How to be more creative by using a memory palace
I've been a fan of literature on improving the mind for some time. I wouldn't say I'm an expert in the field or anything, but I do know a bunch of bits and pieces. Like speed reading. Or techniques to take unrelated things and make new combinations in order to generate more creative thinking. Or how to use meditation.
A lot of these techniques have been incredibly useful. Speed reading is one of the coolest things I've learned. It's helped me plough through a ton of books that I didn't used to have time for.
But one technique that has always puzzled me in how to take advantage of is a “memory palace”.
Just a tiny bit of background on what a memory palace is.
You probably feel you or at least most people are mediocre at remembering things. At best. However, memories aren't all the same. We're actually, as a species, much better at remembering things spatially.
For example, if you took a 2 mile walk with your friend stopping to get coffee, dinner, and ice cream. And you meandered around to get to all those places. If I asked you the next day to walk me through that same route, you could probably do it fairly accurately. However, if I asked you what was the list of books your friend bought that he told you about on the phone last week, you'd probably stumble trying to remember.
Evolution might explain why we operate like this. After all, remembering how to get through a forest back to your cave, or remembering where to find that herd of things to eat, is probably more important than remembering lists of things or passages from Shakespeare.
Memory palaces are a technique many “mind atheletes” use to facilitate remembering lots of things. You'll find tons of books and blog posts on the subject.
The trick of a memory palace lies in what I just brought up about our inherent ability to remember things spatially better than we can remember more abstract information. So if you want to use a memory palace, you construct in your mind a walk through a place you are very familiar with. Likely that's your own home. And you keep a walk through your home in your mind. So for me, it's a walk through my typical day. I start by waking up, visiting the bathroom, walking through a long hallway to our kitchen. I stop in the kitchen and make breakfast, and move into the dining room to sit down and eat, etc., etc.
This path is such a habit for me, that it's instantaneous to recall a place along that path. So using a memory palace is as simple as taking something you want to remember, and putting it on your path. If I want to remember a shopping list like cat food, milk, and granola bars. I'd maybe imagine cat food in my bed, milk in the bathroom sink, and granola bars laid out on the floor of the hallway leading to my kitchen.
The problem with a memory palace is that it doesn't seem very useful. Especially since smart phones are so handy and useable.
But there's a lot of situations where I could use some better memory.
For example, I act. So I need to remember tons of blocks of text. A memory palace is useless for storing giant blocks of text for an actor's use in a scene.
So this tool has been sitting around doing nothing, until now.
Recently I've started blogging a ton again. And with this new commitment I find myself finding new ideas in the craziest places and times. The cab drive to a concert. As I'm walking through a revolving door on my way into the office. Or as I'm handing my money to the cashier at a coffee shop.
I'll find ideas coming to me as I fall asleep. But if I get up every time I have an idea, I'd be getting even less sleep than I get now. I can't keep getting up!
And sometimes, I'm in the middle of a conversation with my wife. Pulling out a phone in the middle of this is going to get me some very unpleasant discourse. Or I'm crossing the street, and I observed something I plan on telling you soon. I'm not about to pull out a phone or paper and pen to start jotting down what it is I saw, as I get run over by a car.
The problem I have is that I need to capture these ideas, quickly and transparently while I'm doing other things.
So I've finally found myself relying on that memory palace to store all these ideas when I get them. And when I finally get to a computer I jot them down to a more stable system.
For example, I went to an art fair the other day, and saw some super cool artists I wanted to remember to tell folks about, especially on this blog.
I literally had my hands full. I had a drink in one hand, and a bag of stuff in the other, and wasn't in a place I could easily put all this stuff down, get out my phone and start clicking away to store a note. So instead, I put ways to remember the artists along my path. For example, in my kitchen I put a guy named Greg, who I went to school with, throwing stones at a zombie. The artist I wanted to remember? Greg Stones. He makes some awesome art including paintings and a book about the stuff zombies hate :)
These days I find myself constantly going back to that memory palace in my mind to store the myriad of ideas I have for this blog and things to think about for some projects I'm working on. What was pretty useless before is now very handy.
And a huge additional benefit to all this is because it's so much easier for me to capture fleeting ideas, I find myself generating even more ideas.
So if you find yourself in the need to be able to generate more ideas, it's possible one of your bottlenecks is simply the speed and consistency in which you capture them. You might want to look into how to create your own memory palace.
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