I touched on working memory yesterday, and being mindful of the practical limits of rote memory is an important part of how I work. One of my other tricks is tying things I need to remember to a place.

One big tangent from this topic could be the more general loci technique,1 but I want to focus on a simpler application of this. Loci is fancy for place, and our brains are good at remembering places. The places don’t have to be entire landscapes, either. For instance, the area by the door into my garage is where my keys hang, and where my wallet sits anytime it’s not in my right front pocket.2

Oh yeah, pockets are another great example of memory places. My left-front pocket is where my phone and handkerchief3 live, and in my right-front pocket I have my cards, pen, wallet, and car keys. Same thing every time. If I need my car keys, I check my right-front pocket. If they aren’t there, I check the hook by the door. If they aren’t there there, I have a minor panic attack and run late for work.

Places are important and knowing a place is a subtle but comforting thing. It’s unrelated to memory, but this sense of place is something I’ve only recently been able to add back into my reading. I’ve long loved the infinite flexibility and portability of the Kindle, but after reading a few studies4 that indicate reading comprehension and knowledge retention is worse on e-readers, I’ve gone back to reading paper books. The physical sense of where my place is in a book changes each time I turn a page, and as this place subtly helps me follow an argument. Plus, it’s much nicer to flip pages when I want to revisit a particular topic or see how much is left in a chapter.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk a little about my third memory trick.

  1. Think Sherlock’s or Hannibal Lecter’s memory palace. Again, for more see Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foerl, or alternatively fall down a Wikipedia rabbit hole. ↩︎

  2. Hanging up my keys every time I come in the house is another example of a habit I built which doesn’t require willpower. ↩︎

  3. Yes, I have always been a grandpa in my sensibilities. No, I am not a grandpa and am about 20 from having most of my behavior being justified. I think I’ll put the Werther’s Originals in my right-front pocket, when it’s time. ↩︎

  4. Okay, websites that summarized the studies. ↩︎