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?
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, 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  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:
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.
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.
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!
|||^||Smithsonian: The Secrets of Sherlock’s Mind Palace|
|||^||The Guardian: Ancient technique can dramatically improve memory, research suggests|