Of all the memory techniques that I’ve come across, I think the most romantic one is the loci system. This is, as I understand it, the oldest memory technique on record, and one that I have had the most difficulty getting to work. I feel much better able to use it now though, and thought I’d share some tips on how, if you have difficulty with it too, you could make it more workable.
Traditionally, users are told to take a route that they are very familiar with and remember things along the way. This was forever a haphazard affair for me, until I realised that I needed to think of the route in terms of a number of fixed “stations”. I had to divide the route into specific points at which I could anchor the images I wished to remember. This might seem obvious now that I’ve written it, but when trying to use the system before I found I was always skipping over things along the way, and it wasn’t until I had sat down and decided at which points my images would be placed that I was able to make any progress.
What’s more, until you do this, you don’t know how much information you are going to be able to pack into your particular route.
Initially I was quite basic in my approach. For instance, I ran a route from my bed to my local underground station, and made each room a station - the bedroom, the landing, the kitchen, the lower landing, bathroom etc. I made sure that the stations in the outside world were distinct and far enough apart.
Later, however, as my use of the system increased, I found I was able easily enough to divide each room into a series of stations. The bedroom (one image) became the bed, the sofa, the computer desk, the hi-fi, the chest of drawers, the DVD library (six images). I call this “granularity”. It’s important to keep it clear in your mind, though, how you order these sub-room stations. I work this by imagining myself surveying each room from a fixed position. The bedroom is viewed from right to left from the point of view of the bed. The kitchen is then broken down into stations in a similar way, but these run from left to right. This is intuitive to me, because of the geography of my flat - from the bed, the door is to my left. Standing at the kitchen door, the room extends to the right…
Another thing I find useful is to tie the function of each station in with the image I am creating. When using the Person Action Object system for memorising playing card sequences, for instance, and I need to picture Christian Bale, exposing his chest to an easel (10D, 4D, AH if you must know!) at the oven, I will try as far as possible to incorporate the oven into the mix - perhaps the easel is a miniature easel standing in a pan of boiling water. The ability to do this is something you should think about when picking out your individual stations - how easily will you be able to incorporate the station itself into the image?
One pursuit people who use these techniques sometimes speak of is the creation of their own imaginary spaces. This is really where the notion of memory palaces come from. People will either create their buildings and routes from scratch, or they will use doors or hallways to bridge, say, their childhood home to their current home.
Something I’ve started to experiment with is what I’m calling the Hotel of all my Friends. The idea is that I give each personal contact a room in a hotel, and coded in that room are things like phone numbers, birthdays, family relations etc. I can spend time in each hotel room with the occupier and tie everything together quite easily. It’s early days for the system as yet, but should be fun to play with.