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The Memory Palace For Programming: 5 Examples for Coders

Memory Palace for programming feature image of a young smiling computer programmer with a laptopPeople often ask me about how to use the Memory Palace for programming languages, especially since there’s so much abstract syntax to learn.

Would-be and even established coders worry that ancient memory techniques won’t help, often because they think of mnemonics themselves as inherently abstract.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, you’ll see in a minute that some scholars credit one of history’s greatest mnemonists with creating a mnemonic device that led to programmatic thinking in the first place.

The key is to understand how to use the Memory Palace for coding in the most optimal way.

Just like programming itself, the Memory Palace tradition is worthy of study.

But not hard and complicated study. It’ll take 2-5 hours tops to develop your mnemonic systems for making massive leaps in your programming knowledge.

I can make that promise because I’ve been teaching memory techniques for over a decade and it has helped many students of programming before.

Ready for the Memory Palace technique to help you too?

Let’s dive in!

Why The Memory Palace Technique Is Perfect For Programming

Chances are that you’re reading this page because you already know what the method of loci is and have heard people talk about the Memory Palace for programming.

Briefly, a Memory Palace is a mental version of a familiar location. If you wanted to commit a list of computing and IT abbreviations to memory, all you would do is place an association in your mental recreation of a room that helps you bring back the information.

Let’s start very simply with 1GL as a mnemonic example related to the world of software. As an abbreviation, IGL is used to describe a first-generation programming language.

Memory Palace for programming example for 1GL
This simple, introductory mnemonic example of using a Memory Palace for programming shows the placement of familiar figures in a room to help remember an important computing abbreviation

To remember this abbreviation, you would first bring a corner of a room to mind, or a piece of furniture. Then you might a candle. It looks like a 1 and putting it in the hand of Gillian Anderson from X-Files will remind you of GL. If you imagine her programming with a first generation language on an old computer, you’ll easily recall the information.Ramon Llull From the Ars Magna to Artificial Intelligence book cover

The reason this technique relates inherently to programming is that you’re literally “entering” or “programming” a code into your memory. It’s like the binary code that helps produce a display, which in this case is the information you want to get back.

The authors of Ramon Lull: From the Ars Magna to Artificial Intelligence credit Llull for designing the memory wheel technique as an early form of mental computation. His wheels help you compress larger ideas down into small spaces.

You then later unpack the compressed associations to retrieve the complete data set of terms.

The Memory Palace technique refines how this form of placing and retrieving mnemonic images works. Everyone from Robert Fludd, Giordano Bruno and contemporary computer scientists like the memory athlete Nelson Dellis have “programmed” lots of information into their minds.

The Benefits Of Memory Palaces For Programming

Before we get into some examples of using the Memory Palace technique for learning tasks like protocols and tmux shortcuts, it’s useful to think about the many benefits mastering this memory technique will provide.

When you start to use Memory Palaces, you will:

  • Enhance your coding skills by increasing efficiency
  • Reduce the cognitive load involved in understanding concepts
  • Improve your problem solving skills
  • Retain more knowledge on the fly
  • Reduce errors in your coding
  • Learn various keyboard commands

That’s just for starters. As your programming knowledge grows, you can expect to get better jobs. These include consulting gigs or advising on large projects.

When you really know your stuff, you’ll be a hot commodity. Especially as the world of machine learning keeps ramping up.

The Five Mnemonic Systems Coders Need

In order to memorize using the Memory Palace technique, including “on the fly” memorization at meetings or while reading about programming in transit, you need just five mnemomic systems:

  • A Memory Palace Network
  • A Number System (like the Major, Dominic of 00-99 PAO System)
  • An Alphabet System (like the Pegword System)
  • A Symbol System
  • Recall Rehearsal (a special approach to spaced repetition)

As mentioned, most of my students in the Magnetic Memory Method Masterclass develop all of these within 2-5 hours. From there, it’s mostly a matter of organizing what you need to memorize and working with your Memory Palaces to develop your retention of concepts and specific programming information.writing on a computer

Things Programmers Don’t Have To Memorize

Many people have asked me over the years about memorizing things like javascript libraries.

