Introducing the Memory Palace

hannibalOur brains are incredibly powerful. But, they don’t come with instruction manuals. Here’s a trick that has largely been lost to history- but was heavily used by ancient Greek academics. Often attributed to Simonides, the Method of Loci or Memory Palace technique taps into the fact that our brains primarily work in images and spacial relationships.

If something about this sounds familiar, you might be recalling famous discussions of the Memory Palace by Hannibal Lecter. You might also remember the information battle that took place within Jonsey’s “Memory Warehouse” in Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher (NSFW):

The Memory Palace is perhaps the primary tool enabling people with average brains to perform superhuman feats of memory. I was skeptical until I tried it with a list of 10 random items. It worked shockingly well! Since then, I’ve used it (in combination with The Major System) to memorize all sorts of things that I otherwise would have deemed impossible:

  • My debit and credit card numbers, expiration dates, and CCV codes
  • My library card number
  • The access code for my wireless router
  • My conference call phone number and organizer/attendee pin numbers
  • The precise order of a shuffled deck of cards (after just one look through the deck)

So far, I have only created 2 memory palaces. The first is a tour of 5 rooms on the first floor of my home, totally 25 loci. The second is 10 loci in my second floor home office. I use that one exclusively for memorizing decks of cards. Interesting side note: I had to give up my home office so my oldest daughter could have her own bedroom. That memory palace, therefore, only exists in my memory!  If you can close your eyes and take a mental tour of your childhood home, you may already have a great Memory Palace ready to go. Even if that house burned down decades ago!

Here is a great video overview of the technique:

As you create your own memory palace, I recommend systematizing it a bit. I generally create 5 spots per room. If I’m standing in the doorway of a new room, I’ll typically look for obvious spots or objects as I scan the room from left to right. So, something:

  • directly to my left
  • far left corner
  • opposite wall
  • far right corner
  • directly to my right

Other people just pick out the most obvious loci in a room without regard to quantity.

Give it a try.
I suspect you’ll amaze yourself.