How To Stop Overthinking The Memory Palace Technique

Image of a man with a lightbulb head overthinkingAre you overthinking the Memory Palace technique?

If so, you’re interrupting your progress.

Worse, you’re delaying your ability to memorize information at lightning speed.

And no memory expert or memory champion wants that for you. That’s why we all keep working so hard for you to share in the miracle of life after you have the tools for memorizing anything.

On this page, I want to help you get out of the “analysis paralysis” problem.

If you take the right steps without getting caught in mental sand traps, I’m confident you can develop your first Memory Palace Network quickly and easily. If not, you risk having a skull that is still spinning its gears long after death, having missed out on so much fun and adventure.

Image of a skull with gears winding away to illustrate the problem of overthinking the Memory Palace technique

Ethical “scare tactics” aside, here’s another reason to read this page in full:

I want to help you escape overthinking in other areas too. Having the tools to feel that something is complex and do it anyway is important because too much thinking has been proven to carry many ill effects.

The truth:

Thinking is involved in using the Loci Method, no doubt about it. But thinking without overthinking is achievable, and today you’ll learn precisely how.

How To Defeat The Over-thinker By Becoming A Mnemonic Mechanic

The first problem with overthinking is how it slows you down.

For example, imagine walking into a business meeting.

You meet three potential investors. Learning their names, on the spot is pretty important, wouldn’t you say?

Well, if you want that ability, you don’t have the luxury of time to overthink the situation.

Feature Blog Image of a person with lots of ideas to illustrate overthinking the Memory Palace Technique

Instead, you need a system in place so you can deal with those three names, without thinking about the technique needed to memorize them. Everything should happen (almost) on autopilot. You just plug those names into your system and recall them effortlessly on demand.

To make this outcome possible, let’s start with a higher-order guiding metaphor:

Consider the mechanic and his toolbox.

A mechanic is so familiar with the contents of his toolbox that he knows exactly what he needs for each job. He knows which tool can perform which function and in which instance he would use each one. He just knows when he needs a 10mm socket or a flathead vs. a Philips screwdriver.

Memory techniques can be these tools in the toolbox of your mind. What’s the key to the mechanic’s innate knowing?

Two words:

Preparation and practice.

Prepare Your “Mental Lego” Before You Need It

The speed of making associations in your Memory Palaces comes from not having to think about the technique and how it works.

How is this possible?

Easy:

The “thinking” part is already done before you need to use any of the tools. Your “in the moment” thinking is minimal. 

It’s just like being a mechanic who has the right tools in the toolbox so he can perform the job onsite without a passing thought.

So, what are the tools you need? If nothing else, I suggest you develop:

  • A Memory Palace Network
  • At least one alphabet list/celebrity list
  • The Major Method/Major System

Think of the Memory Palace as a foundational field. The “Magnetic Imagery” of your lists and systems are the “Mental Logo” that you plug into place.

For example, if you meet someone named Rose and you put Axel Rose on her shoulder, Rose is the Memory Palace and Axl Rose is the Mental Logo.

If you have Axl Rose doing something memorable using the Magnetic Modes, then he becomes a Magnetic Image.

When you have these three components ready to go and practiced, you’ll be prepared to perform, every time the need arises.

Let’s look further at each tool.

How To Master The Memory Palace

The Memory Palace, like a hammer, is the most basic of tools. Every toolbox has a hammer. Every memory technique arsenal has a Memory Palace Network.

What is this network?

26 Memory Palaces, one based on each letter of the alphabet. Would you like some videos and worksheets that walk you through how to develop this powerful system?

Magnetic Memory Method Free Memory Improvement Course

Mastery of the technique seems to occur about halfway between creating all 26 and filling each with approximately 10 pieces of information each.

Anything less just isn’t leading you to the “Magnetic” effect I have in mind for you.

Skeptical about this techniques? No worries. Here’s the science behind why this memory technique works so well.

Enter The Alphabet List

Some people may call the alphabet list by another name, such a celebrity list, bestiary or “sun list.” No matter what you call it, the principle is generally the same.

An alphabet list is simple a list of figures that you’re able to draw upon that you have figured out in advance. It’s not unlike one of the four pegword systems out there. 

Your Memory Palace Network can help to generate your alphabet list. Here’s how:

If you have one Memory Palace with 26 Magnetic Stations, place one Magnetic Image on each station in alphabetical order.

