In the modern world of omnipresent information access, memorization using a Memory Palace is almost a thing of the past.
And this shift has occurred very quickly.
Little more than a decade ago, it wasn’t uncommon that a person had to memorize a sizable list of phone numbers belonging to partners, siblings, parents and close friends.
Now Many Of Us Forget Our Own Cell Phone Numbers!
Despite this fact, there are situations in the modern day that still require memorization.
Perhaps phone numbers and historical facts are better left to Google. But in reality, not everything can and should be searched via a computer.
A notable example which is becoming conversant is “language” – which requires that you memorize a huge amount of vocabulary and grammar. Until now, there isn’t a technology effective enough to replace human ability to learn and master a language.
In the past, having to memorize information was not optional because information wasn’t easily accessible. Up until the 19th century, paper was expensive, especially for quantities required to make a book. To add to it was that not many people could read and write so the ability and need to memorize and recall information was critical.
Why The Greeks Adored Memory Palace Science
That’s why a powerful memorization method was adored by the ancient Greeks. This technique is used today by memory experts to commit huge amounts of information to mind.
The only problem is this:
An abundance of terminology has emerged that all means essentially the same thing. For example, you’ll here some memory experts call the Memory Palace technique the Mind Palace. This term appears to come from the world of Sherlock Holmes, and it’s not really accurate.
After all, this detective is a fictional character, and we’re here to optimize our memory based on what is really scientifically possible, not fantastically described. Personally, I also dislike the idea of associating these techniques with crime, and Sherlock Holmes is a drug addict. Finally, the whole notion that the information is in our ‘mind’ is obvious, but also a deviation from the fact that this technique uses what is already in our memory to help us remember more.
You might also hear the Memory Palace technique called the Journey Method, the Roman Room or a related term like the Pegword Method. All of these have one thing in common: They are using space itself as a mnemonic.
The fact that all of these techniques draw upon your spatial memory explains why “Memory Palace” is in fact the better term: No matter what you call the technique, it’s a lot easier to use if you are basing it on space that is already remembered and easily recalled. This feature was noted by Thales of Miletus who lived during the pre-Socratic Era. He pointed out that “space is ultimate because it contains all things.”
And thanks to Thales and a long line of people who have used these techniques, we have an abundance of Ancient Greek facts and instructions that have been handed down, anyone can learn to use a Memory Palace at any time.
This memorization technique is called the Method of Loci, or more commonly the “Memory Palace”. It is a memorization method that not only has held the test of time, but has been shown to be effective through modern-day studies.
You may even have heard of the Memory Palace technique without realizing it because it has been featured in multiple books and media.
The Silence Of The Memory Palace
In Fiction And Movies
For example, the technique was employed by the fictional serial killer Hannibal Lecter in the novel series Hannibal written by an American author Thomas Harris.
In several passages of the novel, Lecter was described as mentally walking through an elaborate Memory Palace to remember facts. That’s the basics of the Memory Palace technique.
Although relatively unknown, this method can be a game-changing technique for people who want to improve their ability to retain large amounts of information.
You might be a student trying to master information for an exam, or an aspiring polyglot trying to learn Italian. You might be aging and finding it more difficult to recall routine information.
Whatever memorization challenge you face, the Memory Palace technique is a proficient way to finally help you achieve your goals.
How the Memory Palace Technique Evolved
The origin of the Memory Palace technique was traced to ancient Greece. As mentioned earlier, in the olden days, people had higher incentives to create effective methods of retaining information. Writing and writing materials were difficult to access.
The Memory Palace technique was introduced to the ancient Romans and the world via Greek rhetorical treatises.
The Roman Cicero described the Memory Palace technique in his writings on rhetoric, called De Oratore.
In De Oratore, Circero claims that his Memory Palace method originated from the Greek poet Simonides. Simonides was commissioned to recite a poem praising a group of nobles at a banquet. After the recitation, Simonides left the hall and shortly after the edifice collapsed and killed all the people in the banquet.
The bodies were so badly mangled that not even close relatives could identify the corpses of their own people. However, Simonides was able to identify each of the corpses by name based on their location. Based on this experience, Simonides devised the Memory Palace technique (Bower 1970).
Whether this story is reality or myth, it illustrates the basic idea behind the Memory Palace technique. Luckily, you don’t have to attend a tragic banquet to master the technique and start using it to improve your information retention.
For a true story that will rivet you from beginning to end, check out The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci.
How to Create a Memory Palace
The basic idea behind the Memory Palace Technique is to associate pieces of information with a location that you are very familiar with. A prime example would be of your home.
If you’d like some free Memory Palace worksheets and a concise memory improvement video course, do this now:
If you close your eyes right now, you can probably picture your home with a high degree of detail. You know where the furniture is found, what colors the walls are, and even where small objects are placed.
The Memory Palace technique has to do with associating information with specific areas of that familiar location.
