One of the most useful memory aids was created thousands of years ago by the ancient Greeks. And the memory palace, a place in your mind where you can store information that you need to remember, is still relevant today. It’s used not only by world record-holding memory champions but also by famous detective Sherlock Holmes. With a little planning and practice, you can build a memory palace, too.
EditPlanning Your Palace
Choose a place you can easily visualize as the blueprint for your palace. A memory palace must be a place or route that you are incredibly familiar with, like your childhood home or even your daily commute to work. It can be as small as your closet or as large as your entire neighborhood. The important thing is that you’re able to visualize the place in your head without actually seeing it in real life.
Other options for memory palace locations include school, church, work, a vacation spot you visit frequently, or a friend’s house.
The larger or more detailed the real place is, the more information you can store in the corresponding mental space.
Walk through your palace to define a route. Decide how you’ll travel through the palace in your mind rather than just picturing a fixed place. For example, instead of just imagining your house, imagine how you’d walk through it. Do you enter through the front door? What hallway do you walk down? What rooms do you go to? If you need to remember things in a certain order, follow a specific route through your palace, both in the real world and in your mind.
Beginning to practice your route now will make it easier to memorize later on, too.
Identify specific locations in the palace to store your information. Think about exactly what you’re going to be putting in your memory palace, whether it’s a number, name, or important dates you need to remember for an exam. You’ll store each piece of data in a separate location so you need to identify as many locations as you have data. Each storage spot needs to be unique so that you don’t accidentally mistake one spot for another.
If your palace itself is a route, like your drive to work, choose landmarks along the way. Some examples include your neighbor’s house, a traffic light, a statue, or a building.
If your palace is a structure, consider separating information in different rooms. Then, within each room, identify smaller locations like paintings, pieces of furniture, or decor.
Practice visualizing your finished palace by physically drawing it. On a piece of paper, sketch your memory palace or, if it’s a route, map it out. Mark the landmarks or storage locations you’ve chosen. Close your eyes and try visualizing the palace in your head. Then check your mental image against the drawing to make sure you have remembered every location and that you’ve put them in the correct order.
Picture the landmarks in as much detail as possible. Make sure your mental image includes their colors, sizes, smells, and any other defining characteristics.
If your mental image doesn’t match your drawing, review the drawing a few more times and then try again. Repeat until you can visualize it perfectly.
Another option to practice visualizing your palace is to recite it to a friend. Walk them through the route verbally while they look at the map you drew to compare.
EditFilling Your Palace with Information
Place important information in small chunks around the palace. Put a manageable amount of information in each spot. Don’t put too much information in any one place or it will be overwhelming for your brain to try to remember it all. If certain things must be kept separate from others, put them in distinctly different places.
If necessary, place things along your route in the order in which you need to remember them.
If your palace is your house, and you are trying to remember a speech, you might place the first few sentences on your doormat and the next few in the keyhole of your door.
Put your best friend’s address in the mailbox outside or on an envelope on the kitchen table. Put their phone number on the couch where you always take their phone calls.
If you’re trying to remember U.S. presidents in order, make the washing machine George Washington. Walk further into the laundry room and find a pair of long johns, which represent John Adams.
Use simple images to symbolize complicated phrases or numbers. You don’t need to put a whole string of words or numbers in a given location to be able to remember it. All you need to store in each spot is something that will jog your memory and lead you to the actual idea you’re trying to remember. For example, if you’re trying to remember a ship, picture an anchor on your couch. If the ship is the U.S.S. Wisconsin, picture the anchor made out of cheese.
Symbols are shorthand and more effective than picturing the actual thing you are trying to remember.
Don’t make your symbols too abstract. If they don’t have an obvious correlation to what you’re memorizing, it defeats the purpose. You won’t be able to make the connection between the symbol and the information.
