Using Location for Memory Storage

28.08.2018 |

Episode #5 of the course How to improve your memory by David Urbansky


You now know quite a bit about memory and how the brain holds on to information. In Lesson 3, I told you that association, imagination, and location are the basis for memorization techniques. We have already used association and imagination (e.g., RICE for rest, ice, compress, and elevate, or the number 4 represented by a sail), but I haven’t touched on what is meant by “location.” This is what today’s episode will address.

The human brain is incredibly good at memorizing spatial information, likely because of our ancestry. Hunter-gatherers had to remember where tasty edible berries could be found, where the best rabbit hunting spots were, and where hungry saber-toothed cats were out to get them. Today, it makes sense to use memory techniques that take advantage of our brain’s strength for remembering places.


The Body System

For a small list of things that you want to remember in order, such as your shopping list, you can use your body parts as “stops” to store images. Simply make ten stops from head to toe, and memorize them. Here are my suggestions: hair, nose, mouth, neck, chest, belly, hands, thighs, knees, and feet.

To memorize your shopping list, simply connect each item to a stop on your body and visualize it. For example, if the first item on your shopping list is milk, you should connect it to hair somehow. The next shopping list item should be connected to nose, and so on. Since you know the order of the body parts, you will always know part of the image that comes next, and your brain will fill in the missing part—that is, the shopping list item you want to remember.

Let’s try it together. This is the shopping list: milk, bananas, coffee, mushrooms, wine, pizza, toothpaste, dog food, shampoo, and the newspaper. We will start by connecting the first body part with the first item on our list—again, hair and milk. You already know how this step works; we used the same technique to link images that we derived from numbers. I’ll think of hair with milk poured over it, the milk still dripping from the hair. Next stop is nose and bananas. I’ll picture a yellow, banana-shaped nose (easy one). Next up is mouth and coffee. I’ll imagine teeth replaced with coffee beans—a grin of coffee beans where teeth used to be. Now continue by yourself with neck and mushrooms. I’m sure you’ll think of something!

To recall your shopping list, just go from head to toe, and your brain will display the images before your inner eye. Test it out with this shopping list; you’ll be surprised how easy it is.

But what if you want to remember more and you run out of body parts to stick information to?


Enter the Memory Palace

The memory palace or memory journey method is thousands of years old. The ancient Greeks and Romans used it to remember speeches, for example. The idea is simple. You create a mental journey with stopping points in an environment you know very well. You probably know your apartment by heart. Now instead of body parts, you create stops along a route through your home. For example, stop 1 is the entrance door, stop 2 is the hallway, stop 3 is the kitchen, and so on. You then use the memory journey exactly the same way as the body system. You can create as many memory journeys as you need to store information, and if you take yourself on each memory journey often enough, you can retain the information stored there indefinitely! This technique is frequently used by world-class memory champions who are able to create journeys with thousands of stops.

Exercise: Create a ten-point journey through your home, and remember the shopping list using your own memory palace.

One more tip: If you want to hold on to any information long term, create a dedicated route that you don’t reuse for anything else. For example, if you wanted to remember all Oscar Best Picture winners, you could create a memory journey through your favorite movie theater and use it only for this purpose.

Now you can add location to your repertoire of memory techniques. Used correctly with association and imagination, you can build large memory palaces storing huge amounts of information!

Tomorrow, you’ll learn techniques for specific use cases, such as remembering names and faces or speeches.


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