As you walk through that location, you place pieces of information that you wish to memorize in specific areas. When you want to recall the information, you go through that mental route, and the information will be easily accessible.
The technique is made more effective when you add surprising or out-of-the normal features to the information.
For example, assuming you would like to memorize this sequence of words:
You could imagine yourself at your front door, with a hero standing next to you. Here you’ve made an association between your door and a hero.
You can increase your ability to memorize and retain this by making the memory more distinctive or unusual. For example, you could imagine the hero opening the door for you, or banging on it before you enter.
You then walk down your hall, and before your feet is a drill. To increase the power of this imagery, imagine that it is turned on and you have to leap to avoid being hurt.
You then turn the corner and see a spacecraft flying out of the window leaving behind itself a trail of glitter.
Finally, you sat down on the couch, and as your bottom touches the cushion, your favorite song starts playing. You might even imagine the word “music” written on the cushion before you sit.
To get started creating a Memory Palace, do this now:
- Draw a floor plan of a familiar location.
- Create a journey that does not lead you into a dead end.
- Make sure that your journey is linear so that you don’t create confusion by crossing your own path.
- Don’t over clutter your first Memory Palace.
- Number each station and create a top-down list to help you mind remember the journey better. Optional: Use a Magnetic 00-99 P.O.A. to assign an image to each Magnetic Station
- Use the Memory Palace as quickly as possible with information that will improve your life.
- Use the Memory Palace to invoke the Primacy Effect and Recency effect for each Magnetic Station by using the Serial-Positioning Effect.
- Create more Memory Palaces and repeat the process, always taking care to memorize information that makes your life better professionally and personally.
The Definitive Guide To Reusing A Memory Palace
A lot of people ask me about using their Memory Palace a second or third time.
It is possible, but it can be a bit finicky. To explain, please check out this thorough guide on the topic:
As you can see, not even the most skilled memory experts reuse Memory Palaces. If you set yourself up correctly, it’s not really necessary.
That said, doubling up does make for great brain exercise, and that’s usually the way I treat the practice. I think it might have helped me experience a breakthrough with aphantasia, actually.
But what this question has taught me the most over the years is that many students of memory improvement put the cart before the horse. They worry about advanced skills before they’ve mastered the fundamentals – advanced skills that the pros have already determined might be great, but aren’t really worth using.
Likewise, people sometimes worry about what will happen if the furniture in their Memory Palace moves around.
I understand why they are concerned, but it’s the kind of question that just doesn’t arise when you have the fundamentals mastered. Please make sure that you devote yourself to the loci method thoroughly and completely. It will serve you well for the rest of your life.
The Memory Palace Technique Is Not Necessarily Visual
As you can see, the technique seems to require a vivid visual imagination. A lot of people get this wrong, confusing iconic memory with the fantasy of photographic memory.
However, when done correctly using all of the Magnetic Modes, you can memorize a very large amount of information relatively quickly without necessarily seeing the Memory Palace in your mind.
Here’s an infographic to teach you all about the different ways that your brain perceives information:
Keeping the full range of your Magnetic Modes in mind, you can use any home or location with which you are familiar.
You can even use small areas, such as the inside of a broom closet. You can even use your own body, attaching information to different limbs.
Just keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to see the Memory Palace. You can feel it, hear it, taste it, smell it and even just think about it.
If any of this seems odd, continue reading to be convinced of how seriously well the Memory Palace technique works. You might want to see just how well the Memory Palace can work in combination with Mind Mapping too.
The Science behind the Memory Palace Technique
Many studies have been conducted to analyze the effectiveness of the Memory Palace technique. It’s all based on the scientific fact that your brain and spatial memory perceive space as a kind of image.
Check out this lecture with memory expert Stephen Kosslyn for more information about how that works:
The answer is a resounding “yes!”
Incredible Experiments with Memory Palaces and Students
In a study conducted by J. Ross and K. A. Lawrence in 1968, the Memory Palace technique was tested on a group of 40 students.
The students were asked to memorize a list of 40 items. They were given only a few minutes to do so, yet were able to recall an average of 38 out of 40 items upon immediate recall.
The next day, the average recall rate dropped to 34 out of 40 items – still very impressive!
Nature Magazine did an investigation of so-called superior memorizers (SM) in a 2002 paper (Maguire et al). They studied a group of 10 champions who had competed in the World Memory Championships.
The researchers first wanted to know if these SMs had some special natural advantages that other people do not have, such as a higher IQ.
They first found out that SMs did not have exceptional cognitive abilities. In fact, they did not even show superior performance on visual memory tasks (for example, the recall of faces).
The paper further investigated the brain structure of these SMs, and found out that their brains were not significantly different from average brains (Maguire et al 2002).
The scientists also performed functional MRI scans to see if the SMs brains were activated differently when actively memorizing.
