Sunday, March 16, 2014

Build Your Own Designer Memory Palace

What if you could remember your entire grocery list just by retracing Peter Seller's steps in the house he goes to in the movie "The Party?"  
(Artwork by Federico Babina. Here.)

Or recite the seven ancient wonders of the world by "walking" through your favorite apartment on The Selby?
(Photo by Todd Selby. Here.)

Or remember Charles Dickens' twenty major works (15 novels, 5 novellas) by taking a mental tour of Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel"?

I know, I know, it sounds too weird to be true. 

But with a memory palace, you can -- and I'm going to tell you how.

A memory palace is a mnemonic technique invented 2,000 years ago by the ancient Greeks that uses your brain's superior spatial memory to memorize information. 

It works like this: You think of the layout of a location you know well -- your house or apartment, for instance. Then you "attach" whatever objects or items you want to remember (i.e. your to-do list, the American presidents) to specific places within that location. When you want to retrieve your list, you take a mental walk through your memory palace and "see" everything right where you put it.

[There's a great TED talk about it HERE by Joshua Foer. Watch it and be gobsmacked.]

Why am I so sure it works?

Because in forty minutes, me, the person who can't find her keys in the morning and who routinely leaves her sunglasses in restaurants, memorized all 37 of William Shakespeare's plays in the order they were written. 

Even more impressive, so did my 12 year-old son.
And he has zero interest in Shakespeare.
But when he heard me reel them off, he got jealous and wanted in.

The book that taught us how?
("The Memory Palace: Learn Anything and Everything, 
Starting with Shakespeare and Dickens", $3.33. HERE.)

"The general idea with most memory techniques is to change whatever boring thing is being inputted into your memory into something that is so colorful, so exciting, and so different from anything you've seen before that you can't possibly forget it."

Here's the best part, though:
For design-minded folks like you and me, who carry around a treasure trove of unforgettable spaces and layouts in our brains already, who says our memory palaces have to be places that we've actually explored in real life? 

Why not use the charming English cottage you saved from that magazine?

Or the layout of the S. S. Belafonte from "The Life Aquatic"?
 ("The Life Aquatic.")

Or how about a location from your extensive literary wanderings?

Holly Golightly's apartment in "Breakfast at Tiffany's"?
The Marchmain house in "Brideshead Revisited"?
Odette's Oriental-influenced apartment in "Swann's Way"?

How fun would it be to "visit" Gatsby's West Egg mansion when you need to remember your shopping list? I can see it now: "Look, here's the pile of colored silk shirts that Daisy wept over, but how strange, they're completely ripped to shreds! Oh, I remember -- craft scissors."

For more information on how to build your own memory palace, here are some helpful articles and links:

Click HERE.

Before you go, do you have a favorite location from a book, movie or magazine that you would use as a memory palace?


Jeanne Henriques said...

Lisa...I am having so much fun with all your tips! My phone Apps are filling up, my Kindle file is creative spaces and places are in high gear. All I ask is that you do not start suggesting far flung trips around the world, it would be more than I could bear. I would be on the next plane. Simple is good.. ;)

Coulda shoulda woulda said...

Schonbrunn in Vienna - it is my favorite palace so far. Unlike other palaces where one room just look like any other this one have such distinct rooms. Thanks for this memory palace bc I also can never ever find my keys...

WendyMcLeodMacKnight said...

Lisa - I am off to work on this later today! To be honest, I thought this was something only in Sherlock! If it's good enough for Benedict Cumberbatch, it's good enough for me!

Anonymous said...

I just sent this to my teenage daughter as I too thought it was just a construct of Sherlock! And I have to say, perhaps my childhood home would yield the best results as the details of it were entered into my brain at its most fecund point. See, I'm smarter already!

Snippety Giblets said...

Edgewood from "Little, Big" by John Crowley. It is my favourite novel of all time and also features memory palaces in the story :) said...

Being amount Sherlock/Cumberbatch fans & people who say "fecund" is so very nice. I might use the duplex I once lived in off Portabello. Thanks Lisa!

Tree said...

Very cool. Thank you!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I was sorely tempted to buy this book last week when I spied it at the bookstore. Now I must!
I'd use the Dennis Severs' House. Lots of places to put things to remember in there.

Anonymous said...

Van Gogh's Cafe Terrace at Night would be a lovely mnemonic stroll and grocery list a side note I haved used nonsensical rhymes and rhythms as a device...memorized the Greek alphabet in under five minutes this way by encoding it in a really embarrassingly stupid poem. Considering the fact that I have never needed to use this info in daily life but still can recall it at will years later says something about the effectiveness of these mnemonic devices; Lisa your posts, as usual, are lovely and lit from within...thank you.

Kay said...

Will Thacker's house with the blue door in the movie "Notting Hill" is my choice for a mnemonic stroll. I would memorize a list of books I want to look for at my local bookstore.

Enzie Shahmiri said...

Lisa that sounds like such a fun idea that I will have to give it a try. Great post! Please come and visit me on my blog too - I could use some visitors :)

katy gilmore said...

Lisa, I've heard of this, but you make it seems just maybe possible! I'd use Charleston - from the VB's studio at the very top to the garden. Hope you hear good news from your book's progress. Thank you for always intriguing posts!

Kathryn said...

Oh, I loved this post. I'm afraid I can't remember (!) specific fictional room details as much as I can the familiar contours of my grandparents' homes or the ones that I've swept and polished and furnished through the years. But those, now those I can flashback to in a jiffy.

Unknown said...

Wow, I love every room in that home. Her use of color is fearless. And she executes Florida style to perfection! I'm looking forward to seeing more of her work.delightful room inspiration

donna baker said...

Lisa, thank you for the heads up. I love TED talks, but didn't know about this one. My baby boy is getting his Ph.D. in Psychology and I thought he'd enjoy this. So interesting.

shiree segerstrom said...

Fascinating Lisa. I'm going to look into this. At my age, I need all the pneumonic help I can get. Shiree'

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colonygal said...

Lisa, this is so interesting! Thank you. I had no idea that this is an ancient technique. I have been finding things all my life by picturing where I put them!

colonygal said...

Lisa, this is so interesting! Thank you. I had no idea that this is an ancient technique. I have been finding things all my life by picturing where I put them!

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