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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

This Ancient Memorization Technique Could Be the Brain Hack You Need

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I take a lot of pride in my great memory. I always impressed my peers while playing those card-matching games as a kid, and my friends are still to this day floored by how many song lyrics I can sing along to in a 20-minute car ride.

But even I’m not a master when it comes to remembering a long list of items. That’s what planners, sticky notes, and, when you’re really in a hurry, the back of your hand is for.

So what if I was to tell you there’s actually a way to train your brain to memorize an abundant amount of information all at one time? You’d probably be like, Thank god, because I’m starting to get weird looks for having pen marks all over my body.

The “method of loci,” otherwise known as the “memory palace,” isn’t a new or original concept. In fact, according to a recent New York Times article, it actually outdates us by thousands of years. Long story short, the technique, known as the first art of memorization ever recorded, uses location (“loci”) to create memorable scenarios in which to recall facts.

So, to memorize a shopping list, you’re probably more likely to remember all 10 or 20 items if you mentally place each one in a location around your house—for example, I woke up and there was an egg on my alarm clock. Then, I walked to my closet and there was toilet paper hanging from the ceiling. When I turned on the sink, ketchup came out instead of water. Yes, a bit fantastical, but nonetheless effective.

No, really! In the same article, The New York Times included this puzzle to show you how it all works. For your sake (and OK, mine, too) I took it.

Each round you’re given 10 different items arranged around your home.

After you go through all 10, you then have to identify them from a long list of objects. On the first try, I was easily able to recognize nine out of the 10, while just 37% of users were able to identify all of them.

What’s great about this technique is that it works for just about anything. Say you’re in an interview and were just introduced to four different employees—and you’re really bad at names—in your head, give each person a context: I met Sarah on the train. I recognize Joe from the drug store. Amy surprised me at the bakery. George met me at the stoplight. Silly, yes—but if it work for you, it works!

So, Tthe next time you have to take in a lot of information quickly, try crafting a story and see how well you’re able to recall it later on. Or, try to beat me on the puzzle and brag to me about it on Twitter!