Here the SMs brains differed from normal brains – SM’s brains activated particularly when memorizing (Maguire et al 2002).
Significantly, scientists found out that SMs all used mnemonic techniques to aid in their memorization. Nine out of ten of these subjects were specifically using the Memory Palace technique (Maguire et al 2002).
Note: Some of people call it the Mind Palace method, but the basics are the same.
Plus, the different activation patterns observed were associated to the fact that SMs used mnemonic techniques, namely the Memory Palace technique, to memorize information (Maguire et al 2002).
No Need For A Huge IQ To Use A Memory Palace!
It’s not that SMs are smarter or have bigger brains than the rest of us. It’s that they use mnemonics, and specifically the Memory Palace technique to memorize semantic information.
That is the secret behind their impressive abilities. And because these SMs had been practicing the technique for a little over 11 years on average, they were really good (Maguire et al 2002).
This suggests that anyone with average abilities can use this technique to improve his/her memory.
And once you know the drill, it’s really just a matter of spending some time with a few solid Memory Palace training exercises. Like these:
Even if you are not seeking to learn large amounts of information, the Memory Palace technique still has something to offer. There is even evidence that the Memory Palace technique can help maintain a healthy brain during old age.
As MMM student Sunil Khatri has explained, the Memory Palace is also great for language learning, including the difficulties of Japanese.
Benefits of the Memory Palace
Technique for the Aging Brain
As we age, our memories become weaker. In elderly people, this might lead to a frustrating situation where they are struggling to recall routine information.
There has been much study on age-related memory loss, but so far not many effective solutions to this problem.
Happily, the Memory Palace technique holds promise in aiding the enhancement of memory in the aging brain.
One study conducted in Norway in 2010 employed expert instructors, who taught the Memory Palace technique to 23 volunteers. The average age of these volunteers was 61 (Engvig et al 2010).
After training, these volunteers were able to memorize a list of 30 words in sequential order in under 10 minutes – impressive!
A control group, a set of volunteers of the same average age, sex and education was included in the study. They were not trained in the Memory Palace technique, and were instructed to memorize the list as well (Engvig et al 2010).
Afterwards, both groups were released into the world to live normally for eight weeks.
When they returned to the study, researchers challenged both groups to a recall task.
They first flashed a list of 15 unrelated words, each for only a second. The volunteers were then instructed to recall the words in order.
Researchers then showed them a list of 30 words. Half of these words had been displayed in the initial 15 word list while the other half was completely new.
The volunteers were asked to pick out words that had previously appeared and also identify their correct position in the first list (Engvig et al 2010).
Volunteers trained in the Memory Palace technique outperformed the non-trained volunteers for recognizing the position of the words (Engvig et al 2010).
The study also measured the amount of brain thinning that occurred in the trained versus untrained groups of volunteers. Normal age causes the brain to shrink.
The brain of the individuals showed thickening in areas of the brain which were key for visual abstract memory (Engvig et al 2010).
What should we conclude from these findings? It’s clear that using a Memory Palace makes for great brain exercise.
Why The Memory Palace Technique Is Not Snake Oil
This research and others like it have shown that the Memory Palace technique is not snake oil.
Sadly, most adults in the modern world are not encouraged to use their imagination. It might therefore be slightly challenging for someone newly using the technique to really get into it, especially if they don’t have the kind of Memory Palace example you can get when you take my free memory improvement course.
However, after practice, many find out that this memory technique is not only effective in memorization, but is also very engaging. Certainly more engaging than the traditional rote memorization technique, especially when you use Magnetic Note Taking as part of the process.
With some practice, you’ll be impressing all of your friends and family with how good your memorization has gotten in no time. And if it’s still not clear how and why this incredible tool works so well, here are 5 Memory Palace Examples that make everything clear.
References & Further Resources
Bower, G. H., “Analysis of a Mnemonic Device: Modern psychology uncovers the powerful components of an ancient system for improving memory” American Scientist, Vol. 58, No. 5, pp. 496-510, September–October 1970 Web. 21 Jan. 2016..
Engvig, Andreas, Anders M. Fjell, Lars T. Westlye, Torgeir Moberget, Øyvind Sundseth, Vivi Agnete Larsen, and Kristine B. Walhovd. “Effects of Memory Training on Cortical Thickness in the Elderly.” NeuroImage 52.4 (2010): 1667-676. 1 Oct. 2010. Web. 22 Jan. 2016.
Fan, Shelley. “Can a Mnemonic Slow Memory Loss with Age?” Scientific American Blog Network. 20 Mar. 2014. Web. 22 Jan. 2016.
Maguire, Eleanor A., Elizabeth R. Valentine, John M. Wilding, and Narinder Kapur. “Routes to Remembering: The Brains behind Superior Memory.” Nature Neuroscience Nat Neurosci 6.1 (2002): 90-95. Web. 22 Jan. 2016.