Remember Axl Rose?

He’s a perfect ‘A’ figure for station one of this Memory Palace.

How about Bill Murray for ‘B’? Christian Bale for C?

(Now, I know what you might be thinking:

“Didn’t he just use Axl Rose for Rose? Is he an ‘A’ or an ‘R’?!?”

My friend, I’d be dumbing this down too much if I didn’t tell you the truth:

Every Magnetic Image with a first and last name can be both. Is that too hard to grasp? 

If so, I suggest you catch yourself, because it really isn’t that difficult. Every shoe lace is one shoe lace, but we still make two ears to tie a single bow, if you catch my drift.) 

Cartoon of a man overthinking making a simple PAO list

Go ahead and try this by simply writing out A-Z on a sheet of paper and filling in 26 celebrities.

Seriously:

Just get a pencil and some paper and make it happen.

Then, the next time you have to memorize something, look at the first letter of the information and use your “Magnetic Image” to help you.

A simple Alphabet List, Celebrity List or Bestiary

This simple Celebrity List took 2.5 minutes to create. In medieval times, mnemonists called this technique the “Bestiary” and would have used primarily animals that symbolized concepts with which they were deeply familiar.

For example, I memorized a Chinese word yesterday that had ‘Z’ for the first syllable and ‘G’ for the second. I saw Zorro playing Sega Genesis, guided by several of my lists.

Should you create several lists?

Yes! Having more than one list is essential if you want to become a human mnemonics dictionary (recommended).

But there’s a catch:

Although you want fixed references that you draw upon, you also want flexibility.

For example, I might meet someone name Rose, but perhaps Axl Rose won’t appear that day (for whatever reason).

For that reason, I’ll want to be able to spontaneously come up with another, equally powerful version option.

How?

By practicing creating lists. That’s what makes it easy to come up with mnemonic examples spontaneously when something from your lists doesn’t appear.

Why The Major System Simplifies Everything
(Even If It Appears Difficult At First)

Let me be blunt:

Everyone needs a technique in place for number memorization.

Although the Dominic System is a strong option, I’ve always preferred the Major.

In case you’re not familiar with these terms, both help you transform numbers into sounds that you can turn into words. The grid you need to memorize is this:

Major System on the Magnetic Memory Method

 

Once you’ve got this in your mind, it takes just a bit of practice to spontaneously generate words for numbers.

For example, I might think of “chuck” when I need to remember the number 67.

However, remember the principle of preparation.

As with the alphabet list, it’s far better to have all of your possible characters ready in advance.

A list based on either the Major System or the Dominic System is often called a 00-99 list or a P.A.O. (Person, Action, Object.)

This is where you might think…

I thought you told me not to overcomplicate this process!

And you’d be right, which is why I suggest beginners focus only on the grid listed above in the beginning. I used it with no problems for a few years before assigning a character to each two-digit number combination.

It takes four minutes to memorize if you just notice a few things about each association:

  • D and T both have a single downstroke that looks like the digit 1.
  • N has two downstrokes, and Noah took the animals onto the ark in pairs.
  • M has three downstrokes, and looks like a mustache or McDonalds logo on its side.
  • R looks kind of like a rounded 4, but it’s facing the wrong direction.
  • L is exactly the shape you’ll see your left hand thumb and forefinger make if you hold it out in front of you.
  • Ships kind of look like the number 6 if they’re tipped on their side… especially if they’re hauling jars filled with chip.
  • K is kind of like two 7s lying on top of each other.
  • F and V are produced by making the same basic shape with your lips. Go “vroom” for a few minutes while thinking about a V8 engine.
  • B and P either contain or look pretty much like the number 9.

Don’t make it more complicated than this – because it isn’t.

Practice until you’ve got it down pat and then start listing your words. Here are some tips for that:

Next, practice memorizing real world numbers:

Go to the store and memorize the prices of the items you see.

Commit historical dates of movies to memory, or even the release dates of your favorite artist’s discography.

Whatever numbers are important and applicable to your life, make those your learning goal. Use these Memory Palace examples to help you understand how to store the imagery.

 

Practice Makes Progress

Once you have your tools in place, what next?

Easy:

You must practice “snapping” your Mental Lego together. Your Magnetic Imagery has been doubled checked and organized. All the heavy lifting is done.

