The Truth, the Facts & the Lies About Memorizing Concepts

Memorize legal terminologyDear Memorizers,

This question has prompted a review of some of the key aspects of the Magnetic Memory Method for memorizing foreign language vocabulary. So if you’re feeling rusty, take a moment to energize your Magnetic Mind. This is going to be a fun ride.

Dear Dr. Metivier,

I have read your book on how to learn and memorise legal terminology. I really enjoyed as this is the first book that I have found that actually teaches how to put in practice the memory palace with practical examples.

I still need to start putting in practice the method, which I am sure it will work for memorising terminology. However, my main “memory challenge” today is related to my job. I wok for an insurance company where I have to analyse and negotiate insurance contracts for large clients. If I could be able to memorise the policy contracts that I use, I would be very to helpful to do my job faster and easier, but I am not so sure if this is possible with the memory palace o any other memory method. Can you provide advice or coaching on how I can tackle this challenge?

Also, in parallel to my full time job I am preparing a Phd in management and therefore I have to read many academic papers. The problem is that after a few weeks that I have read the papers I realise that, even if I have taken notes or made a summary, I have forgotten most of the content and then I have to come back to read again the paper. This is actually very frustrating. Can you provide advice or coaching on how to memorise papers and articles?

I often dream on how better and easier my job and life would be if I had a better memory. But I think the problem is that I don’t even know where or how to start. I have bought and read several books on techniques to improve memory, but most of the methods described only show how to memorise shopping lists, telephone numbers, and the like which I admit can be very handy, but so far I have not found a method that can helps me memorise concepts, theories, ideas, or in my case an academic paper, a economic or management theory, or an insurance contract.

I have tried mind maps, but without a lot of success. I have also read Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer, which I really enjoyed, but that does not provide practical advice, but rather a lot of theory and anecdotes.

I am very happy to have found your book and also I am exited about the possibility of having an actual coach who can give me advice and answer my questions.

Looking forward to hearing from you

Thank you very much for your message! As someone who has been through graduate school, I can certainly understand where you are coming from.

I’m A Hard Coach To Hire

First things first, I do offer coaching on an extremely limited basis, and only provided that the client has first filled out the Magnetic Memory Worksheets (which essentially gives them the first hour of coaching free).

These sessions take place over Skype and will take you through a step-by-step process that will benefit you by ensuring that you have indeed created workable Memory Palaces and are thoroughly using the classic methods of memorization and the “tweaks” that I have added in the Magnetic Memory Method. Guided exploration will demonstrate for you how to memorize concepts, theories and ideas based on exercises and examples from my own experience (for example, I memorized the heavy-duty philosophical concepts of Aristotle for my doctoral dissertation defense using these techniques and was able to produce the knowledge “under fire,” so to speak without breaking a sweat).

My current prices will be going up in September, so if you want summer coaching at the current rates, be sure to book now.

Some Basics

My pre-coaching advice to you right now is that you realize that you do have a good memory. In fact, you have a great memory.

Next, it makes obvious sense that you should read each and every volume from the Magnetic Memory Mondays newsletter. There is a lot of detailed information and inspiration that will help you.

Once you feel that you’ve understood everything (and I sense that you already have), it’s important that you are building sound Memory Palaces. If you can get started with just one Memory Palace that serves you, it will just get easier and easier from there on in.

I usually suggest that people start by picking the place they currently live or work. You want to be able to mentally walk through the location, but when using the Magnetic Memory principles, it is important not to do this helter skelter. It’s important to pick a terminal location within the building, a place that you can use as a starting point and move around on a linear journey without trapping yourself or crossing your own path. This is usually very easy to do, as master bedrooms tend to be in a back corner of the house or building.

The reason we follow these principles is to avoid confusing ourselves and avoid spending mental energy on what comes next. We want to be “magnetically” drawn to each piece of stored information with an absolute minimum of barriers.

If you’re truly just beginning, try to create a journey of at least 10 stations within this Memory Palace based on your own house. If you look through the newsletter from the past couple of days, you’ll find several tips I’ve offered about how to make these stations much better – I’ll be compiling June’s messages soon into Volume 4 so you can wait for that if going through old emails is a burden – I do recommend creating a folder for Magnetic Memory newsletters, however. That makes them easy to find for quick reference.

