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Method of Loci

This hack was used to deliver long speeches from memory in ancient Greece, was referenced in the fictional tales of Sherlock Holmes as a ‘brain attic’, and remains the standard technique for almost all serious contenders in modern Memory Championships.  The Method of Loci is a memory technique that involves imagining information that you want to remember as vivid experiences mapped over a familiar environment.  IT’S ABOUT CONTEXT AND SPATIAL EXPERIENCE.  Also known as the Memory Palace, the Method of Loci involves conceiving of information as memorable experiences, mapped over a familiar place such as your family home. For example, imagine you want to remember a shopping list of eggs, milk, strawberry jam, tinned tomatoes, and spaghetti. Applying the Method of Loci might involve imagining walking up to your home and being confronted by a crazy chicken roosting in your mailbox (eggs); then an angry cow with a squirt gun blocking your way to the front door (milk); and getting through the door to find that your foot is stuck and the floor is covered with red sticky material (jam). That's just three items, but people regularly use the method to remember dozens, even hundreds of elements. A big tip here is that the more distinctive and visceral the image is the more it will embed into your memory. So imagine the crazy chicken pecking your hand and squawking. Picture what it would feel like to push past that smelly, solid cow who is squirting you, and how your feet will feel and what you would smell having stepped in that sticky jam over the threshold of your home.  PLAYING TO EVOLUTIONARY STRENGTHS. Researchers explain the effectiveness of the Method of Loci through evolutionary need and the resultant role of the hippocampus. Cognitive neuroscientist Martin Dresler explains: “our brains didn’t evolve to memorise or learn abstract information, they evolved to learn the way to the next food source or where to meet our mating partners. The Method of Loci makes use of these evolved skills.” So it’s no coincidence that the hippocampus, the part of the brain that plays a crucial role in memory, also is a major factor in emotions and spatial navigation. The simple takeaway here is that to remember something more effectively, be sure to connect it to emotions and a physical experience or space.  YES, YOU COULD ACTUALLY BE A MEMORY CHAMPION.  Some people are born with remarkable memories but researchers found that the 35 most recent memory champions almost all started with average memories. Further, all of them used the Method of Loci as a core technique to win. Research out of Rabound University tested successful memory athletes against a group with ‘average memory’ who were trained using a combination of the Method of Loci and mnemonic techniques (essentially using the first letters of items to ‘chunk’ them into ‘smaller packages’). Neuroimaging showed that the group trained with these methods used more of their hippocampus and the spatial centres of their brain, and had markedly improved recall of the information as a result.  IN YOUR LATTICEWORK.  From a conceptual level, the Method of Loci supports a broader understanding of Mental Models and encourages you to make better use of the mental representations that you can generate and apply in your mind.  While generally used in competitions to remember playing cards and telephone book entries, consider applying the approach to remember speeches or useful combinations of mental models as part of your Latticework of Mental Models. For example, explore our Playbooks and create ‘mental rooms’ for various combinations of mental models and frameworks that you can access to deal with specific challenges.  From a memory perspective, consider combining this approach with Spaced Retrieval and the Leitner System. Be aware that it will not necessarily improve your memory more broadly and will take Focused Thought to apply and use (see Limitations below for more). 

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