Have you ever wondered if mnemonics and memory techniques are for everyone?
Or maybe they just didn’t feel right for you?
Here’s the thing:
They might not be.
That’s just one of the unexpected answers you’ll hear in this podcast and read below. Let’s get started with a wonderful letter I received from a student in the Netherlands:
Let me introduce myself. I am Timo, a Dutch high school student. Nowadays I am preparing for my finals, but besides that I am also working on a final paper about the human memory. To be honest, last year I failed to pass my exams, so I decided to learn differently this year. During my summer vacation, I came across your website. While listening to your podcasts, I realized that this would be the best way to learn for me. That I eventually picked out this subject for my paper was a coincidence.
Back to the story. The last months I have read many books and scientific articles about the method of loci (or the Magnetic Memory Method). There are not many articles about this matter. These articles suggest that the method of loci is an effective way, but they are written by psychologists. Most of them are sceptic to use this in classrooms. You are, on the other hand, the expert for teaching this method to students. I assume that you use this method almost every week.
My practical part of my paper is an experiment with high school students. (This is required in The Netherlands.) Last week I finished teaching them the basics and how to apply the method to a list of random facts and vocabulary words. Now they are preparing to make a test, which I prepared. A university researcher helps me to process the data from these test results. However, I met some resistance with some of the students. They think that this is too time consuming. The teachers are, however, enthusiastic about my research. They want to know more about this subject.
Therefore I am considering writing a much shorter paper for all the teachers to explain my findings. Assuming that you are the only one, who gives these kind of courses, could I ask you humble opinion. Most of the books and articles do not give a clear answer, whether or not this method is effective on large classes and is better for the knowledge of the student (long-term memory). So here are my questions:
Is the Magnetic Memory Method a skill that everyone can develop?
No. The Magnetic Memory Method, any mnemonics or set of memory techniques are exclusive to a particular kind of person.
First, the person must be open to experimentation and implementation.
These personal characteristics appear not to be present in everyone. They require learning a set of tools that must be used in order to truly understand them.
Think of a computer keyboard, for example. Anyone can look at the keyboard and understand a description of what it is supposed to do. But without putting their fingers on the keys and learning to press the keys to produce words, words will never form.
And the exciting thing about typing is that, once you’ve started learning it, you can learn to write very fast. Not only that, but you’ve become so familiar with the keyboard that you can type entire books without even looking down at the keys or your fingers.
Memory techniques are like that, especially if you’re using Memory Palaces. The Memory Palace is a kind of keyboard you build yourself based on a manual like the Magnetic Memory Method. The information you want to memorize forms the keys and the associative-imagery are the sentences you write on the paper of your imagination.
And of course, no one types an entire book without making mistakes. But editing is a minor feat and quickly accomplished simply by scanning the record and compounding your associative-imagery or making the necessary changes.
The keyboard metaphor is not perfect, but it gives a sense of how mnemonic approaches like the Magnetic Memory Method work. Other metaphors have been given, such as the wax tablet and bird cage metaphors given by Aristotle.
In sum, not everyone can develop memory techniques because not everyone will take action.
Seriously. Some people prefer crossword puzzles.
But even with games and puzzles, a large percentage of those who do get started with memory exercise and other forms of mental training will, unfortunately, abandon the task at the first sign of mental effort. This premature departure is unfortunate because incredible successes are usually just around the corner.
Again, memory techniques are best learned by doing. The real job of an instructor in the art of memory is, therefore, inspiring people to take action by learning the techniques and then continuing to take action as a kind of scientist.
As a scientist, you create the basis for an experiment based on a clearly defined outcome and track your results. When the results don’t match the desired outcome, you analyze the mnemonic procedures you used and the Memory Palace itself and make the necessary changes, try again and once again track the results.
Like many things in life, they who test win.
Is the Magnetic Memory Method worth learning?
Yes, but ultimately that is not up for me to decide. Learning is just one part of the process. You must implement the memory techniques, not just learn them. Knowing what they are and how they work without using them is like holding your fingers over the keyboard but never typing anything.
