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Loci Mnemonic System: How to Use the
Method of Loci

The word 'loci', commonly pronounced as 'LOW sigh', comes from the Latin word meaning place or location. The loci mnemonic system uses locations as memory aids. It is an old mnemonic link technique dating back all the way to around the year 500 B.C. This technique involves associating items that you have to remember with places that are well known to you such as your house, neighborhood, places where you work or parts of your body.

To use the loci system you must first memorize a series of images of familiar locations in a natural logical order. It is easiest if you choose a location you are already familiar with and just decide on an order that you will use. This set of images is used each time you use the loci system. It isn't important what images you choose as long as you can visualize them clearly and recall them easily.

You can further increase the number of locations by using different parts of each place for example, the living room may be considered one place, and it may be further divided into things you find in your living room such as a TV, a window, a door, and a couch, each of which can be used as a location in your system. However, make sure you can recall each location as being distinct from the others.

Suppose you want to memorize the following list:

dog
star
pumpkin
number 5
original

Assume that your set of locations is those of your house. You would start by imagining yourself entering the house. After the front door, you imagine seeing a dog which wiggles its tail and barks. As you walk towards the hallway, you see stars in the roof — blinking as if you were really outside watching the sky. And as you turn to the kitchen, on the kitchen table you find a pumpkin with a number 5 carved into it. Next you imagine yourself shouting from the kitchen window: "How ORIGINAL! "

To recall the list, you imagine yourself going through the locations — in other words, taking a route — from the outer door to the hallway to the kitchen. As you go through the places, you will recall the dog, stars, et cetera and can thus reconstruct the originally memorized material.

While you memorize the list by doing the associations to locations, you can easily test yourself about your progress by going through the route until you can remember all the items in order. Testing yourself is an essential part of the method — you need to overlearn, and therefore you will likely not memorize the entire list with just one walk-through attempt.

All top memorizers today use the 'method of loci' to a greater or lesser degree. Contemporary memory competition was initiated in 1991 and introduced to the USA in 1997. Part of the competition requires committing to memory and recalling a sequence of digits, two-digit numbers, alphabetic letters, or playing cards. In a simple method of doing this, contestants, using various strategies well before competing, commit to long-term memory a unique vivid image associated with each item. They have also committed to long-term memory a familiar route with firmly established stop-points or loci. Then in the competition they need only deposit the image that they have associated with each item at the loci. To recall, they retrace the route, "stop" at each locus, and "observe" the image. They then translate this back to the associated item. Memory champions elaborate on this by combining images. Eight-time World Memory Champion Dominic O'Brien advocates this technique. His name for it is The Journey Method. The 2006 World Memory Champion, Clemens Mayer from Germany, used a 300-point-long journey through his house for his world record in "number half marathon", memorizing 1040 random digits in a half hour. One individual has used the method of loci to memorize pi to 65,536 digits.

References:
"Improve your memory with the Loci System," Mindmodifications.com.
"Loci system," Skillstoolbox.com.
"Method of loci," Wikipedia.org.

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