According to legend, Greek poet Simonides stepped outside the dining hall of a dinner he attended when the roof collapsed, killing everyone inside. Due to the extent of damage, they could not identify any of the victims.
However, Simonides found that he could identify each victim by picturing the hall’s layout and mentally walking through it. He then deduced that it is easier to remember facts if we tie it to a physical location that we are familiar with.
Today, we call this the method of loci, or memory palace. It is a memory technique where you visualise a familiar place to recall information better. You place facts in place and remember the information by “walking” through it. Many memory champions use this technique to memorise faces, digits, and lists of words.
Ever since we took our first steps, we build up spatial memories. These are layouts of physical spaces and relationships to the objects in them. Spatial memories are fast to form and sticks for a long time.
Try it out: Recall the layout of your childhood home. Do you notice how easy it is to remember, although you haven’t been there for a long time?
The method of loci makes use of our tendency towards spatial memory to remember facts easier.
Here’s how you can use the method of loci:
- Visualise a place that you are familiar with, such as your bedroom or toilet and recall the things in it. This is your memory palace.
- Then, place the things you want to memorise in different parts of your memory palace. For example, let’s say you want to remember a grocery list of eggs, apples, and fish. You can place the eggs in the shower, the apples in the sink, and so on.
- To recall the grocery list, “walk through” your memory palace and notice the items in the palace.
To improve recall, make the item more memorable. Try to make it unusual and weird. The more bizarre it is, the easier it is to remember. You can also have it engage with the location and involve many senses.
In this case, imagine that there is a big apple is clogging your sink. Think about the strange smell of apple and a clogged sink mixed. Isn’t that easier to remember?
If you want to store the facts long term, repeat going through the memory palace until it sticks.
You can use the method of loci to remember things you don’t want to write down (passwords, account number) or things you need to commit to memory forever (operation checklists)