The same holds true of any other memory training you might pursue. I personally believe that everyone should read as many books on memory techniques as possible, but only if they’re willing to try things out.
To this day, I continue reading every book on mnemonics I can find. Almost every single one of them has a new angle on an old technique or something entirely new. I always give these new approaches a try and sometimes they become part of what I do in my personal memory practice.
How much time does it take to master the Magnetic Memory Method for tests (and eventually final exams)?
Mastery is not the issue. It’s results that matter and these often arrive fast and hard when people learn the techniques, follow the instructions and implement based around topics they’re passionate about and that will make an immediate difference in their lives.
When I say “instructions,” I’m not talking dogma. The Magnetic Memory Method is called a method precisely because you need to come with a spirit of experimentation. It’s not a system and it breaks my heart every time I hear someone talk about their “memory system.”
There are no universal systems and you cannot truly use the approach of someone else. Rather, people need a method that helps them create their own, highly personalized system , remembering that flexibility is a requirement as they experiment with making the Magnetic Memory Method their own.
You need to understand that the map is not the territory and results only happen when you’re with the rest of us mnemonists down in the trenches and doing the spadework.
All that said, people typically learn and prepare themselves for the Magnetic Memory Method
Are there any requirements to make the Magnetic Memory Method easier to learn?
The only requirements are a willingness to learn and experiment with the techniques. It helps a great deal if you also come with a topic you’re passionate about, but that’s not strictly necessary. Even the most boring information from the driest topic in the world can be made thoroughly exciting using a Memory Palace and the other tools mnemonics offer.
How can someone test, whether or not the student has learned the Magnetic Memory Method?
Testing is simple. The student either correctly produces the memorized information or not.
That said, unless you’re competing, 100% accuracy is not always necessary. You can create a huge advantage for yourself simply by covering 50%, 35%, 25% or even less of the material on a test.
The important point is that you direct the memory techniques where they are needed. Some people pick up lots of information without the need of any technique.
Others, for various reasons, are desperate for something – anything – that will get more information into long-term memory.
Whether one uses memory techniques or not, testing offers the only means of discovering how much and how deep into long term memory information has gone.
The best part is that we know that as memories age, they move into different parts of the brain. (Gary small link). These memories may even be segmented into different pieces that are stored in different places. In this way, the remembered material becomes connected to other pieces of information, leading to what can be considered the formation of knowledge.
So it is not uncommon that a person using mnemonics will seek a single piece of information and wind up uncorking a powerful flow of related information. This effect takes place often when the remembered information involves philosophy, history and material from subject-based textbooks. Here’s a quick training on how to memorize a textbook.
Testing is a tremendously exciting part of the Magnetic Memory Method because it not only demonstrates that the techniques are working. Merely by testing recall, you strengthen your memory. You also discover more about the techniques and create deeper familiarity with them, ingraining them deeper in your being.
In principle, without testing, which amounts to recall, you aren’t really using memory techniques. This is why I talked in this video on card memorization about how memorization really only takes place during recall, and we must take the time spent during memorization and recall together to form a proper assessment of the time investment.
Is your method age restricted? Is it easier for younger students?
I do not believe that memory techniques are any easier or harder for younger students than any other age. The one advantage young people have is a lack of inhibition and a fresh connection to play.
However, adults, when they can get their egos out of the way, have the advantage of discipline and focus. They can, by and large, sit still at will and channel their energies towards the imagination. They can also practice meditation and analyze the kinds of imagination they have at their disposal with greater insight.
Could information that someone learns, interfere with other information? For instance, would Latin vocabulary interfere with biology terminology?
One kind of information can interfere with other kinds. This possibility is called either “ghosting” or “The Ugly Sister Effect.” These tend to arise when people use the same Memory Palace more than once without cleaning it first.
