No matter whether you are studying for an exam, trying to learn all of your business partners names or trying to remember your shopping list, simply learning the method of loci can help you improve your memory for everyday tasks.
What is the method of loci?
The method of loci (MoL) is a memorization technique which combines both spacial memory and visualization strategies to help store large amounts of information in the mind and efficiently recall these memories when required.
Loci is the Latin word for locus (location) so, the meaning of the method of loci is using a places or location’s to store information to long term memories through association.
To put this into action, you’ll need to create what is known as a memory palace.
How to create a memory palace
Step 1: Choose a place you know well
To use this technique, you firstly need to choose a memory palace to start with and this can be anywhere you want! However, you do want to use somewhere that you know off by heart, this could be the walk you take every day or even a location in a video game that you’ve played over and over again. Here’s some examples of places you can use to create your own memory palace:
- Your home
- A hotel that you go to
- Your school
- A place in a game
- Your place of work
- A path that you take
- Your favorite movies set
Step 2: Establish your points of reference
Establishing your points of reference (POR) is all about the things inside your memory palace that you are going to use to refer back to when recalling information. So let’s imagine that your memory palace is a house, your points of reference will be the furniture inside of it. Here’s some other examples you can use:
Points of reference in a house:
Points of reference on a walk:
Points of reference at work/school:
Step 3: Plan your route
Now that you know all of the things that you can use as a point of reference, you should plan a route that you will stick to every time that you use this memory palace. If you are using your house as your memory journey, you would usually start at your front door and work your way around your home. It’s important that you don’t overwhelm yourself, so try to stick to 5 points of references per room. Many people also find that numbering your POR help recall them later on.
Step 4: Create a list of what you want to remember
This is the easy part of creating your mind palace. You now need to create a list of the of the information that you want to remember. This technique works best in helping you remember small amounts of data, such as shopping lists, dates, items and people’s names. Write all of these down ready for the next step!
Step 5: Associate your list with your route
This is where the magic happens. Now you need to associate the items on your list with the points of reference in your memory palace so that they attach to each other. There are a few things that are important to know when doing this, which are:
Follow the order:
The items on your list should be attached in the same order to the POR in your memory palace, e.g. If you’re first item was to remember a dog, you would attach this with the first POR in your palace, for example a door and so on so forth. Even if it would make more sense associating them to something else, you should always stick to the same order.
As we said at the beginning of this blog post, this technique is part spacial memory and part visualization, this is why you should always have an image in your mind of what you are trying to remember. This can be hard to do with things like numbers and this is where using your imagination to think of something that can represent that number can be useful, for example the number 22 could be 2 swans.
Elaborative encoding is where you make information more memorable and easier to recall by going more in depth and emphasizing it (elaborating it) for example, if you have to remember a banana with your lamp as a POR, imagine the banana being illuminous yellow, with arms and legs dancing around the lamp! Anything you can do to make it stand out more, the better.
Now that you have created your own memory palace, it is important to rehearse it over and over again, until the point of if someone asked you what the 13th item on your list was, you would be able to tell them without going through your whole route.
Does the method of loci actually work?
Yes, there is evidence in a multitude of studies which suggest that using the method of loci and creating a memory palace, is very effective in helping aid memory and information recall. This mnemonic technique isn’t just used by memory champions and experts but has also shown great results amongst the average person in different age groups.
Like we mentioned earlier, it is important to remember that MoL is most effective for remembering small amounts of information like dates or lists.
As we get older, it is common for our memory to decline as our brains weaken. During later stages of life, Alzheimer’s and dementia are prevalent amongst people.
In one longitudinal study the researchers found that training older adults to use the method of loci significantly improved their memory, over a long period of time. Although this wouldn’t cure any ailments, this technique (along with other therapies) could be used to try and prevent memory loss in the future.
Depression has been shown to negatively affect the recollection of positive memories, however, this study shows that using the MoL can improve memory and mood with those that are depressed.
Traditionally, the method of loci is used by creating a memory palace in which you imagine an environment that you are familiar with, like your family home. This study suggests that the MoL is as effective when using a novel memory palace for example, looking at a picture of a school for a few minutes.
These are all great examples of this mnemonic strategy working for other people but, what about you?
Method of loci test
Below you will see a grid. On the left hand side you have 21 words that you need to remember without using a memory palace, on the right hand side you have 21 words you need to remember using the memory palace.
On the first go, you have 5 minutes to memorize as many words as you can from the left-hand side and then write as many as you can remember down. On the second attempt, you will create the route for your memory palace first and then have 5 minutes to attach the words from the right-hand column to the items in your palace. Once you have finished count up each of your scores separately and see if you did better on the second attempt.
Where does the method of loci come from?
Although popularized by fictional characters like Sherlock Holmes, the method of loci dates back thousands of years. according to a Roman philosopher called Cicero the method was created by a Greek poet named Simonides of Ceos (c.556-c.468 B.C.) when he was in a building that collapsed around him that killed everybody else. Simonides was able to identify the dead by remembering where they had been sitting.
This is one of the most fascinating stories and the one that is attributed the most to the creation of the method of loci, however, there is no definitive answer to when this practice was first invented as it shares similar techniques to more ancient mnemonic devices.
This memory enhancement trick has had many names, from “Roman room’s” in the past to more recent names like “mind journey” and “mind palace”.
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The content in this article is not meant as a substitute for professional medical advice and should only be used for informational purposes. If you are struggling with the topic discussed in this article, we advise that you seek the help from a professional.