Since there are 50 States, I knew I would need to use a route that had at least 50 landmarks I could easily recall. Therefore, a short walk around my living room, though very familiar, probably would not cut it. I decided to try a mental walk through the first floor at my work.
Here is what I did specifically:
Just so this is clear, let me give you a few more of the landmarks I mentally noted in addition to those above: a small table and welcome sign that is always in the lobby; a small, marble retaining wall that separates the lobby from the hallway to the stairs; the lower landing of the stairs; a side exit door by the stairs; a nearby door leading to the snack room; the copy machine just inside the snack room door; the metal employee mailbox rack next to the copier, the vending machine, and so on.
The important thing is to make sure the landmarks fall in the exact sequence that you would see them by doing a normal walk-through of the area. The sequence is what will allow you to recall the exact order of your list later.
This took a long time to explain in words, but I was able to figure out and write down the 50 landmarks in only about 5 or 6 minutes. The reason I could do it so quickly is that I selected a route I was already extremely familiar with (you should do that too).
So on my paper I thought of one thing that reminded me of each state ("corn" for Nebraska, for example). Even though 50 might sound like a lot, actually it was easy because, being a citizen of the U.S, I already have some preconcieved ideas about most states. For the others, I just came up with something that sounds like the name.
Here are some more examples: Alabama - banjo ("I've come from Alabama with a banjo on my knee..."); Alaska - polar bear; Arizona - meteor crater (there is a big one there that I think is cool); Arkansas - ark (Ark-ansas, "ark" as in Noah's); California - gold bars (as in the Gold Rush); Colorado - Coors beer cans; Connecticut - a chain ("Connect-icut"); and so on.
The more vivid and appropriate you pick your images, the easier it will be later to remember later as you take the mental walk-through of your route. Make sure to pick nouns (e.g., gold bar). Don't pick adjectives ("red", "heavy", and so on) or other parts of speech. Nouns are obviously a lot easier to visualize.
So on an index card, I next wrote the landmark locations in order, then next to each wrote a corresponding state item. So it started like this: 1) Front Steps - Banjo; 2) glass entryway - Polar Bear; 3) Guest Waiting Area - Meteor Crater; 4) Reception Desk - Ark; 5) Lobby Floor - Gold Bars; and on through the 50 states.
It's very long-winded to explain that all out as I did. But really it only took me about 20 mintutes to go from nothing to having the alphabetical list of the 50 States locked - and I mean really locked - in memory.
I would expect that most times you will not need to memorize lists as long as 50 items. An extreme example is great for illustration purposes though. Because if I with my average memory can slam dunk a 50-item list in 20 minutes, think how easy it would be to memorize a list of just 10 items. But try memorizing those 10 items by repetition only - no way you'll easily remember them the next day or the next week. But peg the items to a route you know well (the Loci Method) - and it will be harder to forget the list than remember it!
You don't have to use the same route over and over. In fact, if you have to memorize a lot of information at the same time (lots of facts from different classes you are taking concurrently, for example), it is probably better to use different routes. The great thing is that everyone has a bunch of these routes - you just have to stop and think about it. Here are all the routes I thought of in about 1 minute of brainstorming:
From this quick brainstorm, I think you can see that the number of routes stored in your brain is probably vast. Certainly enough available that you will not often be forced to reuse one.
Having said that, you can designate certain routes as "chalkboard" type routes that get reused for the same purpose. A great example would be for grocery lists. Let's say I designate the walk-through of my grandparents house as my grocery list route. Each time I complete a shopping trip, I know to go ahead and forget those items, since for the next trip the items will be different. However, the landmarks will stay the same each time and so will be easy to recall. I simply come up with different peg images to assign to the landmarks.
The Loci Method is certainly one of the most powerful memorization techniques there is. Invest in the few minutes of thinking about routes and coming up with pegs, and you will amaze everyone around you. When I recited the list of states today, everyone thought that meant I was some kind of genius. No! - No! - No! There is nothing particularly special about my brain. After all, I'm just an 89 percenter. When it comes to memorization, you can do it too!
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