Do you struggle with learning? DId you ever fail an exam? Do you want to learn a new language – the easy way? If you think you can do more than the Memory Palace Technique is going to be a total game changer for you. In this article, I’m going to write about the Memory Palace Technique which
Memory Champions like Joshua Foer use in order to memorize everything and anything. Fast.
This article is going to be my second meta-learning article. Click here to read the first article on how to speed read. This article is going to introduce you to a memory technique that will enable you to basically learn anything. The technique is called the Memory Palace Technique, and it is one of the simplest and most powerful learning techniques you will ever come across.
For example, eight-time world memory champion Dominic O’Brien used this technique to remember 54 decks of cards in a row (that is 2,808 cards).
Why Do You Write About Meta-Learning
One of my main goals with this blog is to study high performers of various fields, and dissect why they are so good at what they do. I want to decode their excellence and break it down into stealable chunks that you and I can learn. What are the habits, routines, strategies, techniques, and tools of the successful, or in this case, the ultra-smart? I believe those skills and techniques should not only be reserved for the ultra-privileged who went to elite schools but to everybody.
The first education I received was in my local neighbourhood, which educationally and socially wise, was rather poor. In this kind of ghettoish school, the focus was not to inspire or to thrive, but to give us an education at all, the minimal dose of education. In consequence, I inherited dysfunctional learning habits and techniques in that school, which caused me major problems in my academic career. It climaxed when I got kicked out for the first time of my university (It should not be the last one x).
At a certain point, I was just tired of fucking up at university, and I sat down and really asked myself: Why am I failing academically? Why are my learning efforts so fruitless? What is the difference between a straight straight-A scholarship student from Harvard, for example, and me?
I took a really, really long honest look at myself and my results, and I took full responsibility for my failures. After all, blaming would not get me anywhere. I realised that if I keep doing the same old approach, my life was going to be really painful.
Why Was I So Bad At Learning?
One of the simplest answers that I came up with was a realisation: I did not know shit about learning! Like, how does my brain store memory? How do I take in information? What can I do to accelerate my memory intake? What can I do to become a better learner?
I am a guy who is very extreme in everything he does. This habit of going down all the way into the rabbit hole has its pros and its cons. A big contra is that I am very susceptible to self-destructive stuff like alcohol or drugs (or even cake x), for example. If I try something, I will go all the way, usually.
The good side of having this extremism about me is that I asked myself a very difficult question regarding the topic of learning. I did not just want to become a better student, I wanted to be an elite, straight A level student. So, I asked myself: How can I transform myself from a college drop out to an elite A level Student?
To answer this question, I began to research books, articles, webinars and tried to learn from the best learners in the world. To do that, I needed to know where they actually are.
Where Are The Best Learners In The World?
At Harvard? At Oxford? Yale? This is what I thought, and I was dead wrong.
Turns out that learning and memorisation is actually a sport, and that there are memory competitions worldwide. So, my thought was; If I am somehow able to steal the techniques and mental approaches of the memory champions in the world, I would be able to completely rock every university in the world. In this article, I am going to write about the second meta-learning technique that I have acquired. If you apply this technique completely and invest some practice time in it, you will be able to learn any topic and any language in a fraction of the time.
What Is A Memory Palace?
The Memory Palace Technique is based on the fact that we are surprisingly good at remembering places we know. A “Memory Palace” is a metaphor for any place that you know super good. A place that is extremely easy for you to visualise would qualify for a memory palace. This can be your home, or the route you take home, or your way to the gym, or your university.
My first memory palace was my home. Of course, you can have more than one memory palace. The idea is that you build a route, and on that route, you always visit some locations in the same order. Those locations are called loci, this comes from the Latin locus, which means location. Very easy loci could be your front door. The idea is now that you visualise at those loci a mnomic.(2)
A mnemonic is any memory technique that helps you remembering something easier.
For example, you want to learn the word freedom, then you imagine a miniature version of the Statue of Liberty in front of your front door. Studies have shown that our brain is terrible at actually learning stuff by just reading words over and over again. Since I come from a psychological background, this seems very plausible to me, because our brain evolved thousands of years before there was any written language. So, to learn effectively, we have to translate information back into the format that our brain can process.
How Do I Build A Memory Palace?
1. Choose Your Palace
Pick a place you are extremely familiar with. My first palace was my home, but you can choose any place you want, or you can create a fictitious place as well. Any place where you can see visualise yourself walking around with ease is fine.
What I did to make this easier for me, was to take a picture of every locus (the different route stops in your memory palace) in my memory palace and put a number on it. Then you can create a blueprint of your room and draw the route that you are walking. Remember, the goal is that you visualise yourself walking through your memory palace from loci to loci.
Tip for memorisation: If you do not want to draw the route with a pencil, go to tinycards.com. This is a side project from Duolingo, where you can learn with flashcards. There, you can create a flashcard deck of your memory palace. Create a Deck with, let us say, 50 loci’s in your memory palace, and on each flashcard, you put a picture of loci. Now, you can combine the flashcard technique with the memory palace technique.
2. Choose Your Loci’s
Remember: Loci’s are the distinctive route stops in your memory palace. If you visualise yourself walking through your memory palace, what is the first station you would find noticeable? If you are as creative as me, and you have chosen your home as your first memory palace, the first loci is probably going to be your front door.
Now, you make a route through your memory palace to the next distinctive loci. Maybe you are the kind of person who takes a dump first thing when you get home, then a good second stop would be your bathroom.
