When you practice memory, make sure you do not encode over your deepest emotional experiences. Our memories can be fragile, and if we mess up with autobiographical memory our past will turn into a blur. There is some controversy about this point, so you are welcome to disagree.
Mnemonics in your home
The most basic and easily maintained mental palace is the house where you have been born. It is only natural to try and use it. Each memory student starts the mental palace training with his home. We actually support this decision.
Each object a beginner tries to make unique and special is an object he is deeply familiar with. “How do you visualize blue chip stocks?” “I visualize my big blue choco cup with chocolate chips cookies baked by my mother”. We actually encourage this.
At least Anna encourages this during the first couple of sessions. These home-baked memories are nostalgically warm, easy, and fun to remember and revisit.
You will find that memory masters avoid using their childhood and home memories for mnemonics. They use very simple and direct associations, often the direct etymology of the word.
“What is your mental palace?” “The first level of 2016 doom”. “How do you visualize blue chip stocks?” “I visualize casino chips”. “Visualize Blue–chip stocks are seen as relatively safer investments, with a proven track record of success and stable growth” “I see in a corner pinky growing huge by eating casino chips, he is safe because he has a bullet-proof vest”.
You can search online the references I mentioned to the stupid video game, or watch a really bad movie. Believe me, this sort of visualization is memorable. It is easy to create and reuse. There are no unnecessary details. And one more thing: it does not step on the toes of our most treasured memories.
Memory rewrite process
There is a strange thing about memory. Each time we recall it, we can change it a bit. This is very useful for traumatic memories. We can start as traumatized victims but after twenty rounds of rewriting we will become impressive and empowered heroes. Our authentic memory will not be the original event, but the most effective rewrite of it.
Additionally, we can correct small mistakes in the memories. For example, we remember a river at a certain location. We go there, and the river is 50 meters down the hill. So we fix the memory. Next time we will not miss the spot.
Unfortunately, the same process may modify beyond repair our most cherished and treasured childhood memories. Especially if we mess up with the memory of our home.
You can mess up with every level of a video game or every floor of a museum. Who cares? Unless that is your most treasured memory and the place is gone like Notre dame de Paris or the green vault of Dresden.
Barbaric treatment of memory palaces
We are kind of tender with our first memory palaces, but as we need to remember more we become more barbaric. First of all, we plunder everything that can steal our attention from the itinerary and break entries to speed up the itinerary. Then we paint and repaint the walls based on the main themes of our memorization. We place massive ugly statues in the corners of the mental rooms, and even larger and uglier mindmaps and comics pieces on the walls.
Next, we reuse the same memory palace for about a thousand times, placing it in different parts of our memory city. As we learn new things and need to modify our memories, we burn to the ground the old palaces and erect skyscrapers or mental forests as we need.
The entire process is very effective, memorable, and useful. At the same time, it is very violent and not always esthetic. Do we want to do that with our most precious childhood memories? Approximately as much as we want to see a squad of sappers moving through our home. If you are not sure what sappers do, check online for the French variation: they are absolutely massive dudes with huge beards and axes.
The value of memories
Why are our memories valuable? Well, this part is not very clear.
Some memories simply store data. Like computer memories. Like our mnemonic devices. We use them because we need certain information handy inside our heads. Think of that as cache memory. We can probably find the same stuff online, but that will be longer and harder. I draw my metaphors from my memory, not from an online search. These memories can and should be constantly worked with. In a way, they always grow in volume and complexity.
Other memories motivate us. Like soldiers behind enemy lines remembering their wives and children at home. These memories tend to change and become more motivational each time we reuse them. In a way, they grow in importance and color. The icons of our nation’s leaders are not the real people they were, but a very poetic version of those individuals. We merge a person and an idea into something supernatural.
Yet our most precious memories are very tender. We rarely take them out, as we do not want to break them. They are like the most precious relics in a catholic church. They remind us of things long gone but were true and beautiful. We love to revisit them, only we revisit them rarely and carefully because they are old and fragile.
Medieval armies weaponized relics and occasionally lost them. Think of knights templars and the Christian treasures they occasionally paraded before a big fight. Sure, you can use your most treasured memories as weapons. But are you really so savage or desperate?
Where do we take the imagery from
We want our visualizations to be personal so that we will better relate to them. This means we should take something from our own lives, but what can it be?
The first place to seek for is our hobbies. We are passionate about our hobbies, so the relevant content will be diverse, positive, and personal. Videogames and movies for example work well. Swimming not so much, but you can still use your country club as a resource.
There are places which we visit, remember well and do not mind using. Like our friends’ homes. We can renovate them in our mental palaces as much as we want. Who cares…
Some works provide a lot of resources. For example, if you work as a real estate agent, you will see many different homes and remember some. You do not really want to use your actual office, for the same reasons you should not really use your own home. But you can for example use a convention hall or a client’s office.
Professionals use museums for very large mental palaces. If you need to remember a lot of data, that does not change, this is very effective. But if for some reason you want to manipulate your data, try smaller buildings.
For very small mental palaces, like the 20 words example, we can use local restaurants and coffee shops. They do not usually have lots of corners, but it is usually possible to find around 20 unique locations in each.
Make it personal
Typically I use a very different approach. I build generic visualizations using the words I encounter, but then combine them in a very specific way. Each combined visualization can use up to seven words.
This way I do not invest a lot into visualizing each word, but spend some creative time at the end of each paragraph. The creative or analytical process of combining information into an infographic, a statue, a flowchart, or whatever fits best, is my personalization. Nobody else would combine things quite like me. They may do it better, but will always do it differently.
Do not interact with visualizations
Anna often interacts with her visualizations. She does things to them, and they do things to her. This is a beginner technique. You will remember, but you will slow down to visualize the interaction.
You want to glide your mental palace, like Casper the friendly ghost on steroids. Any interaction with you will only slow you. However, the objects within the mental palace can interact with each other. The beginners visualize this interaction as very physical, but it can be a continuation of some cliche like the four seasons.
Do not make it personal