The Memory Palace

I’ve never been one to take lists to the store with me. I never needed to because I have always been able to keep all of that information in my head and recall it when necessary. I used to keep all of my appointments in my head as well. Not so much anymore. Part of the issue is lack of attention and focus, but there is also the fact that my maturing brain isn’t as sharp as it was in my 20s. Now I have to consider actually working on my memory. Memory is a skill that you can strengthen and improve but it takes practice.

Many people are looking to memory techniques or mnemonic devices to help improve their memory skills. These techniques often involve categorization or visualization to help connect to the information you are trying to learn. One of the oldest mnemonic techniques is “the memory palace” or the “method of loci”. It was created by an ancient Greek poet named Simondes and has been used by scholars, priests and politicians for thousands of years to help them remember large amounts of text and information.

The memory palace has gained renewed attention from the book Moonwalking With Einstein by Joshua Foer. Foer, a journalist who was covering the Memory Championship circuit, became a participant when he was convinced by other competitors that anyone can train their memory to do what they are doing. The memory palace became the primary mnemonic device for his training. After a year of conditioning, he participated in the US finals and won.

We all probably have things that we are better at remembering than others. I had a friend who could freakishly name what year almost any popular song from the past 5 decades was released. Our visual-spatial memory though seems to be one of our strongest areas of memory. This could be because we use our imagination to visualize spaces rather than just recall. One of my fellow brain coaches says he can remember the layout of New York City, but not what year he was there.

The memory palace associates mental images with specific locations. Here’s how it works:

1. Choose a specific location that is very familiar to you. You need to be able to divide this place into multiple segments or rooms. For instance, your childhood home is a strong choice or use a street that you know like the back of your hand. Using these reference points will help you remember each item.

2. Take a list of items or points that you need to remember. As you visualize yourself moving through your chosen location, assign each item on your list to a specific room or building.

3. Create a unique mental image for each item and its location. The crazier the image is, the more likely it is to “stick in your brain”. The brain loves novelty. You can connect a smell or sound to the image as well. Adding other senses to the image will also make it easier to remember.

4. When you need to remember your list, mentally walk through your chosen location and visualize each of the items as you move through the space.

If you are interested in learning more about the memory palace and other techniques or you would like to find some ways to improve your memory, check out the following items on our website:

Moonwalking With Einstein
Read about Joshua Foer’s foray into the strange world of competitive memory and learn how to use the memory palace.

The Memory Bible
Memory Guru Dr. Gary Small from UCLA’s Center on Aging created this practical guide to memory improvement that includes information on how memory works, nutrition information, as well as memory exercises and techniques.

NeuroActive Complete
This fast-paced challenging brain training software program teaches you several memorization strategies to use in conjunction with the memory exercises in the program.

The Brain Fitness Program
One of my all time favorite products, Posit Science’s Brain Fitness Program moves beyond memory technique and exercises and focuses on retraining the brain to receive, process and record information quickly and accurately.

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2 Responses to The Memory Palace

  1. mahesh says:

    I have question regarding this technique.
    Ill try to explain with an example. Consider in an hour i try to remember 5 list each contain more than 10 items (over same path of my memory palace).
    Now after some time when i try to recall item from particular list what are the chances that i recall item from different list or i mix up list items.
    I tried this and after some time i am not sure that the item i recall is from list 1 or 2 or other.
    So if this technique has some trick or any tip using that i can overcome this problem.

  2. Marbles Blog says:


    I think that the best way to keep your lists straight is to create different locations. So if you used your childhood home for one list, you could either do a different path in the home or choose another location, like a relative’s home or the street you live on. You can use any place you want. Right now I could create a list using each person’s desk in my office. The technique is flexible so you can be creative. Just make sure it’s a familiar location.

    I hope this helps.

    Marbles Brain Blogger

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