It’s already November. I can’t believe it… time has gone by so quickly. Since many of us have upcoming exams or just want to do some extra study prep, here’s one of my favourite and most useful memory techniques, called memory palaces. If you’re a visual learner, you might find this technique quite handy in memorizing anything from images and faces to facts, dates, and data. You don’t have to be uber creative, and if you don’t have the greatest memory (a flaw I possess), this will be extremely helpful to your study process.
The use of memory palaces (or method of Loci) is a mnemonic device used to remember specific facts, objects or details in a specific visualization pattern. One of the names for it is “the journey method”, which refers to the use of visualization in order to organize and recall information. (thanks Wikipedia!)
In other words, it uses the familiar to allow you to remember the unfamiliar. Though it does help if you’re particularly good at visualizing, you don’t have to be. All you need to have in mind is a place you know well, and a series of things you intend to remember.
Start by visualizing a place you know like the back of your hand, such as your house, your high school, a friend’s house. Pick a path through that place you know well – such as the hallway from your bedroom to the kitchen at your old house. Visualize the path a few times, until you know exactly where you’re going. This path shouldn’t change at all during the memorization process. Alternatively, you could visualize a room (called a “palace” or “chamber”) instead.
You also need a list of things to memorize. I’m going to list 5 items for you. The technique gets harder as you add more facts, so it’s better to stick with 20 or so for each memory palace. You can group these items any way you want, but in this case since they’re just random items, keeping them in order might be a little easier.
So if you wanted to remember your Christmas gift list, for instance:
- Harry Potter Series
- Ferrero Rochers
Visualize the path from your bed to your kitchen table. As you visualize your house, use specific aspects of your house as memory cues, such as furniture, or odd knickknacks.
The first item is the Harry Potter Series – for this, you could imagine your room tacked up with giant, moving posters of the books or the characters. If you’re a Potter fan, the animated posters would be a huge memory cue, because all posters and portraits in the magical world move on their own. Use characters you know inside of the posters, or iconic ones such as the Fat Lady.
Now imagine that, as you move through your room, you see someone actually painting one of these moving portraits right on your wall. The floor around the artist is littered with brushes and paint. This is a cue to buy the brushes as well.
Into the hallway you go – and there you see that it has been transformed into the perfume section at Shoppers Drug Mart. The walls have turned into shelves and shelves of perfumes. If you want to remember a specific perfume, imagine that the shelves are full of only that. If you know what it smells like, try to remember that as well. They don’t all have to be sight cues. While you’re there, you look at the lady behind the counter, and what is she offering you? Well would you look at that, Ferrero Rochers! You take one, pop it in your mouth (visualize the texture and taste), and be on your merry way to the kitchen.
Your final item is chapstick. Lo and behold, there at your kitchen table sits Napoleon Dynamite, talking on the phone with his brother, Kip. For those who have seen this amazing movie, this is one of the most quoted scenes. You hear him say “I’m not using the nurse’s chapstick, that’s gross!” You can also visualize him surrounded by chapstick, if you want to throw in something fun.
Your memory palace has begun. They don’t all have to be funny or outlandish – this was just an example. The basics behind this technique are that if you know a place well enough, you can put almost anything in there to help you remember something. I use this technique to memorize specific artists, titles, paintings, dates and art movement for each by hanging the paintings up on my wall and using relative cues (such as Juan Gris’ Breakfast – I place the items of the painting on the kitchen table so it’s literally breakfast).
If you try, you can fit hundreds of items in your memory palaces, and it’s very likely you won’t forget them. Try to only use specific rooms once. Once you’ve gone through a memory palace, go through it a few more times until every fact is ingrained in your head.
Happy studying! Here are some links you can go to for more information on memory palaces: