How To Develop a Photographic Memory In 4 Simple (and Weird) Steps

You don't have to be old or senile to suffer from memory problems. If it's any consolation, I just learned that apparently about one-third of British adults can't remember their own home phone number — and that's just of the Brits under 30! However, while the quality of your memory is partially genetic, it's also much more trainable that you may have realized. Over at The Week, Eric Barker wrote about how to develop a photographic memory in four simple steps.

People aren't good at remembering everything — especially not meaningless lists, which is why feats like memorizing thousands of digits of Pi are impressive. But some types of information are especially memorable: places, layouts, and routines, as well as things that "stand out" because they're funny or sexual, for instance. You can use these tendencies to your advantage by turning hard-to-remember info into an easier-to-remember format. Originally explained in this popular book on memory, these four tips from the always-interesting, extremely well-read Barker may help you improve your memory.

1. Build your palace: It doesn't need to be very royal. Basically it can be any building you know the layout of. A good starter palace is your childhood home.

This sounds more than a little silly, but it's worth a try — basically you are trying to mentally construct a location in which to virtually situate your memories. It has to be somewhere you know really well, like your childhood home.

2. Construct the images: The things you want to remember (like the items on a grocery list) need to each be associated with an image you won't forget. What type of images do we not forget? Extreme things that stand out. Go for crazy, lewd or funny.

Bananas on your list? Imagine something hilariously phallic. Milk? Imagine it spraying out of the nose of someone you don't like. Your brain will latch onto the weirdness and do a better job of encoding the memories.

3. Place the images in the palace: So how do you remember your shopping list? Think about how you would normally walk through your childhood home and "place" the memorable images in the order you need to remember them along that route.

Take the time to mentally put each thing in its rightful place in order, from where you'd walk in the door to, say, where you'd enter your room. Imagine the (weird, sexual, funny) objects sitting in the places you've chosen for them.

4. Go for a walk to recall: Time to remember? Just take a stroll through your palace, visiting each crazy image. You can use this system for most any memory activity. Cicero used it for speeches, connecting the points he wanted to make as items in his palace.

This is probably still feeling super silly to you — at least it is to me. But the "mental palace" method sure beats staring at the ceiling or your shoes, while you mentally scramble in a futile effort to randomly, hopefully remember your grocery items, talking points, or invitation list, and it'll get easier and more effective with practice. Good luck!