THE GAME’S AFOOT… MEMORY IMPROVEMENT TIPS
Today, I’ve brought along a little memory game because I want talk about the memory palace technique, also known as the Method of Loci. It’s a blog topic inspired by none other than Sherlock Holmes. (Ignore the video if you don’t want to test your memory while reading this…)
I’ve used the memory palace technique for quite a while now, but over the New Year, BBC’s Sherlock gave its viewers a highly climactic example of how it works, so I thought there might be renewed interest. Viewers watched as the main character ran through his childhood home in his mind, searching for deeply buried information that could save his life during his last three seconds of consciousness. (Personally, I prefer to use this memory improvement technique, my mind palace, for things like remembering my shopping list but whatever floats your boat.)
WAIT, SO, WHAT’S A MEMORY PALACE?
For those of you not familiar with the concept, it’s a visualization technique which has proved quite successful since Ancient Roman times. It involves building a mental replica of a very familiar place and then depositing visual prompts for everything you need to remember in there. Visualization is key when using this memory improvement technique.
HOW WILL IT HELP ME REMEMBER STUFF?
It might seem strange, but think of it this way, have you ever forgotten where your shower is? Your toilet? What about your fridge? Probably not. It doesn’t matter how much you have going on, the world could be ending, but you still wouldn’t second guess where your permanent fixtures were, you’d just know. The theory goes that because you are so familiar with these things, you can use visual association to make yourself familiar with other, unrelated things.
MEMORY PALACES ARE USEFUL FOR PEOPLE WHO:
- Have to remember lots of information on a daily basis (to-do lists, address books, appointments, names, faces etc.)
- Need to learn and retain information for an exam, job or hobby
- Want an easy, fun way to improve their recall.
LET’S TRY IT OUT
It’s all good an well explaining how it works, but the proof of the pudding and all that.
Here’s a five item to-do list:
- Get prescription
- Call the bank
- Get groceries
- Pay gas bill
- Book dental appointment
Let’s use our respective houses as an example. For the sake of remembering things in order, (Cause there’s no point remembering to board a plane if you’ve forgotten where your ticket is) I’ll go through the start of my morning routine (which never changes) in chronological order, planting memory symbols within the narrative in order of importance. I’m going to invite you to visualise it with me. Use your own home for spacial reference.
- In my mind, I open my eyes, and stare straight up at the ceiling. What’s there? OH MY GOD, my whole ceiling is one giant painted prescription today. Picture it vividly, it’s huge, it’s light green, and the typeface is Courier New.
- Next, I go over to my wardrobe, I open it, but instead of clothes,there’s a black abyss, a fan blows thousands of bank statements out of it at high speed. I get blown back, I shut it quickly. Again, picture it vividly, feel the ice cold of the fan on your neck, the paper cuts you get as the bank statements fly at you. How do you feel while this is happening to you?
- I dress, and then head into the kitchen, where I go to put the kettle on, but next to it, there are grocery bags overflowing with fresh fruit and veg , all the tomatoes have piranha teeth, they yell “GOOD MORNING STARSHINE, THE EARTH SAYS HELLO!” in an evil way, and try to bite me as I go to move the bags.
- I leave the bags and head the living room, but a massive gas bill blocks the door, it looks like a club bouncer, it has a suit and shoulder pads. I pay it and it lets me through.
- On the sofa, a large decaying tooth with human features presents me with a coffee, and we sit together. He’s uncomfortable and he keeps rubbing the decaying areas.
See how my everyday morning routine is now so wacky and ridiculous that these things will come to mind automatically as I do normal things like make a coffee?
NOW YOU TRY AND MAKE ONE – ENJOY THIS MEMORY IMPROVEMENT TIP:
- Where will your first memory palace be? Your house? Your office? The school run?
- Which route will you chose? It needs to be a familiar one you make everyday. Can you visualise it spatially? Walk it now. Where can you hide things? Which objects is your eye most drawn to as you enter each distinct area? Draw out a floor plan if you have to. Remember to plan out a particular route for your mental walk and stick to it, that way it becomes part of your memory ritual
- What will you use for your symbols? Make them bold, make them bizarre, but most importantly, make them into interactive objects or characters. The human mind responds to narratives very well!
MORE TIPS AND TRICKS
- People who need to remember A LOT of information usually have multiple memory palaces.
- You might want to use your house memory palace for to-do lists, and things to do with family, but have another at your office for information you need to remember from work.
- In an interview on the subject, TV mentalist Derren Brown said he had built a memory palace of the whole of Central London so that he had a place to store information on the history of art. Pretty impressive, huh?
- Try to vary the places that you store your information, at least until you get good at the technique.
- I always fancied having a replica of a big local library in my mind palace, with shelves full of memory books. The problem is that books all look pretty similar when there’s tonnes of them on shelves together and I know I might get confused.
- Just because you might have four identical dining chairs and two brown armchairs, you don’t have to fill them all with symbols or you’re just asking for confusion. Remember, you can always extend out into the street if you need more room.
- By the same token, don’t use a money symbol for paying the bills AND a money symbol for going to the bank if they’re on the same to-do list. Your poor mind will be most bewildered and you won’t remember the tasks clearly.
GO FORTH AND BUILD, MIND ARCHITECTS!
That’s about all I have to say on memory palaces, I hope you feel you can have a go at building one if you want to. Don’t forget to complete the memory task if you played my game, as exercises like that can really help you get used to working with a mind palace. Please feel free to leave a comment on my blog to let me know how you get on, as I really love all this sort of thing.