How to Build a Memory Palace: The Method of Loci
Updated: Sep 29, 2019
Nowadays, it feels like everything moves in fast forward. We are daily bombarded with so much information from multiple sources and often have way too much to do. It can get so overwhelming, that we may start forgetting things and wonder how we can improve our memory.
Regardless of what you are trying to remember- be it your grocery store list, your to-do list, terms of a course you are attending, vocabulary of a new language you’re learning or the names of a bunch of new colleagues, perhaps you find you often have too many pieces of information to encode and remember.
If you would like to improve your memory, you can use a mnemonic device: a technique developed and used based on how our brain operates, in order to help you better encode and recall information- a way to help you remember better.
Why improve your memory, when there are so many memory aids and apps available at your disposal?
It’s a personal preference, but in my view learning a powerful mnemonic device can be extremely useful, because it can help you boost and train your memory muscle instead of just relying on an external memory aid. Improving your memory skills is just another way to grow and progress as an individual, so I greatly advocate it.
Today I would like to introduce you to the Method of Loci, one of the most popular (and fun!) mnemonics to help you improve your memory.
The origins of the Method of Loci
The Loci Method is the plural form of the latin word locus= location or place. It is actually the oldest known mnemonic technique, dating back to 500 BC.
Back then in Ancient Greece, the poet Simonides of Ceos (today's Kea island) was the sole survivor of a building collapse. Everyone else was dead, so it was up to him to help identify the bodies that were beyond recognition.
He could successfully do so because he could remember exactly where was every guest seated. This way he realized the basic premise of the loci method: that you can basically learn anything if you associate it with a mental image of a location.
Both Roman and Greek orators have benefited from this method, that helped them remember their upcoming speeches by connecting different parts of them to different locations of a memory journey or a memory palace.
For whom is the Method of Loci?
This mnemonic technique can be used by anyone, but it can be particularly effective if you identify yourself as a visual learner - when you are good at visualizing.
It is often the preferred learning method of memory performers and memory athletes- people that hold world records in memorizing long lists of digits and items in a short amount of time, whose memory abilities often seem incredible and unbelievable to the rest of us common mortals.
What is the Method of Loci?
The Loci Method involves imagining yourself placing mnemonic images of items you want to remember in different locations across a memory journey or a memory palace.
It is basically a visual filing system.
It is a very effective mnemonic technique for memorizing items for two reasons:
Visual learning: Powerful memories are strongly visual- our brain learns more easily when we aid it with visual stimuli.
Elaborative rehearsal: A memory technique that includes attributing meaning to an item to be remembered, elaborating on it, instead of just repeating the item again and again in your mind (simple rehearsal or repetition).
How to Build a Memory Palace?
A memory palace is an imaginary location within your mind, where you can store mnemonic items.
It can be based on a real location but can be purely imaginary, too.
1. Choose your Memory Palace: Think of a place that you know well, such as your own house.
In this blog post, I will use this bright and modern living room as an example (see below).
2. Plan the Memory Journey: Visualize a series of locations in the Memory Palace in logical order.
If you have your house as an example, then the memory journey can simply be the route you follow when you come into your house, in order to make a full tour of all of it, marked by significant landmarks in it (such as pieces of furniture).
Make sure that the route will be the same everytime you visualize your Memory Palace!
These are the Loci of the living room above, if we imagine entering from the garden sliding doors on the right:
1. Eiffel tower sculpture
2. Chair at dining table
3. Dining table
4. Painting on the wall next to the dining table
5. Shiny sphere hanging lamp
6. Orange arm chair
7. TV table
8. First shelf of inbuilt bookcase
9. Yellow pillow on black leather couch
10. Stairs going upstairs
3. Decide your List of Items to Memorize: You can start this mental experiment with a shopping list or a to-do list of 10 items, but it has infinite potential! You can remember names, tasks, numbers, dates, terms, items, even ideas using the method of loci. Simply anything.
Our grocery list for today is as follows:
2. Cat food
3. Cleaning sponges
7. Liquid detergent for the clothes
10. Toilet paper
4. Placement of the items in “loci”: Place each of the items that you want to remember in each of the predetermined locations of the Memory Journey.
At this point, you connect each of the locations with each of the items, but not just that... The most important step is below!
5. Bring the Memory Palace to Life: To enhance memory encoding, visualize each of the items placed in each of the predefined “loci” in an exaggerated, vivid or comical manner. Your brain remembers extraordinary events better!
What you will basically do, is create a story by connecting each of the locations to each of your items to remember.
1. Eiffel tower sculpture & Milk
Imagine a huge milk carton nailed on the pointy top of the Eiffel tower sculpture. The carton is broken and milk is spilled all over the place on the floor under the Eiffel tower! What a mess!
2. Chair at dining table & Cat food
A very hungry and irritated cat is sitting on the chair and meowing very aggressively... You know she's hungry, you just have to feed her! It's extremely important to get her food from the grocery store, or else who knows what can happen!
3. Dining table & Cleaning sponges
All of the dinner table is full with cleaning sponges of all colours. They are everywhere on the glass surface.
4. Painting on the wall next to the dining table & Eggs
Someone didn't like this classy piece of art... So they threw eggs all over it. You can see the yolks dripping from the painting, and broken egg shells are thrown everywhere on the floor. It stinks and looks disgusting, you have to throw this painting away now, sadly.
5. Shiny sphere hanging lamp & Carrots
A giant violent bunny is hanging from the shiny lamp, munching at equally big, bright orange carrots. You can hear its sharp teeth severing the carrots, while pieces of those fall on the table below, too.
6. Orange armchair & Tomatoes
So many juicy tomatoes are stacked onto this orange armchair! It's overflowing with tomatoes, they everywhere on the chair, around it and under it.
7. TV table & Laundry Liquid Detergent
Several big bottles of washing machine liquid detergent are on top of the TV table. Some of them are even open, liquid is spilled on the TV table, and you can see bubbles everywhere! A pleasant smell of freshness and cleaniness fills your nostrils.
8. First shelf of inbuilt bookcase & Blueberries
Purple and green make a great contrast, so you can't help but notice the innumerable blueberries that are everywhere on the bottom shelf of the bookcase! These are even overgrown, they look delicious and full of heavenly blueberry juice. You just want to eat them all!
9. Yellow pillow on black leather couch & Yoghurt
Thick, creamy yoghurt is dripping on the yellow pillow. But where from?! You follow the yoghurt drops and realize that an oversized yoghurt container is hanging upside-down from the ceiling above that very pillow.
10. Stairs going upstairs & Toilet paper
As you're heading towards the stairs, to go and explore the rest of the interior of this fantastic house, you see rolls of toilet paper unrolled on the stairs. It's as if someone kicked the rolls from the top of the stairs and they unravelled all the way to the very bottom. That makes you even more curious to go and explore what's going on upstairs...
6. Take a mental tour around the Memory Palace: When you want to remember the list of items in the predefined order, simply take a memory journey around your Memory Palace.
Visualize each of the locations as if you are walking around the house in real time.
The mnemonic image of each of the items should spring to mind as you mentally take a tour around the house.
Take a stroll around your Memory Palace!
I definitely hope that I intrigued your curiosity to try building your own Memory Palace and making a Memory Journey through it. After all, it is creative and fun!
Some argue that this mnemonic takes too long, and it requires a lot of attention. Yet the process is so elaborate that favourable outcomes are guaranteed.
There are numerous studies that prove the efficacy of the Loci method, and there are even speculations that training your memory consistently with this technique could induce lasting brain changes.
Just try it out for yourself!
And if you do, why not drop a comment about how well it worked for you?