Method of Loci
If you’re like me, you love taking actual and virtual tours of beautiful homes. My favorites have large kitchens, massive libraries and comfortable chairs. I love an impressive staircase but don’t really care about multi-level garages and tennis courts. I want my palace to be unique to me.
If you like thinking about places, this technique is for you.
How It Works
The technique combines two elements: images and places. Both are equally important. The places (loci) provide the pegs or anchors to store the images imagined. Together, you can remember any image when cued by a location.
A modern version would be for you to picture your house from the outside. The front door is the “opening” of your speech. Place an image of your opening comment or joke on the doorknob. Opening the door, opens the rest of the speech.
The first room you enter is your first topic. Place an image on each object in the room, one for each point on that topic. For the next topic, move to the next room. The images tied to objects will be your memory aids. As you move from room to room, you can deliver your whole speech based on these images.
What It Is Called
The method of loci is also called the journey method because you journey through your house. It can be your current house, an imaginary house, or an architectural wonder. Many memory game players use their childhood homes.
You can also journey across campus, across the country or around the world. All that is important is that you have specific objects at each place which can store an image.
The Romans loved this system, making portable rooms or tabernacles filled with information or cues. Some were actual structures set up for the express purpose of learning associations. Others were imagined houses, or even whole towns. In literature, Sherlock Holmes had his “mind palace” or “memory palace.” You can do the same thing.
The system does a good job of learning things in order (serially) and being able to select a specific item (cued recall). You can memorize the order of a deck of cards if you had 52 locations on your journey. Or you can memorize the bones of the body while you walk around the neighborhood, recalling an item at each loci along the way. The key is to assign images to specific visualized locations which never change.
Imagine a room with a chair on each side of a 3-person couch. In the first chair, sitting backwards, is a dog in chains. This represents backward chaining. On the couch are 3 things: a song (sheet music), you and map. These represent Rhymes & Songs, Self-association and the Journey Method. The last chair is empty because we haven’t gotten to it yet.
Pick five things you want to remember. Now imagine a room with a chair on each side of a 3-person couch. Put one of the things in each position. If they are ideas, convert the items into objects.
This is very short journey but it will give you a good idea of how the method of loci works.
The better you are at visualization, the more you’ll like this technique. When you want to remember a long list of words or sections of a speech, use the method of loci.
Practice a word or phrase at each stop of a literal or figurative location. For a speech, imagine walking through a house or store. You opening remarks are visualized at being at the entry door. You next phrase is in the foyer, followed by the living room, dinning room and kitchen. You practice every segment of your speech while walking throught the house.
When it is time to give your speech, you walk through your visualized house, recalling a phrase at each location. As you mentally travel from room to room, each point of your speech is recalled and delivered. When you walk out the back door of your house, the speech is over.
The reason this technique works is that we are very sensitive to location cues. Ever remembered something in the kitchen, only to forget it when you walk into the living room? And then, when you walk back into the kithcen, it comes back to you.
We encode location information even when we don’t care where we are. It’s like our own GPS system. Everything gets marked as “you were here” just in case we need it. Our brains tag our location like the camera in our phones tag our photo information. It occurs automatically.
We can use the natural tendency of ours to remember where things are by focusing our attention on it. Try to encode the location cues. Try to remember where you were when you read that story. Where on the page did the textbook mention a given theorist? What graphics were on the page where we read the facts we need to recall.
When in doubt, visualize and tag it.