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Sherlock – How to Build a Mind Palace

Since the success of the BBC’s brilliant “Sherlock” series There has been a great interest in Mind Palaces.  This is the method that I was taught as NLP Master Practitioner. I use it on a daily basis to help me remember things as simple as shopping lists right up to complex presentations and training courses.

In just 15 minutes you should be able to remember 5-6 things in order, the more you practice the faster you get and the longer the list gets.

As with most psychological feats, anyone can do it if they are so inclined and practice.

Mind Palaces as Sherlock refers to them are also know as the “Method of Loci” or “Memory Palace”.

The Mind Palace has been used since ancient Rome, and is responsible for some quite incredible memory feats. Eight-time world memory champion Dominic O’Brien, for instance, was able to memorize 54 decks of cards in sequence (2808 cards), viewing each card only once!

How Do You Do It?

The great thing about the mind palace technique is that it is simple and quick to learn. In about 15 minutes You can recall a list of 6 -15 random objects.

The mind palace technique is an association technique based around “spatial mnemonics” or placing items to be remembered in specific locations (in your thoughts).

1. Choose Your Palace

You will need to pick a place that you’re very familiar with. The effectiveness of the technique relies on your ability to mentally visualise and “walk around” that place with ease. You should be able to ‘be there’ at will using your mind’s eye only. Most people (and I also recommend this) start by using their own home (you can choose a different place, expand this one location or design your own once you get the hang of this technique). As you get better you can add additional buildings. I have a street with different buildings representing different categories I want to remember a bit like different folders on a computer

2. Choose a Route

Once you have picked a location that you can visually clearly (it doesn’t need to be as clear or clean as “real life”, but it needs to be detailed) you need to be able to define a route around your Memory Palace. 

In that route “tag” specifically defined sections where you can place information (which is why your house is so good, it has rooms in it, which are perfect sections!) 

For example, when I started this technique I chose the house I lived in as a child, so my sections were:

  1. Drive
  2. Front Garden
  3. Hall
  4. Living Room
  5. Kitchen
  6. Under Stairs
  7. Stairs
  8. Bedroom Qne
  9. Bathroom
  10. Bedroom Two
  11. Bedroom Three

Go through you chosen Mind Palace and walk around the route your have chosen, as you do break it down into manageable sections (10 or 11 is a good  to start, but it can be more or less depending on what feels comfortable).

3. Associate!

Now it is time to add the information you want to remember.

The Mind Palace technique works with the use of visual associations. The process is simple: you take a known mental location, called the “memory peg” and combine it with the element you want to memorise. For us, each memory peg is a distinctive section of our Mind Palace. Once you have got the hang of it, you can add more “pegs” by breaking each section down into specific feature (for example you could break your lounge down into specific pieces of furniture: sofa, coffee table, television, etc), or adding more sections or locations.

I found to begin with adding 2 items to remember in each room was ideal. If you do this, decide how you are going to look around the room (to make sure that you do not transpose the information in that section), so always scan the section left to right for example.

To really imprint your items that you want to remember you need to make the image crazy, huge, ridiculous, silly, funny and totally over the top. Make it unique and exciting, if it is boring you are doing to “wrong” and it probably won’t work for you.

So, say you want to remember 20 things on your shopping list:

Transport yourself to your Mind Palace and walk around it a couple of times to familiarize yourself with it “empty” (this is particularly important if you use it regularly to make sure you have removed the other associations), then you want to start adding each item on your list to a section of the Palace (so, with 20 items, in this case, you need to add two items to each section).

So, say the first thing your list is bacon, you place that in the first section of your Memory Palace (which, in my place would be my drive), but don’t just plonk a packet of bacon there, make it crazy and memorable. So what could you do to make it memorable for you? Maybe a frying pan cooking bacon? Or a big cartoon pig? Whatever works for you.

Once you have the image firmly in place, move to the next item on the list and do the same.

Get the idea?

Go through the list as many times as it takes to get the images locked in place, so you can walk through your Memory Palace and recall each item easily with just one stroll (very quickly, with practice, it will only take one “walk through”).

And there we have it, 3 simple steps to create a mind palace that you can use to remember information.

You can use it to store short term information, such as a shopping list or the contents of training or talk your giving, or you can use it to store longer term information such as passwords or PINS.

4. Just a Few Final Hints

  • Visit your Mind Palace regularly to keep the image clear in your mind, mentally walk the route on a regular basis (especially if you are using it to store long-term information)
  • Use it! Use it every day to recall simple pieces of information, the more you practice the better you will get and the faster you will get there.
  • If you intend to use a Memory Palace to store longer term information, it may be worth using a different palace for the this purpose or a section of your main palace that you only visit to for this information
  • Relax! Over thinking your memory palace will actually make it harder to store and recall information.

So there we have it, a simple, yet incredibly effective way of memorising a lot of information, maybe you are study for exams at the moment? If you are you can use this to memorise and recall all the information you need.

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Jason J Scoltock