It all began with a crash…
History of the Mind Palace
The mind palace method was born in 556-468 BC Greece. A poet named Simonides got an invitation to a banquet where the top elite dined. After an unexpected shake, the building collapsed.
Simonides, the sole survivor, was asked to identify the bodies of the attendants, sadly who weren’t even identifiable because of the rubbles.
According to the story, Simonides closed his eyes and envisioned who sat where. Therefore, he was able to name every attendant, based on where they were during the meal.
Since then, the memory palace, or method of loci, has been used by many historical figures to deliver speeches, memorize names, and conduct business.
What is a Mind Palace?
The mind palace is a memory system to memorize, store, and retrieve information by placing the items you want to remember in familiar locations. Think of these locations like files you store information in.
Loci, in the “Method of Loci”, is the plural of the word locus (location). The objective of the method is to imagine yourself placing items you want to remember, on locations in an orderly fashion to make retrieval possible. For BBC’s Sherlock Holmes fans, you can check out John explain it here.
The process is similar to remembering to pick your jacket from the coat hanger once the night is over. In this case, your jacket is the information, and the coat hanger is the location (file) where it is stored
In the rest of the article, we will use the word “loci” to represent the place (you can also think of it as a file) that you will store information.
In his book “Moonwalking with Einstein”, Joshua Foer gives a great breakdown and explanation of the uses cases for the mind palace.
How does the Mind Palace work?
The mind palace technique capitalizes on our inherent ability to remember visuals, paths, and stories.
As a species, we are very visual creatures. Our ancestors were able to find their ways back to their caves after walking miles upon miles without using Google Maps. How did they do that?
They used a bunch of checkpoints along their paths when looking for a hunt or gathering food. It might have been in the form of a waterfall, a particularly large tree, or that rock they go potty behind every day.
Your memory works similarly. To remember information, you need checkpoints or loci that the information is associated with.
By associating the information you want to remember with a physical object (loci), you take advantage of your incredible visual memory.
How to build your Mind Palace?
To build a mind palace you need to select a place that you are familiar with. A place that you can navigate around even with your eyes closed.
Once you have that place, simply look around and identify interesting, or hallmark items. These will be your loci.
For example, if your place is your favorite coffee shop, your loci might be the following: A chalkboard, the coffee bar, pastries, the cash register, and the cute barista you’ve been mustering the courage to talk to for months 😉
The best part about the mind palace system is that you are completely free to use wherever and whatever you want as your palace and your loci.
A couple of extra examples would be, your room, your favorite diner, even your go-to petting zoo.
As long as you can navigate the place and choose loci from it, you can use anywhere as your memory palace.
Steps for memorizing with the Memory Palace
1 – Come up with the list of items you want to memorize. For the sake of our example, I will help you memorize the first 5 elements of the periodic table in order.
Our target list: Hydrogen, Helium, Lithium, Beryllium, and Boron
2 – You need to imagine yourself in a place that you are extremely familiar with. When you close your eyes, you must be able to see the objects surrounding you.
Example place: Your room
3 – You must select loci in the room that you will use to store information on.
Example loci: Plant, Bed, Laptop, Table, Couch
4 – Place the items you want to memorize, to the loci that you have selected from your room.
Example placing: Hydrogen on the plant. Helium on the bed… etc.
Awesome, now you are set to start using the Mind Palace method.
Applying the Memory Palace
Above is an example of a room containing the items that we listed above.
Now that you have your list of things to remember and the loci to store them on, all that is left is to tie the two together.
In this example, we will be memorizing from left to right.
Memorizing the items:
The first thing on our list is Hydrogen. To remember Hydrogen later, you will take the Hydrogen, and place it on your plant (your first loci).
Think of what has hydrogen? Water… To mentally place Hydrogen on your plant, imagine watering your plant. In this case, imagine overflooding the plant. The overflowing water is soaking your socks… Imagine the uncomfortable feeling.
