Some of my students cannot generate a memorable PAO. To be honest, this was hard for me too. Moreover, there are no good guides about it. There are great coaches that can help, but their availability is limited. So I decided to share some of my insights.
If you cannot remember a visualization in a mental palace…
We generate mental palaces from our most traveled places, where we have lots of real memories. Then we reuse these places for some artificial memories. Next, some people have a tendency to visualize things happening to them. If you are smart, you will at least change the color of the walls to separate reality from assorted visualizations. Surprisingly none of my students complained about that so far.
The complaint is very different. The new visualization do not compete very well with real memories and get misplaced. That is actually a very good thing. Our brain tries to fight false memories in the same way our immune system fights foreign bodies. Contaminated memories can lead to very unpleasant results.
Yet we know that memory masters use memory palaces all the time. Why do they succeed where the beginners usually fail?
My favorite example for PAO
Most of the beginners put small things in not very remarkable locations. “I visualize Winnie the pooh on my favorite cup in the living room on the table”. Well, if you actually had the cup there you might not notice it.
Consider a 7 foot tall Indian eating a guitar in the north-west corner of your living room. Could you miss him? Probably not.
Memory masters rarely use small benign visualizations tightly packed in small space. Instead, we use huge, monstrous statues which we place in corners of the room. Why?
We cannot miss that. There is zero chance that we will ever see that in real life, so no competition with real memories. And with some practice, we can easily create them.
Duck the accuracy
Another thing beginners often do is placing too much focus on accuracy. You want to remember very well very approximate ideas. If you replace a word with its synonym or an object with an action, nobody cares. And if that bothers you, you will be able to check online.
Do not add extra details, and do not remove the details crucial for the main narrative you want to remember. Everything else is pretty much a fair game. Think large. Large objects in a mental palace are more memorable.
A palace or a mindmap
You do not need a mental palace. If you cannot take three words and form a person doing an action with an object, do not use palaces. Mindmaps are very effective. Mindmaps are faster to create, incredibly easy to manipulate, and you pay by a less memorable structure you need to revisit more. It is not a bad deal. Most of our students cannot memorize 20 objects with mindmaps in 30 seconds or less. They do not need to memorize 200 objects with a mental palace in 30 min. I guess a memory competition will do without them.
Seriously, if you read a short blog 20 words may summarize just enough. And if you read a book, take your time visualizing more memorable structures after each chapter. You can use mindmaps, and that will often be easier than learning memory palaces.
It took me several years to learn memory palace
I started using memory palaces five years after I mastered speedreading. My thinking is very schematic. Anna taught me mindmaps and I was fine with it. Placing all the small objects on various surfaces of my home I always missed some. In my first lectures, I argued that memory palaces are fine for memory competitions and magic, but not good enough for speedreading.
With time I learned to apply the following tricks:
- Clean the house before I use it. Paint it in thematic colors per article. Remove objects that do not help.
- Use a fixed itinerary, which is simple and does not cross itself. If needed add doors, which were not originally there, but keep the same openings every time you use the palace.
- Do not walk the itinerary. Fly fast. Always scan the room in the same arc from corner to corner,
- Put objects in the corners small mindmaps on the walls. That’s it. No tables or shelves.
- Combine three words in a larger-than-life person performing an action on an object. If I cannot get a PAO, I might as well put a mindmap on the relevant wall.
- Use pedestals. Put every PAO that needs a column on a column. Or on a shelf with some extra objects. This provides at least some flexibility.
- Do not change or rearrange the palace. Once you generate a visualization, stick to it.
- Do not use very big houses. Combine several smaller houses like streets.
Without these rules, I could not use mental palaces effectively.
Some abstraction is fine.
We teach our students to make specific visualization that resonate with them personally. As a result, they create too many details and sidestories. Do not try to get something very accurate. Giacometti’s sculptures were some of the most expensive art pieces ever sold. And they had very few details. Invest your time in what really matters: three main words and two more details. Five words per visualization.
Be minimalistic. Take the words from your text. If the result appears to be not a classical art, but some modern masterpiece, enjoy. It can even be a hologram as in star wars. Clearly, you cannot use a generic featureless piece, but probably you will not use it anyway.
Do not interact with statues.
Anna usually teaches to interact with your visualizations. This is a great way to prime you brain into creating meaningful visualizations. Use it a month or two, like you would use a cane after a foot injury. Once you can walk without the cane, put it away. Interacting with objects takes valuable time and pulls your focus. Instead, let the statues in your mental palace interact with each other.
There is a reason why a basic block is a person doing an action with an object. This is the basic interaction. You can create a further interaction between statues, as we can sometimes see in royal gardens and museums. Different masterpieces are locked in a silent conversation. Like four statues for four seasons or four continents or seven statues for seven oceans or seven seas… With four corners and three walls you can easily see, four and seven will become your archetypical constructs.
When it really matters be short
Create short visualizations if you must remember everything within. It is easier to revisit and maintain shorter visualizations.
I think this particular article is very important and contains a lot of ideas so I will keep it shorter than usual…