Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | RSS
As someone who is not very visual, I’m so glad I learned how to use sensory memory to help me use memory techniques better.
But at first, it was really hard coming to grips with the fact that I don’t really see pictures in my mind.
After all, how is a “Memory Palace” supposed to work if you can’t “see” images in your imagination?
Well, whether you’re low on the visual scale, like me, or have full-blown aphantasia, I’ve got 5 simple memory tricks.
Each involve a different kind of sensory memory you can combine with your Memory Palace Network.
These tricks will help you create and use Memory Palaces and your own mnemonic examples (a.k.a. Magnetic Imagery) quickly.
And more importantly than learning to create a Memory Palace Network and mental imagery quickly, you’ll use sensory memory to make the information stick in your mind. It’s actually very easy.
But here’s a quick warning before we get started:
There’s going to be some people who will still insist that they can’t do any of these exercises.
If that’s you, keep reading until you reach the final tip. Few, if any, will find an excuse for the final tip I’ll share.
The Strange History Of My (Non-Visual) Sensory Memory Blessings
It’s true. I don’t really see pictures in my mind.
Although it’s not true that I see nothing at all, if anything, I find what I do see almost useless, if not distracting.
When I tell my memory athlete friends this fact, they either:
- Know exactly what I mean
- Use some of the same processes I’m about to share
- Sometimes are purely “visual” in some sense I have yet to understand…
I say “some sense,” because even with our current technology, it’s not possible to peer into anyone else’s imagination.
Anyhow, if you know the Magnetic Memory Method Podcast, you may have heard some of these conversations before.
If not, I recommend you listen to some of them – I’ve learned a ton that have improved my practice and even re-listening to some of them will help your practice too.
Here are some of my favorite episodes that touch upon sensory memory:
- Nelson Dellis on visual memory techniques
- Alex Mullen on building speed with mnemonics
- Mark Channon on memory and acting (very multisensory)
- Tansel Ali on gratitude in memory improvement
- John Graham on using memory training obstacles
- Idriz Zogaj on memory training apps
Of course, you need to listen to these episodes with yourself in mind.
Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what others do in their minds. Each of us experiences only one mind – the mind we’ve been blessed with.
And what a blessing indeed! (Unless you decide not to make it the most incredible experience it can be.)
But I understand that some people currently have miserable experiences, and not being able to use memory techniques must be very miserable indeed.
So, if you can’t see images in your mind, here’s the first memory trick that will help you find more Memory Palaces and use them:
#1: The Auditory Sensory Memory Palace Trick
Think about a familiar place.
Take your school, for example.
When I think purely about sound, I hear the voice of Mr. Andrews:
“Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”.
He used to say this every time we were supposed to hand in our homework.
I have an idea of what the classroom looked like, and since he was a big fellow, I have a general sense of his physical presence. But it’s his voice that really stands out.
Likewise, I think of my various band teachers and can even place where different sections of the orchestra were in the different rooms without needed to render a visual picture.
Zero Visualization Needed
There is a way to turn this into a picture that requires zero visualization, but we’ll get to that soon.
For now, is this a cool memory trick or what?
The more you focus just on sounds, the more you’ll explore powerful dimensions of your memory.
This auditory focus will make a huge difference – especially in connection with the video I’ve created for you on mining your autobiographical memory for more Memory Palaces. (Coming soon. Make sure you’re subscribed to this blog and complete these episodic memory exercises in the meantime)
#2: The “What do you feel?” Exercise
Let’s go for something soft with this exercise.
When I completed this exercise, I thought of my Cheshire cat.
I’ve had two in my life – once from when I visited Disneyland around age 10 and one my mom sent me just a few years ago to fill in the gap.
I had to get rid of the old one during one of my epic moves around the globe. Thanks, mom!
In terms of the Memory Palace this brings to mind, it’s not Disneyland, though I have used parts of the park as a Memory Palace.
Rather, in this case, I think of the plane ride home.
Now, you might think that an airplane is not great Memory Palace material.
Au contraire, and we’ll talk about using them one day soon. Make sure you’re subscribed for when the day comes.
