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?

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