The Memory Palace

Memories, remembering, and how thought and the recall of thought works for people is something I often find myself thinking about a lot. I think this is because at one point in my life I needed to be on antidepressants and they really messed up my short-term memory. So, I find myself thinking about how people remember things and recall things.

The first time I started thinking about how the brain and thoughts work was early on in school. I was told by my music teacher that the human mind can only handle seven independent things/thoughts at one time. If you add an eighth in the mix, one of the other seven will no longer be available to you.

The way this applies to music and my drumming, he told me, was that when you are drumming you are using all four of your limbs behind the drum kit. Your arms and legs. Each one is doing something independent of the other. That is four things your mind is tracking. You are also keeping time in your head and anticipating what is coming next. That is six things. The seventh thing I find myself doing while I am playing music is just either looking around and being observant of the other musicians. Sometimes I’m thinking about random things such as what I am going to make for dinner or what is on the agenda for work tomorrow. That’s my seven things at once. The brain can’t handle anymore than that. This point gets proven over and over again with me during band practice whenever anyone hits a note that is not correct, or plays something different. This by default makes me drop whatever extra thing I am thinking at the time to focus on the change in the music. Sometimes I won’t be as lucky and forget what I was thinking. Sometimes one of my legs or arms will quit working and the drum beat I will be playing will sound wrong. So a lot of discipline goes into being focused and prepared for something unexpected when I am playing music with my band.

In the past I have talked about how much I like, and use, the Getting Things Done (GTD) work methodology developed by David Allen. It’s great for keeping tasks and projects, both work and personal, organised in a way that allows you to get things completed quickly and efficiently. But the thing that makes GTD so great is the fact that it frees up your mind to allow you to have ideas. Unlike remembering things, having ideas is something the mind is great at doing.

“Your mind is for having ideas, not for holding them.” – David Allen

By being able to put your tasks down in a system that you trust allows you to focus on your next action rather than spending your time worried about the overall project. It really is a life changing way to work and get things done. If you have not looked into before, I highly recommend that you do so.

The latest thing I have been learning about almost contradicts GTD in a way. The Memory Palace is an ancient way of remembering anything. By having a house for all your thoughts that are triggered by distinct locations within the house of your minds eye you can recall any kind of information. See the videos below to better understand what I am talking about.

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