Pro tip: The crazier the images, and the more senses you use, the better you can remember them later. More on this in a second…
Now you have Helium. To remember your second item, you need to place Helium on the bed. What do you associate Helium with?
Imagine tying tons of colorful balloons on the bed, seeing it lift off.
The third item is Lithium. You will associate Lithium with your Laptop. What has Lithium in it?
Your computer is low on battery and you need to connect it to the charger. You connect your laptop to the power source and BOOM! Sparks and flames everywhere, you just fried your laptop.
To place Beryllium on the table we need to be a little creative. What does Beryllium sound like?
Imagine that a bear is smashing your table. Number four is Beryllium.
Finally, you need to connect Boron with the couch.
Fun fact, Boron is an element that is forged in supernovas instead of stellar nucleosynthesis (creation of an element in a star caused by nuclear fusion).
You can imagine a supernova destroying your comfy couch (along with destroying Earth). Watch it burn into ashes until nothing is left.
Congratulations! You have officially used your mind palace to memorize the first five periodic elements.
How to recall the items from your Memory Palace?
Now that you stored all the information on the loci they should be, it is time to go back to your room and get back the items you stored there. (Or what is left of the room…)
To recall the list you stored, simply, step by step go through the loci you used to store the list.
- 1st loci = plant >> storing Hydrogen >> remembered by flooding water
- 2nd loci = bed >> storing Helium >> remembered by levitating bed
- 3rd loci = laptop >> storing Lithium >> remembered by burning laptop
- 4th loci = table >> storing Beryllium >> remembered by table destroyed by a bear
- 5th loci = couch >> storing Boron >> remembered by couch annihilated by a supernova
The mind palace is an extremely powerful tool that can help you store immense information. To store and recall information all you need to do is to form a strong bond with the item you are storing and the loci in which it is stored.
Use cases for the Mind Palace
Below you will find a list of cases that you can use the mind palace technique to memorize:
- A speech or a presentation without notes
- Grocery lists
- Specifications of products you are selling
- Information for an exam
- Poems or quotes
- A deck of cards in sequence
Tips and tricks for using the Mind Palace
When forming associations here are a couple tips to make the connections stick like glue:
Use images that are gross, funny, exaggerated either out of proportionally small or large.
As mentioned, the crazier the examples you can find, the better you will be able to remember the information.
Use more than one sense
The more senses that you involve while memorizing anything, the more connections that you are creating for your brain to remember the information.
Try to add sounds, smells, and tastes. Finally, try to add tactile sensations such as hot, cold, pain, tickling. As you add more senses the stronger the connection be.
Action items and inspiration for Mind Palaces
Action item: Create your own mind palace.
Your mind palace can be anywhere and any size you wish. It can be your room and contain 5 loci. You can use your school and have 50 locations. Totally up to you!
Decide which location you are going to use. Grab a pen and some paper and draw a sketch of the place (it can even be an empty box). Mark the positions of the loci of your choosing by writing their names on the paper. (similar to the room example above)
Congratulations! You have created your own mind palace. Don’t stop there… Create more… Create as many as you want. There are tons of things to learn, you will need the space!
My Mind Palaces for inspiration
- My house (40 loci)
- Favorite coffee shop (20 loci)
- My university (100 loci)
- My best friends house (30 loci)
I have around 20 mind palaces with hundreds of loci. I have seen people use their favorite movie scenes as mind palaces. Some use the loci on their games, one friend used Sims houses, GENIUS!
Things that you can use as loci
There is actually no limit into what you can use to be your loci but here are a few unusual ones from my palaces:
- Coffee mug
- Security guard
- Fire hydrant
If you made it this far, you’re on your way to having an amazing memory. I know it seems like many steps and honestly, at first, it is.
However, once you have your mind palaces in place, there is no limit to what you can use them to remember.
Go out there, build palaces, and keep bettering your memory!
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