So here we go...
I recently stumbled on this article in the New York Times. You can check out the full article here: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/02/20/magazine/mind-secrets.html. But in the meantime I'd like to bring your attention to this passage:
In 2003, the journal "Nature" reported on eight people who finished near the top of the World Memory Championships. The study looked at whether the memorizers’ brains were structurally different from the rest of ours or whether they were just making better use of the memorizing abilities we all possess.
Researchers put the mental athletes and a group of control subjects into f.M.R.I. scanners and asked them to memorize three-digit numbers, black-and-white photographs of people’s faces and magnified images of snowflakes as their brains were being scanned. What they found was surprising: not only did the brains of the mental athletes appear anatomically indistinguishable from those of the control subjects, but on every test of general cognitive ability, the mental athletes’ scores came back well within the normal range. When Cooke told me he was an average guy with an average memory, it wasn’t just modesty speaking.
There was, however, one telling difference between the brains of the mental athletes and those of the control subjects. When the researchers looked at the parts of the brain that were engaged when the subjects memorized, they found that the mental athletes were relying more heavily on regions known to be involved in spatial memory. At first glance, this didn’t seem to make sense. Why would mental athletes be navigating spaces in their minds while trying to learn three-digit numbers?
The answer lies in a discovery supposedly made by the poet Simonides of Ceos in the fifth century B.C. After a tragic banquet-hall collapse, of which he was the sole survivor, Simonides was asked to give an account of who was buried in the debris...When the poet closed his eyes and reconstructed the crumbled building in his imagination, he had an extraordinary realization: he remembered where each of the guests at the ill-fated dinner had been sitting. Even though he made no conscious effort to memorize the layout of the room, it nonetheless left a durable impression. From that simple observation, Simonides reportedly invented a technique that would form the basis of what came to be known as the art of memory. He realized that if there hadn’t been guests sitting at a banquet table but, say, every great Greek dramatist seated in order of birth — or each of the words of one of his poems or every item he needed to accomplish that day — he would have remembered that instead. He reasoned that just about anything could be imprinted upon our memories, and kept in good order, simply by constructing a building in the imagination and filling it with imagery of what needed to be recalled. This imagined edifice could then be walked through at any time in the future. Such a building would later come to be called a memory palace.
Wow! So the implications of this, if you ask me, are incredible, especially if you've heard what I've been saying up until now about making your space support you, your family, your values, your goals. How can you build and arrange your home and your possessions, you body, your work space so that it is constantly reminding you of everything you need to remember the most? Remembering what needs to be done could possibly become effortless! Alternately, how might your clutter and disorganization be holding you back, or even leaving bad memories in the subconscious minds of friends, family members, and customers?
I am so open to your ideas, questions, and experiments in response to this idea. Personally I am going to try putting things away if seeing them every minute won't remind me of something totally important. To be fair, this week I'm living out of a hotel room in San Fransisco that has plenty of closet space and empty drawers, but still. Everything left out in the open will be something I've decided I want to be looking at for a reason.
And now for the best part... if you comment on this blog post with your own plan or experience or idea or question about the memory palace concept applied to your real life, you will automatically be entered in a drawing to receive a free consultation for you or a friend! The winner will be chosen by March 11th, so don't wait.