensive training from the age of 5 on.

Do a little research on your own and see what you find out – I personally have not been able to find one single account of an athlete or scholar who has climbed the ladder of success through means of the myth of natural talent.

I challenge you to find anything proving otherwise!

Nature vs Nurture Case Study: Tiger Woods

The man, the myth, the unbridled skirt-chaser. Although his marital devotion is considerably lacking, his golfing prowess is hard to deny.

He was PGA Player of the Year a record ten times, PGA Tour Player of the Year a record ten times, PGA Tour Money Leader for a record of nine times, Vardon Trophy winner a record eight times, and was the recipient of the Byron Nelson Award for a record of nine times, to name a handful of his accomplishments.

Nature or Nurture?

Is his athletic aptitude a natural ability? Is Tiger simply a rare genetic masterpiece?

No, he’s not. While genetics certainly plays a part, its role is likely quite trivial in the contribution to this athlete’s ability.

Training

Consider his training and years of single-minded practice before you assume he is simply genetically gifted. Tiger’s father, much like Mozart’s, put him to work from an extremely early age. He would sit his highchair in front of him in the garage, where the young Tiger could watch him practice swing while he drank from his sippy cup. Before he could walk his father was teaching him to swing, and this training continued until he had no more to teach, and he handed Tiger over to the pros. At this point Tiger was beginning to make a name for himself as a child prodigy.

In studying the greatest athletes, generals, musicians, thinkers, inventors, scientists, etc. in history, one is hard pressed to find an individual who was not trained from an early age to become a “prodigy”. At bare minimum they were raised in an environment that stimulated their abilities to the highest degree (think Alexander the Great, or Alexandra Kosteniuk for instance).

Application

The good news for us is this: If their abilities are not primarily genetic, their gifts being learned, not inherited – this gives hope to those of us who are not currently gifted, or at least seem to lack stronger talents and abilities than surrounding peers. If the conclusion is that prodigies and geniuses are taught (whether by mentors or self-taught), why then can we not attain similar levels of intelligence and ability?

The answer of course, is that we can, and I will say that not only we can, but we should. Anyone that tells you otherwise is holding you back for a reason – either they want to mislead you for selfish reasons, or have themselves been deceived.

For more information read “Talent is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin – Most of my Nature vs Nurture case studies are inspired by this book, and I want to make it clear that in this portion of my blog, he has done most of the researching legwork.