Today we welcome guest author Jonathan Levi, bestselling author, keynote speaker, and thought leader on the topics of accelerated learning, memory, and online education. He is the founder of SuperHuman Academy®, whose popular online courses and award-winning podcast are enjoyed by over 250,000 people in all 205 countries and territories. He lives in Tel Aviv, Israel, with his wife, Limmor.
This 2,500 Year Old Technique is the Secret Behind Super Human Memory
by Jonathan Levi
Imagine, for a moment, that there were a simple technique out there that could dramatically improve your memory. I’m not talking about an improvement of 100%, 200%, or even 300%. I’m talking about allowing you to remember anywhere between 10-100x more information.
Now imagine, if you will, that this simple technique – discovered in 477 B.C. by Simonides of Ceos, was the secret behind every one of the world records in memory. From memorizing hundreds of random digits, to the names and faces of 100+ people in minutes, to speeches, foreign language words and more. In fact, imagine that simply by using this technique, you could literally rewire the way your brain works – permanently.
What would a technique like that be worth to you?
Good news – this technique isn’t myth, or even urban legend, but a real technique that absolutely anyone can learn in minutes.
I’m talking, of course, about The Memory Palace.
How Anyone Can Transform Their Brain To Look Like A Memory Champion’s
Though you may have heard of The Memory Palace (or “the method of loci”), most people have never created one – much less turned it into a habit. And yet, memory palaces are, without a doubt, the single most powerful thing you can do to enhance your memory. (In my latest book, I refer to them as “the mnemonic nuclear option,” a bit like dropping a nuke on a schoolyard bully). Researchers have actually proven that this technique reshapes neural networks to support superior memory.
They’ve even discovered that these changes are long-lasting… and that anyone can use them to transform their brain into that of a memory champion. In other words, unlike the Olympic games, the only differences between you and Memory Games champions are technique and practice.
How is this even possible?
How (And Why) The Memory Palace Actually Works
Though memory research is a young field, researchers have uncovered quite a bit about how our brains store information. As with the rest of our bodies, our brains have evolved over millions of years to increase our odds of survival. This is why certain senses – like smell, taste, and sight – are significantly more memorable to us than others. No surprises there.
But what most people don’t realize is how well our brains remember locations. Though some of us can get lost on our way home every day, none of us will forget the layout of our childhood homes – or any other place we’ve lived, for that matter. You see, though we don’t even notice it, our brains are constantly evaluating and remembering our surroundings.
The reasons for this are simple. If you’re a paleolithic cave man or cave woman, your survival depends on your ability to find your way around. You must remember the way back to the watering hole, the buried winter food supply, and the cave. To make this possible, our brains produce a unique neurochemical mix anytime we so much as think about location. This connection is so powerful, in fact, that researchers now believe that location is an absolutely essential part of memory as a whole.
This is more good news for you – because it means that you have hundreds of memory palaces lying dormant in your head, waiting to be filled.
How To Create Your Very Own Memory Palace, In 3 Easy Steps
The idea behind The Memory Palace technique is very simple. First, choose a location that is familiar to you. This can be a past or current home, an office, a friend’s place, or even a store you frequent. I suggest choosing the location based on how much information you wish to remember. After all, you wouldn’t want to waste a 5-story office building to memorize the 45 U.S. presidents or the NATO Phonetic alphabet.
Once you have your location picked out, decide on a “path” that you are going to take as you walk through it. I recommend starting at the entrance and walking along the “perimeter” of the building, tracing along the walls either clockwise or counter-clockwise.
Trace the path that you’d use to go into each room, and make sure that you never cross your own path. This is less important if you’re going to be memorizing non-sequential information, such as foreign language vocabulary. It’s absolutely essential for things like speeches, decks of cards, and so on.
If your information is non-sequential, decide how you’ll break it up into groups, and which rooms in the palace will correspond to those groups. (You can do this in your head, or by sketching out a floor plan on a piece of paper, if it’s easier).
With your memory palace set up, it’s time to get visual. Create a novel, bizarre, and creative mental image for the first piece of information you want to remember. In the SuperLearner® methodology, we call these “markers,” and they’re the building block of all the mnemonic techniques we use. To make your markers extra-memorable, you’ll want to combine elements of your existing memories in ways that are particularly strange – even violent or sexual.
Imagine, for example, I wanted to learn the Spanish word for “stove” (estufa). I might visualize actress Gloria Estefan sitting on my kitchen stove and shrieking in pain as her backend sizzles. This image is great because it combines my own existing knowledge of Gloria Estefan with the location of the stove in my home – in a way that will be hard for most people to forget. Once I can “see” that particularly bizarre image in my mind’s eye, my work is done. I can now move on to my next location, whether that’s the corner of a bed, a painting on the wall, a window sill, or a bookshelf, and place another marker there.
Now I know what you’re thinking: “how do I come up with these visual markers?” Of course, there are different techniques for different types of information. For strings of numbers, you would use a system like The Major Method – or a much more complex system if you were looking to compete. For things like names, speeches, bible verses, and so on, you can get creative. “Mary” becomes a visualization of the Virgin Mary. Ray becomes a Manta Ray. You get the idea. Markers are highly individual, because the best ones integrate your own pre-existing memories. But don’t worry, the actual contents of your markers don’t matter so much as the fact that you create them.
Once you’ve stocked your memory palace full of visualizations, you’re done! All you need to do is periodically drop in for a visit and review it to prevent your brain from forgetting it. Realistically, though, it doesn’t take much. I’ve had people approach me at events and tell me about that “annoyingly sticky” memory palace I had them memorize 5 years ago – and how it still lingers on in their mind.
Now You Try It
As any coach worth their salt will tell you, the information above is not enough to create a transformation. After all, you can’t learn how to swim in a library. So if you actually want to reap the benefits of the Memory Palace, you’re going to have to try it out for yourself.
Perhaps you already know exactly what you’d like to memorize. Hey, that’s great! Go do it, and let me know how it goes. But for those of you who are scratching your heads on where to begin, here are some of my favorite “beginner” memory palaces that always come in handy:
- The NATO Phonetic Alphabet
- The Circle of Fifths (Music Theory)
- Your grocery list
- The names, faces, and locations of everyone at your company or division
- The first 25 digits of Pi
- Your credit card numbers
So there you have it! With time and a little practice, you can easily learn to do truly superhuman feats of memory. From learning 50 digits backwards and forwards in minutes, to memorizing a shuffled deck of cards, and much, much more.
And once you do, your brain will radically and permanently change for the better.
What do you think? Is this technique worth investing a few minutes a day to practice? I’d love to hear what types of things you plan to memorize with it.