During high school and the start of college, I got forced assignments, tests, essays, quizzes, and homework.
Instead of learning for the sake of learning in itself, I learned just to get the best grade on the test.
As a result, I lacked passion and interest in what I was studying.
The worst part of studying by far was having to memorize.
Then one fateful day, I came across a video by Anthony Metivier showcasing the memory palace technique on his YouTube channel.
The memory palace technique involves imagining a location in your mind, like the candy store – you can admit you've frequented this place a lot – and placing inside some memorable imagery associated with what you want to remember. Then, to remember the information, you walk through this palace in your mind and recall the associated images and information they represent.
The memory palace technique is fun! (I'm talking about playing Minecraft on a Saturday evening type of fun.)
It turns memorization into a creative, engaging act.
Through using the memory palace technique, I have not only started enjoying studying again (AND learning outside of school), but I have retained my learnings for much, much longer than a few weeks.
In this article, I will show you the benefits of creating memory palaces, and the five steps to creating your own memory palace (as a learner).
Benefits Of Building Memory Palaces
- Improved Memory Retention: Memory palaces allow you to associate new information with visual, spatial, kinesthetic, olfactory, gustatory, auditory, and emotional sensations. Humans have a great spatial memory, memory for novelty, memory for vulgarity, and memory for multisensory things. The memory palace techniques effectively integrate all of these things to make information the most memorable possible.
- Enhanced Focus and Concentration: Creating memory palaces requires active focus and concentration. In this way, the memory palace technique can be a form of meditation with many mental health benefits
- Personalization: A memory palace is a unique creation, tailored to your specific needs and preferences. This personalization can help you to better connect with the information you are trying to remember.
- Effective Learning: Changing the modality of information, from linguistic to imagery, for example, facilitates your understanding. Therefore the memory palace technique is a great way to understand information better.
- Fun and Engaging: Building a memory palace can be an enjoyable and creative process, making it an effective way to learn without feeling like you are doing work. Way more fun than going through word-only flashcards or playing Fallout 76.
- Useful for Different Types of Information: Memory palaces can be used to memorize a wide range of information, including names, dates, facts, foreign language vocabulary, and even long strings of numbers.
Step 1: Choose A Location
Select a location you're familiar with, such as your house, school, or workplace.
The location should have multiple rooms or distinct areas that you can use to store information.
If you're struggling, there's a simple exercise you can go through to create memory palaces. I suggest you do this exercise right now.
Go and get a pen (or pencil) and paper.
I'll wait – I have my peanut butter to keep me company.
Got it? Good.
Now, go through and write down all the letters of the alphabet.
Then go through each letter and identify every possible memory palace location that comes to mind. i.e. All places you're familiar with.
You can start by thinking about people associated with that letter and then move on to places, actions, or objects to spur more memory palaces.
For example, I don't have many P memory palaces but I added them in Cornell room Kennedy Hall 212 (even though it doesn't start with P) because that's where I watched the movie Parasite (which does start with P) with my friends.
Here are some other examples:
- Abe's House
- Atillas House Netherlands
- Astrid and Ian's Home
- Alejandro’s House
- Beebe Lake
- Becker Hall
- Ben Coddington's Barn
- Byrne Dairy Hamilton
- Brainshop Cornell
- Colgate Fitness Center
- Cook Hall
- Cornell Cocktail Lounge and Uris Library
- Lounge room in Ganendago where we played Dungeons and Dragons with Rushika, Joaquin, and Nicole
- Diamonds Cornell commons
- Esther’s Porch
- Evelyn’s apartment
And all the way from A to Z...
By creating this list (it can take a good hour or so), you won't ever run out of memory palaces, especially if you add more over time.
Every time you need to find a memory palace, you can refer to this list.
Step 2: Plan The Route
Step 2 is to plan the route you will follow using your memory journal.
Your memory journal is the place where you keep all of the associated things related to your memory practice.
The front is for drawing out your memory palaces while the back is for practicing recall of the information inside, from memory.
I recommend you draw out your memory palaces before you try and memorize anything inside of them.
Planning the route in your memory palace is crucial. It involves determining the path you will follow and placing images in specific locations to remember things. Planning the path should only take 1-5 minutes.
We aren't trying to create the Mona Lisa here.
Simply draw the location you'll use and mark the stations where you'll place the images. Number and organize the stations, and create a column to note what each station represents in the memory palace.