Add people, emotional triggers, or bizarre images to remember data. The images you put in your palace should be as memorable as possible. Generally, images will be more memorable if they are out of the ordinary or attached to some strong emotion or personal experience. You might picture your mom placing her Social Security number on the kitchen table or an adorable puppy eating from a bowl that has your vocabulary test words on it.
Another example uses the number 124, which isn’t memorable. But an image of a spear shaped like the number 1 going through a swan (which looks like the number 2) and splitting the swan into 4 pieces is. It’s disturbing, but that’s what makes it stick in your mind.
You don’t have to use only positive images. Negative emotions or images, like including a politician you hate, are just as strong.
Incorporate other mnemonics to recall longer strings of information. Create a simple mnemonic by forming an acronym using the first letters of the words in a phrase or make a little rhyme containing the information you’re trying to remember. Then insert these new shortened pieces of data into your memory palace instead of the longer piece.
For instance, say you need to recall the order of notes on the lines of the treble clef (EGBDF). Imagine a little boy eating a piece of chocolate fudge, which would evoke the first-letter mnemonic “Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge.”
A rhyming mnemonic is, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” Envision Columbus holding a blue sailboat toy in your living room.
EditUsing Memory Palaces
Spend at least 15 minutes exploring your palace every day. The more you walk through and spend time in your palace, the more easily you will recall its contents on demand. You want the visualization to feel effortless and natural. Try to walk through the entire route a couple of times or block out a chunk of time each day to visualize the palace from start to finish.
For example, see James Joyce sitting on your toilet as if he belongs there and really is an integral part of your bathroom décor instead of an imagined image. This helps you remember that James Joyce was the author known for his toilet humor.
The best part is you can practice this anywhere, anytime. All you have to do is close your eyes.
Recall information by walking through your palace or looking around it. Once you have memorized the contents of your palace remember them simply by following the route or visualizing a room. With practice you will be able to start anywhere in your palace or along your route to recall a specific piece of information.
If you need to remember that your girlfriend’s birthday is March 16, simply go into your bedroom and see the soldiers “marching” on the bed to the tune of the 80s cult classic “Sixteen Candles.”
Clean up your memory palace when you need to update data. A memory palace can be reused over and over again. Simply replace the existing contents with new information. After a few practice runs, you’ll soon forget the old data and only remember the new data in its place.
If your palace is becoming too large or contains information you no longer need, remove that data from the route.
Build new palaces for different topics and information. If you have something new you’d like to commit to memory, but you don’t want to erase your current memory palace, simply build a new one. File the old palace away and start the process all over again, choosing a different place to use as your palace. Memory palaces will last as long as you want them to once they’re stored in your brain.
For example, you might have your house store the names of all the U.S. presidents. Then, your walk to work contains the phone numbers of your friends and family. And your office itself has the contents of the speech you’re giving tomorrow.
There’s no limit to how many memory palaces you can build.
Be persistent. The memory palace is a very powerful tool, but isn’t necessarily easy to master.
There are books and memory-enhancement products available to help you learn how to build a memory palace. They can be costly, however, and not effective for everyone. Practice the steps above to save yourself some money.
At the World Memory Championship, top competitors memorize the order of 20 shuffled decks of cards in an hour and more than 500 random digits in 15 minutes, among other events. They don’t have “better memories” than the rest of us. Instead, they learn and perfect a variety of mnemonics (memory aids) to improve their ability to quickly learn and recall just about anything.
With computers, there are easy ways to build your own virtual palaces or simply choose from many of the other creations already online and take a virtual tour of them whenever you like. The impact is somewhat stronger than a drawing which makes the imprint into your mind quite effortless.
There are many variations of the memory palace, such as the Roman Room and the Journey. They are all based on the Method of Loci, which which says that people are very good at remembering locations, and if you can associate abstract or unfamiliar ideas with a well-known location, you can more easily recall the things you want to.
Improve Your Memory
Remember Lists of Words With the Roman Room Trick
Memorize a List Using Numbers and Rhyming Words
Create Your Mind Palace
EditSources and Citations
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