By Eric Barker
May 20, 2014

Could you memorize the order of a deck of cards in under 30 seconds?

(Hat tip to Josh.)

Don’t feel bad; I can’t remember what I ate for lunch yesterday.

In fact, one-third of British people under 30 can’t remember their home phone number.

Via Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything:

The thing is, while some people are blessed with a naturally impressive memory, the true memory experts are made, not born.

How do you dramatically improve your memory? C’mon, we’re gonna build a palace.

The Memory Palace

The idea dates back to the fifth century B.C. and was first synthesized in Cicero’s Rhetorica ad Herennium.

So what does a palace have to do with remembering your shopping list?

Your memory is not just a hard drive that stores everything equally well. It’s particularly good at certain things and terrible at others.

Work with it, you’ll be impressed. Work against it and you’ll be wandering the supermarket aisles for that one thing that’s on the tip of your tongue…

Our ancestors didn’t need to remember long lists, they needed to remember routes to resources.

Memory champion Joshua Foer, author of Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, penned a piece for the New York Times explaining:

While we’re terrible about remembering lists of random numbers, the human mind is naturally excellent at remembering places.

What memory experts do is work with the brain’s natural setup to turn hard-to-remember things and fit them into a format that is easy to remember:

So what do you need to know about the fundamentals of memory to get cooking?

  • We’re really good at remembering layouts, routes and spatial information.
  • Our minds are visual.
  • We remember things that stand out; things that are absurd, funny, sexual or offensive.

Here’s how you combine these principles to remember anything:

1) Build Your Palace

It doesn’t need to be very royal. Basically it can be any building you know the layout of. A good starter palace is your childhood home.

Via Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything:

2) Construct The Images

The things you want to remember (like the items on a grocery list) need to each be associated with an image you won’t forget.

What type of images do we not forget? Extreme things that stand out. Go for crazy, lewd or funny.

Via Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything:

3) Place the Images In The Palace

So how do you remember your shopping list?

Think about how you would normally walk through your childhood home and “place” the memorable images in the order you need to remember them along that route.

Via Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything:

So, for example:

  • You go in through the front door and standing there is a cow on fire (symbolizing the burgers you need to buy at the store).
  • You go up the stairs but they’re slick with the fiery cow’s dripping blood (you need to buy ketchup too.)
  • At the end of the upstairs hall is an enormous human butt (you need to buy hamburger buns.)

Did hearing any of these images make you say “gross” or “disgusting”? GOOD. That means they’re working.

4) Go For A Walk To Recall

Time to remember? Just take a stroll through your palace, visiting each crazy image.

You can use this system for most any memory activity. Cicero used it for speeches, connecting the points he wanted to make as items in his palace.

Via Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything:

Yes, your mind is going to be full of dinosaurs, naked people and a level of absurdity that would make Salvador Dali cringe.

Who knew developing your memory could be so much fun?

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tr

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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