Do you remember the memory game we played with friends at birthday parties, trying to put down all the items displayed for a few seconds, in a basket? Cut to the pandemic-weary, brain fog-pulverised mind in 2022. The occasional forgetfulness has given way to an annoying fumbling and bumbling with recollecting names, forgotten numbers, and misplaced faces—we’ve met at some point in our lives, wherever. Your memories are less accurate than you think. The Memory Palace (MP) technique wings into your rescue, thankfully.
The most common type of memory palace is a location you are well conversant with, visually. Possibly your childhood home, current place of residence, your workspace, a friend’s house you frequented aplenty while growing up it could even be a fictitious location, or something conjured on the basis of your consumption—like laddering up The Faraway Tree in the Enid Blyton books or the baffling maze of alleys you love in your favourite screen game.
Whatever your pick, enjoy unfurling the location slowly in your mind as you begin to store mnemonic images while making your mental journey through it. Moving along, there are specific locations that you always visit in the same order. This forms the pivotal part of propping retention in your memory palace. The different locations in this journey that you associate objects or information with are called loci (Latin for locations), making this a Method of Loci.
Explains Dr Chandni Tugnait, psychotherapist, life coach, healer, Founder and Director, Gateway of Healing, “This is an ancient technique that utilises the space inside your brain to fill up with memories. When you designate a place to an object, it adds to the value. The same fundamental works with memory. When you place it in a particular location, it gets fixed. There exists a Memory Palace in your brain that you just need to fill with what you need to keep in your memories forever. This theory involves meaningfully placing information into mental spaces that already exist inside your brain.
When you associate something with a fond memory that already exists in your brain, it becomes easier to recall it. For example, if you wish to remember that you are to pick up some grocery items on the way back home, you can associate it with perhaps your mother making a special dish with them in the kitchen. Or, you have to call someone at a specific time, imagine yourself chilling and chatting with that person in the backyard over coffee.”
What about the efficacy of employing visually-visited spaces? “The Memory Palace theory can be used as both real and fictional spaces. You don’t always need to fill in memories in an already existing place but you can always create new real or fictitious spaces to accommodate those memories,” she explains. If there is a favourite game that you play or an all-time favourite show, you can always link memory to that.
Funnily enough, we have trouble recalling instantly what we had perhaps for lunch or breakfast, the same day. But we recall easily how a place made us feel when we visited it. How important is the ‘emotional hook’ while associating things, or numbers with MP locations? “Have you ever felt that whenever you listen to a song, a particular location or journey comes to your mind that is associated with that song? This is where the emotional hook comes into the picture. When you link something relevant to a specific place, it stays in your mind for long. Having an emotional connection boosts memory retention. You won’t forget to pick up your mom from the airport because you are emotionally invested in that. Similarly, if you link something with a memorable trip, it won’t fade away from your brain. That is the power of emotional hook,” shares Chandni.
“Beyond our perception, our senses play an integral role in our emotional processing, learning, and interpretation. During various elements of emoting, our sensory cortices can be activated at different levels. Yes, you can make use of the Memory Palace technique only if you are extremely familiar with the space you choose and can visualise intricate details. An emotional association with the space always helps to prod your mind’s eye,” says Purvi Gandhi, Occupation Therapist, Intervention Coach and Founder of Theraphil. Back to MP. The association of objects, tasks or numbers begins with each location you earmark within the palace.
“You need to take one or two items at a time and place a mental image of them in each locus of your memory palace. Try to exaggerate the images and let them interact with the location. For example, if the first item is a pumpkin and the first locus in your Memory Palace is the front door, picture some giant pumpkins opening up your front door. Make the images come alive with your senses. An exaggeration of the images and injecting humour can help,” says Dr Sonal Anand, Psychiatrist, Wockhardt Hospitals, Mira Road, Mumbai. “Try to repeat the important things or write them down. The more bizarre and action-oriented these connections are, the more likely you are to remember,” she says.
Of course, it is too much to expect your ageing brain to register and remember with just one run. Try ‘revising’ the locations and what they are associated with several times. The MP concept comes laced with its own set of limitations. You can pack in simple information, lists, numbers, and passwords… but can’t expect to tutor yourself in a foreign language.
What about those wicked passwords? “If your password has only numerals, you can imagine yourself dialling the number from your phone and then writing the number in a diary to memorise it. Optionally, within the MP you can associate the numerals in a password to a house number, favourite place etc. You just need to place it in your memory palace to effectively memorise passwords and numbers,” says Chandni. If you have to remember ingredients like cinnamon, chillies, salt, ginger, lemon, sugar, and tomato then it is easier to form hooks: spicy—chillies; sour—lemon; sweet—sugar.
Need to sharpen your memory to recall several objects in a picture? Weave a story around the different elements like Batman took the ball and the cat with a glass of water and went outside to see a nest and a cut flower with a scissor wearing gloves on a bus. Hooked? Sign up.
RAPID MEMORY SPURS
Prop your grey matter through tiny memory boosters
Read aloud often to aid rapid memory
Movement using both sides of the brain helps immensely. For eg. bouncing a ball with alternate hands while walking and absorbing information.
Get a good night’s sleep or take a power nap after learning something new to memorise it
Exercise improves blood flow to the brain, making you easily remember passwords or other things
A diet loaded with saturated and trans fat is linked to poor memory. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables for good cognitive health.
Use your opposite hand to perform certain daily chores (writing/eating/brushing) for boosting cognitive powers
Rearrange objects in your room or cupboard organisers frequently to exercise the brain and sharpen memory
Visualise generously to enhance retention power. Day-dreamers have the best memory because they visualise everything.
Recall the best and worst highlights of the day, at night before sleeping