If you're a fan of the hit TV series Sherlock, then you will be familiar with his special ability to remember and recall specific pieces of information that are tucked away and stored in his mind. He had a name for this special "memory storage" - he called it his Mind Palace. Many of you may think that the Mind Palace was some clever fabrication by the writers of the TV show and you would be wrong. The Mind Palace is a real place.
Before it was popularized as the "Mind Palace", it was more commonly known as the Memory Palace or the Loci System. This memory technique dates back to the ancient Romans and Greeks as early as 85 BC. And despite it's long history, these memory techniques have never become mainstream and are still regarded as esoteric practices to this day. Thankfully, with the help of some of my friends and the growing popularity in the sport of memory, these memory techniques are finally getting the attention they deserve.
The Mind Palace is a place in one's mind where he/she stores information. The skills I will be sharing here is not much different from the skills that Sherlock would apply when retaining specific information. But I know what you're thinking "Sherlock is a genius, how could I possibly be that clever!?" Maybe you think that you don't have a good memory to begin with or that it takes some sort of special photographic memory or that you have to be born with it. Not true at all!
I consider myself to have an average memory…maybe sometimes below average depending on what I had the night before. Never mind that. The point is that anyone can learn these techniques and to prove that, I've asked my son, Simon (10 years old), to do a little demonstration of how the Mind Palace works in the video below.
But before we begin sharpening your memory skills it is important to understand what exactly it is that you're sharpening. The real skill that is being developed here is called Mnemonics. This blog entry will be the first of a series of entries that will cover the many stages and techniques of mnemonics in hopes that it will help build your own Mind Palace. Enjoy learning!
What is Mnemonics?
Mnemonics is a study and development of systems for improving and assisting your memory. The great thing about mnemonics is that you've probably already practiced it without you even knowing it. It is essentially associating one thing to another thing. This is usually an association of visual imagery, but it can be used by the other senses as well.
For example, think of something or someone that you have a specific memory of and you will find that you unconsciously associate that thing or person with an image, sound, smell or even taste. This is the basic principle of mnemonics.
Mnemonics uses these associations in a system in which you can recall specific information. You can use these techniques to help you remember pretty much anything - lists, names/faces, directions, articles, serial numbers or even speeches.
Lets take the first step into building the foundations of your Mind Palace with a simple technique called the Number Rhyme System.
The Number Rhyme System
This simple and yet effective technique will help you create vivid and imaginative imagery for your mind to recall. This technique is also great to use in remembering short lists. By the end of this exercise, you will be able to recall a list of 10 items in order, as well as backwards and even randomly. Lets begin.
STEP 1 - The Mnemonics
This mnemonic technique is called the Number Rhyme System because you will associate each number from 1-10 with an object that rhymes with that number. Here are the rhyming objects:
Study this list and get used to these objects associated with each number. You should be able to say these objects in order easily because of the number it rhymes with. As you start to recall each of these objects, try to create a vivid image of each object in your mind. Once you are familiar with each rhyming object and the number it is associated with, we move on to Step 2.
STEP 2 - Make A List
Lets make a list. For this exercise we shall use the list below, but you can create your own lists to practice your mnemonics. Before moving to Step 3, try to memorize the list below as you would normally and then try to recall it by writing the list down. Some may find this list easy to recall, but for most it will be a bit difficult. See how many you were able to recall. If you got them all correct, congratulations, you're a natural. But if you missed a few, no worries. The next step will help you nail this list or any other list with ease.
STEP 3 - Encoding
Now that you have your list, it's time for you to encode each item in your mind using the Number Rhyme mnemonics in Step 1.
For example, number 1 - imagine using your cellphone as a gun or you can imagine shooting your cellphone and seeing it explode into pieces. Number 2 can be an image of a shoe made of pizza or your favorite shoes stuffed with pizza. Number 3 can be a big arm chair hanging from a tree or a tree that looks like a bunch of wooden chairs as branches. By now you're getting the gist of the technique. Continue on to the rest of the items and make sure that each image that you create is vivid. It also helps to make these images as outrageous and exaggerated as possible.
Once you have created vivid images of each item on your list, you'll be able to recall each item simply by thinking about these images. Moreover, you will now be able to recall each item backwards and in random order. Ask a friend or family member to call out numbers in random and you will now be able to recall the items with no hesitation. By using this simple technique you will be able to remember lists like groceries, things to do and other short lists.
Congratulations! You have now built the foundations to your Mind Palace.
Discover Your Mind Palace
The Number Rhyme System is a simple technique to help you get used to creating vivid images for your memory recall. Here is where we begin to build your Mind Palace and believe it or not, its very easy to do. In fact, your Mind Palace already exists.
Imagine the place you live in right now. Maybe it's a house or maybe it's a condominium or maybe it's in a basement apartment. Regardless of the style of home you live in, you must imagine a starting point. If you live in a house, you might want to start at the foot of your driveway or if you live in a condo, you might want to begin at the lobby entrance etc. Now slowly walk through this space, make note of certain areas as you move towards your front door. Open your front door and move through your home. Try to visit each room of your home in a specific and fluent order and then find an ending point. This is your Mind Palace.
In here is where you store your information. By becoming familiar with your Mind Palace you will be able to store specific information in certain areas for quicker recall. Much like the Number Rhyme System, each area or room in your Mind Palace is like a number. When you create vivid images of items off a list, you can place these images in specific areas in your Mind Palace.
How does The Mind Palace work?
The Mind Palace can be used for many different applications like remembering articles, speeches, presentations (which I've done many times), meeting new people, lists of words, lists of numbers, memorizing a deck of cards, learning new skills and even learning a new language. The whole premise to the Mind Palace is that it gives you a place to organize and recall information either at random or in order depending on how you've encoded the information.
For example, when I encode a presentation or a speech into my Mind Palace, I take each stage of my presentation and create a vivid mnemonic image. Then I place each image in order starting at my Mind Palace's starting point. Then every succeeding image is placed in a fluent order throughout my Mind Palace. I can now imagine walking through my Mind Palace and seeing these images in a specific order. This technique has allowed me to present more casually and with more confidence without any notes or cue cards. You can already begin to see the possibilities.
memorizing a deck of cards
I hope that after learning the Number Rhyme System, remembering a short list of 10 items seems to be pretty easy now. But memorizing a shuffled deck of 52 cards is a bit more challenging and requires a slight change in technique. This is where the Mind Palace flourishes.
In the video below, my son, Simon demonstrates the very principles of the Mind Palace. His technique can be broken-down into three stages:
It is important to know that Simon has been practicing mnemonics for only 3 months. His first attempt in memorizing a deck of cards took him 30 minutes. Today, he is averaging approximately 6-7 minutes and his time is constantly improving everyday. I'm very proud of him.
In my next blog entry I will share Simon's techniques in detail so that you too can memorize a deck of cards as well. And I know that you're probably asking "Why would I want to memorize a deck of cards?" Well, the short answer is, because that would be pretty freaking cool not to mention very impressive!
However, aside from that, there is a growing community of mnemonists around the world and mnemonics has become a highly respected sport. Memorizing a deck of cards is just one of the many challenges in the World Championship of Memory. Who knows, maybe mnemonics will spark an interest in you.
Until next time, enjoy exploring your Mind Palace. I wish you the best of luck in learning these fun techniques and I hope it's made even a small difference in your life. Thanks for dropping by.