Our quest to improve our memory and ensure we remember everything we read or learn started many generations ago. The perfect memory would be a very valuable trait and is something that has baffled scientists for hundreds of years.
Several mnemonics devices have been invented, studied, and developed with this exact purpose, to help us remember information better, quicker, and for longer periods of time. One of these techniques is the Method of Loci.
Also known as the memory journey, memory palace, or mind palace, the Loci memory technique is a surprisingly effective information retention strategy that comes with a lot of benefits for the user, but also has a couple of drawbacks. In order to be successful, you will need to know them all.
What is the Method of Loci and how does it work?
The Loci technique is a memorization strategy that revolves around our spatial memory and our ability to visualize ourselves storing and recalling the information we read and learn.
The principle of the Method of Loci is based on visualization and consists of trying to imagine your entire memory being a castle or a house (preferably a place you are very familiar with).
All your individual memories are stored in boxes or drawers you visualize in this mental palace you create and each new memory needs to be stored in a new box or drawer. Retrieving any piece of information is done by opening the relevant box or drawer from the memory palace. The method relies on the spatial memory we all possess and was proven to be rather efficient.
It is one of the oldest memory enhancement strategies ever created. The first records of the method of Loci being used date back to the 6th century BCE when Greek and Roman orators took advantage of its benefits in order to remember their speeches without using any notes. It is said to have been invented by the Greek poet Simonides of Ceos.
According to historians, the Greek poet Simonides had a revelation after managing to escape a building that had been destroyed, where he had dinner with several other people. He realized that he was able to remember each victim’s name easily simply by remembering where each one was seated when the disaster destroyed the building. He then realized that his memory is a lot more efficient whenever he tried to attribute each thing he wanted to remember to a particular location.
How to use the method of Loci?
Learning how to use the method of Loci mnemonic device can turn things around for you when it comes to your ability to remember important information. Whether you’re studying for school or simply reading for pleasure and want to remember more from what you read, the method of Loci can help you tremendously.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to using the Loci technique.
1. Prep work
The first thing you need to do in order to start using the Loci technique is to set a couple of things straight. The key aspect of the Loci method is quite similar to the old real-estate principle: location, location, location. What I mean by that is that the most important thing to decide even before you start your Loci journey is to be careful about the location you decide to use for your mind palace.
You need to use a location you know well. Whether it’s a room in your house or a path you often walk on and know like the palm of your hand, it is essential to be able to recreate that location with your mind’s eye to perfection.
Just as important is to be prepared to use your imagination in the most creative ways possible. The whole idea of the Loci technique is converting pieces of abstract information into relatable memories your brain can process and remember more easily.
That means for example that trying to remember a complex mathematical formula with the Loci technique will not work unless you find a creative way of storing the formula in your mental palace – turn it into a painting you hang on a wall in your mind’s palace for example.
Be prepared to practice a lot before you get it right. If you’re looking for quick results, this method is probably not the right one for you. Set your motivation straight, know that you will need to put in the work in order to achieve your results, but also keep in mind that all your hard work is going to pay off when you get it right.
2. Memory Palace Creation
Now that you have the right mindset, it’s time to create your memory palace. Decide what you want to use – a route, a location, or even a community. Whether you decide to use a bus route where each stop is a category of your memory or your house (even a room in your house), start visualizing it with your eyes closed. A shopping mall would work well too, especially if the things you are trying to remember are complex and relatively varied.
Close your eyes and visualize it in as much detail as possible. Try to imagine what it looks like, what it smells like, what it feels like being in it, and even how it sounds. The more senses get involved in the creation of the mind palace, the more complex and memorable the image will be in your mind.
3. Select markers
Now that your memory palace is created and vivid in your mind’s eye, it’s time to select a couple of markers. Markers are objects or places (subdivisions) in your mind’s palace you will later associate things you need to remember to. For example, let’s assume that your mind’s palace is the living room in your home.
A couple of possible markers would be your couch, your coffee table, a painting on the wall, the rug on the floor, and your TV. Try to visualize these objects in as much detail as possible. Imagine yourself sitting on your couch, placing things on the coffee table, looking at your paintings on the wall, watching the TV. Try to remember as vividly as possible everything in the room to be able to recreate it perfectly in your mind’s eye.
