How to Build a Memory Palace to Remember More of Everything

With every advancement in technology, there has been a decline in something else. It's a tough pill to swallow, but it's the price we pay for convenience. To really show that, let's take a walk down memory lane. How many times have you forgotten certain items? Or how about that person's name from work? How about your own cell phone number? While these are all minor inconveniences, all these things have one thing in common: they rely on our ability to memorize things. Now, you could argue that's what contact lists and grocery lists are for but, that's the point here. You're using your phone for that rather than a powerful technique: a memory palace. There's nothing wrong with using technology, but it comes at a price and like many others, they're noticing it's hard to remember certain things -- places, dates, specific items, and more. Thankfully, this tried and true method has stood the test of time. It is immensely powerful in unlocking memories and being able to retain them with no issues. By learning what a memory palace is and using the technique, you can change your life and remember so much.

What’s the Memory Palace?

Before showing the potential of this technique, you need to know what it is first. Another name for this technique is the Method of Loci, though most people will call it the Memory Palace. It’s a memorization technique that was first developed in ancient Greek. Back then, paper was expensive and limited so people relied heavily on their own memories to retain and recall information. Going further into the technique, many people see the memory palace as a metaphor for any sort of place that you can visualize. It’s essentially a place you can go to to recall vivid memories and then apply them in the real world.

Does It Really Work?

Short answer: yes. Extremely well. One example to look to is Dominic O’Brien.((Peak Performance Training: Dominic O'Brien)) He was an eight-time world memory champion who used this method. Through this method, he was able to memorize 54 decks of cards in sequence while only having seen each card once. That’s 2,808 cards that he memorized. Another worth noting is the memorization of Pi. While this is a number without end, many people memorize the numbers for fun. But that’s not the case for a man in India. On March 2015, Rajveer Meena, was able to recite 70,000 decimal places of pi.((Guiness Record: Most Pi places memorised)) That feat is overshadowed by a Japanese man who memorized 111,700 decimals.((The Guardian: He ate all the pi : Japanese man memorises π to 111,700 digits)) “But these are all extreme cases,” I hear you saying. Yes, they are. But these individuals all started somewhere and that somewhere is the Memory Palace. As I said, the memory palace is a place to house vivid memories. However, under the right circumstances, you can leverage it for a wide variety of things. One of the most common is obviously to memorize patterns. This works because our brain is wired to associate with things that we see rather than what’s spoken.

Is Sherlock’s Mind Palace Possible?

Another modern day comparison to turn to is Sherlock Holmes’ mind palace. In the TV series “Sherlock,” we see Holmes entering this place time and again. In the show, it’s depicted as an imaginary estate that makes no spatial sense. The act itself shows this process at work, Holmes entering this treasure trove of memories. It’s an area that he’s familiar with and keeps his memories safe. It’s definitely something that we all can achieve, but likely not in the same way as how Holmes uses his. What’s wrong with how Sherlock uses his? Well, the biggest key to this method is that the place you need to visualize has to be something you are intimately familiar with. The mind palace isn’t so much of a palace as it is something that we are deeply familiar with. Examples are your own home, office, or the route you take to work. These are reliable visualizations that even experts use to great degree. Remember the deck of cards I mentioned earlier? Well, one way people memorize the sequence of cards is associating the number and the suit with an object in their house. To memorize several decks, they visualize their house or office and begin to look around the “room” and start listing off the suits based on what they see.

5 Steps to Build And Effectively Use a Memory Palace

There are many practical methods for the memory palace outside of setting world records. You can use this technique to recall long to-do lists, grocery lists, names, and more. Here is how it is done.

1. Select Your Palace

Before even starting, you need to have a place that you are familiar with. This technique is only ever going to work for you if you can mentally see and walk around the area effortlessly. It’s why I suggested an office, or your home or a familiar route. One other thing I’ll suggest is to define a particular route with said palace. While there’s nothing wrong with visualizing yourself in your home for example, the palace could be more effective if you visualized walking around it. If you have a specific walkthrough in your home, it’ll be easier for you to leverage the second step to this method. Also, if the examples I suggested don’t strike your fancy, there are other memory palaces you could create as well. Here are some suggestions:
  • A familiar street. Examples are routes you take to work, or maybe a sequence of streets that you’re familiar with.
  • Current or previous school. Visualize what the school looked like and the pathway to your classes, homeroom, hang-out spot, or the library.
  • Place of work. Think of the route from your desk to the water cooler or coffee machine. Or even to the exit.
  • Scenic views. Imagine taking a route through a local park or a path you fondly remember.

