Remember Long Lists With a "Memory Palace"
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The human brain sucks at remembering lists. Think about it: When you go to the grocery store, how many items can you manage before you have to write them down? Three? Five? For most of us, if there's any more than that, we're going to get back home and find out we forgot the milk (which by the way was the whole fucking reason we went to the store in the first place).
That's weird, because there are other things in life we have no problem with. For instance, we don't have much trouble remembering the locations of a hundred different spots around town, even if we don't know the addresses (do you even know the street address of your favorite coffee shop?), or the locations of a thousand items around the house. Sure, you couldn't write them all down, but if a friend asks you where they can find a flashlight, you're probably going to have an answer. If only there was a way to exploit this strength to overcome the other weakness ...
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There's only so much room on the human body to write it all down. Unless you constantly eat, we guess.
You're able to find your way around because a whole lot of your mental horsepower is devoted to spatial memory -- learning the layout of your environment. And there is totally a way you can tap into it as a hack to remember long lists. So-called memory champions have been doing it forever. They call it creating a memory palace.
Here's how it works: You pick a familiar place that you know well and can imagine without much problem -- the inside of your house, the layout of your neighborhood, whatever. You then imagine yourself walking along a specific route in that place and associate an item on your list with each location.
"Shit, that reminds me, I'm out of chloroform."
So let's say you're trying to remember a long grocery list, and you choose to use your neighborhood to mentally visualize it. You could imagine the first item on your list -- condoms -- scattered willy-nilly along your driveway. The next thing on your list might be beer -- you could picture your neighbor passed out drunk on his lawn, pants down, if you want. Next up is frozen pizza, so you picture pizza pies replacing all the windows at your drunk neighbor's house. Let your imagination do the hard work for you -- the more ridiculous/striking the image, the easier it'll be to remember.
It all sounds like a ridiculous extra step, but you soon realize how incredibly easy it suddenly makes it to recite a list. You're simply forcing the spatial memory part of your brain to help out. And you can start doing it at any time -- the memory palace (or method of loci) memorization technique isn't something that requires years of practice. In one 1968 study, college students were asked to memorize a list of 40 items by associating each item with a specific location around campus. Not only were the students able to memorize an average of 38 of the 40 items, but the next day they were able to name 34 of the original list (and that was in 1968 -- imagine how much more they would have remembered if the kids hadn't been on so much pot).
"Two. I can remember two things."