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How to memorize a lot more than you think you can? There is a technique which you might have heard of, called Memory Palace or the Loci method.

Personally, I prefer the phrase memory palace, because it creates an image inside my head. A big beautiful palace inside the mind. Well actually "Loci" means "place" so it's not very different, but the whole technique is about images in your head and for "memory palace" there is this image inside of my mind straightaway.

I read something about it some years ago and thought something like: "Ah yeah nice, I have to try it out!" Had that feeling so many times in my life before and now it's the time to do it!

The tasks we have to do to build a memory palace are quite simple. And yes I say "we" because at this point I haven't tried it yet. Next week I will start building my own to memorize the first elements in the periodic table. Well okay, the eventual aim is to know them all :D

List of things we need to do:

  1. What is your real representation of the palace?
  2. A list of things inside your palace
  3. Review your items
  4. Stick the chemical elements to the items
  5. Recall the associations

1. What is your real representation of the palace?

You probably have a home and some rooms where you are most of the time in your life. A bed room, your kitchen, your work room etc. These are places which you can remember. Close your eyes and you can imagine them inside your head, because you see them so often. You can use this information which is already inside your mind to learn new stuff. It's much easier than to build an new palace which only exists inside your head.

Use real places!

2. A list of things inside your palace

We need to choose some items inside our rooms or places on our daily way to work, which we can easily remember and which we can associate the things we aim to memorize with - in my case the elements of the periodic table. It's important to order them, because we will need the order to remember the order of the chemical elements. There are always at least 5 items inside each room you can remember. You might think that there are way more, but okay I'm a guy who does not have much stuff... ;) It's easy to find 5 for each room, some might have more, some only five.

To remember the order it's easier to have exactly the same amount of items inside each room or place in your city. At the end of this experiment I want to be able to name the corresponding element to each ordinal number. To find the element for the ordinal number 73, for instance, I can go to the fifteenth room and look at the third item.

The rule is to add 5 to your number and divide it by 5 to get the number of the room or way and the remainder will be the number of the item in that room.

$$ (73+5)/5 = 15 \text{ with remainder } 3 \\ \implies \text{ Third item in the fifteenth room } \\$$

$$ (17+5)/5 = 4 \text{ with remainder } 2 \\ \implies \text{ Second item in the fourth room }$$

We need a lot of rooms or places for the periodic table... :D

To order the items inside a room we will go clockwise or anticlockwise (just be consistent!) inside of a room. And choose items that are easy to remember! You'll remember big items easier and the items should be distinct. There are desks and chairs in a lot of rooms but you shouldn't have more than one desk inside your list of items.

Choose distinct items and order them!

These are the first 15 items in my list: (You will need to create your own one ;) )

  1. Bed
  2. Bookshelf
  3. Couch
  4. Desk
  5. Whiteboard
  6. Washstand
  7. Toilette
  8. Laundry Reck
  9. Washing Machine
  10. Bathtub
  11. Refrigerator
  12. Water Boiler
  13. Waste-Paper Collection
  14. Dishwasher
  15. Stove

3. Review your items

We have to review our list of items so that we are able to identify the item to one particular number instantaneously. I started with 15 items on my list, so I picked three rooms at the beginning. There aren't that many rooms inside my shared flat ;)

If you want, you can pick some more rooms at the beginning.

Simply recall the items on your list in ascending order and then backwards. Then go through all the even numbers and then all odd numbers. If you want, you can only recall the items that correspond to a prime number or some other nerdy stuff ;)

4. Stick the chemical elements to the items

Now it's time to combine the things you already know with things you want to learn. In this example I want to learn the periodic table.

  1. Hydrogen
  2. Helium
  3. Lithium
  4. Beryllium
  5. Boron
  6. Carbon
  7. Nitrogen
  8. Oxygen
  9. Fluorine
  10. Neon
  11. Sodium
  12. Magnesium
  13. Aluminium
  14. Silicon
  15. Phosphorus

Okay I'm pretty sure it's not easy to remember Boron on my Whiteboard, which is element #5 in my list of items. Therefore we need to make some pictures or stories which matches our two lists.