Image of a brain shining with radian light

But seriously, where do you start?

Here’s what I suggest:

Names are the most essential information on the planet.

Why?

Because every piece of information, every item, every action and every place is assigned a name.

Even better:

There are several low-pressure, low-stress memory exercises that let you practice name memorization.

Sheet music

Try this:

Go through your CDs at home, or your records, or your tapes, if you still have tapes, and then think “Do I know every member in this band?” If not, practice with these names in the comfort of your living room. 

If you like movies, you can work with movies.

For example, you can go through movie collection and think “Okay, what are the directors of these movies?” 

What’s important about these kinds of practices is they’re all low stress. You’re not going into a room and memorizing a bunch of names and only stressing yourself out.

But when you’re ready for the challenge, go into restaurants and memorize the names of staff members. If you make a mistake, don’t worry about. They’ll forget all about it and you can analyze what went wrong with your Magnetic Imagery and Memory Palace strategy. 

The Power Of Practicing With Vocabulary and Phrases

Once you have a firm grasp of names, you can practice vocabulary and phrases.

You can either search out a Random Name Generator on Google, or take the exercise analog with a real dictionary if you want to avoid digital amnesia.

Image of Scrabble letters saying Carpe Diem to express the need to take action now with memorizing vocabulary

For phrases, this is where a larger memorization project comes in. Is there a particular famous speech you want to memorize, a poem, or other text? Break the entire piece down, phrase by phrase, and apply your memorization tools to this exercise.

Why This Time Commitment Pays Huge Dividends

You might be asking, “How long should all of this take?”

It’s an okay question, but not the best one.

The reality is that only you hold the answer for how long memory mastery will take. After all, your definition of “good” may differ wildly from another person’s, depending on how laid back your practice is, or how many perfectionist tendencies you possess.

But let me be direct based on nearly a decade of teaching these skills:

On average, within two to five hours, most people have all of the tools we’ve talked about on this page covered.

Compared to other fields, this is only the amount of time it would take to:

  • Run a marathon.
  • Cook a stellar three course meal.
  • Assemble a dresser from Ikea.

Isn’t your memory worth this truly insignificant amount of time?

Sure, it’s a couple of hours. But that’s not a huge time commitment considering the lifelong value you get out of the tools.

Plus, the development of your systems is as important as the systems themselves. It really all comes down to finding a starting point.

The Secret To Just Getting Started

If you don’t know where to start, you need to come up with a learning goal. What is it you would like to achieve? What would you like to accomplish? If you can figure that out, then the starting point will become clear.

Here are some further tips on setting goals and crafting a Magnetic Vision Statement:

Take the time to set a proper course, and you will be rewarded with focus.

But don’t just settle for goals.

Build the systems that enable you to make steady progress towards accomplishing those goals. It’s about bringing vision and step-by-step planning together. Speaking of which, here are…

Your Next Steps

Once you have your starting point and the desire for creating your own systems, complete your first Memory Palace and Celebrity List. As we discussed, your Memory Palace will help you to memorize all the other tools. Consider developing these tools both the first and most important step.

With these tools in place your next step is to choose a meaningful learning project.

My suggestion:

Learn and practice these memory tools with something that will improve your life:

  • What will lead to a promotion at your job?
  • What doors will learning a new language open for you?
  • What skills can you learn that will truly transform your life?

In sum, you will learn way more by doing and reflecting, than just overthinking the process in advance.

Think of it this way:

If you are tasked with walking a mile, what is the only thing that causes you to travel that distance?

Putting one foot in front of the other.

Listen:

Don’t stress yourself out over these techniques. 

And don’t let your need for “success” stop you from taking action.

Need a “guaranteed” outcome is the biggest flaw of overthinking. It’s the worst kind of overthinking and leads far too many people to a standstill. Overthinking leads paralysis analysis, which is like being caught by the dark side.

And that is something we should all use the “force” of memory to resist.

2 Responses to " How To Stop Overthinking The Memory Palace Technique "

  1. Maricela says:

    Hi Anthony Metivier! I see a Memory Palace in everything, the possibilities are endless.

    • I’m pretty much the same, Maricela. I can’t not see the possibilities this technique creates in everything, and often think about Thales:

      “Space is ultimate, because it contains all things.”

      Literally, any object can serve as a Memory Palace. No one needs to go without once they realize this simple fact.

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