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Learning Techniques

Building A Palace In Your Mind – The Method of loci

A Mind Palace is a mental space where you link information you want to remember with different objects.
This effectively exploits a lot of functions of the brain that are used for absorbing new information.
With this technique some people are even able to recall several thousands of items.

Remembering the order of whole decks of cards or hundreds up to thousands of digits of Pi? Seems like only some geniuses with unusual mental abilities can pull off something impossible like this.

However, that’s actually far from the truth! Many of them rely on a special ancient technique – the Method of loci. “Loci” is the Latin word for “places” which the whole method revolves around.

The technique’s basic concept consists of first trying to image an entirely fictional or real place like your home and then linking information to the objects in that place. That way old visual and spatial memory becomes linked with new memories.

Applying this for many rooms and objects you are basically construction your own Mind Palace where you’re most important information is stored!

So before I show you how you can build your own palace for daily life and your studies, let’s closer examine why and how it even works:

As the human mind works on an associative basis, meaning that new information is usually connected with old, existing memory. The technique’s secret is therefore that it exploits the function of the human brain by combining many different fields of your memory at once!

The Construction of your Mind Palace

Enough of all the psychology – how exactly do you get started now?

Step 1: Finding your Location

Ideally, you want to start out with a location that you are already familiar with. That way you don’t have additionally think about its layout and the objects where different objects can be found.

Even more important: You don’t have to come up with an entirely new place that you additionally have to memorize!

So what makes a good location? Pretty much every location you come into contact with in daily life or have a fond memory of: Your school, childhood home, church, commute to work, even entirely fictional video game maps are possible!

Step 2: Select you Permanent Items

This step is about determining which items to use for your associations. You should establish about 5 items that are especially sticking out in each room.

This can include furniture, paintings, plants and other decorational elements. Watch out that you don’t select too similar items in either the same or over different rooms (e.g. ever chair at a table) as this might mix up your associations later.

Selecting too many items might makes it more likely to forget some of them. So rather rely on chunking them up.

Step 3: The Route to Success

Whenever you walk through your mind palace you should take exactly the same route every time! This might be easy with your commute to work or university.

When it comes to houses however, I advice you to come up with a concept that you use for every future palace you’ll create. This can be as simple as always turning to the right and going through a room in an anti-clockwise manner.

That way you are sure to come accross each item during a recall!

Step 4: Uploading Information

After all this work, now it’s time to actually add the information you want to retain!

The information could be everything from mere facts, recipes, password characters to numbers or whole speeches. Personally, it often really helped me out with chronological events in history class back when I was still in high school.

As already discussed you want to add it in an associative way. Numbers and anything as abstract as them has to be turned into visual or similar information. This information has to then be linked with your permanent item in some way that you’ll easily remember.

A few examples you could encounter on a shopping list:

  • Oranges: orange as light bulb
  • Bananas: banana sleeping in your bed
  • Cabbage: cabbage blocking your toilet
  • Eggs: Humpty Dumpty looking inside through your window
  • Cereals: TV advertisement

Don’t be afraid to go overboard! The crazier your associations are the better you’ll remember them!

Also be sure to combine different kinds of sensation. This can include heat, bright colors, strange sounds or noises or peculiar smells. Be creative and figure out what works best for you!

Step 5: Revision

This is the most important step in the whole process! After establishing your Mind Palace you don’t want to see it crumbling to pieces after all your hard work!

Therefore, especially the first few days repeat it over and over again. This leads to an even stronger memory retention! Check out the post about “Spaced Repetition” for more information on how to revise effectively.

An awesome program that assists you in doing so would be the flashcard app “Anki“. There you can create decks of flashcards for your different locations in order to revise your permanent items or corresponding associations.

I also highly advice to create a Master-Mind-Palace-List in Evernote or any other favorite note-taking app of yours! This allows you to keep track of all the locations you have created. Check it out from time to time for some revision!

That’s basically already it concerning the technique! Here are some final tips to keep you on track:

What to watch out for:

There are a few things that I picked up over the years of using this method that I still want to share with you. First some tips concerning the previous steps:

  • If it ever happens that you run out of space or permanent items at one of your places, definitely move on and create a new palace. You don’t want to reuse existing places as this might mix up your associations and memories!
  • What’s also helpful to strengthen the associative connections between your memories is drawing what you imagine while adding your information. This triggers additional areas of your brain that assist in your long-term memory retention!

Here are some more general tips to reduce your struggle:

  • Though you can easily remember huge amounts of information once you’ve established your palace, it’s a bunch of work to get there. In fact so much work, that you might be better of with other methods like Spaced Repetition which still enable you to learn lists of thing!

    Using the Method of loci therefore only makes sense for the really important information (passwords etc.) or for all the information that just doesn’t want to stick in your mind while studying.
  • The Method of loci is an advanced Mnemonic (memory technique) that takes some time to get used to. It is really beneficial for all the visual thinkers out there but it might just not be the right tool for you.

    If that’s the case you could also try out a variation of it by constructing a story instead of places. These could include everything and everyone from your close friends to famous people or animals.

    If that still doesn’t work out then you might want to try out some of the other techniques portrayed on this blog. Particularly useful are Mnemonics (memory tricks/devices).

That’s it – now you’re an expert on palace construction. Have fun studying!

Summary:

  • The human brain remembers information in an associative manner
  • Combining as many different fields of your memory and sensations makes it easier to retain information
  • Creating locations and linking old visual and spatial memory with associations of new information perfectly exploits the brain’s function
  • It is a lot of work, therefore only apply it to important or especially difficult to remember information

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