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Everyone Can Be Sherlock Holmes, Build Your Mind Palace For Exceptional Memory

Everyone Can Be Sherlock Holmes, Build Your Mind Palace For Exceptional Memory

Sherlock Holmes has been a household fictional character for decades. Famous for being detail-minded, observant, logical, slightly (or very) sociopathic, Sherlock is also known for his memory technique — his MIND PALACE (or memory palace).

In the BBC crime drama Sherlock, Sherlock Holmes (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) mentioned the word “mind palace” numerous times. He goes there to retrieve memories and information to piece together answers to solve crimes.

In this scene in the episode The Hounds of Baskerville, Sherlock was deciphering what the word “liberty” means.

Sherlock: Get out! I need to go to my mind palace.
Lab assistant: What?
John: He’s not going to be doing much talking for a while, we might as well go.
Lab assistant: (confused) His what?
John: Mind palace.

Then Dr. Watson continued to explain to the lab assistant what a mind (or memory) palace is. A memory palace is a mental map or location that stores past memories, and it allows a person to trace back to information whenever needed without missing any bits. Sounds complicated and abstract, right?

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You may think this is the extraordinary power that Sherlock has, but long before Sherlock was even created the ancient Greek poet Simonides of Ceos invented the memory palace[1], scholastically known as the Method of loci. According to a myth, Simonides was asked to identify the remains of banqueters after the collapse of the hall. He then named each body based on where they sat in the hall. As amazing as it sounds, I’m sure some of you are still judging the idea of a memory palace.

Here is the response to all of the skeptism.

A research study [2] has proven that:

After spending six weeks cultivating an internal “memory palace”, people more than doubled the number of words they could retain in a short time period and their performance remained impressive four months later.

Yeah, so what?

We have all experienced that moment when we are in desperate need of something but we couldn’t find it because our room is too messy. It is the same for our memories. We tend to remember things in a random and chaotic way, so it becomes difficult to “search” and “trace” the memory back.

To easily grasp the concept of the memory palace, you don’t have to be a prodigy or own a specially-functioning super brain to strengthen your memory skills, and here are 4 steps to guide to a better memory:

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1. Create your own memory palace

Your memory palace could be your office, your neighborhood, or even an imaginary fantasyland with unicorns. It doesn’t matter, as long as you are familiar with the place.

For beginners, I would suggest to visualize a place where you come in to contact with every so often, the more frequently the better, like your apartment. (Okay, let’s continue to use an apartment as the example at this point.)

2. Plan a route and follow it

Imagine you are standing at the entrance of your apartment and you plan a route to walk through it. It could be: dining area, living room, bedroom, and last bathroom; or garage, laundry room, dining area, living room, patio. You decide which is the best way for you to walk through the apartment, but once you are set on a route, stick to it!

    The route you take in your memory palace.

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    3. Pay attention (or create) detailed features

    As you “walk” along the planned route, make sure to pay attention to every nook and cranny in the memory palace. Also, note every feature or item in a sequence, like left to right.

    Look at the Van Gogh painting on the wall in the dining area, take note of the antique yellow-ish lamp hanging in the ceiling of the living room, remember the old, dying plant your grandma gave you for Christmas on the patio.

    4. Associate things you want to memorize with your planned route

    Take a shopping list as an example: you need a hat, banana, and vegetables.

    Associate the things you want to memorize with the features in the palace: the hat you need with the Van Gogh painting, then banana with the lamp, and vegetables with the plant.

    If you want to specifically remember something more vividly, exaggerate it in your imagination to make a lasting impression.

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      Associate the features (left) with the items you need to memorize (right).

      Now that you have the route and features, go try it!

      Of course, what I have provided you is a simplified version of using the memory palace. There are people out there who memorize things with a different approach in their memory palaces. Some go above and beyond to create features to remember the 45 U.S. Presidents in order, from George Washington to the incumbent Donald Trump. Some prefer sticking to colors and associate items with them. Some use the linguistic approach to associate things with features that are similar in sound.

      It goes to show you can use the memory palace for anything and everything, and you are not required to stick to the approach I shared. Find the best route for your own memory palace and always practice using it, and I’m sure you can tell people you memorize like Sherlock in no time!

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      Frank Yung

      Writer. Storyteller. Foodie.

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      Published on July 29, 2020

      How to Build Strategic Thinking Skills for Effective Leadership

      How to Build Strategic Thinking Skills for Effective Leadership

      Have you been thinking of how you can be a more strategic leader during these uncertain times? Has the pandemic thrown a wrench at all your carefully laid out plans and initiatives?

      You’re not alone. The truth is, we all want some stability in our careers and teams during this disruptive pandemic.

      However, this now requires a bit more effort than before and making the leap from merely surviving to thriving means buckling down to some serious strategic thinking and maintaining a determined mindset.

      Is There a Way to Thrive Despite These Disruptions?

      Essentially – yes, although you need to be willing to put in the work. Every leader wants to develop strategic thinking skills so that they can enhance overall team performance and boost their company’s success, but what exactly does it mean to be strategic in the context of the times we live in?

      If you happen to be in a leadership position in your organization right now, you are most probably navigating precarious waters given the disruptions caused by the pandemic. There’s a lot more pressure than before because your actions and decisions will have a much greater impact these days not just on you, but also to the people who are part of your team.

