Imagine stepping through your door and seeing Neil Armstrong, in full astronaut gear, sitting on a pink unicorn prancing around your foyer. Focus on that.
Now picture walking into your dining room and having Christina Aguilera in a genie
costume singing and gyrating to “Genie In A Bottle.” Make that image as vivid as you can in your mind. Mentally walk through to your kitchen where four pretentious bottles of cabernet are discussing how inferior chardonnay really is.
This kind of image-filled stroll through your memory palace was just one of the tricks that author Joshua Foer used when learned the art of memorization.
Each scenario is made more memorable by how bizarre, crazy, funny or weird the image in each room is. In his book “Moonwalking with Einstein,” Foer recounts his journey from a spetator at the U.S. Memory Championship to winning the contest the following year. “This idea of having a trained, disciplined, cultivated memory was not nearly so alien as it would seem to us to be today,” Foer said at TED2012.
A trained memory wasn’t so uncommon 2,000 years ago. Back then, people invested in their memories, furnishing their minds with images that helped them
remember 50-lined poems or the entire history of the Roman Empire. Over the last few centuries, technologies like alphabets and iPhones have made it progressively easier for us to outsource our memory, storing things like phone numbers and addresses in external devices. While incredibly useful and effective, these developments have made it more difficult for us to practice the art of memory. “Having little need to remember anymore, it sometimes seems like we’ve forgotten how,” he said.
Some people can be said to have a great memory, but this kind of memory isn’t an innate gift, it’s learned. Memories are remembered when we’re actively engaged and paying attention to what is happening or being said. Developing this skill is time consuming, but achievable. With dedication like Foer’s, who wore earmuffs and blackout glasses with two holes drilled in them to focus while memorizing endless names in yearbooks every day, cultivating this imaginary edifice inside your head is possible.
Foer’s book, “Moonwalking With Einstein,” introduces the reader to the science and history of memorization while describing the author’s process of increasing his capacity of memorization. When he first spoke with the competitors of the Memory Championship, he was told that anyone could do what they were doing. Through daily practice and dedication, Foer transformed his mind, building multiple memory palaces inside his head, allowing him to compete with savants across the nation.
Now, if you were asked to remember the first sentence of the second paragraph word for word, you probably wouldn’t be able to. But you can probably recall the odd scenarios that were placed into your memory palace earlier.
Ultimately, remembering the details of life is possible with just a little effort. Recalling what you ate for lunch last Wednesday or even your cousin’s birthday is possible when you take the time to store that information in your mind.
“If you want to live a memorable life you have to be the kind of person who remembers to remember,” Foer said.