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 before we learn about the memory palace.
How many times have you gotten home from the grocery store to realize you forgot something? What about that new person’s name from work? How about the new words from your language learning class?
While these are all minor inconveniences, all these things have one thing in common: they rely on our ability to memorize things.
There’s nothing wrong with using technology to create lists to help us with our short and long-term memory, but it comes at a price as places, dates, specific items, and more become more difficult to remember without technology as an aid.
Thankfully, the memory palace is here to help. It is immensely powerful in unlocking memories and being able to retain them with ease. By learning what a memory palace is and using the technique, you can change your life and remember more of what you need to.
Table of Contents
What Is the Memory Palace?
Another name for this technique is the Method of Loci or the mind palace, though most people will call it the memory palace. It’s a memorization technique that was first developed in ancient Greece. Back then, paper was expensive and limited, so people relied heavily on their own memories to retain and recall information.
You can see an example of how this method works below:
Going further into the technique, many people see a 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. 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. That feat is only 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, a 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.
5 Steps to Build and Use the Memory Palace
There are many practical methods for a memory palace outside of setting world records. You can use this technique to recall long to-do lists, grocery lists, names, a foreign language and more.
Here’s how to build a memory palace to use in real life.
1. Select Your Palace
Before even starting, you need to have a place in mind that you are familiar with. This technique works best if you can mentally see and walk around the area effortlessly. It’s why I suggest your office, home, school, or a familiar route you walk every day.
You should define a particular route within your memory palace. It’s helpful to keep the route simple, by going from room to room, for example. Or if you are in one particular room, going around the room to familiar objects.
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, distinctive features could include the front door, basement, kitchen, office, etc.
If you choose to stick to one room, find distinctive objects. For example, if you want to use your bedroom as your memory palace, you can use your bed, dresser, TV, closet, etc. as the distinctive features.
The idea behind all of this is to create memory slots. These are clues that will 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.
3. Imprint Your Palace
For this to have any effectiveness, you need to have both the place and the route 100% imprinted in your head. For those of you who are exceptional at visualization, this shouldn’t be a huge struggle.
However, for those who do, consider these tips:
- Walk the actual route physically when possible, 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.
When you think you have your memory palace 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. 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.
For more visualization techniques to practice, check out this article.
4. Begin Association
Now that the palace is in your mind, and you can 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 the memory palace.
To see this in practice, let’s go with a simplistic approach. After all, while we can use this palace 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, let’s say you chose your house as your palace.
Need to pick up some apples? Visualize the apples sitting on your bed.
How about ground beef? Visualize ground beef filling the bathtub.
All of these things physically wouldn’t happen and can serve as mental cues. They give you pause and remind you to pick up those specific items as you walk through each room of your memory palace at the grocery store.
5. Visit Your New Palace
The last step is to spend some time in the palace. 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 definitely helps.
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 the easier it’ll be to memorize things in the future.
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 more and more inconveniences.
Like your body, make a habit of developing your mind. The memory palace could be just the thing you need to get started.