Building Palaces in Your Head

How to Memorize Anything:

Want to learn how to memorize anything? I will teach you how to easily and quickly memorize huge amounts of information. Using this method you do anything from remembering shopping lists to memorizing a deck of cards. While there are lots ways to learn how to memorize things, the technique I will teach you for memorization is called the Memory Palace Method and has been used for thousands of years, back to the ancient Greeks. It has since been refined and there are many variations on this method, but it is the technique used by top memory champions.

Memorize a deck of cards with a memory PalaceCredit:

Finding Your Memory Palace:

Think of some place that you know really well. For me this is my childhood home, but this could be where you work, your favorite vacation spot, an area of your city that you spend a lot of time in. This is what will become your “memory palace.” The important thing is that you should be able to close your eyes and picture where everything in this place is, what it looks like. To test this out I take a mental “walk” through my home looking at different things. Some top memory experts will actually invent an imaginary memory palace in their head, this takes a bit of effort to make sure you know how everything attaches to other places and what is in every room, but can be a very effective strategy since additions can be “built” without disrupting anything.

Furnishing Your Memory Palace:

The next step is going to be taking a tour around your memory palace and identifying different “slots” in which you will place your memories. These should be physical areas of the memory palace that stand out in your mind. The strategy that I like best is assigning a set number of slots per room. This allows you to know if you have missed anything. I also set the rooms in an order that makes sense in my mind, maybe the order in which you walk through them. I set my first room as just inside my door and put a memory slot on the table in the center, and go clockwise (another trick to know you have gotten everything in order) to the TV, the desk with a lamp, the door  and the couch.

Memory Palace MemorizationCredit:

I put five items in each room, they always are in clockwise order and progress as I would walk through the house. If you are aiming to memorize a deck of cards you are going to want to set it so that you can have at least 52 total memory slots in the palace, otherwise you can pick what seems a useful number. Spend some time just practicing this mental walk, locking your memory slots into place. Once this is solid, move on to the next step in your memorization journey!

Test Your Memory:

This is going to seem like a big jump but bear with me; it's time to memorize 50 words. There are plenty of lists of words online that you can use to practice from but I'll give you a set to start with. To set a baseline, try to memorize as many of these as you can without using any special technique. Take a several minutes to look at them, then go away and write them down in order on a piece of paper.

1 Potato 2 Shining 3 Grassy 4 Sword 5 Marigold 6 Asphalt 7 White 8 Asteroid 9 Frost 10 Handle 11 Shocking 12 Predatory 13 Abstract 14 Neon 15 Aquatic 16 Simple 17 Faster 18 Clogs 19 Soy 20 Mountains 21 Handbag 22 Mildew 23 Tasty 24 Cat 25 Pickup 26 Fat 27 Platypus 28 Boxer 29 Door 30 Diamond 31 TV 32 Letter 33 Surgery 34 Barn 35 Lazy 36 Writer 37 Bright 38 Miner 39 Stop 40 Wet 41 Dividend 42 Cigarette 43 Sprint 44 Ghana 45 Ulcer 46 Fingers 47 Shower 48 Man 49 Poker 50 Cap 

Ok, finished? You probably remembered a few of them, maybe if you have a really great natural memory you got over half. However, I would be shocked if you got close to all of them in the right order. (ok, maybe if you took an hour or so, but that's cheating!) I am going to teach you how to remember all of them.

Using Your Memory Palace

It's time to put these words into your memory slots. If you feel you need a new set of words, go find it and come back. I will be using this set as examples. You are going to think about each word in turn, and imagine seeing it in your memory slot. The trick here is that the more ridiculous, rude, absurd or gross the image, the better your brain will remember it. If I imagine a potato sitting on the table, that is a start, but if I imagine that the whole table is made from potatoes that's better! I could even imagine that someone has fried the whole thing, so it is a giant french fried potato table, with potatoes sitting on top of that! The more different ways you can incorporate the word, the better! When I turn on the TV it floods out with shining light, blinding me. Maybe it floods out with blood and says “Red Rum” if that is your closer association with “Shining.” Don't just decide on your images, see them!

Don't worry to much about trying to remember anything yet, just go through and place these images. When you are done, cover up the list of words and walk back through the house. This is to get a sense of what you can do even without consciously trying to remember. See those images in your mind and they should come flooding back! You are probably not going to be near to perfect yet, but I would guess that it was better than just trying without. Try to figure out what kinds of pictures worked and which ones did not. I find that usually when I forget items it was because my image was too boring! Make it shocking, make it gross, make it funny. These are the kinds of things your mind loves. It's why you can remember something funny that happened to you years ago, but might not remember what you ate for breakfast.

This is only the beginning of how to use a memory palace, for a few more tips on reinforcing images in your mind, reusing a memory palace and  other Memory Hacks, read Memory Palace Part II: Memorize Anything.

Memory Hack Series:
Total recall of an entire deck of cards? Totally possible with a few hours of work! You may never have heard of competitive memory championships, but you probably want to improve your memory. If you are like most people you occasionally (or if you are like I was, rather frequently) have trouble remembering the names of people you meet, to call your mother, what her telephone number is, or the ever present “where did I put my keys?” Maybe you are striving for more, memorizing pi to 100 digits or the order of a deck of cards. You may not believe me yet, but with a little work all of these tasks will become easy! I did it, and so can you! This article is the second in a series of articles on improving memory and is also part of the Body Hacks series where you learn things like Swearing to Reduce Pain or How to Itch a Tickling Throat