The method of loci (or the loci technique) is a mnemonic memorization trickwith a number of uses, from helping people with mild cognitive impairment learn and remember information to getting someone ready to give a speech. You can use it, too—for whatever you need to remember.
What is the method of loci?
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“Loci” sounds like “location,” and that’s because it’s what this method is all about: Location, location, location. To employ the technique, you use visualizations of specific spatial environments to help you recall information. It’s been around for centuries and is still in use today, as memory contest participants say it helps them recall everything from faces to digits. (Did you know there’s such a thing as a memory contest? Me either, but it’s true!)
Think of a location you know well, ideally one with a lot of defining features. Maybe it’s a street with a bunch of different shops, a room with a variety of surfaces and corners, or your childhood home. When you have to remember a bunch of things, like items in a list or topics to hit in a speech, imagine yourself placing them, one by one, in one of the little loci. One topic can go in the corner, another on the desk, and another in the windowsill, for instance. When you want to retrieve or recall the information, imagine yourself walking through the area again, getting each thing you need to remember from its place.
Your brain simply remembers images better than it remembers words or numbers, so attaching the words or digits you need to remember to an image you do know makes it easier to retrieve.
Using the method of loci in real life
One way you can really tap into the power of this memory trick is “placing” your memory items around the room where you’ll be when you need them. If you know you have to speak in front of a meeting in a certain conference room or take a test in a particular classroom, try using that setting as the spot where you drop your listed items during your imaginary walk-through.
Next time you have a test coming up, try using one of the classes before the test to scan the room and place your memory triggers. Of course, pick spots that will still be there when you need them. If the professor has a coffee mug on the desk, don’t bank on that mug making a reappearance on test day. Choose more permanent landmarks, ideally ones you can remember even when you’re studying somewhere else.