If the information is too similar – such as when memorizing French and Spanish vocabulary – the interference can be severe. However, Spanish and Russian vocabulary are sufficiently different, something that reduces, if not eliminates jarring effects and confusion.
In either case, with a bit of practice, neither need be interruptive. Once you understand the Ugly Sister Effect, you can bend it to your will and make it advantageous.
Do you think that this method is an essential skill in our digitalising world? People are nowadays more depending on their mobile phones than their memory.
Is it really true that people are relegating more and more information to their memory? Or is it possible that they are freeing it up so they have more space and time to learn and memorize more important things?
Long before computer technology, people suffered from unexercised minds. We sometimes have a false vision of the past in which all kinds of people were running around with superior memory abilities. Many scholars, yes. But the average Joe? Hardly. More everyday people use memory techniques around the world than ever before.
No, it is a lame and technologically deterministic view that blames technology for human laziness. It is the same technological determinism that blamed cars for more sex amongst teenagers and now blames cell phones for sexting. Believe me, young people had lots of sex with each other before cars appeared and many lewd notes were passed from student to student in the absence of cell phones.
What is interesting about technology is that it is at the precise moment that it became so central to our lives that a mnemonics Renaissance took on full force. I believe there is no mistake that the World Memory Championships, mind-mapping and a global interest in memory techniques surged as computers grew in popularity.
But I do not believe this occurred because human memory was being replaced and weakened. I believe the mnemonics Renaissance began because technology has freed the human mind to remember much more valuable things.
For this reason, I often berate those who teach the memorization of shopping lists. What a waste of human imagination and mental energy!
No, if you want to truly learn mnemonics and feel their awesome power from the first moment, memorize something that will immediately improve your life, or at least please you. Memorize something in line with your passions, something you cannot relegate to pen and paper or a computer. It’s for remembering these daily concerns that technology exists. Save your memory for the information that matters.
Do you think that the Magnetic Memory Method is a necessity for all students around the world?
No. Some students do perfectly well without mnemonics. I believe they would do even better with them, but what matters is the results they want and the results they get.
Should education institutes implement the Magnetic Memory Method in the classroom? How could teachers successfully teach this skill?
However, I do not think the MMM or any form of mnemonics should be crammed into the classroom with other subjects.
Mnemonics is a subject on its own. It has history, and like math, has different forms. If math has addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, mnemonics has linking, association, rhyming, keywords, abbreviations and the mothership that bears them all, the location-based Memory Palace.
If schools were to create a semester-long, or even a year-long course in mnemonics, our world would be a much different – and better place – almost overnight. We would be faced with an information revolution far more powerful and interesting than the computer revolution because more people than ever before would be using the software in the hardware of their heads at the highest level ever in the history of humanity.
How often do you use the Magnetic Memory Method, and what for?
I use memory techniques nearly every day of my life. When I meet people, I memorize their names. When I study a language, I memorize vocabulary and phrases. When I read books, I remember dates and facts. When I study music, I memorize scales and lyrics. When I sit in lectures, I memorize the messages in real time. When I warm up for memory projects, I memorize short runs of playing cards.
Above all, I spend the first minutes of nearly every day practicing dream recall. Even if I can’t remember a single dream, I make a note of it to help stimulate recall the next night.
And nearly every day, I spend a small amount of time writing in my gratitude journal. It is a powerful means of never forgetting just what a wonderful life I’ve got.
No matter where we live or who we may be, our existences are tied deeply to memory. And where memory is absent, the mindless void of forgetfulness and repetitive fantasy and negative messages persists. Only by focusing on strengthening our memory can we remember to be present with higher and higher levels of clarity. In this way, using memory techniques are a powerful form of meditation and perhaps the ultimate path to enlightenment.
If you’re interested in developing your memory by using Memory Palaces so that you can create genuine knowledge and achieve your most precious goals, you’ll love the Magnetic Memory Method Masterclass that you can try completely risk-free. I’d be honored to be the one who helps further your education in mnemonics and get you the results you seek. 🙂