Have you ever wondered about using a big box store as a Memory Palace?
It sounds like a great idea.
Tons of space for helping you memorize foreign language vocabulary.
You are learning a language, right?
If not, here’s why bilingualism is good for your memory and brain health.
And, if you are learning a language and have thought about using one as a Memory Palace, you’re not alone.
Check out this note I received from one of you:
I have an idea I have not tried but wanted your opinion first.
I live in California and we have many large “big box” stores such as, Target, Home Depot, Lowes and of course Walmart. They have many rows at least 25 and each row has many selves. Several have a rear isle that splits the rows and stores like Target have the store divided into departments as well. What is your opinion on using palaces like these.
I really like this idea, and it would work well for me personally for memorizing foreign language vocabulary.
And as it happens…
I have a history with spaces like these.
Back when I was paying my way through grad school, I worked in such a “big box” store as a loss prevention detective. Yes, just imagine your humble Magnetic Memorizer in street clothes, nonchalantly strolling over 150,000 sq. ft. of product-stuffed aisles, carrying a hidden earpiece and a license to …
… arrest hospital cafeteria workers and high school students who could not resist stuffing hair elastics and Transformers into their purses or backpacks.
James Bond It Was Not!
As unattractive as the job was…
Over many months, I strolled those aisles listening to university lectures from The Great Courses series on my iPod in one ear and receiving “tactical commands” from my “eye in the sky” partner in the “interrogation room” in the other.
I spent a lot of time getting very familiar with this depot. I knew the aisles and what were in them by number and could basically guess what people were stealing from them based on the coordinates my partner gave me.
“Middle Aisle 4 West” most certainly meant either toothbrushes, toothpaste or dental floss, and “Front Aisle 10 East” would definitely mean a VHS movie – this was back before DVDs hit the market.
All I had to do was head on over, confirm with my partner that he had observed concealment and then maintain continuity until the person left the store. Then it was showtime: apprehension and a guided tour back to the interrogation room.
By the way, the “interrogation room” in this place really does look like something out of the movies with its pockmarked walls, camera monitors, and the racks where the video recordings are stored, i.e. the visual “memories” of the thefts.
Back to the question at hand, I’m going on about this Ghost of Resume Past because I want to make a point about familiarity.
Here’s what I mean:
I can confidently use this department store as a Memory Palace because, with pen and paper in hand, I don’t have to think about 10-15 stations I could use in that location. I spent countless hours in it, and even more than a decade later, I recall it in great detail. Within seconds I can jot down:
1. Front entrance
4. Health & Bathroom
5. Household cleaners
8. Sporting goods
10. Electronics & Media
It’s strange to think of how these places are set up, but they have more method than madness if you spend some time learning about the use of “customer blocking.” This is a structural means of directing your path through the store and the things consumers look at from different angels depending on where they stand in the store.
Don’t Think (Sort Of)
The point is that I have all of this in mind, which means I don’t have to think about these areas in order to use them.
There is no effort involved when doing my preparation and predetermination exercises.
Mind you, with a bit of effort, I could easily double, if not triple these stations by splitting the aisles into front, middle and back, and further into left/right or East/West.
I can do this conceptually, without needing to think about what specifically was stored in those parts of each aisles, but I need to make sure that I’m not crossing my own path. Also, splitting aisles like this requires defining some rules.
Then there are the tips discussed on my Language Learning Memory Palace Strategies Playlist:
Back to using a store as a Memory Palace:
If I mentally travel an aisle from the front to the back using front, middle end and left and right, do I go from left to right and then up to the next right and then left again, or do I go left, right, left, right in a zigzag pattern…
Frankly, it all gets a bit much for me, but for other people, having all kinds of rules of operation can be helpful and fun. No matter how we use our Memory Palaces, we are building new pathways in your mind, and that is an exciting thing.
Nonetheless, for beginners, I would suggest not using left/right separations and just plopping your association images and actions in the middle of the aisle.
And even if you are advanced, put some space around the material you want to memorize whenever you can. Let it breathe like a bottle of wine so that it can better fuse with the taste buds of your mind.
If you want to use a store like this that you’re not as intimately familiar with, that’s no problem. Next time you’re in there shopping, pay more attention to the layout.
Pick out little details.
Is there a cashier station in Men’s apparel that you hadn’t noticed before that could serve as a perfect station?
Is there an area where they display tents that will stick out in your mind now that you’ve noticed it?
Does the entrance have four sliding doors or five?
If you haven’t counted these store features before, then you don’t know how many you can use as stations.
Ask More Questions
Always dig deeper.
What about the journey from the door to your car? Where are the shopping carts stored? Where are the parking lot lamps? Is there a ticket booth? A doughnut shop directly across the way?
There are oodles of stations you can add to your Memory Palace so long as you’ve paid attention to them, familiarized yourself and feel that you can mentally proceed to the next station without spending time on thinking about what comes next.
Above all, if you need to familiarize yourself with a store by visiting it, make sure that you walk through it in the way you would use it.
Decide upon a starting point and then create a journey in which you never cross your own path. It’s also helpful to think in advance just how many stations you would like the Palace to have.
If you’re looking for only 10 and you know that there are ten aisles, then a visit may not be necessary and you can just place your associations in numerical order.
But if you want 100 stations leading up to thousands, like we saw in yesterday’s question, then some serious familiarity with the inner workings of the location will be your friend. How to Learn and Memorize the Vocabulary of Any Language will also help.
In sum, my opinion is that the success of a Memory Palace depends on the familiarity you have with the location. Familiarity is desirable not only for speed during your memorization sessions, but also during the initial stages of recall.
It also comes down to your development of using Magnetic superheroes to memorize. The use of mnemonic examples is its own topic, and you will do well to dive into that as well.
With the appropriate amount of rehearsal, recall won’t be an issue. But at first, you want to be able to get to the word quickly into long term and without having to think too much about where it is in your Memory Palace.
So please make sure you give the Memory Palace creation process the attention it deserves.
Whatever you do…
Don’t ruin your Memory Palaces:
Familiarity = Speed
Until the next post on memorizing 3000 words or more (an update), make sure to teach someone what you have learned about memorization. It’s the best way to deepen your own understanding and to help make the world a better place. The more we remember, the more we can remember, and the more we learn, the more we can learn.