Next, spend some time preparing the information you want to memorize. If you look in Volume 1 of the Magnetic Memory Newsletter, you’ll find that there’s an entire chapter on how to memorize the contents of textbooks. I think you’ll find that material very useful. So much depends on how prepared you are – and rest assured, none of the preparatory steps are very time consuming. It’s not making such preparations that usually costs so much time, stress and all too often failure. You really can’t go wrong reading these materials.

Once you’ve got a journey prepared and you’ve got the material you want to memorize prepared (i.e. you know what it is and perhaps have decided upon the order of importance), then you are ready to begin creating vibrant, exaggerated, action-based visualizations.

Memorizing Concepts

As you know, a core concept of the Magnetic Memory Method involves using alphabetically arranged Memory Palaces.

Is this necessary for concepts?

In a word: maybe.

When I started using Memory Palaces for my own graduate work, I would assign Memory Palaces on a book-by-book basis.

For example, a Palace I still remember very well is my Memory Palace for Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics (good reading, dear Memorizers, good reading indeed).

I followed all the same basic principles I still teach to this day regarding Memory Palace construction:

1. I picked a familiar place for my Palace.

2. I mentally wondered through the Palace in order to prepare and predetermine the journey, taking care to visually amplify the journey in my mind in order to make it more magnetic. This step included making sure I did not trap myself and never needed to cross my own path.

3. I created a “crib,” or a place to store in writing not just the target material, but the images I used to memorize the material. At that time I used just a pen and index cards, and still do for research, but for memorizing vocabulary, I always use Excel files, as taught in this video I created for you:

4. I looked at the book and decided in advance how many ideas I wanted to memorize. I decided that I should focus on no more than 4 key points per chapter.

5. Using a quick calculation, I divided my Memory Palace into basic quadrants, so that I had four stations per chapter.

[Note: it’s important to be relaxed with this: sometimes chapters will have more than 4 points and you’ll want to include them. Flexibility is key, one of the main reasons we don’t want to trap ourselves in our Memory Palaces. We want to construct the journey in such a way that we can always add new stations. In the case of my Palace for The Nichomachean Ethics, I wound up going outside and down the road to a convenience store almost a kilometer away].

6. I made sure that each and every concept I wanted to memorize was clear in my mind. If something doesn’t make sense … well, it’s still possible to memorize it, but it usually works best when I at least understand why the concept doesn’t make sense to me.

On that note, when memorizing material, it’s very important not to judge it. Although one could argue that it’s easy to memorize ideas we don’t like, I think that is counterproductive. When gathering knowledge for academic purposes, it is superior to be scientifically objective about everything. Yes, your mnemonic efforts will often involve subjective images in so far as you are essentially trying to shock yourself in to memorizing information, but the data itself is inert and benign until activated in a discussion or a piece of writing for an essay or article.

7. I made sure that my images were large, colorful, vibrant and filled with action. There’s no secret to it beyond that, expect that it helps if the imagery is incongruent. A few weeks back I was talking about the memorizer who had had Godzilla kick the Statue of Liberty in the rump. She dropped her torch and had to pick it up. That’s great, but its congruous, which is to say that it makes too much sense that she has to pick up her torch and is therefore less memorable. But if she has to pick up an uzi made from the legs of a crab – that’s strange, bizarre and easy to see in exaggerated colors.

8. I practiced without rote learning. How do you do this?

Simple.

Let’s say that you’ve got all your concepts down on index cards and you’ve stored the material in a Memory Palace.

Get out a sheet of blank paper and quickly jot out what you’ve memorized.

It doesn’t have to be in paragraphs. Point form will do. The point is to (re)produce the information away from where you’ve stored it and directly from your mind. This prevents cheating and actually causes you to use your mind, which will strengthen your memorization abilities and deepen your knowledge and understanding of the material.

And that’s memorizing concepts. I know that I haven’t gotten too much into exactly how my memorization of various concepts worked, but somehow I don’t think that telling you why John Wayne Gacy breaking into a telephone booth to steal pancakes from Frosty the Snowman reminds me of the three tiers of friendship in Aristotle is going to help. We all need to make our own associations. But while I’m on the matter, these three tiers of friendship are: pleasure (pancakes), utility (phone booth) and virtue (Frosty the Snowman – he was virtuous in the cartoon movie I saw as a kid, at any rate!)

By the way, if I could do it all over again, I would still use one Memory Palace per book. But next time around, I would have those books organized alphabetically in my mind. There is power in organization … or I’m just a kid from the library generation for whom Dewey Decimal was the coolest worm on the block.

Until next time, memorize some concepts 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.

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