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Last night that venerable Italian boot gave me a solid kick in the head. "Use this, you fool!" it said to me. Here's a great way to boost your memory, using the shape and layout of different places.

Ask almost anyone to find Italy on a map of Europe and they can do it.

It's shaped like a boot.

Arch of Trajan Italy bike tour
Arch of Trajan. Celebrate your triumphs!

Last night that venerable Italian boot gave me a solid kick in the head. "Use this, you fool!" it said to me. Here's a great way to boost your memory, using the shape and layout of different places.

Let's say you're taking a biochemistry exam, and you have to memorize the different groups. That's a hard task, so let's turn it into something easy.

Let's say you have to walk to your friend's house. Your friend only lives a few blocks away, and you've walked there once already. You know the way. After just one try.

Your brain is very good at finding its way around. Your ancestors were walking back from the lake to the cave 10,000 years ago, and you've inherited their skill.

Now let's apply that skill to learn biochemistry. Here's how it works.

Imagine that walk to your friends house. There are certain landmarks you'll see along the way. All you have to do is attach each biochemistry group to one of those landmarks.

For instance, one of the houses you pass has a big cardboard box on the porch. You imagine a car speeding around the corner, crashing into the box. The car-box. The carboxyl group. You could even imagine the car spews carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and a boxer comes along and punches the driver in the face.

The more personal, vivid, and strange your images, the more likely you'll remember them. Let's move on.

As you're walking, you pass a chain link fence. You could imagine it is a long chain of smaller molecules, a polymer. I like to picture it as DNA. Then a guy (or a girl) comes along and chains his/her bike to the fence. The cyclist uses a very strange method to lock up the bike, involving a whole group of locks. Method, methyl. The methyl group is attaching to the DNA molecule.

You get the idea, I hope. I'm using this to memorize all the Roman emperors. For me, that's tougher than biochemistry. How can you use this?

  • As a checklist before your bike tour, to make sure you don't leave anything behind
  • As a reminder of crossroads and important sites on your bike route
  • To remember names of people you meet on a bike tour
  • If you can't get to a journal or blog, this could help you remember the highlights of your trip so you can share them later on

I'm memorizing the Roman emperors because I want to be an expert on via Appia, the ancient Roman road that ran from Rome to Brindisi. I biked the entire route, and I'm planning another trip in a year or so. I'm also publishing a book about via Appia this year.

If you want to hear more about these things, including where to find the book or how to join me on the next tour, all you have to do is sign up for my email list below. I'll never share your email with anyone.



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You can upgrade yourself and your situation by simply deciding on a new "normal." There are probably things you're not happy about, but you've been silently accepting them for a long time. They've become normal. What happens if you chose a new "normal?" Right away, you start thinking about how to make improvements. Things you took for granted are no longer acceptable. All kinds of clever ideas pop into your mind. And you feel a surge of energy to start implementing some of those ideas.

If you've done much bike touring, you're probably able to travel great distances on your own power. Very few people would consider this normal. You've changed the rules, and you're in good company. This is the secret to many great accomplishments.

Gravina in Puglia bridgeWhen Appius Claudius built the Appian Way, he had to take power by redefining normal. He broke so many rules that Roman historians complained about him, and his co-consul resigned in frustration.

But we still know his name today. And he set the stage for game-changers like Julius Caesar.

In fact, all of the extravagant debauchery of the later Roman emperors was made possible because each emperor went beyond what was considered "normal."

How to Change Your Life in 5 Seconds

You can upgrade yourself and your situation by simply deciding on a new "normal." Your brain is an incredibly powerful problem-solving machine.

There are probably things you're not happy about, but you've been silently accepting them for a long time. They've become normal. What happens if you choose a new "normal?"

Right away, you start thinking about how to make improvements. Things you took for granted are no longer acceptable. All kinds of clever ideas pop into your mind. And you feel a surge of energy to start implementing some of those ideas.

Here are three steps to help you get started:

Step 1: Define your new Normal

About a year ago, I asked myself, "Is it normal to sleep less than 6 hours a night and try to keep functioning by constant caffeine infusions?"

I had been reading about the bad effects that sleep deprivation can have on your brain, your memory, reflexes, the immune system, muscle growth, speed, and even hormone levels.

At the time, sleep deprivation was my Normal, and a good-night's sleep was the exception. I had to reverse this.

Step 2: Enforce the new Normal

For a month I made sure I slept for 7-8 hours every night. Some chores went unfinished. Some friends and family members may have felt neglected. But I was creating a new Normal.

When you enforce the new normal, you won't have to be a fanatic about it forever. Just get it established at the beginning.

Step 3: Don't stress the exceptions

Now I can go without sleep once in a while if I need to get things done. It's the exception, not the rule. The next day I'll feel tired and weak, irritable and confused, sometimes even nauseated. But then I remind myself that I used to feel that way all the time. It was normal. Now it's just weird.

Let's say you decide to bike a century twice a week, or study Spanish for 2 hours every evening. Once it becomes part of your routine, you don't have to worry if you miss out every once in a while. It will be easy to get back into the swing of things, because you've made it the 'normal' thing to do.

Challenge the Normal

What do you consider normal that you should re-examine?

Roman monument on via AppiaIs it "normal" to have a job that keeps you from spending time with people and activities you care about? Shouldn't it be normal to give yourself a full month every now and then to go on an extended long bike tour? Is it normal to have back pain, to eat junk food, to watch TV shows that don't really entertain you?

Are you hurting yourself by what you think is normal? Is your Normal holding you back? Who told you this was normal? Are you required to spend your life according to someone else's Normal?

I challenge you to redefine your Normal. It's a beautiful and terrifying power, and it's yours. You can do anything.
I'm almost finished with a book about bike touring on the Appian Way. If you would like to read the entire book, or even join me on a future bike tour of via Appia, subscribe below and I'll keep you up-to-date. Your email will not be published, and I will never share it with anyone.