A Smiling Sensory Memory Example
Anyhow, I have this vague memory of being a 10 year old hugging the Cheshire cat. He joins me here:
To make this brain exercise work, I really dig into what that felt like in my memory. Then I dig further.
And there are indeed other physical sensations related to flying that come to mind.
Try accessing these different levels of sensation-based memory for yourself:
- The softness (or hardness) of the seat beneath you
- The temperature of the glass when you touch the window
- The feeling of anticipation as the plane accelerates down the runway
Suddenly, all kinds of sensations emerge when you complete this simple memory exercise.
Now It’s Your Turn
Think about flights you’ve taken. (Or train trips, road trips, etc.)
When I completed this exercise, all kinds of flights I’d forgotten emerge.
Write the ideas that come up into a Memory Journal and include all the sensations you can think of.
Think of it as a kind of personal, private sensory memory test.
When I completed this exercise, I found myself with oodles of airplane and airport Memory Palaces to work with along with a wide variety of sensations.
Memory exercises like these are the closest thing to real magic that exists, don’t you think? Especially when used in the context of these additional recovered memory exercises.
Give them all a try!
#3: The Concepts Are King Exercise
In a nutshell, this exercise helps you explore what you think and remember conceptually.
Now, this one is a bit of a stretch, I’ll admit. But stretching is good.
Start with one of the most basic concepts: Truth.
What comes to mind when you think of the truth?
I think of libraries.
And when I think of libraries, a ton of them come to mind. In fact, I’ve worked in three of them, and studied in dozens more. Each make great Memory Palaces.
Next, think of a concept like justice.
During high school I once wound up in the drunk tank. It sucked back then, but makes for an interesting Memory Palace now.
I took law in high school and observed a few court cases too. I had a friend who was a lawyer before he went to the great Memory Palace in the sky and he comes to mind too – all from thinking about the concept of justice.
The concepts of math, chemistry, weather all bring multiple associations – and not a single one of them can be seen visually, strictly speaking.
They’re just concepts.
And thinking about Einstein for math, Breaking Bad for chemistry and a meteorologist I know named Dave don’t require me to make mental images either.
Remember: lowering the cognitive load always helps you learn faster and remember more.
#4: The Delicious Aroma Exercise
I’ll bet at least one person in your family has some kind of secret recipe.
And even if it isn’t secret, there’s a dish they make really well that you adore. Maybe even something based around foods that improve memory.
Now, although I can’t eat a large number of things I used to love, my mom’s zucchini bread comes to mind.
My dad also makes a mean spaghetti. And since we moved around a lot, quite a few kitchens come to mind for use as Memory Palaces.
Then I think of a few romantic meals I’ve had over the years. These took place in buildings ranging from the CN Tower in Toronto to the Pizzeria Monte Carlo in Rome.
Even as someone who isn’t a foodie, there are oodles of tastes and aromas that come to mind all over the world.
Fruit juices and dates in Cairo, Lingonberry jam in Sweden, dumplings in Beijing… all wonderful Memory Palaces just waiting to be unlocked from memory.
I’ll bet you have dozens of options.
#5. The “Un-Visualization” Memory Palace Exercise
What? How can you “un-visualize” something?
Let me answer that question for you:
Unless you’re dead-set against it, lazy or uninterested in the most miraculous memory tool in the universe, the answer is yes.
All you have to do is draw your Memory Palaces.
Instead of trying to juggle space in your mind, make it simple.
Rather than trying to imagine the rooms and hallways and garages and driveways and all kinds of things that you might not be able to see clearly in your min, break it down into simple squares.
When I first encountered memory techniques and the Memory Palace, I couldn’t fathom how on earth I was supposed to see myself moving through a building I wasn’t in.
And that’s a very good thing, because the strange explanations I was reading prompted me to solve this issue for myself. I got my head out of the books written by memory competitors and I went deep into the history of these techniques.
And reading between the lines of texts like the Rhetorica ad Herrenium, I discovered that they weren’t really talking about visualizing their Memory Palaces.
And the notion of making them tactile and strategizing them before using them gave me the idea to make them tactile in the simplest and easiest way you can:
With pencil and paper.
And as soon as I got results from doing this, I couldn’t stop exploring!
