What is a Mind Palace anyway? – #LearningWithMindpalace

tl;dr - A 'Mind Palace' is a memory technique where you build an imaginary structure in your mind to store memories, so they're easy to find when you need them.

Why 'Mindpalace'? - Big fans of Sherlock? - What's a 'Mind Palace' anyway?

We get questions like these all the time at here at Mindpalace, so we figured it's time to share some info and a story.

First off, what is a Mind Palace?

Basically, a Mind Palace is a trick to help you remember things. Think about what you normally do when you try to remember a grocery list:

    "Apples, eggs, bread, coffee..."

Most likely you just try to memorize the words, maybe you say them over and over to yourself to try to make them stick. If you're like most people, you probably have to actually write them down on a note if you don't want to forget something.

With a Mind Palace, instead of just trying to memorize words, you visualize the items in a physical structure in your imagination. It helps if it's somewhere familiar, like your home. In your mind, you place images of the things that you want to remember in your imaginary location. Later, when you want to recall the items, you walk through the imaginary location again and visit the images.

This might sound crazy if you've never tried it before, but trust me, it works.

If you've watched Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock Holmes, then you've seen him visit his own Mind Palace to remember obscure details to solve crimes. Sherlock has a famously good memory, so if it works for him, maybe it could work for you?

Sherlock Holmes looking for a memory in his mind palace

Now, I know that Sherlock is a fictional character, so maybe he's not that convincing. But ancient Greek and Roman scholars also used the Mind Palace technique to remember names, numbers, faces, and other important information. (Check out The Art of Memory by Francis Yates for more info on the history)

The reason Mind Palaces work is because they take advantage of the way we form memories. Different people learn and remember things differently depending on how they experience the information.

Maybe you're a visual learner and you're great a remembering things you see (I'm like this). Or maybe you're better at learning and remembering things you hear (I'm very much not like this). Regardless of which method is better for you, it's always better if you involve multiple senses. It's even better if you can involve emotions in the process. Our brains are great at forming memories when there are strong emotions attached.

So how does a Mind Palace harness this?

By imagining yourself in a familiar location, like your home, you are automatically bringing in all the associated emotions. You're making use of your visual sense by imagining the item in the room with you. The technique also involves imagining yourself in your Mind Palace in 3D, so you are fully immersed in the experience. All of these things work together to help you create multiple associations, which strengthens our ability to remember. The more associations you make, the easier it is to remember something.

Neurons lighting up, like they would when building a mind palace

The first time I learned about the Mind Palace technique was when I was just 10 years old. My fifth grade English teacher introduced the idea to us with a powerful practical example.

At the start of class one day she told us that she would read off a list of items for us to try to remember. She started down the list of completely random things:

    "A chair, a bumblebee, raspberries..."

The list was around 30 items long, and most of the class gave up before she had even finished reading it.

At the end of the school day, around seven hours later, she asked us to list off as many items as we could remember. It was not impressive.

It turns out that our working memories are only able to remember around 7 things at a time. Where I grew up in Canada, local phone numbers were 7 digits long for exactly this reason. Nowadays you have more digits because the area code is always included, but the principle stands.

Back at school the next morning, our English teacher let us in on a secret trick - the Mind Palace. She had another list of random items for us to remember, but this time she told us to close our eyes and imagine that we were walking through our house as she read the list. The key was to place the items we were trying to remember in a physical location within our imaginations.

At the end of the day, she asked us to list as many things as we could remember from this new set of items. I got them all. And that does not mean that I'm some talented memory-freak, quite the opposite usually. There were actually a few other students who remembered everything, and everyone remembered more than on the previous try.

It has been nearly 20 years since that day, and I still remember about half of the items. As I walk up to my parents' house in my mind, the front steps are a deck of cards, the front door handle is an orange, and just inside the door there is a suit of armor in the corner.

If I can use a Mind Palace to remember a useless list of random items for 20 years, just think about how it could help you if you apply it to important information.

Here at Mindpalace, we're building a smart personal library where you can start creating your own Mind Palace. Even with memory techniques, it's tough to remember all the interesting information that we encounter every day through articles, podcasts, videos and more. Rather than memorizing, Mindpalace gives you a single place to save everything you find interesting and has tools to help you learn and remember more from the things you save.

Try out Mindpalace here or shoot me a message at luke@mind-palace.io.

September 9, 2020