I always thought I was born with a bad memory. I could never remember multiplication tables, I’m so bad with names, and I honestly couldn’t tell you what I ate for lunch two days ago. Yet I found a way to memorize an entire chapter of Moby Dick in less than four days. It turns out I was going about memorizing things all wrong.
The way most people are taught to memorize is by making flash cards and just repeating the information over and over again until it sticks. This is terribly ineffective, really frustrating, and the reason nobody can tell you what 8 times 12 is.
A much better technique is the “memory palace,” an idea that Joshua Foer explores in his book Moonwalking With Einstein. A memory palace is a mnemonic technique that allows you to more easily memorize information by creating corresponding visual images that you mentally place along a path in a familiar location.
That’s how an angry Rachel Maddow wound up on the couch in my apartment with a calm Bernie Madoff.
For this video, I used a memory palace of my apartment to memorize chapter 37 of Moby Dick. In the middle there’s a line that reads: “I am madness maddened! That wild madness that’s only calm to comprehend itself!”
I needed to remember that there were two “mad” words at the beginning, and that it was followed by “wild” and “calm.”
The couch image is a really weird image that’s almost impossible to forget, and it contains enough little clues to help me recall that line when I get to that stop on my memory palace route.
The video above shows, step by step, how you can memorize even very long passages like the one from Moby Dick. Trust me, if I can do it, anyone can.