I am still amazed by just how many buildings I can visit in my mind. Making them visual simply by drawing squares on paper makes memory training so much easier.
No More Excuses Along Your Memory Training Journey
Let’s face it:
People with no hands can draw Memory Palaces with their teeth, their feet or even ask for others to help.
I know this for a fact because I’ve had correspondence from people who can’t move anything but their mouths.
Yet, each have created and used Memory Palaces by drawing them nonetheless.
There really are no excuses.
Of course, if you don’t want to join the great memory tradition, no problem. I don’t want to learn how to pack a parachute and jump out of a plane. Some things just aren’t for everyone.
But if you do and you’ve ever struggled with the visual element, here’s a bold promise:
You really can rest assured that you can use memory techniques and they will work for you even without seeing pictures in your mind.
Here’s the best way I can show you how:
In fact, due to an interesting turn of events, I wound up competing once at a competition with memory athlete and memory expert Dave Farrow.
Based on that experience, I can tell you that there’s really no time to create pictures in your mind when the cameras are rolling and the clock is on.
The mnemonics I created in that short competition were almost purely conceptual and I was pleasantly surprised by just how well I did…
Especially as someone completely unprepared and with zero competition practice, history or particular interest in throwing down the gloves.
So even if you are hyper-visual, you’ll want to consider the advantages of adding these other senses to your memory practice.
What do you say?
Can you imagine yourself moving from a purely visual approach to using memory techniques to a multi-sensory approach?
I promise you’ll enjoy better results from memory techniques as a result. And if you need more, here are 5 Memory Palace Examples to improve your memory training practice.
When we use the senses we remember the information sooner.
Yes, all the senses combined really pack a punch!
Hi, Sir Anthony
Thank you so much for this.
My pleasure, Jessica. Thanks for checking them out.
Do you have a favorite?
Some people with aphantasia cant bring any senses to their mind. My twin sister and I can’t bring visual, audio, tactile, feelings, or spatial to our mind. I would love to be able to do mind palaces and have autobiographical memories etc. Over many many years of frustration and confusion I have learnt to achieve a level of self acceptance but it is like having an old computer for a brain when other people have all singing and dancing multi media computers. I know which one I feel would make life more fun!!
Many articles on aphantasia seem to totally dismiss it as a quaint quirky way of seeing the world, which fails to acknowledge the impact it can have when the aphant does not have use of other senses to compensate. When a person has autobiographical memory and loses it, such as in alzheimers, the pain for that person is fully recognised. For those of us who can not form autobiographical memories, I would appreciate the loss and lack was fully recognised because this is the reality of the situation.
Thanks for this post, Val.
I hear what you’re saying and certainly hope never to come across as dismissive. The fact is that I’m not alone in using Memory Palaces without much of a mind’s eye. If you check out my recent conversation on the podcast with Lynne Kelly, she’s (currently) Australia’s top memory champion in her age group. From what I understand, she has less of a mind’s eye than I do.
I’m confident that anyone who wants to use spatial memory (for that is what the Memory Palace technique is) can find a way. How I’ve always done it is simply to remove the burden from my mind and draw out the Memory Palace journeys using simple squares. People fully visual have found this approach to be advantageous as well, so it’s a win-win for everyone. We even have a student/MMM community member named James Gerwing who broke some memory records and became the 2019 Canadian Memory Champion.
A lot of it is just consistent implementation with the techniques. When I first learned them, I was so confused by the instructions because I couldn’t “see” what they heck they were talking about. So I just drew it out on paper and the rest is history. I’ve even competed myself and did well, even if I was slower than others.
Hope this helps and that you’ll invest some time and energy into simply following the steps. To be frank, so many people out there experience so much pain from their ability to remember their lives, that there’s an entire industry (called self help) to help them stop having autobiographical memory. You might be sitting on an asset, and in my next book, I talk about what I did to remove thinking altogether based on Gary Weber’s teaching in Happiness Beyond Thought. Even though I used memory techniques to complete some of the lessons, this process dissolved thought nonetheless.
Without comment or criticism of the suffering you mentioned, when my thoughts disappear completely, it is exquisite.