The Memory Palace

I want to share something with you that’s really helped me. It’s been the engine behind the podcast.

And it’s a little weird.

This page illustrates a completely different kind of story that means business … the daft and dreamlike world of the memory palace. If you are the kind of person who’s looking to really understand and integrate the world, this is for you.

Every memory champion in the world uses some variation of these basic ideas.

Studies show that the brain treats story differently from the way it treats any other information. The scientific term for this is “psychologically privileged.”

In a nutshell, we experience, process and remember stories in a different way from other stuff. The brain believes they matter more and pays attention accordingly.

Memory is all about connecting things together. Good stories do this by default – with a clear progression of cause and effect – and we can use that tendency to hack our one brains.

Here’s an example.

A Peek Inside My Memory Palace

This simple story is triggered by a bottle of wine in my memory palace. The bottle sits on a shelf in the kitchen, which is the room where I keep all my links to creativity and business.

Warning
Memory stories use exaggeration, creativity and novelty. They are more like dreams than real life. As you read the story, GO WITH IT. Imagine the scene, hear the noises and feel the emotions. It will help bed the images into your brain.

So here goes …

Beneath the wine bottle, on the dusty oak shelf, sits a handwritten cake recipe that triggers a ‘memory’ of this dumb story.

I’m drunk cooking in the kitchen – trying to make a cake – but squinting at the bad handwriting on the recipe card.

My squint becomes a frown… I’m trying to read but there’s some insanely bright light flooding the room. I turn around and see this tiny comet, bright as the sun, smash through the window, hit the counter and bounce into my overflowing mixing bowl. I stir the mixture to find it, but the cake’s consistency is all lumpy.

Wait … what …. something inside the mixture is beeping crazily!

Bollocks!

I reach into the sticky goo and retrieve my phone (which the comet knocked in.)

The social apps are going crazy with news of the multi-comet attack. The top post on MyFaceSpace getting a Zillion hits a second. The likes total is rocketing up before my eyes as the phone gets red hot in my hand.

Then the phone starts shouting! “This is the authorities… ” keep away from the …

CRASHHHHHHHH!

Another comet explodes the phone, tearing a huge scar down my arm.

Weeping with pain, I grab a Manchester United football scarf from a peg on the wall, wrap it around the wound, and wait for it all to be over.

The End.

Wait. What the hell was that?

Yeah, I get it … it doesn’t seem to make much sense.

Not unless you have the key.

Let’s start with the bottle of wine.

It sits on the shelf in the kitchen of my memory palace. If I close my eyes (right now) I can see it there amongst the other stuff. The name on the bottle is “Influence”, and the label shows the happy smiling face of Robert Cialdini, whose bestselling book has changed the face of persuasion over the past 25 years.

The book, Influence, teaches 6 scientific principles (with a 7th added in the 2021 edition). Roughly speaking the principles are:

  1. Reciprocation (We seek to repay others kindness.)
  2. Commitment & Consistency (We seek to be consistent with our commitments.)
  3. Social Proof (If everyone else is doing something, it must be okay.)
  4. Liking (We are more influenced by people we like.)
  5. Authority (We take notice of authority figures.)
  6. Scarcity (We want things we can’t have/might lose.)
  7. Unity (We trust people who are like us in some way).

It’s worth making an important point here. Most of the ‘forgetting’ we do – perhaps ALL of it – is really a failure of retrieval rather than storage.

If I can retrieve the principle of Social Proof, for example, that brings all kinds of other information with it into my conscious awareness. For most things, the keyword is enough to recall the connected information.

And as you may have guessed the story is about delivering those keywords in a fun, memorable and cause and effect way.

  1. Reciprocation (recipe)
  2. Commitment (comet) and Consistency (the cake mixture)
  3. Social Proof (the social app going wild)
  4. Liking (the likes on the story)
  5. Authority (the warning)
  6. Scarcity (the scar on my arm)
  7. Unity (the Manchester United scarf).

Why go to all this trouble?

Wait. Wouldn’t it be easier to just learn these things?

Maybe – but the things I ‘learn’ by rote never stick around that long. Knowledge decays extraordinarily quickly if we don’t give our brain hooks into it, and rehearse it regularly.

For me, this is the easiest way to do that.

Remember, all learning is connection. For me, the 7 principles of influence are connected to a bottle of wine that sits on a shelf in the kitchen of my memory palace. They are there whenever I need them.

They aren’t 7 disconnected things that I can half remember, they are waiting for me (on that shelf) whenever I’m working on something that requires a little bit of persuasion.

And yes… I’ve used every principle on this page apart from scarcity.

I’m not adding false scarcity to this information. Everyone should benefit from them.

Nick

P.S. Listen to the Under The Influence episode or dig deeper into the story business.


 

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