Moonwalking with Matt Damon

This is the good angel on Melissa’s right shoulder speaking.  Melissa really needs to buckle down and study for her licensing exams, so if you see her on WordPress, please kindly yell at her to stop procrastinating and get to work.  This is for her own good, after all.  Thanks ever so kindly!

Hey peeps.  This is the hot mess of a devil on Melissa’s left shoulder.  Don’t you even think about yelling at my girl here.  She works hard and she deserves a break by spending hours upon hours on this awesome site where people congratulate themselves on being masters of the universe!  Melissa doesn’t need to study; she’s got it down-pat.  Peace out, yo.


Welcome to my world, everyone.  This is what I deal with on a daily basis now.  And since I am currently blogging…I think my devil has won out for a stretch.  So while I’m here, I wanted to share a really awesome recent discovery that is actually helping me (slowly, arduously) study for my exams.

I just finished reading this book called Moonwalking With Einstein by Joshua Foer.  It’s about this young journalist dude who did a story on memory competitions, got interested in the topic and culture, and committed to doing a year-long memory training experiment that resulted in him winning the following year’s American Memory Championship.  Crazynuts!

What I liked the best about this book is that he actually gave tips for how we can all improve our memories.  The brief take-away message is that our human brains are not built to remember random numbers (like phone numbers), random words (like a shopping list), or random anything.  We more easily encode and retrieve memories that are both visual/spacial and contextual.  Thus, the trick to better remember random things is to first create context for them, and then make them into something visually striking.

An example: let’s use a shopping list of the following items – milk, eggs, dish soap, kitty litter, and ice cream.

First, we use what’s called a memory palace (Josh gives historical context for why this technique is used, and it’s awesomely interesting).  Memory palaces are used as virtual storage spaces for the things you want to remember.  Usually, a memory palace is a building that you know very well, and you can visualize every nook and cranny in your mind very easily.  A memory palace can also be a mental walk through a familiar place, like the street you grew up on.  This provides the context for the items on the list.

For this example, I will use the home I grew up in as a memory palace for this shopping list.  I start by imagining myself standing on the sidewalk facing the house.  The first item on the list is milk, and I will place that here, at the edge of my front lawn.  I want to make a mental image of milk that is somehow shocking and, well, memorable.  Josh suggests that sexual images and anything very much out of the ordinary tend to stick in our minds the best.  I imagine a kiddie pool on my front lawn filled with milk, but that’s not enough.  I picture a naked Matt Damon bathing and splashing in this pool of delicious, silky 1% milk (This is a hunky Jason Bourne Damon, as opposed to an Informant! Damon, just so you know.  Just…helping you to visualize.  To remember better.).  I might even put a mooing cow behind the pool for emphasis.  Mr. Damon is smiling and laughing and beckoning to me.  Sorry, Matt, but I need to move onto the next item.

In my mind, I walk up the front path to my front door.  I imagine that the front of the door is one giant fried egg, where the yolk is a face and it’s all dripping and oozing like Pizza the Hut in Space Balls.  I have to eat my way through the egg to get into the house, and I focus on tasting the salty, delicious egg.  Man, I wish I could turn back and wash that egg down with some milk, but I can’t.  I’m on a memory mission.

I am in the tiled entryway now.  I picture that the entryway is flooded up to my waist in bubbly dish soap water, and I look to my left and see that my brother is surfing around on a giant greasy plate.  I wonder if Matt Damon can surf?

I half walk, half swim through the suds over to my left and into the formal living room.  In here, I see that my lovely cat Sadie has spread her kitty litter all over the coffee table and white couches so she can pee and poo wherever she likes.  There are stains all over and the room reeks of cat pee.  Good thing Matt didn’t come in and smell this mess.

I walk through this room and on into the family room, which is where my family watched TV together.  My imagination transforms this room into a giant walk-in freezer.  There is ice all over every surface, and I am shivering.  I can see my breath.  In place of furniture, piled all around me is giant scoops of different flavors of ice cream.  To my left, chocolate.  To my right, mocha almond chip.  Under my feet, I am slipping on some bright green mint chocolate chip.  Dude, let’s go find Matt and that cow and make a milkshake!

So you see basically how it works.  The next time you want to remember your list, just start at the beginning of your memory palace and do the whole walk-through again.  Try it sometime with a list of some sort and see how fun it is!

This brings me back to the topic on my mind the most these days.  Needless to say, my anxiety about my licensing exams (yes, plural.  as in more than one) is growing.  Among many other things, these tests cover 9 theories of therapy, and each theory has several concepts and interventions that I need to understand and remember….so last Sunday, I gave it a whirl and I devoted one room in my childhood home memory palace to each theory and, with a little work and creativity, I turned each concept into a visual image.  This is so exciting, you guys!!  I now have my uncle doing gymnastic flips on scaffolding in my living room (structural therapy), Freud is tied with stretchy rubber bands to a pole in my basement (concept of attachment in psychodynamic theory), and a giant apple core is in my parents’ bed smoking a cigarette (concept of core schemas in cognitive therapy).

So far, these images have stuck in my brain with very little effort and they don’t seem to be going anywhere.  Indeed, in the book Josh says that these images are easier to remember months and even years later.  Huzzah!

So, people in my blog universe – please send me good studying vibes!  Now, if you all (and the good angel on my right shoulder) will excuse me, I have some more remembering to do in a kiddie pool full of milk.


13 responses

  1. Your trip through your memory palace had me cracking up… but could you please send Matt over when you’re done with him… or maybe at the very least while you study for your exams?

    Good studying vibes headed your way as I type….

  2. I heard a talk on the radio quite a while back. This guy used the same technique for memory I wonder if it was the same guy. Its your mind it does not matter if Matt Damon can surf or not. If you want him to surf naked in your childhood kitchen zinc he can that is the fun and strangeness of imagination.

  3. There was supposed to be a [or something to that extent] after “more talented writer” but I forgot that this is wordpress and put carrots around thereby accidentally HTMLifying it. joy.

  4. Awesome post Ms. M! I heard about Joshua Foer a while ago because he’s the big brother of Jonathan Safran Foer of “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” / “Everything is Illuminated” fame. The article I read (will try to dig it up) was by a book critic who raved about Joshua Foer and described him as the slightly less hip but more talented writer . You reminded me to go read his book!

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