      Companies often bring me in to coach executives on strategic thinking and planning. And while pre-pandemic I would usually start by highlighting the advantages of strategic thinking, nowadays, I always begin these Zoom coaching sessions by driving home the point that this pandemic has now made strategic thinking not just an option but an absolute must.

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      Assessing and making plans through the lens of a good strategy might require significant work at first. Nevertheless, you can take comfort in the fact that the rewards will far outweigh the effort, as you’ll soon see after following the 8 strategic steps I have outlined below.

      8 Steps to Strategic Thinking

      As events unfold during these strange times, you’re bound to feel wrong-footed every now and then. Being a leader during this pandemic means preparing for more change not just for you, but for your whole team as well.

      As states and cities go through a cycle of lockdowns and reopening, employees will experience the full gamut of human emotions in dizzying speed, and you will often be called on to provide insight and stability to your team and workplace.

      Strategic thinking is all about anticipation and preparation. Rather than expending your energy merely helping your company put out fires and survive, you can put the time to better use by charting out a solid plan that can protect and help you and your company thrive.

      Take the following steps to build solid initiatives and roll out successful projects:

      Step 1: Step Back, Then Set the Scope

      One of the things that leaders get wrong during their first attempt at strategic thinking is expecting that it is just another item on a checklist. The truth is, you need to take a good, long look at the bigger picture before anything else. This means decisively prioritizing and stepping away from tasks that can be delegated to others. Free up your schedule so you can focus on this crucial task at hand.

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      Then, proceed with setting the scope and the strategic goals of the project or initiative you plan to build or execute. Ask yourself the bigger question of why you need to embark on a particular project and when would be the right time to do so.

      You need to set a timeline as well, anywhere from 6 months to 5 years. Keep in mind that your projections will deteriorate the further out you go as you make longer-term plans.

      For this reason, add extra resources, flexibility, and resilience if you have a longer timeline. You should also be making the goals less specific if you’re charting it out for the longer term.

      Step 2: Make a List of Experts

      Make and keep a list of credible people who can contribute solid insight and feedback to your initiative. This could range from key stakeholders to industry experts, mentors, and even colleagues who previously planned and rolled out similar projects.

      Reach out to the people on this list regularly while you work through the steps to bring diverse insight into your planning process. This way, you will be able to approach any problem from every angle.

      Bringing key stakeholders into this initial process will also display your willingness to listen and empathize with their issues. In return, this will build trust and potentially pave the way for smoother buy-in down the line.

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      Step 3: Anticipate the Future

      After identifying your goals and gathering feedback, it’s time to consider what the future would look like if everything goes as you intuitively anticipate. Then, lay out the kind and amount of resources (money, time, social capital) that might be needed to keep this anticipated future running.

      Step 4: Brainstorm on Potential Internal and External Problems

      Next, think of how the future would look if you encountered unexpected problems internal and external to the business activity that seriously jeopardize your expected vision of the future. Write out what kind of potential problems you might encounter, including low-probability ones.

      Assess the likelihood that you will run into each problem. To gauge, multiply the likelihood by the number of resources needed to address the problem. Try to convert the resources into money if possible so that you can have a single unit of measurement.

      Then, think of what steps you can take to address these internal and external problems before they even happen. Write out how much you expect these steps might cost. Lastly, add up all the extra resources that may be needed because of the different possible problems and all the steps you committed to taking to address them in advance.

      Step 5: Identify Potential Opportunities, Internal and External

      Imagine how your expected plan would look if unexpected opportunities came up. Most of these will be external but consider internal ones as well. Then, gauge the likelihood of each scenario and the number of resources you would need to take advantage of each opportunity. Convert the resources into money if possible.

      Then, think of what steps you can take in advance to take advantage of unexpected opportunities and write out how much you expect these steps might cost. Finally, add up all the extra resources that may be needed because of the different unexpected opportunities and all the steps you committed to taking to address them in advance.

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      Step 6: Check for Cognitive Biases

      Check for potential cognitive biases that are relevant to you personally or to the organization as a whole, and adjust the resources and plans to address such errors.[1] Make sure to at least check for loss aversion, status quo bias, confirmation bias, attentional bias, overconfidence, optimism bias, pessimism bias, and halo and horns effects.

      Step 7: Account for Unknown Unknowns (Black Swans)

      To have a more effective strategy, account for black swans as well. These are unknown unknowns -unpredictable events that have potentially severe consequences.

      To account for these black swans, add 40 percent to the resources you anticipate. Also, consider ways to make your plans more flexible and secure than you intuitively feel is needed.

      Step 8: Communicate and Take the Next Steps

      Communicate the plan to your stakeholders, and give them a heads up about the additional resources needed. Then, take the next steps to address the unanticipated problems and take advantage of the opportunities you identified by improving your plans, as well as allocating and reserving resources.

      Finally, take note that there will be cases when you’ll need to go back and forth these steps to make improvements, (a fix here, an improvement there) so be comfortable with revisiting your strategy and reaching out to your list of experts.

      Conclusion

      A great way to deal with feelings of uncertainty during this pandemic is to anticipate obstacles with a good plan – and a sure road to that is practicing strategic thinking.

      In the coming months and years, you’ll need to continue navigating uncharted territory so that you can lead your team to safe waters. Regularly doing these 8 steps to strategic thinking will ensure that you can prepare for and adapt  to the coming changes with increasing clarity, perspective, and efficiency.[2]

      More on Thinking Smarter

      Featured photo credit: JESHOOTS.COM via unsplash.com

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