  1. Water
  2. Balloon
  3. Batteries
  4. Bee
  5. Boring? Border? Or just whiteboard ?
  6. Car
  7. Nitpicking?
  8. Oxygen mask
  9. Fluorescent fish
  10. Neon lamp
  11. Something salty?
  12. Magnetic
  13. Aluminum foil
  14. Computer chip
  15. Photographs

For some elements it sounds easy to get some associations and for some it's really hard. I hope you will have some better associations than mine. ;)

Now it's time to match them. I'll list my ideas but maybe you like to skip them directly, because maybe it will confuse you, and create own ones, which match your list of items.

  1. Waterbed
  2. A lot of balloons on my now flying bookshelf
  3. A couch build out of batteries
  4. Black yellow striped desk
  5. The border of Germany on my Whiteboard
  6. The washstand is formed like a car
  7. A lot of peas inside the toilette

    The German translation of nitpicking is something like "counting peas" :D

  8. My laundry reck is full of oxygen masks...
  9. There is a fluorescent fish swimming in my washing machine. Wow!
  10. The bath tub is illuminated using neon lamps.
  11. My refrigerator is full of salty fish
  12. The water boiler is held together using strong magnets.
  13. The waste-paper collection is full of aluminum foil. Which isn't paper...
  14. Why are there computer chips in our dishwasher?
  15. We will cook some photographs.

5. Recall the associations

After making this list. Close your eyes and go around your room and see those associations and recall the first elements. You probably see some items pretty fast and for some others you need some more time. If it's too hard to remember take some minutes to think about your list. Maybe you find a better association. I first recalled my associations and then made another round to recall the elements.

Find new items

I'll go outside and pick five places for some of my daily routes. You can use some rooms inside your workplace or some other items. Try something which sounds reasonable and if you have neat ideas => Comment at the end of this article

You want to learn something else?

Who wants to know the periodic table? Well, who doesn't???

No okay, it's fine if you want to use your brain power for something more important. Like recalling the first 100 digits of pi?

3.141592653589793238462643383279502884197169399375
105820974944592307816406286208998628034825342117068

That one is really important for everyone! Not really but maybe I'm not the only nerd here...

The concept of learning digits is a bit different, therefore I would like to mention an idea for this one.

You can split the number you want to learn into chunks of 3 digit numbers.

141,592,653,589,793,238,462,643,383,279,502,884,197,169,399,375,
105,820,974,944,592,307,816,406,286,208,998,628,034,825,342,117,068

Now you can use the Mnemonic major system to translate these chunks to english words which you then stick to your items.

Digit Letter
0 z,s
1 t,d
2 n
3 m
4 r
5 l
6 ch,sch,sh,j
7 k,q
8 f,ph
9 p,b

The first words to remember some digits of pi.

Number Word
141 Trade
592 Albino

It's worth trying to form these associations yourself to remember them better, but at the beginning this website: http://www.rememberg.com might be interesting.

Things I learned

The first day was cool! I remembered the first 15 elements right away. Then there was a break. It's hard to get new items and associations for each element. If you're stuck, try to do something different. Take a break and try it again some hours later.

I made a list of all elements and items and associations and my matching text. It's depressing to see all those gaps for your items and associations but you want to learn, right?

Ask friends and family, maybe they have a nice association for...

Sometimes it's shocking. My sister told me that the first thing she thinks of is liquid nitrogen if she hears nitrogen and yes that's kind of obvious now and really "nitpicking" was shit :D

Today I added another 15 items to my list, this time I used restaurants and places on the main shopping street. Remember to use 5 items for each street, way to point X, etc ...

For the shopping street I used 5 shops on each side of the road.

I need an association for Germanium and I already used the border of Germany on my Whiteboard. Therefore I changed my association for the Whiteboard. Well here the association is the item itself. Don't know if it will work...

Ask friends and family

Sometimes it's better not to tell what you are doing then the associations might be even better. I asked a friend for an association for "Selen" (German for Selenium) and she read "Seelen" (German for "souls") which are associated to ghosts and my matching item was already a graveyard in my city. AWESOME!

It will help you not only because there will be things for which you can't imagine an association. But also because it will change the way you think about associations and it's always easier to remember something if you talked about it.

Try to recall every day

At the beginning it's important to recall what you've learned. I think of a random number, then check on which way it was and what element and then get the association and the element. I think it's important not to do it in the correct order every time. Try to use a random number, because it’s much harder than doing the same order every time.

My personal progress

I've learned the first 60 elements in about 10 days, which isn't the same as 118 elements in a week but it's a good start.

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Ole Kröger


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