What Is a Memory Palace and How Do They Work?

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Out of all the things that the brain allows people to do, one of the most valuable things that it can do is provide people with a useful memory.

When you think about it, without a good memory, life can become immensely more difficult. With that being said, there are some people who are naturally gifted with a strong memory and there are people who have a hard time remembering what they said a few hours ago.

A lot of people believe that they are stuck with the memory capabilities that they are born with, but the truth is that there are actually quite a few things that you can do to improve your memory.

In fact, there are plenty of exercises out there that are specifically designed to strengthen your memory so that you can help yourself more often. There are some practices that are more common and well-known than others. One of the most famous of these practices is known as the memory palace.

If you are looking to improve your memory but you aren’t exactly sure where you should start, you may want to begin looking into the idea of building your own memory palace. It will take some time, dedication, and a lot of practice, but doing so will end up being well worth it in the end when you have a better memory to work with. Before you can begin working on this though, you will want to learn about all the basics first. This includes learning about what a memory palace is and the concept behind it, how it came to be, and what you need to do to begin establishing your own palace of memories.

What Is a Memory Palace?

The idea behind a memory palace is very simple. It is based on the fact that people, as humans, are good at remembering places that they know and have been to. After all, when it comes to survival, it helps immensely to know the area that you reside in.

The memory palace concept incorporates this idea to be used to help improve your memory. Essentially, how it works is that you visualize yourself in an area that you know well. This could be your home, the commute to work, or the corridors in your office building. It can be anywhere that you frequent and know well. From here, you “store” information in various parts of the visualization, allowing yourself to recall it anytime you need by visualizing yourself opening up the part of the palace where you stored the memory.

While it might seem confusing at first, it may come as a surprise to you that the idea behind a memory palace is far, far older than most people imagine. Chances are that when something is as old as a memory palace, and is still being practiced today, then it’s because the practice works.

Where Does it Come From?

The term memory palace actually comes from an older term, the “method of loci,” which originated from ancient Rome and Greece. Loci is the Latin word for “places,” and its colloquial names today are “memory journey,” “memory palace,” and “mind palace technique.”

The idea of this was brought up in several works from notable figures, such as Cicero’s “De Oratore.” The method of loci is designed to be a mnemonic system that allows you to mentally associate pieces of information with specific physical locations, using spatial relationships (such as “storing” a memory in a drawer in your house) to help you remember certain things.

Many people who have won memory contests will use this method for faces, numbers, and words, as the memory palace concept is much better suited to these short and easy-to-recall answers rather than lengthy and complex ones. 

How Does it Work?

The exact way that a memory palace works is a bit complex and difficult to understand at first. However, when you are able to grasp how it works, it will become immensely easier for you to wrap your head around it and begin building a memory palace of your own. First things first, you will want to select a location of your palace.

It should be a place that you can easily visualize and think about, something that is familiar to you by heart. Often, people will use their homes as their palace, as well as schools or other buildings they frequent. From there, you define a “route” that you would walk through mentally. This is where things become incredibly detailed.

You would want to think about how you entered the building (through the front door, or the back door. What hallway do you start at?), what rooms you will travel to, and what order you would go through. If it is possible, you can consider walking this specific route in real life to help yourself visualize it better when you are not physically there.

Once you have a route picked out, you will then need to think about where you will store your memories within the palace and what categories of memories will go where.

For example, you can consider the kitchen to be a room for numbers, since numbers are used in many measurements. Then, you can consider putting the specific bits of information in drawers and cabinets inside the kitchen. If your palace is something that isn’t a house, such as your commute to work, you can consider using landmarks along the way as your storage points.

Next, you will want to begin putting the information into chunks, putting it where it belongs. If you can, you should try to associate things with relatable objects as much as you can. One example would be if you wanted to memorize the presidents of the United States, you could start out by putting George Washington in the washing machine. As you do this, you will want to add symbols to your palace to help you memorize these things, the more shocking the symbols are, the better chance you will have of successfully memorizing the object.

Before you know it, you will have a fully functioning memory palace, filled with all of the tidbits of information that you need to store. Many, many people who memorize things on a competitive level have found that it works immensely well, and it is one of the things you absolutely need if you want to take your memorization to the next level.

Does it Work?

At the end of the day, before you begin to put this much effort into changing the way that you memorize bits of information, you may begin to wonder if this process actually works. The truth is that there is enough evidence to suggest that this method does help people memorize more and memorize more efficiently.

Not only is using a memory palace a common memorization technique for people who participate in memorization competitions, some of the people who have achieved notable memorizations attribute those to using a memory palace.

People have also done studies on this idea to try and see, at a scientific level, how well the idea of a memory palace really works. People who relied on a memory palace showed a better recollection than people who didn’t.

If you want to have a better memory and if you want to memorize things more efficiently, you may want to consider the idea of building your own memory palace to store all of your information in. 


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