The Memory Palace is one of the most powerful memory techniques for memorizing complex or long sets of data. It’s not only effective, but with practice, not hard to learn.
The Memory Palace has been used since ancient Rome, and is responsible for some incredible memory feats. Eight-time world memory champion Dominic O’Brien was able to memorize 54 decks of cards in sequence (that’s 2808 cards), viewing each card only once. There are countless other similar achievements attributed to people using the Memory Palace technique or variations of it. Once upon a time Joshua Foer, the author of “Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything” wrote an article called Secrets of Mind Gamer which was published in the New York Times which lead me to discovering the book.
Of course, championship memory contests do not peak most of our interests, that is, until you realize people are teaching themselves to have photographic memories. The applications of using the Memory Palace technique is incredibly effective with a variety of different areas. Those include: learning a foreign language, memorizing a presentation you’re about to deliver, remembering people’s names (super important), credit card numbers, combinations, license plates, preparing for exams, party tricks and many others — even if all you want is to jog your memory (my main goal is to rapidly be able to memorize information and retain that information for business).
The Memory Palace
The Memory Palace technique is based on the fact that we’re extremely good at remembering places we know. Don’t you find it strange that you can remember everything that happened in detail down to the moment for the last days, weeks, months, but you can’t remember a 10 digit phone number? When a ‘Memory Palace’ is referenced, think of it as a metaphor for any well-known place that you’re able to easily visualize. For me, I found choosing one our houses works well because I’ve spent significant time there and know all the little details about each house..That said, it could be any place or set of places you know very well. Walking into work, the library, a stadium, local restaurant or store, where you bike or run, etc.. The key is that you know it very well so you can begin to assign detail to the path as you imagine and revisit the place in your mind. .
5 Steps to Use the Memory Palace Technique
1. Choose Your Palace
First and foremost, you’ll need to pick a place that you’re very familiar with. The effectiveness of the technique relies on your ability to mentally see and walk around in that place with ease. You should be able to ‘be there’ at will using your imagination only.
A good first choice could be your own home, for example. Remember that the more vividly you can visualize that place’s details, the more effective your memorization will be.
Also, try to define a specific route in your palace instead of just visualize a static scene. So, instead of simply picturing your home, imagine a specific walk through in your home. This makes the technique much more powerful, as you’ll be able to recall items in a specific order, as we’ll see in the next step.
Here are some additional suggestions that work well as Memory Palaces, along with possible routes:
- Familiar streets in your city. Possible routes could be your drive to work, or any other sequence of streets you’re familiar with.
- A current or former school. You can imagine the pathway from the classroom to the library (or to the bar on the other side of the street, if that’s the route imprinted on your mind).
- Place of work. Imagine the path from your cubicle to the coffee machine or to your boss’s office (it shouldn’t be hard to choose).
- Scenery. Imagine walking on your neighborhood or the track you use when jogging in a local park.
2. List Distinctive Features
Now you need to pay attention to specific features in the place you chose. If you picked a walk through in your home, for example, the first noticeable feature would probably be the front door.
Now go on and mentally walk around your Memory Palace. After you go through the door, what’s in the first room?
Analyze the room methodically (you may define a standard procedure, such as always looking from left to right, for example). What is the next feature that catches your attention? It may be the central table in the dining room, or a picture on the wall.
Continue making mental notes of those features as you go. Each one of them will be a “memory slot” that you’ll later use to store a single piece of information.
3. Imprint the Palace on Your Mind
For the technique to work, the most important thing is to have the place or route 100% imprinted on your mind. Do whatever is necessary to really commit it to memory. If you’re a visual kind of person, you probably won’t have trouble with this. Otherwise, here are some tips that help:
- Physically walk through the route repeating out loud the distinctive features as you see them.
- Write down the selected features on a piece of paper and mentally walk through them, repeating them out loud.
- Always look at the features from the same point of view.
- Be aware that visualization is a just a skill. If you’re still having trouble doing this, you may want to develop your visualization skills first.
- When you believe you’re done, go over it one more time. It’s really important to “overlearn” your way in your Memory Palace.
Once you’re confident that the route is stamped on your mind, you’re set. Now you have your Palace, which can be used over and over again to memorize just about anything you want.
Now that you’re the master of your palace, it’s time to put it to good use.
Like most memory enhancement systems, the Memory Palace technique works with the use of visual associations. The process is simple: you take a known image — called the memory peg— and combine with the element you want to memorize. For us, each memory peg is a distinctive feature of our Memory Palace.
The memory pegging technique is the same one described in the article ‘Improve Your Memory by Speaking Your Mind’s Language‘, so if you haven’t read it yet, I highly advise you to do so.
As described in that article, there’s a ‘right way’ of doing visual associations:
Make it crazy, ridiculous, offensive, unusual, extraordinary, animated, nonsensical — after all, these are the things that get remembered, aren’t they? Make the scene so unique that it could never happen in real life. The only rule is: if it’s boring, it’s wrong.
Personally, I find that blood, people really dressed up in avant-garde or that I don’t want to see naked and mythical creatures really makes things stick in my mind.
Although we can use the technique to memorize tons of information, let’s start with something very simple: using our ‘Home’ Memory Palace to memorize a groceries list. Let’s suppose the first item in that list is ‘bacon’:
Mentally transport yourself to your Memory Palace. The first feature you see in your mind is your home’s front door. Now, in a ludicrous way, visually combine ‘bacon’ with the sight of your front door. How about giant bacon strips covering lady gaga like a bacon dress.. Is that remarkable enough? I think the answer is unfortunately, yes.
Now open the door and keep walking, following the exact same route you defined before. Look at the next distinctive feature, and associate it with the second item to be memorized. Suppose the next item is ‘eggs’ and the second feature is ‘vintage warhol print’. Well, at this point you already know what to do… The process is always the same, so just keep mentally associating images until there are no items left to memorize.
5. Visit Your Palace
At this point, you are done memorizing the items. If you’re new to the technique, though, you’ll probably need to do a little rehearsal, repeating the journey at least once in your mind.
If you start from the same point and follow the same route, the memorized items will come to your mind instantly as you look at the journey’s selected features. Go from the beginning to the end of your route, paying attention to those features and replaying the scenes in your mind. When you get to the end of your route, turn around and walk in the opposite direction until you get to the starting point.
In the end, it’s all a matter of developing your visualization skills. The more relaxed you are, the easier it will be and the more effective your memorization will be.
What I like about the Memory Palace (and other pegging methods) is that it’s not only extremely effective, but also can be fun to learn use. I recently lead a whole team of people through memorizing 20 numbers. They picked it up in less than 5 minutes.
With just a little experience, the lists you memorize using the Memory Palace will stay fresh in your mind for many days, weeks or even more.
Also have in mind that you can create as many palaces as you want, and that they can be as simple or as elaborate as you wish to make them. Each of them is a “memory bank”, ready to be used to help you memorize anything, anytime.
Associating physical locations with mental concepts is the most powerful memory combination I know. Most other memory techniques (supposedly more sophisticated than the Memory Palace) are, at least in part, based on the concept of physical locations being used as memory pegs.
How far do you think you can push it?