Building a Memory Palace?
A memory palace…. A fancy place to store memories? Well yes, in way.
A memory palace is an imaginary location in your mind where you can store mnemonic images. Mnemonic images are constructed in the form of a picture that promotes recall when we need it, and research shows that the sillier or out of the box the image the better.
The Memory Palace is a process that dates back to the ancient Greeks who used this technique to help encode their memories and make them easier to remember and recall. The basic idea behind the Memory Palace Technique is to associate pieces of information with a familiar location, for example your home or somewhere you visit often and know very well.
According to Barbara Oakley, who has a Ph.D. in systems engineering and has written five books on learning techniques, rapid-recall memorisation engages a different part of the brain than more complex memories do.
“When you practice a lot with what you are trying to remember, your memory links get shifted over from declarative or ‘hippocampal’ neural links to become procedural or ‘basal ganglia’ links,” she says. “Procedural links are a lot faster to access. So the memory palace can be helpful in allowing you to memorize a vocabulary list, but it will not allow you to develop the kind of memory links you need to become an intuitive computer programmer, or to speak a foreign language with ease.” – Oakley
Using this technique is about meaningfully placing information into mental spaces that exist inside your brain.
Also known as the Method of Loci, this memorisation technique taps into our brain’s ability to store location-based information and applies it to new data that we file away for later.
As we walk through this location, we place pieces of information that we wish to memorise into specific areas. When we want to recall the information, we simply go through that mental route, kind of like a map.
For example, assuming you would like to memorise this sequence of words:
You could imagine yourself in your kitchen, with a dog standing next to you. Here you’ve made an association between your kitchen and a dog. You could then walk towards your dining room where you see a toy plane on the floor which you have to quickly sidestep to avoid walking on.
You walk past the dining room and turn the corner because you hear music coming from the study which you hum along to (sensory) and finally you walk into your study.
Populating your memory palace with information is the most crucial part. We must begin by creating a specific, memorable link between what we want to memorise and its corresponding place in our location. Remember to ascribe an action or event to their relationship that’s funny, bizarre, or otherwise surprising – that is the key.
So how do we get started?
The Steps to our Memory Palace
A memory palace must be a place you are incredibly familiar with, like your home or even your daily commute to work.
Step 1: For your first memory palace, try choosing a place that you know well.
Step 2: Instead of just imagining your house, imagine how you’d walk through it.
Plan out the entire route - front door, coat rack, entry table, bathroom, sink, kitchen, study, living room, etc.
Step 3: Think about exactly what you’re going to be putting in your memory palace. Take a list of something that you want to memorise whether it’s a number, name, or important dates you need to remember. It could even be a complex cake recipe, a shopping list, names of new work colleagues, etc
Step 4: Begin with a couple of items and place a mental image of them in each location within your memory palace. Try to exaggerate the images of the items and have them interact with the location. For example, if the first item is eggs and the first location in your memory palace is the front door, picture a dozen eggs hanging from the handle of your front door. If the second item is baking soda imagine a tin of baking soda inside the coat pocket of a jacket hanging on your coat rack, the third item might be cocoa powder which you can smell before you even see it sitting on your entry table and so on.
Step 5: Make the mnemonic images come alive with your senses. The images you put in your palace should be as memorable as possible. Can you smell the baking soda? Taste the cocoa?
Step 6: Increase the visuals!
Draw out your memory palace. Mark the landmarks or locations along the route. Close your eyes and visualise the entire palace in your mind.
Tips for building the best palace
- Don’t overwhelm the mind. Put a manageable amount of information in each spot.
- If necessary, place things in the order in which you need to remember them.
- Use simple images to symbolise complicated phrases or numbers, for example if you are trying to remember the capital cities of Europe, you might imagine each room in your home as a specific country – picture Belgium as the fridge in your kitchen, picture the capital city as Brussel sprouts (Brussels)
- Incorporate other mnemonics to recall longer strings of information. For anyone who studied music we all remember Every Good Boys Deserve Fanta (or Fudge) depending on what part of the world you grew up in! And for piano students, All Cows Eat Grass. This is a proven method in remembering the notes on the lines of the treble clef and bass clef. (EGBDF) (ACEG)
- Visit your memory palace every day, the more you walk through the better you can recall what you need when you need it.
- Build new palaces for different topics and information.
- The memory palace is a very powerful tool, but isn't necessarily easy to master. Don’t give up.
Books we recommend
Need a little guidance? Here are some of the best books written on enhancing our memory and the Memory Palace Technique.
Read any already? Click the book below and give them a review on our book review page.
How to Learn Almost Anything in 48 Hours - Tansel Ali
How To Build a Mnemonics Memory Palace – Sjur Midttun