Here's an example I drew out:
The room up above represents Diamonds, an Indian restaurant I visited with my girlfriend a few weeks ago.
Each number in the room represents what are called micro-stations, individual spots in a room that can be used to place images inside of. However, I recommend when you are first creating memory palaces that, you use macro-stations, entire rooms that are used to place a single mental image inside.
It's much easier to create images inside of macro-stations when first starting than to use micro-stations.
Step 3: Create Images That STICK For What You Want To Remember
This is the most fun step of them all.
In this step, you create images that associate with the information you want to remember.
When thinking about how to create a sticky image there are only a few things that you have to consider:
- We remember connected things
- Humans have incredible spatial memory
- Humans remember multisensory, vivid, surprising, and vulgar things.
So when putting images into our memory palaces we want to try and take all of these things into account.
But there's one more way to superpower your images so they stick out like a sore thumb, a good thing in this case.
Make them personal to you.
Instead of using any old cup in a memory palace, use the cup your dad has that says, "Being 60 isn't all that bad!" Instead of using any bee, use Berry Bensen from the Bee movie. Instead of using any knight, use a knight's radiant from the Stormlight archives.
The Magnetic Modes and Magnetic Characteristics
The best method I have ever found for making images stickier is from Anthony Metivier.
He recommends you make images stick by utilizing the Magnetic Modes. Each magnetic mode involves a different sense of the body and mind. The more of these you encode in any single image, the more magnetic it is in your mind. It's magnetic because it pulls the information you are trying to remember deeper into memory while repelling the information you aren't trying to remember.
The magnetic modes can be summed up with the acronym KAVE COGS which stands for:
K - Kinesthetic
A - Auditory
V - Visual
E - Emotional
C - Conceptual
O - Olfactory
G - Gustatory
S - Spatial
In addition, to the KAVE COGS memory modes you can make images more sticky by implementing the magnetic characteristics as well which are:
Step 4: Practice Recall Rehearsal — How To Ingrain Knowledge From Memory Palaces Into Long-Term Memory
In this step, we practice recalling our images through a process called recall rehearsal so we embed them in long-term memory.
Recall rehearsal is the art of routinely going through your memory palace(s) and decoding the information present in them. We have to do recall rehearsal because, unfortunately, humans are tubes of meat and have evolved to forget knowledge we don't apply.
The rate at which we forget information was first studied and encapsulated in Ernest Ebbinghause's forgetting curve.
According to his curve, we forget most information in the 24 hours after consuming something and slowly forget more and more over the ensuing weeks, months, and years without recall practice. But if we routinely recall information we want to remember, we can fight the forgetting curve through a technique known as spaced repetition.
That's where recall rehearsal comes in.
So how often do we have to recall rehearse?
Dominic O Brien, a very prominent memory champion, recommends you recall rehearse information using the system described below:
- Day 1: Go through memory palace once.
- 24 hours later: Go through memory palace once.
- 1 week later: Go through memory palace once.
- 1 month later: Go through memory palace once.
- 3 months later: Go through memory palace once.
Remember that this is a method, not a system.
You can and should change it to work with your memorization needs.
You should change your recall rehearsal practice depending on your goals. Are you memorizing something you need to have down to a tea, or something more fun? This will affect how often you recall it. Generally, I use Dominic's method as a foundation and recall more or less depending on how I feel about the information.
Step 5: Expand Your Palace — Create A Memory Palace Network
Once you have mastered a single memory palace, you can create additional palaces for new sets of information.
You can also expand your existing palace by adding more stations, or even connecting to other memory palaces inside your memory palace--memory palace inception!
This is how you create an ever-expanding memory palace network that grows with you as you grow. And because the brain has more potential for storage than you could ever fill, you are only limited in how much you can memorize by how well you can use the memory palace technique.
Imagine the amount of wonderful things you could memorize!
You could annoy your friends by reciting Shakespeare out of nowhere in conversation. Or rubbing in their face how much you can remember from a book even years later. Or memorizing concepts for class.
These five steps encapsulate all the things you practically need to know to get started building memory palaces.
But if you want to truly get something out of this article, you have to create memory palaces yourself.
Reading without action is useless.
This article has been previously published in aidanhelfant.com
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Aidan Helfant is a content creator trying to help students learn to study and take notes more effectively. On the side, he loves video games, tennis, and peanut butter. Learn more about Aidan's ideas at https://www.aidanhelfant.com