An Ancient and Proven Way to Improve Memorization Using Places

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NY Times: In January, I devoted every walk from my home to the train to the contemplation of work details, hoping to improve my recall of them. That was my New Year’s resolution, and so far I’ve stuck to it.

In every one of those walks I was also retracing a memorization technique known to the ancients and shown by modern science to be highly effective.

The “Rhetorica ad Herennium,” written in the 80s B.C. by an unknown author, is the first known text on the art of memorization. (It’s also the oldest surviving Latin book on rhetoric.) It teaches the “method of loci,” also known as the “memory palace.” As its names suggest, the approach involves associating the ideas or objects to be memorized with memorable scenes imagined to be at well-known locations (“loci”), like one’s house (“palace”) or along a familiar walking route.

You can test the method for yourself. If you’re like most people, you would not easily commit to long-term memory a 10-item shopping list. But I bet you could remember it — and for more than a few minutes — if you first visualized it along a walk through your house: The entryway of your house is festooned with toilet paper; your kitchen sink is full of lobsters, dancing; a bathtub-size stick of butter melts on your dining room table; your family is singing karaoke in a swimming pool of hummus in your living room; your hallway is so full of grapes you cannot avoid crushing them with each step; your stairway has a runner of lasagna noodles slippery with tomato sauce; a mooing cow is being milked in your bedroom; stalks of corn grow down from the ceiling in the spare bedroom; a crop of multicolored mushrooms blooms in your shower.

Take a few moments to burn these images and locations into your mind (adding motion, sounds, smells and tactile sense to your imagined scenes helps). We’ll test your memory with an imaginary trip to the grocery store at the end of this article. Read more.

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