Method of Loci

Johannes Mallow

T he roman consul and orator Cicero described the Method of Loci first in his work “De Oratore“. He stated that the method was due to the Greek poet Simonides of Keos, who lived in the 6th century BCE. According to legend, Simonides was holding an ode at a big party where all the guests sat around a large table. When Simonides got called outside the building, it collapsed and buried all the guests present. When the family members came to find their relatives, Simonides helped to identify the corpses by remembering who had been sitting in which location. The Method of Loci was born.

Cicero used that technique to hold free speeches, by connecting the key points for his lecture to certain locations (Lat. locus) around him or at places which were familiar. An ensemble of locations in a specific order is also known as a route. In times when there was little to no paper, the method performed well and was an almost daily life tool for many people. In today’s world, the Method of Loci is often associated with memory championships, and like many niche themes it has achieved a higher response through the Internet.

The Principle of the Method of Loci

For the first route, it is helpful to make a round trip through your own home. The first location could then be the apartment door. From here, the tour begins and everyone can decide for themselves whether to go clockwise or counterclockwise through the room. It is possible to define a way in each room individually or to plan the way through the whole apartment at once. To the left of the door there may be a shelf. This is location 2. Number 3 in the illustrated apartment is a chair, number 4 is a corner. You can use items as well as places for a location.

Door

Shelf

Chair

Corner

If all locations are set up, this route should be used immediately to practice it. It now represents a tool with which it is possible to memorize virtually any information. To explain the principle, we use a very simple example: the shopping list.

Example: The Shopping List

The idea of the Method of Loci consists in linking every information to the locations in an imaginatively way. In doing so, we visualize the first location of our route and link the first object from our shopping list with the help of a memorable and colorful story to this location.

We will memorize bananas, cheese, coffee and books.

Method of Loci shopping list bananas

Bananas

Method of Loci shopping list cheese

Cheese

Method of Loci shopping list coffee

Coffee

Books

Item Number One: Bananas

The first point is the door: Here we can imagine quite a lot of bananas hanging in front of it. Maybe the door handle is also a banana and because we have a huge hunger when we come home we eat some of these delicious delights.

Item Number two: Cheese

The 2nd location is the shelf. Here we see in front of our mind’s eye a huge cheese lying on the shelf and maybe the shelf even collapses under its weight. The shelf could also consist entirely of cheese. Such exaggerations are also frequently used.

Item Number three: coffee

Our 3rd location is the chair. Here we imagine that coffee has been spilled all over it and we already see how the first dirty spots are forming. That naturally annoys us. Integrating your own emotions into the stories also helps in making it more memorable.

Item Number four: Books

On the 4th location, the corner, we visualize a growing pile of books, with some of them sliding down the sides. The movement it creates will make the story easier to remember than a still image. Particularly in memory sports movement is often the fastest way to create a memorable association.

This way, we could continue for more items, as many as our route allows. To remember them, we simply imagine walking the way again. At the door, we would immediately see the bananas, on the chair the coffee, on the shelf the cheese and in the corner the books.

5 Ideas for your first route

1

Use a familiar environment

This is especially true for the first routes. The location should be so well known that you can imagine it already in your mind without being on the spot. However, it always helps to walk along your first route for real and writing down every single location. You can even take pictures and create collages out of them for later reviews.

2

Establish a clear order of the locations

This is very important in order to avoid confusion later. It is best to decide for a certain direction in which you are going through a room. Thereby it’s not important if this direction is clockwise or counter-clockwise. You should also keep a certain distance between the locations to avoid mixing the images located on them. If you want to use items as locations that are on top of each other, set a fixed rule here as well. I.e. always first upper item then the lower item.

3

Perspective change / direction change

Try to change your own perspective on the locations. This usually happens automatically when you go around the apartment. But if you would go a long a road it wouldn’t be very memorable to always look to the left: baker, butcher, tree, wall etc. Your own movement along the route also helps you to distinguish the individual locations. So change the direction here and there and go around the next corner.

4

Distinguishable points

Use distinguishable items or place as your locations. I.e. if there are two windows next to each other, which look also very similar you should avoid using both as two different locations. Instead you can combine these and use them as one location or you can also consider the heater under the second window as the second location.

5

Distance

Keep a certain distance between your locations. If the locations are too close together, there may be an overlapping of the images that you have linked to these locations. Give your images a little space. If you are outside items are often further away from each other. You should try to keep the next location in eyesight, so it is easier to remember.

Conclusion

The potential of the Method of Loci is huge. It is easy to create and mostly immediately learned. It is ideal to quickly memorize information like numbers using the Major System, groups of vocabulary, data for your work and even entire books for your studies. You can also train your memory with memory sports and memorize thousands of digits, playing cards, words, images and much more. So, if you are giving a lecture, you create visual pictures for each key point and link them to your route. Exactly as Cicero did it when he gave a speech more than 2000 years ago.

End

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