Why & How Memory Palace Locations & Stations Reduce Memorization Fear & Anxiety

shutterstock_3081528-150x150Dear Memorizers,

Since starting the Magnetic Memory Mondays Newsletter, I’m often blessed with some extended conversation about some of the finer points of memorization.

For instance, I had talked in the past about the difference between throwing image-associations into the void of one’s mind and locating an associative image in a dedicated Memory Palace (which in the Magnetic Memory system is an alphabetically organized and predetermined Memory Palace).

One valued member of the newsletter emailed to caution me that I shouldn’t throw location-less forms of vocabulary memorization out the Memory Palace window, so to speak, and yesterday’s video (which in case you haven’t seen it can be found here. This video prompted a further exploration of the issue. As this contributor writes …

… associating in the void does work although I have to admit that your loci system for storing vocabulary may have two advantages:

1. Having a location might improve fluency

2. There is something very slightly superior seemingly to the loci system versus the peg system for example.

I would like to expand a little on number two. I had used the peg system for 30 years before I started using the loci system. Once I started using the loci system I began to notice that there are actually two separate associations one makes with the loci system as contrasted with peg system. One is the interaction with the item stored there at the locus. The other is the visual image of seeing the word one is trying to remember at the locus with no real interaction except visually being there. With the peg system in contrast there is only the interaction between the word one is trying to store in memory and the peg word for the numeral.

So in conclusion I think that loci system involves an extra association with essentially two chances to recall the word or image whereas the peg system only involves the actual interaction between the peg and the word to be recalled.

Even so I would like to see the two systems compared experimentally. Keep in mind that the peg system could be used for language learning as well as simple list learning just as the loci system can.

For those of you unfamiliar with the peg system, you can find some preliminary information here:


… and most books on mnemonics include material on using this system. You can do some pretty amazing things with it and it works great for memorizing lists of things on the fly. It’s also super-simple to pick up and well worth having in your Magnetic Memory toolbox.

That said, one of the, shall we say, more “psychobabble-mystical” reasons I advocate locations rather than having vocabulary float around in the void of our minds comes from some basic human needs: safety and security.

I’m not a psychologist or anything like that, and I certainly have no data to back this up. Nonetheless, one thing that strikes me is the fear of losing things. No one likes to lose things, including keys, money and above all, memories.

Enter vocabulary.

Whether one uses mnemonics or not, I think many people approach memorization and learning in general with a fear of “losing” what they’ve struggled to learn and memorize. But if you have a location where you’ve placed the material, even if you need to go back and strengthen your associations, you’ve eased part of that rather normal anxiety about losing things. You’ve not merely associated the target material with images that bring it to mind: you’ve associated it with a place you know (which is basically what today’s commentator is suggesting). I’m taking things a step further by suggesting that you’ve done more than increase your chance of memorizing the material, you’ve actually reduced, if not eliminated the fear, anxiety and basic frustration that arises when we experience blips with our memory. We know that the material exists somewhere.

For this reason, my suggestion would be to combine loci with the peg system. There’s no reason that “one is a gun” couldn’t itself be stored in a room in your house, your workplace or your school.

The same goes for fixed-image based associations. For example, some people associate the number one with a candle, the number two with a swan, etc. This can be very useful, but I think that its power goes through the roof when each associative device is located somewhere. Why? Because you’re less likely to lose it. And when we can feel more confident that we’re less likely to lose something, we can pay more attention to it in the first place.

Sure, I may be fussing around with micro-anxieties, but when it comes to accomplishing our goals, eliminating even the tiniest barrier only makes sense.

Before I go, I want to thank everyone who has supported this newsletter by picking up a copy of the first March Magnetic Memory Mondays newsletter compilation for your Kindle. I really appreciate the support. If you haven’t gotten a copy yet, but would like to, here’s the link: https://www.amazon.com/Magnetic-Memory-Mondays-Newsletter-ebook/dp/B00C4Y44K2

Until next time, 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 – and more memorable – place. The more we remember, the more we can remember, and the more we learn, the more we can learn.

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