I think their intuition is interesting, but memorizing libraries like these (or libraries) at all, is neither efficient or practical. Instead, aim to:

  • Understand core, fundamental principles related to popular libraries
  • Know when to use libraries for specific needs
  • Familiarize yourself with common APIs and practice using them
  • Practice reading documentation without stopping to memorize so you can quickly understand documentation
  • Understand the role of patterns so you can adapt easily to other libraries
  • Keep bookmarks, snippets, and notes that will help you succeed
  • Stay updated with libraries as they evolve

This final point is key because libraries may change at any time. Rather than spend time on surface-level memorization, focus on developing understanding.

So where should you use the Memory Palace technique for helping boost your programming skills? Let’s turn now to some specific use cases with examples.

The Memory Palace For Programming: 5 Advanced Strategies

As we go through these examples, keep in mind that this ancient memory technique is just a tool. It supplements the learning you can do with flashcards and spaced repetition programs like Anki.

That said, using the Memory Palace technique is a lot more fun. Let me show you why.

But please note that I haven’t placed these examples in any particular order of importance. That is something you will need to decide for yourself.

In all cases, I suggest you set specific learning goals and organize the information optimally. I show you how in my how to memorize a textbook tutorial.

One: Complex Information Structuring Facts

Let’s say you’ve broken down complex information structuring into a list of words and concepts you need to remember, such as:

  • Nodes (entities) and edges (relationships)
  • Graph databases as a type of NoSQL database
  • Knowledge graphs and their purposes
  • Node class structure (id, properties, edges)
  • Edge class structure (source, target, relationship)

This learning goal boils down to memorizing vocabulary and definitions. The exact main points that will help you advance your knowledge are up to you to identify.

For the sake of this example, let’s focus on nodes and edges.

The first step is to have a Memory Palace. Since nodes starts with “n,” I use my friend Nick’s place. This choice harnesses the alphabetical similarity between the information and the Memory Palace.

If you have three points related to nodes that you need to memorize, assign space for them using the journey method.

In the example above, mnemonic images that help trigger the target information have been placed on the walls.

  • Optimus Prime to recall that nodes are primary in a graph structure
  • The UN Building to recall that a node has a unique identified
  • The Edge from U2 to recall that nodes are connected via Edges

You can strengthen your memory of these words and concepts by applying the story method. As you travel the Memory Palace from fact to fact, have the mnemonic images interact. For example, Optimus Prime does something to the UN Building that causes a stone to fall on The Edge during a concert.

Basically all Memory Palace activity works exactly like this. The trick is to have your mnemonic images and Memory Palaces prepared in advance.

Two: Visualizing Algorithm Flow

Understanding and communicating how algorithms work is an important part of programming.

A Memory Palace can help by allowing you to place parts of an application flowchart on a wall.

It’s the same process you see above, each piece laid out in your Memory Palace using mnemonic associations based on where they are in the algorithm.

Although not perfect, it will provide you with great visualization exercise that will strengthen your mental imagery skills overall.

Three: Memorizing Basic Syntax

Whether it’s variables and assignments, data types, logical operators or conditional statements or loops, here’s what I suggest.

Assign a Memory Palace for each, making sure it’s big enough to accomodate the amount of examples you want to commit to memory.

This is where you number and symbol systems will come into play in a big way.

Let’s say you want to memorize a line related to dictionaries or hash tables, such as:

my_dict = {“key1”: value1, “key2”: value2}

This is what that would look like in one of my Memory Palaces:

Memory Palace example for memorizing basic syntax

In this case, the images are laid out in the Memory Palace in a horizontal line. The dictionary represents what is being memorized, the key with the candle represents key1. A swan looks like 2, so it is paired with the second key. Diamonds represent value.