3. Burn The Palace In Your Mind
For this technique to work, you must know your memory palace and the route 100%. I would suggest that you really overlearn it until it is really burned into your mind. Physically walk through your memory palace over and over on the same route. Put small notes on the loci’s in your house with numbers on them until you really remember it. I suggest that you take photos of each and every locus, and put a number on the photo and learn it via flashcards.
Once you have imprinted the memory palace in your mind, you are ready to go!! You have your memory palace, congratulations! With this palace, you will be able to learn any topic whatsoever for years to come. This may very well be the difference whether you speak 1 language or 5, or if you fail an exam or pass it with flying colours.
4. Now Use Visual Associations!
The memory palace system works with visual associations. We now know that our brain is not perfectly suited for learning vocabularies, for example, by just reading them over and over. In fact, trying to remember abstract symbols, such as words or numbers printed on a page is extremely unnatural for our brain.
What we want to do is to transform the information into a format that our brain can remember much faster and much easier. How does our brain think?
Our brain thinks in pictures. Images are the original language of our minds. Let us say you think of a pig, what comes to mind? Is it the letters? P-I-G? No, if you are not a cyborg, then your brain is going to create a picture of a pig. Want more proof?
What language are your dreams in? You guessed right Sherlock; they are in pictures as well. When I was experimenting with lucid dreaming, I found out first-hand that when you dream you cannot see numbers or words. If you ever want to know whether you are dreaming right now or not; watch the clock. If you are dreaming, then the numbers are going to be a fucked up mess. I believe that is the case because it is so hard for our brain to project these unnatural symbols.
So, how do you translate numbers and words into visual associations?
Actually, it is fairly simple if you know-how. You take a picture you know; this image is called the memory peg, and you combine it with the element you want to memorise. (1)
Example: let us say your first Memory Palace is your home, and your first loci is your front door. You want to remember a grocery list, and the first item you want to remember is a Jalapeno.
Now, mentally visualise yourself in your memory palace. You stand in front of your Memory Palaces first loci, the front door. Now you have to imagine in a ridiculous, and crazy way, a jalapeno in front of your Memory Palaces front door. How about a 2-meter tall Jalapeno monster who has a moustache and a squirt gun that is shooting salsa everywhere and is screaming “anus pain for everybody!!” Is that memorable enough for you? I bet it is.
There is only one rule: if it is boring, it is wrong. The more crazy, offensive, stupid, funny, or ridiculous, the better. The goal is to make the scene so absurd that it could never happen in real life.
And, unless you are tripping on shrooms and are attending Burning Man, I highly doubt that you will encounter any jalapeno monsters at all.
Now, let us say the second item you want to remember is chicken. Your second loci inside your memory palace is the bathroom. You now visually walk step by step towards the bathroom. The next item is “chicken”, and the second feature is “picture of Colonel Sanders“. You can imagine that Colonel Sanders, from Kentucky Fried Chicken, is taking a huge dump inside the bathroom of your memory palace and is eating a bucket of wings while doing so! I think you get the idea. From loci to loci, you keep associating images until there are no more items to memorise.
What distinguishes a great mnemonist, I learned, is the ability to create lavish images on the fly, to paint in the mind a scene so unlike any other it cannot be forgotten. And to do it quickly. Many competitive mnemonists argue that their skills are less a feat of memory than of creativity. Joshua Foer
5. Visit Your Palace
You are done memorising the items. If you are like me and you are new to using your technique (or your brain at all), you will probably need a little rehearsal. Rehearsal means that you repeatedly walk through your memory palace and encounter all your crazy associations. When you are ready to walk the route, just turn around, and walk through your memory palace again.
Personal Take Away
Coming from a psychological background, I loved the technique from the start. I often wondered why It was so hard for me, and for others, to learn in school or in life. I now know that our entire educational system is not taking into account how our brain consumes information! To me, this is crazy. What a waste of time and resources, and ultimately, a wastage of human potential. I am a very impatient guy. I want to have progress, and I want to have it fast. I believe that if we use techniques like the memory palace, we will accelerate the process of becoming the best version of us exponentially.
One of the major problems I had with this technique was that it seemed strange to me. It contradicted years and years of classical education, but if you really give it a shot and invested some time and effort into learning techniques, you will have incredible returns. If you are a person who has dreams, you should also ask yourself what kind of person do I need to become to achieve this dream?
Whatever this dream is of yours, I believe that if you master meta-learning techniques like the Memory Palace, you will get there much faster, and getting there means that you have more time for the things that really matter.
Our lives are the sum of our memories. How much are we willing to lose from our already short lives by not paying attention. Joshua Foer, former Us Memory Champion
Call to Action
- Build your first Memory Palace!
- Take a picture of every locus inside your palace, and create a flashcard at tinycards.com with the different loci’s inside your Memory Palace.
- Walk physically through your Memory Palace, and put sticky notes with numbers on each locus. ReWalk the route until you have mentally walked it ten times -mistake-free through your Memory Palace.
- Now it is time for a game: In Germany, we have a game that is called “Ich packe Meinen Koffer”, which means translated, “I pack my suitcase”. You play the game with a friend, and you mentally pack your suitcase; each person gets to choose one random item. Let us say the first item is: shoes. Then you start the next sentence with: I pack my suitcase, and I put in shoes, and then right after that you get to choose another random item. You play until one of you guys misses out an item, or messes up the order in which you put it in your suitcase. With the Memory Palace, you should, from now on, win every game with ease!
- Now put your memory to the test. Click here to get to a random word generator and practice using your palace.