4. Visualize what you want to remember
Once your memory palace is prepared, it’s time to put the things you want to remember in a new perspective. For the sake of this explanation, let’s assume you are trying to memorize a couple of quotes from your favorite book (quote 1, quote 2, quote 3 to make things simple).
In order to remember them through the Loci technique, you need to visualize them. Close your eyes and imagine them written in different fonts, different colors and font sizes. Or better yet, use Basmo, the reading tracking app.
One of the most beloved features Basmo offers its users is the possibility to create, edit and save quotes as images. You can simply scan the relevant paragraph with your phone’s camera and Basmo will extract the text.
From there, you choose how you want to format the text, what font you use, colors, backgrounds and pretty much anything else. You can save the quote as an image according to the choices you previously made and save it on your phone or share it on social media.
This eliminates the need to visualize the quotes with your mind’s eye, you can just use Basmo and create the relevant images to aid you in the next step.
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You now need to create the relevant associations to insert the information you want to remember in your memory palace. Having the vivid visualizations of the quotes we chose to use for our method of Loci example fresh in your mind, it’s time to place them in your memory palace, which for the sake of our example, is your living room. Here’s how you do that:
- Quote 1 could be displayed on the TV in your memory palace
- Quote 2 could appear written on the tablecloth on your coffee table
- Quote 3 could be embroidered on a pillow sitting on your couch
Try to use Basmo to your advantage in this particular case and use the images it generates for your quotes to have them as vivid as possible in your memory.
Now that you have associated each quote to a marker (a location in your mind’s palace), try to concentrate and visualize the room as intensely as you can. Look around, analyze how the quotes look in each location and remember which one is where.
Whenever you are trying to remember the three quotes, all you have to do is visualize the room and look at your TV, your pillow and the tablecloth. You will soon realize that it is a lot easier to remember things this way because visualization and the spatial effect will create much stronger neuronal connections, leading to more powerful, longer-lasting memories.
6. S.I.P and improve
S.I.P stands for study, implement and practice. What you need to keep in mind when it comes to the Loci technique is that it is a journey. You are unlikely to get it right on the first try, especially because we are all different in the way our mind works.
That is why it is important to go through a trial and error process and you need to have the right mindset in order to avoid feeling like you’re deemed to fail. You are not, you just need to find the right formula to apply the Loci principles to yourself.
Study the method, understand it to its core, read studies and make sure you have a very clear idea on how it works and how you should implement it.
Implement it and apply it to yourself. Start small, and increase the difficulty and complexity of the memorization tasks you are trying the method of Loci with. Try the location version I exemplified above, but also the Loci journey (recreating a route in your mind). This works particularly well for things like to-do lists where tasks need to be completed in a certain order. Imagine your to do list as a train route you are familiar with, where each stop is a different task for example.
Practice. Try the method in different ways, creating different types of memory palaces, different routes, alternate simple memorization tasks with complex ones and keep track of your progress.
Basmo comes in handy in this step as well. You can use this reading tracking app to keep a journal of your progress. For example, if you are trying to create a memory palace in order to remember events, quotes or lines from a book you are reading, you can use the journaling feature to keep track of your success with the method of Loci. It’s eays and really handy to do this on your phone within a user-friendly app with a bunch of other features that help you have healthy reading habits.
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How effective is the method of loci?
The effectiveness of the Loci memorization technique has been proven by scientists to be rather remarkable. A series of studies have been conducted in order to check its effectiveness in people of all ages and the results have been promising in each one.
For example, a team of researchers managed to debunk previously performed studies that were claiming that the Loci technique was not effective in older adults because of its increased difficulty. The study was done in 2014 and it showed not only that even older adults saw an instant improvement in their ability to memorize information, but 25% of those who participated in the study chose to use the technique long after the study was finalized.
A similar study was performed on younger adults (students) in 2015 and the results confirmed without a shadow of a doubt that the Loci technique is a very effective mnemonic device.
There’s no doubt that the method of Loci is a great way to improve the amount of information you retain while learning or reading. Finding the right adaptation of this strategy that works best for you is going to be a journey, but one with an amazing prize at the finish line.