Although this might look like a lot, once you’re using to this kind of combinatorial thinking, you’ll find that it helps you commit programming related information like basic syntax to memory quite quickly.

You’ll also want mnemonic images for symbols like { and =. I didn’t have space for them in the Memory Palace example above, but typically I use bulldozers for any kind of parenthetical mark. I’ll have a figure with two sticks for the equals sign, like Bruce Lee.

Ultimately, you need to work out your own Symbol System. Once you have it, you can use it over and over again. The best part is that as your pattern recognition grows, you’ll likely have to memorize less and less.

Four: Remembering Tasks & Best Practices

Programmers need to perform numerous critical routines.

In a simple, to-do list Memory Palace, you can easily memorize a list of steps for debugging, specific code review processes, testing protocols, refactoring or performance optimization.

That’s just to name a few, and now you know all about how to use your own mnemonic systems to encode the exact steps you need to complete in a Memory Palace. You’ll learn them faster and retain the information quickly using this technique.

Five: Memorize Common Keyboard Commands

One of the first things I look at when approaching a language, are how to get key commands that get used repeatedly.

These might be different depending on the computer you use, but here is a few example of using the Hand Memory Palace concept to a Python Command:

  • Command+L to perform clear

When you put your left hand out in front of you, the thumb-shape makes an L. To remember that L clears the screen, I can note that L is in the word “clear,” and imagine my thumb waving back and forth like a windshield wiper, clearing away the rain.

Keyboard Command Hand Memory Palace example for memorizing that Command + L in Python clears the screen

Although very simple, you can apply this mnemonic principle to all kinds of commands.

True, this technique does come with the risk of unducing an issue mnemonists sometimes call ghosting. But with solid spaced repetition practice, you should be able to avoid this and memorize as many keyboard commands as you like.

As a result, you’ll be able to spend more time practicing programming in the beginning and less time looking up shortcuts and trying to learn them by rote.

Use The Memory Palace Technique For Programming Holistically

As the end of the day, this mnemonic technique is not a magic bullet. It should be part of a holistic set of learning tools you use in your preferred study locations.

Once you’ve picked a primary language to study, you’ll want to master its syntax and practice it consistently by solving coding challenges. Ideally, you’ll do this daily, and the process will continually present you with new information to memorize.

As you go, you’ll start to understand branching, merging and collaboration workflows. You’ll learn principles like object-oriented programming and explore web development like HTML, CSS and Javascript.

Dive into databases as soon as you can. Learn SQL and NoSQL. Work on understanding more about learn testing and computer science as a whole, including operating systems, networking basics and computer architecture.

It’s also important to keep up with industry trends, participate in communities and attend conferences when you can. These will help you with “soft skills,” which might include giving a speech from memory.

Above all, learn progressively. It’s fine to set ambitious goals, but always remember that we all take it one step at a time.

If you’d like more help with the Memory Palace component, get my free course right here:

Free Memory Improvement Course

It will give you four free video lessons and worksheets that will help you “program” your mind with this special learning tool.

As with programming itself, consistent practice in absorbing the concepts needs to be matched with practice.

Although you’ll want 6-12 months of dedicated study and practice in programming as you embark on a lifelong journey with computing, these memory techniques can be learned in just a few hours.

You’ll be glad that you have them on your side.

And pretty soon, you’ll have added layers of depth to your knowledge of programming few others hold or can even hope to understand.

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ABOUT ANTHONY METIVIER


Anthony Metivier is the founder of the Magnetic Memory Method, a systematic, 21st century approach to memorizing foreign language vocabulary, names, music, poetry and more in ways that are easy, elegant, effective and fun.

Dr. Metivier holds a Ph.D. in Humanities from York University and has been featured in Forbes, Viva Magazine, Fluent in 3 Months, Daily Stoic, Learning How to Learn and he has delivered one of the most popular TEDx Talks on memory improvement.

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