Improve Your Memory and Never Forget

September 28, 2015 at 2:27 pm (Rant, Thinking, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )


Memory is key to living. How can you operate if you can’t remember who you are, what you’re doing, and where you’re going? Consider this quotation from Hugh of St. Victor: “The whole usefulness of education consists only in the memory of it”. Essentially, you could pay thousands of dollars to go to school for years and obtain a doctorate, but how useful is it if you don’t remember anything of those years?

Often I hear people explain that their memory isn’t what it used to be, and they just can’t seem to retain anything. Unfortunately, there is no magic cure to help us instantly improve our memories and remember everything we’d like to. However, I’d like to introduce you to a technique I make use of: the memory palace. Honestly, you don’t have to be a genius or a brilliant detective to take advantage of this technique, but it will take some deliberate practice and effort to get used to it.

Brief Background on Memory Palaces

This technique is also known as the “Method of Loci”, the “Journey Method”, or the “Roman Room” method. All of these names essentially point to the idea of associating items or concepts with a physical location. You might not even realize this, but your brain is exceedingly good at remembering locations. You’re able to remember the rooms in your house, where your furniture is, and where the bathroom is at your place of employment. I bet you can probably remember the journey you took to get to work today as well.

The general idea of this technique is that you associate the things you want to memorize with areas of these locations using vivid images. When you imagine yourself walking through your location in your mind, you will “see” these images and they will remind you of the items you’re trying to remember.

See the Memory Palace in Action

As a trivial example to illustrate my point, if I wanted to remember a grocery list consisting of bread, milk, eggs, and butter, I could do something like the following:

I choose to use the journey from my apartment to the nearest bus stop; I live pretty close to it, but my list is very small. As I exit the lobby of my apartment, my spider-sense tingles to let me know I’m in danger! I quickly duck to avoid being hit by a French baker swinging a baguette at me. He shouts profanities at me as I run around the corner to avoid him. Whew! Bread is the first item on my list.

As the next part of my journey, I have to cross over the exit to the underground parking lot for my building. Unfortunately, just as I walk up to it, a stampede of cows rush out of the parking lot. Their cow bells are clanging as they run past me, and I notice that they definitely smell like cows. Milk is the second item on my list.

Once the stampede is over, I continue down the street to a stop sign so I can cross the road. I wait to ensure the cars are going to stop for me before I begin to cross. As I start to walk, I hear honking from the jeep that stopped for me – what is their problem? I look over and there are chickens driving that jeep! They look really angry with me that I had the nerve to cross the road and they start throwing eggs at me. I cover my head and run to get to the other side. Eggs are the third item.

It finally looks like I’ve made it; I can see the bus stop from here. As I fist-bump the air to celebrate, I realize I’ve made a grave mistake – I’m no longer watching the sidewalk. Somebody has smeared butter all over the sidewalk and I slip and fall! Now I’m covered in grease and everything will probably stick to me now. Butter is the last item on the list.

At this point, you need to practice walking through this journey in your mind. If you only need the list for a short period of time, you don’t need to practice that much. However, if you are storing information you’ll need for a long period of time, you’ll want to refresh the journey periodically to make sure it doesn’t degrade.

What Can You Store in a Memory Palace?

Honestly, I haven’t been able to find things that can’t be memorized using this technique. It has been used for hundreds of years by some very famous people (as a homework assignment, I encourage you to do a little research). Essentially anything can be stored, but it depends on the amount of effort and creativity you have. Here is a short list of different types of information you can store; everybody likes lists, right?

  • Sequential Lists of data such as processes, instructions, or ordered data
  • Sets of unrelated data such as concepts within a field or shopping lists
  • Speeches or stories. These have an ordered sequence of plot points

Ways to Improve the Quality of these Associations

On a final note, I should discuss some things to make the whole process easier. There are certain types of memories that your brain will have an easier time storing. If you think of images for your memory palace that involve these concepts, you’ll find that they will become more vivid and therefore more memorable. The following is a short (but not exclusive) list of these concepts:

Laughter. Create funny images that you can laugh at. Instead of some ultra-realistic image, throw in some comical things like chickens throwing their eggs at somebody.

Exaggeration. Make things larger than they have to be or more intense. An angry French baker dueling with bread is more memorable than a grocery store rack of bread loafs (to me anyway).

Your senses. Memories that include multiple senses have a lasting effect. What do things smell like? What do they sound like? Do they have tactile textures?

Positive Thinking. This is an underestimated factor of memory. You have to have a positive opinion of what you’re trying to remember. Your subconscious will always try to protect you by trimming out unhappy memories when it can. Keeping things positive will put you in a better state when you revisit your memory palace and will reduce stress (which creates chemicals that are not helpful for thinking).

I hope you’ll give this a shot; I’ve had some great success using this technique to remember some really tedious and detail-oriented concepts over the years. It’s great for never forgetting, and it’s also an excellent creativity exercise. Happy remembering.

Originally posted here: http://www.linkedin.com/pulse/improve-your-memory-never-forget-jake-seigel

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