The Loci System (aka The Journey Method) is a great way to remember long lists of data with a highly visual mnemonic device. Students can use this excellent memory technique to learn all 50 US states, or memorize the works of Shakespeare, or learn the names of all the bones in the body!
The Journey Method is named as such because it is based on your recall of a very familiar journey, such as you walking the route to your house. You'll associate items on your list with geographical highlights along the way. This means you can remember every item on your list in order, forwards or backwards, and with very little mental effort (once the mnemonic is ingrained).
A 50-item list should take you about 20 minutes to memorize perfectly, plus a few extra minutes to review the data in the following days and weeks. The review process is what etches the data into your long term memory.
The great thing about using mnemonics like The Loci System is they not only improve your memory for specific sets of data; they also improve your general recall simply because you're flexing that memory muscle of yours.
How to Perform The Loci System
Here's a step-by-step method to improve your memory for specific data using the very simple Loci System:
1. Choose a Memorable Route
Think of a route you know well. The first time I performed this memory technique, I chose the route from the train station to my house - about a 10-minute walk. If your list is small, you may only need to choose a walk around your living room. If the list is long, choose a slightly longer walk or car ride. You may need to have several memorable routes in mind if you want to use The Loci System often (although don't be afraid to double-up occassionaly with routes/lists because this can work just as well). You can also erase old lists by letting the data laspe early on (ideal with shopping lists) and re-peg the route with entirely new data.
2. Write Your List of Reference Points
Visualize the route now, recalling the landmarks and other highlights along the way. Write a list of every reference point that comes to mind in order. In my route it begins: railings, taxi rank, lamp post, barber's shop, bin, pathway, used car site... etc. Those reference points will mean nothing to you but for me they dictate a very specific order. You can't reach one without passing all the others that preceded it. That's how The Journey Method helps you memorize data in order, forwards or backwards.
3. Peg The Data Along Your Route
Let's say you want to memorize the elements of the Periodic Table. Hydrogen comes first so I take the chemical symbol for Hydrogen (H) and peg it to my first reference point (the railings outside the station). But just the letter H on its own is a bit weak, so I think of image to trigger the letter H, such as a hippo. Now, I'm picturing a large fat hippopotamus humped over the railings. Much better.
Next: Helium, with the symbol He. I believe this calls for a helicopter. My next landmark is a taxi rank, but instead of taxis I'm going to put helicopters in place. A good number of helicopters all lined up waiting for passengers.
Next we have Lithium (Li). You might automatically think of a lighter or a common object but remember that mnemonics work better when the visual stimulus is highly unusual. So, climbing up my third landmark (the ill-placed lamp post) is a giant lizard. He's probably called Larry.
One more example: Beryllium (Be) comes next, for which I imagine a bear coming out of the barber's shop with a hilarious new hairdo. Bear-yllium. Brilliant.
You can use any image that comes to mind, they don't have to be animals or any other particular theme, just use whatever works for you. Just remember to make it highly vivid and unusual so it's easy to recall later.
Extra Tips on The Loci System
Once you've pegged your data to your route, run through it quickly in your mind and that will store it in your short term memory for a few hours. If it's a shopping list you wanted to recall, that's all you need to do, after that you'll probably want to forget the list and clear the route for next time.
However, if you want to imprint this information in your long term memory, be sure to review the list again the next day by visualizing the route and the key images. Review it once again after a week, and again after a month. After that the data should be very well ingrained indeed. Each review should only take a minute or two and cements the effort you put in initially.
Once you can reel off the chemical elements, or the works of Shakespeare, or all 50 states in reverse order, your friends may suspect you of being a bizarre freak of nature... So be sure to tell them about The Loci System and share the joy of this remarkable memory improvement technique.