Memory palaces

Memory palaces


The memory palace method, also called the “loci” method, is the oldest memory trick in the book, with a track record of over 2000 years of success.

Here’s how you can create a memory palace and use it to remember anything really quickly.

1. Choose a building and a specific route

Classically, a memory palace is actually a real building, one you’ve been in and are intensely familiar with. This is ideal, because you know it so well that any memory attached to the rooms in the building are vivid.

The more vivid your memories of the details of that building are, the more things you can put into the mental version (the memory palace).

Then, choose a route through the building that you can easily remember. This might be your personal journey from your bed to the breakfast table, or it might be a trip from the front porch into the house and upstairs to the attic.

2. Place a sequence of ideas through the palace

Memory palaces are ideal for remembering any sequence of ideas, for example:

  • The points in a speech (a very common use; I often use memory palaces to memorize my scripts for videos)
  • A grocery list (just in case you’re all out of paper and your smart phone doesn’t work)
  • The contents of a book (because there’s nothing more fun to do with your free time than to sit under a tree and re-read Harry Potter in your head)

Take your list of ideas, sequentially think through each location in the memory palace, and mentally attach each item to a location.

Make the connection as memorable as possible, no matter how bizarre the image has to be in order for you to remember it.

If you have to remember a list of friends, you could place your first friend at the front door getting hit in the elbow by the door knob. The second friend might be at the coat closet… or maybe stuck in the coat closet screaming at the top of his lungs to get out. The third friend might be in the kitchen with his thumb stuck in the oven door or trapped in the refrigerator.

Yep, remember, the point is to make it memorable. Once you visualize it, how are you going to forget which friend you bruised with the front door?

If you think this is unconventional, you’re wrong. People have been mentally beating up their friends and trapping them in refrigerators for millennia; memory palaces were first used before Christ, and it is well documented that mnemonists have classically used oddball (and worse) images to make things memorable… even Scripture passages and sermons.

3. To recall, mentally retrace the path

To remember your list of items, think through the whole path from beginning to end and visualize what was in each location. If you remember the path and have made your images at each location memorable enough, you should have no problem recalling every image.

Again, this is the most solidly time-tested mnemonic device in the book. If you are skeptical, enthralled, or curious, or have any questions about memory tactics, make sure to leave me a question at the podcast page (or shoot me an email using the blue-green link on the right side of the page).