2. Identify Distinctive Features

Once you have a palace, you need to pay especially close attention to the features. For example, if you used your home as your palace, the first thing you’ll think of is likely the front door. Take some time to pay real close attention to it but also to ask yourself: What’s in that first room behind that door? Take note of everything in that room. Even what you do before hand. When you approach the front door, do you look to the left or to the right normally? Do you look down and enter a passcode? Keep in mind those tiny every day details too. The idea behind all of this is to create memory slots. These are clues that contain a single piece of information to help you jog your memory. By paying close attention to the actions and details around the area, you can create more memory slots. It’s this reason why I suggested memorizing a particular route through your memory palace. This creates more memory slots for yourself as more rooms open up to you.

3. Imprint Your Palace

For this to have any effectiveness, you need to have both the place and the route you take 100% imprinted in your head. For those of you who are exceptional at visualization, this shouldn’t be a huge struggle. However for those do, consider these tips. Commit this to memory however you can using these:
  • Walk the actual route physically and repeat out loud the distinctive features when you see them.
  • List the selected features on a piece of paper and mentally walk through them.
  • Always look at the features in the exact same direction.
  • Understand visualization is a skill and takes practice. Sometimes you have to admit that your visualization isn’t good enough. Nevertheless, there are many ways to grow it.
  • When you think you have it memorized, give yourself a break and go through your memory palace a little later. One study from Purdue University found that quizzes spaced out over periods of time improved retaining information.((American Psychological Association: A powerful way to improve learning and memory)) This same principal applies to the memory palace as you’ll be quizzing yourself later on the sequence of steps you memorized earlier.
Once the palace is imprinted into your mind, you can then start to leverage your palace.

4. Begin Association

Now that the palace is in your mind and you recall the memory slots, you can now start to fill those memory slots. All you do is take a known image - otherwise known as a memory peg - and place it with an element you wish to memorize. Where exactly do these go? These go with the particular features that you selected in your Memory Palace. Now here is the fun part. While most people would think to keep this all realistic, that’s not the best idea. In fact, it’s better to go with utterly ridiculous, nonsensical, and extraordinary visualizations. And that's not me saying this. In the article Memory Palace Science: Proof That This Memory Technique Works, the writer explains the 'right way' is:((Magnetic Memory Method: Memory Palace Science: Proof That This Memory Technique Works))
"Make it crazy, ridiculous, offensive, unusual, extraordinary, animated, nonsensical — after all, these are the things that get remembered, aren’t they? Make the scene so unique that it could never happen in real life. The only rule is: if it’s boring, it’s wrong."
To see this in practice, let’s go with a simplistic approach. After all, while we can use this technique to memorize a lot of information, it’s better to start small. Say you’re memorizing a grocery list. For the sake of the argument, you can use your memory palace to transform your house into an unusual "gingerbread house." Need to pick up some apples? Visualize your front door as a gigantic apple. How about bacon or ground beef? Visualize the smell as you enter your home and realize it's oozing out of the walls. All of these things physically wouldn't happen (except for the smell) and can serve as mental cues. They give you pause and remind you to pick up those specific items. Effective right?

5. Visit Your New Palace

The last step is to spend some time in the place. If this technique is new to you, going through it once may not be enough for you. That’s not to say you need to do this a lot, but doing quick rehearsals and repeating the journey a few times helps a lot. This technique demands a lot of visualization, and rehearsing in of itself is developing those skills too. The better you are at visualizing, the more relaxed you’ll be and easier it’ll be to memorize things in the future.

Final Thoughts

The more we grow older, the more important it is for us to retain memories. If we do not exercise our minds, we risk exposing ourselves to many dangers. There are so many conditions that impact older folks and a lot of it stems from our own mind. So like your body, make a habit of developing your mind. You don't need to go to the extreme and have a mind palace per se, but it's a massive step forward to create and to use one.

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