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Let’s talk about memory palaces, systems, and Swiffers

on Dec 20, 2015 in Brain Stuff |

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I’m reading about memory on this Sunday morning. It started with this article:

Top 10 Tricks to Boost Your Memory and Remember Anything

As you all know, I’m fascinated with the mind and its capabilities and mysteries. My memory is….complicated. Like most people, I guess. I think I have pretty good mental alacrity and agility. I forget nothing…except soooo many of the “little things” that are really, really important to the people in my lives. I never forget intricate details about things that my mind processes as interesting and important. But…

I’ve been called a “bad person” for not remembering birthdays, etc…The fact is, I barely remember my own. I forget doctor appointments. I forget plans with friends, over and over. No matter what I try to do to “remember.” I won’t bother to remember someone’s name unless it becomes apparent that they’re going to be a fixture in some area of my life. (my daughter’s gentlemen friends, for example….)

On the other hand, I rarely forget where my hairbrush is and I never lose my keys. I also rarely forget where I am on a work project or specific phrases and quotes from books.

The reason I’m good at remember those things is because of systems. It’s highly irregular for my hairbrush or keys or purse or cell phone to not be in their designated places. If I need to put a load of clothes in the dryer in the morning (they’ve been washed during the night), I put something really weird on top of the first place I go every morning: the coffee pot. I see this item that’s in an unlikely place and I remember: “clothes to dryer.” In regards to work systems, I have certain tabs open in Chrome, and in a certain order. Always.

I can tell you that if I break any of these systems, it’s a huge disruption. If I carry my phone with me to another room in the house and lay it down, for example. Or stick my brush in my purse instead of in its designated spot on my desk. And no, it’s not cuz I’m old, haters! I’ve always been built this way. Some faulty wire in me, I guess. Or perhaps damage caused by many years of taking powerful psychotropics (I suffer from lifelong clinical depression and have been medicated with “the latest great drugs” since 1985). Like most people, I’ve managed to work with my shortcomings.

Below is my Swiffer collection. Why do I have four Swiffers?

12421484_10153138584602665_239689779_n (1)

Because I didn’t stick to my system. My Swiffer is supposed to go in a cleaning supply cabinet and I have consistently laid my Swiffer around the house as I’m cleaning. I have a cluttered house that was built for books. Shelves line every single wall and every shelf is stacked and double-stacked with books. Putting something down on a shelf, especially if it’s above eye level, is disastrous. So what do I do when I’ve absentmindedly put my Swiffer down somewhere? Buy more Swiffers.

I don’t need four Swiffers. I only need one, the long-handled one. But alas….

Systems work for  me. Perhaps I should have long ago created a system for remembering birthdays since that seems to matter so much to certain people…

Digressing again: note the Ginkgo Smart in the background. Yes, I believe it helps. No, I can’t prove it. I’m certain, however, that it doesn’t hurt. I buy it here. Yes, I have an Amazon Affiliate account and if you buy them, I receive a few pennies. No, that’s not why I recommend them. I believe these and ALA/ALC

ALA/ALC
combos have hugely enhanced my ability to use my mind. I’ve taken them religiously since 2003. I rarely forget. Why? Because they sit on my desk. They’re that important to me. I have them systemized. Ask your doctor before taking anything. Seriously, ask your doctor.

Back to the Memory Palace.

I became intrigued by the Memory Palace technique because I read about it in an amazing novel by Natasha Mostert called The Season of the Witch

The Season of the Witch
. I highly recommend this read, BTW. Anything by Natasha Mostert.

After reading that book and some of the articles linked in this blog post, I realize that I’ve been practicing a rudimentary form of memory palace for years. I’m excited to up my game. Here are three articles to read for info about memory palaces.

Drastically Improve Your Memory by Building a Memory Palace

Boost Your Memory with the Palace Technique

Develop Perfect Memory With the Memory Palace Technique

Basically:

In short, you choose your “palace”—that is, a place that you can remember vividly—and associate items with distinctive features of that location. For example, if you’re remembering items on your grocery list and your home is your palace, put one item at the front door in your mind. Walk through the hallway and associate another item with the painting on the wall. Continue associating items with different parts of your palace as you walk through it. When it’s time to recall the items, take the same route as the association phase.

Said another way:

The Memory Palace technique is based on the fact that we’re extremely good at remembering places we know. A ‘Memory Palace’ is a metaphor for any well-known place that you’re able to easily visualize. It can be the inside of your home, or maybe the route you take every day to work. That familiar place will be your guide to store and recall any kind of information. 

The five steps to using the memory palace technique:

  1. Choose your palace. (for most people, home is the easiest)
  2. List distinctive features.
  3. Imprint the palace on your mind.
  4. Associate.
  5. Visit your palace.

I put these steps here mostly as a quick reference for myself. Read about the steps in detail here, and go further in depth here and here. The specific example they use is a grocery list. Go read it.

But why do all this to just remember a grocery list when you can simply write it down or jot notes in your smartphone? Because memorization exercises the mind and makes it stronger.

Now if only I could get motivated enough to remember birthdays.