The Journey Method

The Journey Method is a beautiful example of a really simple yet very effective memory technique, and one which I think should be routinely taught in schools. Every child should be shown how to use this memory technique, and should be shown how useful it can be (in fact, historically, it was widely taught, that is until the Puritans decided that it involved too much fanciful imaginings).
Instead of struggling to remember facts, dates, famous people, chemical symbols, and all the rest, it could (and should) become a bit of a game. More than that, it would equip kids for a lifetime of successful memory work, the kind that is enjoyable and more effective the more you use it, not tedious and mind-numbingly boring.


The Journey Method – basics

use your own house for the journey method

You know your own house intimately. Mentally place things in various locations and you will be able to find them easily.

The Journey Method works on the simple principle that if you can find your way around a place in your imagination, you can leave things along the way and they’ll be there next time you take that particular journey. What could be easier!
A memory journey could consist of something as simple as a stroll through your own house. You know it well already, so memorising it is child’s play. It could be a stroll around your neighbourhood. You know the streets, the shops, the crossings, the buildings, maybe a railway bridge or a park, a church or a statue, all kinds of things. Each and every one of them can become a memory ‘hook’ on which to hang something you need to recall.

You no doubt have places that could easily be used for further ‘journeys’. Maybe you go to a gym or a sports centre. Think of all the ‘stages’ (or ‘loci’) that you could specify in either. Is there a big railway station near where you live? If you’re already familiar with it, you could use that. If not, visit it and take a notebook, or even a digital camera, and spy out some locations.

With this approach, you can easily build up a database of half a dozen or more memory journeys, and you will have them ready for use whenever you need to remember things.

If you’ve used your house as a memory journey, you might be ready to extend it to make a more demanding but much more useful memory journey. It’s not difficult, but it gives you a lot more scope to memorise longer lists, and using it automatically improves your concentration skills.

Specific journeys for specific jobs

If you need to remember things permanently, set up a long-term journey, and make it something appropriate to the subject matter. Let’s say you’re studying stagecraft, and working in a theatre. You could use the theatre for a memory journey, and mentally place certain items at strategic places to nudge your memory towards things you need to remember. Explore the place, and get used to mentally placing things at the stage door, the dressing rooms, the proscenium, in the wings, at the box office, in the hallways leading to the auditorium entrances, in the bar, and so on.
Use a museum to create a fascinating journey method

If you live near a museum, you have access to an amazing site for a memory journey.

Do you have a museum or art gallery in your area? Places like these, and extravagantly designed public buildings are ideal locations for memory journeys.

Studying geography? Create a memory journey based round a travel agency, or a landing stage, or an airport. Use your imagination, be inventive. This type of thing is what your mind craves – to be used, and stretched, and expanded. You can create a memory journey based on anything or any place, and it can be just about as effective as you want it to be.

Repetition and reinforcement

To change these into long-term memories, you have to revisit them – this is a great memory improvement method, but it’s not magic! Take a minute or two each time to stroll along the journey, viewing all the items in their respective places, and using all your senses to really experience them.

Don’t gallop through the journey as though speed is the most important thing – it’s not. Take a leisurely stroll, at walking pace, noting with interest each and every item. Take a good look at them, touch them, walk round them. Use all your senses. If it’s something that can be smelled, really imagine that smell, breathe it in deeply and savour it. If it’s something with a particular ‘feel’, then really check it out. Feel the sensation of touching the item and maybe moving it slightly. Feel its weight and solidity. Interact with it. This will all go to make it a real memory.

Once you’ve set up a long-term journey, revisit it once or twice the same day, again the next day, and the next. Make a mental note to call back a week later, then a week after that, and a month after that. By that time you will have successfully reinforced those memories, and only an occasional stroll along that particular journey will be necessary. Memories that are created in this way can become permanent, without a whole lot of effort.

The history of the Journey Method

The Journey Method has been used for centuries, and probably a lot longer than that. It is also referred to as the Roman Room method, since its use was first recorded by Romans who used it by visualising items in their own houses. They would mentally place items in certain rooms, or at specific locations in rooms, and so the Roman Room method was born. It is just the same today, only you don’t have to be a Roman to use it, just someone who wants a better than average memory. And you don’t have to live in a Roman villa – your own house will do just fine!

Roman orators, famous for being able to hold audiences spellbound with their magnificent oratory, are believed to have used this same method. Certain key points of their speeches would be ‘placed’ at specific points along a journey, perhaps through the various rooms of their houses, perhaps further afield. As they spoke, they would occasionally move further along the route, spotting items that would trigger relevant memories, and they would confidently and smoothly deliver their speeches.

Incidentally, this is presumably where the phrase “in the first place …” comes from.

Make a speech like a professional

The very fact that this method has such a long and successful history indicates that it outshines almost all others. If you learn nothing else to improve your memory, learn the Journey Method. It’s easy, it’s effective, and when you use it, it’s impressive. A person who uses the Journey Method can deliver a speech without notes, just mentally glancing at landmarks or key locations on his mental journey and being immediately reminded of key points that he has to address in his speech.

Fed up feeling jittery and embarrassed when you have to address an audience? Use a memory journey to plan your speech and it’ll go like clockwork!

And because he is working from key points, and elaborating on them ‘from the hip’, the speech is effectively delivered as though the speaker is just ‘making it up’ as he goes along. His speech is that much more impressive, therefore, and he will naturally be more relaxed, with the assurance that comes from knowing your subject intimately.

Learn how to memorise playing cards

The Journey Method is one way you can memorise playing cards (there are others). First, though, you have to use a system that makes them more manageable. Trying to memorise them without some sort of system is almost doomed to failure.

Once you’ve given them some individual character of their own, you can use the Journey Method to place them at various locations. They’ll still be there next time you look for them!


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