As I was reading a book list that was 11 books long list last fall, I realized I wanted to remember more of the principles than I would be able to with just reading them. I needed an edge.
If you’ve seen BBC’s Sherlock, then you likely have heard of the mind palace, or memory palace, before. When Sherlock Holmes comes up against a particularly difficult problem, he retreats into his mind palace to think and remember. Once he spends enough time there to recall what was relevant he goes on to save the day with his magnificent deductive powers.
The memory palace can actually do much of what you see Sherlock do (not everything. It is TV after all.) It is an old mnemonic memory technique used by greek orators to memorize long speeches and stories. Back then it was called the method of loci, or the method of location.
The method of loci uses a vivid imagination and a memory of a physical place to code things you want to remember. Take, for example, making a shopping list. Imagine your home. You need to buy eggs, milk, and bread. In your mind, walk up to your door. There, you see eggs splattered against your door in a smiley face. Open your door and walk in. There, on the coat rack, you see Dobby the house elf from Harry Potter hitting himself over the head with the jug. Now go down the hall to the bathroom. In the sink, you find mice creating sailing rafts out of the bread in the bathtub.
That’s the general idea. The list can be as short or as long as you need, as long as you have spaces to put them.
And that was my main frustration with the system. I had heard about this memory technique as a teen and tried to use it, but couldn’t get past how cumbersome using my house was. There weren’t enough spaces to get everything I would want to remember, and I would have to make a new one in a real space each time. It felt too awkward to be practical.
During the summer right before, I had been playing a new video game called Ark:Survival Evolved. The game was about surviving on a deserted island with nothing but your wits and thousands of dinosaurs. It was a huge island, with mountains, forests, plains, even caves to explore. I realized that I had a massive location in my head that I could use to create my memory palace. I could use the terrain, caves, and forts of the map and have a nearly endless variety of places to hook memories to.
I filled caves, forts, and strolls along the beaches with images of dinosaurs conversing amiably at a water cooler, a stegosaur who laid a bee-striped egg, a cat sitting on a shark’s head, and many other weird and memorable images that I used to remind myself of principles and applications from the books I was reading.
As I discussed each book with my mentor, I was able to recall each principle and better think of applications for them. It was fantastic.
If you’ve been looking for a way to boost your recollection of facts, figures, or principles, I would highly recommend giving the method of loci a try.