You may have heard of the Memory Palace Technique before. It has made its way into popular culture quite a bit. It has been shown in the TV show Sherlock, the book Hannibal Rising, and many other places.
Reading this article, I am sure some of you have a general idea of what the memory palace is. Simply put, it is a way of permanently memorizing things by putting them in rooms in your head. These rooms you usually take from your own life, but some people have even made their own rooms or used ones from video games. With that basic information, you could probably try and make your own memory palace. However, you would not have much success. Why? Because there are some things you have to know first.
Memory Palace 101
For your first memory palaces, you are going to want to choose a place you can physically walk through. You also want to ensure you are really familiar with this place. Your house is probably your best option because you spend so much time there, and you are so familiar with it.
Next, you want to trace out a journey. A journey is just the path that you take through your house. I always recommend for people to have a rule when plotting their journeys. My rule is the right-hand rule. I always follow a path where the wall is on my right side, so I never get confused during my journey. All I ever have to do is stick to the right side of the wall and keep going forward.
The next thing you want to choose are the locations where you place stuff (also called loci). Usually, you are going to put around 8-20 locations in a room depending on the size. You always want to place your locations at some physical, memorable thing. For example, a chair, a dresser, a bed, a table, a corner, or a window are all great locations. Some bad locations would be random spots on the wall or random places in the middle of the floor. When you start out, you shouldn’t try to jam your rooms full of locations, but as you do this more, you’ll be able to squeeze more locations into a room.
Let’s do an example:
As you can see there are several things in this room that would make good locations. Let’s choose them now. First, we will have the dresser as one location, the bed as another, the plant as a third, the chair, and the bookshelf. That makes five total locations. Now for this journey, we are going to follow my right-hand rule and always stick to the right. The locations in order are:
Next, we are going to use this room to memorize something. How about the five boroughs of New York City? Apologies to anyone who already knows them. The boroughs, in no particular order, are Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens, Manhattan, and Staten Island. Now let’s assign these to each location.
- Dresser ⇒ Brooklyn
- Bed ⇒ Bronx
- Plant ⇒ Queens
- Chair ⇒ Manhattan
- Bookshelf ⇒ Staten Island
Okay, so next comes assigning memorable images to the things we want to remember.
Creating Memorable Images
This part is crucial! In order for you to remember these things, you are going to need them to be easy to remember. In order to create memorable locations, I recommend making them dramatic or unordinary. For example, if you wanted to memorize dog, choose a giant greyhound barking its head off. Or if you wanted to memorize house, choose the Simpson’s family home. I cover this topic in another post, and I recommend giving it a quick read if you have the chance. Something important to note here is that you will be placing physical things in your room, not ideas. If you want to store an idea, you will have to create a physical representation of it.
For our case, we have five images we want to create. Each image needs to be memorable and point directly towards what it represents.
- Brooklyn. For Brooklyn I will remember my friend Brooke, and I will also throw in Ted the teddy bear from the movie Ted. I will particularly remember a scene where he is making fun of girls names who have -lyn after them.
- Bronx. For this one I’ll just imagine a Bronco trotting around.
- Queens. For Queens, I’ll imagine all of the members of the band Queen.
- Manhattan. This image can just be a man in a really big hat.
- Staten Island. For Staten Island, I’ll just think of the Wu-Tang Clan because they’re from Staten Island.
Now these are the images that I think are going to work for me, but if you were to do this on your own, I would recommend making your own unique images that you will remember.
Going back to our room, we have my friend Brooke and Ted at the dresser, a Bronco on the bed, the band Queen on the plant, a man in a really big hat on the chair, and the Wu-Tang Clan on the bookshelf. Now I can easily recall the five boroughs of New York City!
But the title of this article makes a really bold claim. Remember anything forever. Does it hold up? Well sort of. I would not recommend using the memory palace technique to memorize anything. The memory palace technique is best for lists of information, while card applications are best for definitions (I’ll cover this in a future post). But there is nothing stopping you from using the memory palace for storing definitions. You will just have to make sure you’re images cover the whole definition, and you may have to use more than one location for longer definitions.
How about forever? Now this is definitely the boldest claim. But it is also true, as long as you review. I recommend two reviews of any memory palace the first day. One the second. One the seventh. One the 30th. After that, you will probably need to review it anytime you feel like you haven’t reviewed in a while. But as you review it more, you can space out your reviews more. At this point, there are some palaces I have not reviewed for years, but I still can recall them perfectly because I put in the reviews at the beginning. Also, those numbers I gave you are for shorter palaces of 5-15 locations. Once you move up, you will have to review more up front, but after that just follow the same review schedule.
And remember, if you just learned the memory palace technique, you’ll probably have to put in some extra work. Your images won’t be perfect, and your spatial recall will not be on point yet. So don’t get frustrated if you have to review a little more when first starting out. It’s normal, and everyone has to do it.
From using memory palaces for years I have picked up some tips along the way that will definitely be helpful for you on your journeys!
Firstly, incorporating your images into the physical places they are going is incredibly helpful. It helps with the spatial aspect of your palaces and really solidifies the memories. On the flipside, images that are forced into a particular location are usually the hardest to remember.
Don’t reuse palaces! This is a great way to get confused and jumble up all your information. It is best to just use a palace to store one thing, and leave it at that.
Create great images the first time. If you create a bad image, you are never going to remember what it represents and you are going to have to make a new image. Not only does this mess with review times, but you also are technically reusing a location, so you will have to review extra to ensure that you don’t get confused. It is always best to spend a little more time up front creating images, than have to spend a lot of time trying to tweak things on the back end.
Start with simple lists and build up to more complex ones. Yes, it may be tempting to memorize all the presidents in order, but please don’t make your first list longer than 10. If you make your first list too long, you are probably going to create a long bad list because you got bored, and none of your images will stick. Concentrate really hard on your first list and keep it short so you don’t give up. I’ll link some good first things to memorize below.
Don’t create too many palaces at once. I’m all for ambitious projects, but make sure to start an ambitious project that you can follow through on. Do not dive head first into memorizing the history of twenty different European countries. You may be motivated for the first day, but when it comes time to review, you will feel really bored. Push your limits slowly, and only move a little out of your comfort zone each time. Next thing you know, you will memorize all the world’s countries in a day like it was nothing!
Wrapping It Up
So now you know how to memorize a list, go out and get practice! Choose a small list and memorize it with a journey through your house. Can’t think of anything to memorize? Here are some short lists of relevant things.
Thanks for reading! If you have any questions, just comment below!