As a student, you probably have numerous examples of situations where a better memory would have been useful. Aside from school-related research, studying and homework, there are many everyday examples that are overlooked. After a long day, maybe you’ve blanked on your own bank PIN. How many times have we all gone to the store, only to leave without the one thing we went there for in the first place?
Students attending liberal arts college in Chicago know that the ancient Greeks and Romans didn’t have the convenience of a smart phone or Evernote. Back then, the greatest scholars and orators relied on brain power to remember something.
For students who want to improve their brain capacity, here are a couple of memory enhancement techniques from the ancients that require only the power of your mind.
The Method of Loci, or, Creating a Memory Palace
The method of loci (Latin for “places”) is a memory exercise used by ancient Greeks and Romans, originally made popular by Cicero in his De Oratore. This method of memory enhancement uses visualization in order to organize and recall information.
In this technique, you first choose a location – preferably one that you’re very familiar with like your apartment, your childhood home or your school (even your liberal arts college can serve as your “memory palace”). If you want to remember any particular set of items, envision yourself walking through the various rooms or loci of your chosen location and committing an item to a spot in your palace. For example, if you want to remember the name of a professor who will be substituting a course for the next few weeks, picture yourself writing their name on a whiteboard stuck to the fridge. Retrieval of memory items is achieved by later “walking through” your palace.
The efficacy of this exercise lies in the special relationship of associating things you wish to recall with specific “physical” locations. This technique is actually well-established and widely used in different ways today. Experts say you need only spend a minute or so practicing, and its convenience lies in not having to write anything down, meaning that you can do it anywhere.
The Peg System
Students studying at a great books college are known to have a way with words, so this may in fact be a well-suited system. The Peg system is a technique for memorizing lists, and its creation was credited to Henry Herdson in his 1651 work Ars Memoriae; the Art of Memory Made Plaine.
This simple method involves association as well, but with the added use of rhyme. Let’s use the example of a grocery list. First, you would find associative words that rhyme with the numbers on your list; one-gun, two-shoe and so on. Next you create visual images of your grocery items to match your new rhyme association; a tomato being fired out of a gun and a shoe filled with pinto beans. It’s that simple. If you crack-up laughing while trying to mentally put a list together, that’s even better! Psychology research has proven that mood greatly affects memory retention.
Do you know any other memory techniques that have been practiced for centuries?