WHAT DO CUCUMBERS, a vase of tulips, a basin full of milk, Koi in a sink, and a mystery item have in common? They are the things I was able to recall several months after I committed them to memory, using a memory palace.
However, a memory palace is only one prong in a three-pronged approach. If you have poor memory, the techniques described in this article may show that the situation is better than you think.
First, let me explain how I remembered the above random items. I did so by building a memory palace—a route in my home. I started at the front door floor mat, then proceeded through the kitchen to the back of the house. Along the way, I stopped at the coffee table, followed by the three sinks in the kitchen (don’t ask). I chose these places because I use them every day, a crucial feature of any mind palace.
At each stop, I visualized one of the above items. I repeated the same journey three times, only. At the entrance, I looked down at the floor mat and imagined seeing three cucumbers lying in a pile. Next, I wandered over to the coffee table and admired an imaginary bouquet of orange tulips. I rounded the corner into the kitchen, stopped at the first sink and looked in, “seeing” it half full of milk. The second sink, I filled with beautiful orange, black and silvery-white Koi fish. What did I “put” into the last sink? I don’t remember. Scissors, maybe?
The recall just isn’t there. However, with another technique, deep coding, it would be.
The memory exercise I have described above is variously called the method of loci (loci meaning location), invented by the Greeks, or “memory palace.”
This mnemonic technique employs spatial memory and familiar information. Hence, I did not choose the garden shed as one of those places. If you saw my backyard, you’d see the proof of my lack of familiarity with it.
Having experienced the limits of the mind palace (what was in sink number three?), I stopped investing in it until I read about deep encoding in the science magazine Nautilus.
It recently told of the actor John Basinger. He spent nine years in which he successfully memorized John Milton’s poem, Paradise Lost, a 60,000 word poem that encompasses 12 books! He did so while walking on a treadmill while deeply contemplating the work’s meaning.
The difference between deep encoding and shallow encoding—as a memory palace does—is that the memorizer adds two things: physical action (like walking on a treadmill) and analyzing, or becoming related to the things to be remembered—Basinger pondering the meaning of Milton’s epic poem while memorizing it.
In contrast, in my memory experiment, I employed action by walking to each place while visualizing the things I wanted to remember. But I did not drill down to the deeper meaning of milk and cucumbers and fish, etc. Though, now that I wrote that, I can see that all three have coolness in common. Hm.
Before I digress, and in case you’ve forgotten, here is a recap of the three things to do if you want to encode them deeply in your memory:
The next time you have something important to remember, picking up eggs at the store, for instance, put them in your memory palace. Add a physical activity like downward dogs or ab crunches. Then think about the meaning egg have for you or attach a memory of, say, a great omelet you had at a brunch with friends.
Well my friend, that’s the end of this week’s post. Salute and may you have a beautiful, beautiful day/night!
India Susanne Holden is the author of Crafting a Happy Life and The World Is Better than You Think. They are a writer, teacher, speaker, workshop & seminar leader, musician, artist, personal & spiritual development coach, Reiki Master, Tarot reader, entrepreneur, and genderqueer feminist.