On Memory Palaces And Old Memory Interference

houseDear Memorizers,

Here’s a great question about Memory Palace “interference.”


I have a question, maybe you’ve come across this problem before!

I have a very good autobiographical memory, so every location I try to use has emotions and events and conversations attached to it. I’m having a hard time using any location to memorize french because my mind automatically brings up information that has nothing to do with the words, leading to confusion. 

Should I try using an imaginary memory palace instead? What is the technique for building my own and remembering where I put things?

I greatly appreciate your help.

Although I have not directly experienced this problem, I do use locations for my Memory Palaces that are certainly charged with emotional associations.

However, I find it easy to ease the architecture and floorplans alone without interference from the people with whom I have shared, continue to share and will in the future share the foundations for my Memory Palaces.

Before I continue, let me tell you that Volumes I, II, III and IV of the Magnetic Memory newsletter are bursting at the seams with ideas that will help you, especially with respect to creating imaginary, or what are sometimes called “virtual” Memory Palaces.

But until you’ve had a chance to browse through those volumes, here are some targeted suggestions.

Before You Give Up On The Real …

First, let me suggest that you don’t give up on your autobiographically charged Memory Palaces.

For example, you could spend a little time floating through them and “cleaning house,” or perhaps better said, abstracting the architecture. Is it possible that you can see the places you’ve lived solely in terms of how they were laid out without engaging your life situation?

I think that’s worth an experiment, particularly because of how valuable – and Magnetic – Memory Palaces based on real locations tend to be.

Secondly, think about places that you are familiar with that bear no particular personal content. For example, is there a library nearby that you can familiarize yourself with? A grocery store? A movie theater? Your doctor’s office? Your dentist’s office?

Surely we all have deeply familiar places we can use without autobiographical interference.

But if not, there are always …

Virtual Memory Palaces

Before diving into the Virtual Memory Palace method, I think it’s important to note that whether you cleanse, abstract or otherwise secure Memory Palaces based on reality, as long as you are using these locations as Memory Palaces, they are always already imaginary. You are building the construct in your own mind, after all, and the extent to which they cohere to the real world is up to you.

That said, some of the Virtual Memory Palaces I have used include:

* The floor plans of homes and areas in movies.

* Imaginary trains.

* Imaginary elevators.

* Imaginary mansions.

* Memory Palaces based on video games.

In all cases, the same rules apply to these Memory Palaces as any other. You need to carefully predetermine and plan out the Memory Palace before you begin. You need to make sure that you don’t trap yourself within the Palace or cross your own path.

With respect to video games, as I mentioned in an earlier volume of this newsletter, I think basic platform games work better than scrolling games. The reason is that you can divide the screen into quadrants.

Take Donkey Kong, for example. You have a number of platforms. You could use the left, middle and right side of each platform as a station and follow the same linear path Mario takes to move from station to station.

Depending on how conceptual you are, this procedure allows you to use the same basic screen again and again. You differentiate each Memory Palace simply by designating which “level” in the game it is.

As ever, these are techniques that require experimentation. I hope you’ll try both approaching real Memory Palaces from some of the angles I’ve suggested here and a variety of Virtual Memory Palaces. And I hope that you’ll let us all know how you do, too.

In the meantime, it bears repeating that Volumes I, II, III and IV go into more ideas about how to use Virtual Memory Palaces in detail. If these volumes were toys and this email were a commercial, I would say in my best Saturday morning sponsor’s break voice: “Collect them all today!”

Until next time, clean house and then teach someone else what you’ve learned about Memory Palaces. Teaching a skill is one of the best ways to learn it and helping people improve their memory is one of the best ways we can 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.

About the author: Anthony Metivier is the founder of the Magnetic Memory Method, a systematic, 21st Century approach to memorizing foreign language vocabulary in a way that is easy, elegant, effective and fun.

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