There is a powerful tool you can use to remember lists of items, actions, and facts that is very easy to learn. Its power lies in the fact that our memory for places and images is much better then our memory for words and phrases. I recently taught my kindergartner how to use this method, and he is now very good at it. We usually forget a list of items quickly, there is a process that scientists have called the forgetting curve that describes this process. While numbers are hard to apply since there are so many variables in memory, generally forgetting follows an exponential decay. After a period of hours or days, your memory can easily be half of what it was when you committed something to memory. When I asked him yesterday to tell me the items in our grocery list, he remembered all of them with ease.
I am going to give you a well described example including the images we can up with. This is not for you to learn the associations that my son and I came up with, but the process itself. Part of what makes this technique powerful is you engage your mind coming up with the images.
The basic idea of the Method of Loci, sometimes called the memory palace, is to imagine a house, building, or path that is very familiar to you. My son and I used our house, since he knew that quite well. I would suggest your childhood home for those following along and trying out the technique.
Once you have the place firmly in your head, imagine a fixed path through it. A good place to start is the front door. We then will imagine at regular intervals that we are placing images on this path that represent what we want to commit to memory. Here is the list we had to memorize:
- Chocolate chip cookies
- Orange Juice
- Bottled Water
To commit this list to memory, imagine that the from under the front door, just like a bad horror film, that there are zombie hands reaching out trying to grab you. However imagine that they are from some sort of zombie made out of bacon, and he smells good enough to eat. Once this image is firmly in your mind, move on to the next item on the list.
We move to the first room right inside the front door, a small alcove my wife has for crafting. In this room we imagine that there is a huge bread monster. Imagine he looks like a pile of French bread, with teeth made out of crusts of bread. Further experience the wonderful stench of his breath, the smell of fresh baked bread, and the chomping sounds he is making.
Next, in our office, we imagine that Humpty Dumpty is sitting on a wall in front of the computer. He is perched in a way where he is barely balanced, and might fall any second.
In my sons room, we imagined that his drum set was made with sugar cubes.
In the bathroom, there was a great big black and white cow washing herself in a shower of milk, all while singing “Moo Moo Moo” in the shower.
Moving to the great room, we imagined Jamie Hyneman from Mythbusters (one of our favorite shows) swinging a large sledge hammer on a bag of flour to make a giant explosion.
Next is the Kitchen, and we tried to picture that we had a gigantic cookie man sitting on top of our stove. He was so large though, approximately the size of a planet, that he had his own gravity. He promptly said “Hi” as we enter the room, and are pulled onto the surface of the cookie.
After we escape from the cookies gravity, we make our way to the laundry room and there in front of our washer and dryer is a giant orange with hands, legs and a mouth. He quickly picks you up and throws up orange juice all over your face and mouth.
Moving into the garage, it is getting quite dangerous, we now see a huge mass of noodle snakes Indiana Jones style in a pit in the floor. We swing across this mass of noodles to grab onto the attic ladder, and swiftly climb up. There we find a giant blue bottle of water that is squirting all over the floor, making the floor slippery.
Lastly, we climb down and open the garage door. There we find the family car, but seemingly carved out of mozzarella cheese. Its wheels are intricately carved out of cheddar, and your mouth is watering wanting to take a large bit out of it.
There you have it, an illustration of how to use the Method of Loci to memorize a grocery list. It is a wonderful exercise for your brain, and gets you used to using this powerful method that you can use to remember just about any list in order. As a side effect, since the information is now stored spatially in your mind, you also should have no problem reciting the list backwards.
You can find out more about this powerful method and how to apply it on the main MemVance site, there I have a set of notes and a link to the Ad Herrenium, the earliest book known detailing this technique.