How to Make a Memory Palace: An Overview of the “Loci Method”

You can make a "memory palace" by using mental places ("loci") you already know, like your bedroom or kitchen, to store memory prompts.

Forgetting is often misplacing, so storing your mnemonics helps you find them again. An ancient method for storing mnemonics uses places you already know, like your bedroom or kitchen. We call these places “loci”, because that’s the Latin for “places”.

The fascinating thing about loci is that how well you remember them. Even if you think you have a bad memory, you can probably imagine exactly where hundreds of items are in your house!

Store mnemonics in the empty rooms of your memory

So here’s the trick: let’s say you want to remember the 46 books of the Old Testament, and you can do it with 42 mnemonics. These mnemonics are things like an apple with a bite for Genesis, an EXIT sign for Exodus, and so on. You need to remember all these in order.

What do you do? Start at one end of, say, your bedroom, and imagine that a huge apple with a bite is embedded in your bed’s headboard. Then imagine a huge EXIT sign is smashed through your bed. And so on.

You mentally go around the things in your loci in order, imagining that you connect each mnemonic to a particular place (like your oven or sink), which serves as a “shelf” object.

If you imagine each scene vividly enough, you’ll remember it later. You’ll imagine your headboard, and see the apple sticking into it, and think, “Genesis!” It’s an amazing trick.

(Of course, you still need to use spaced repetition to review these images, or they’ll eventually fade.)

You can usually fit about 5 items on each “shelf” object in your room. (For instance, we already put 2 items on two different parts of the bed.) This is much more efficient than putting just one mnemonic on each big thing; you’ll run out of room fast.

If possible, try to store the same number of mnemonics on each object (like 5). It’s easier to be sure you haven’t missed anything later.

When you connect, make the mnemonic and the “shelf” into one continuous shape.

For instance, you can:

  • splatter parts of the mnemonic over the shelf object,
  • or impale the mnemonic on the shelf object,
  • or have the mneomnic using the shelf object,
  • or attach them with visible glue, tape, or other connector,
  • or make up an even better way to connect them.

You need a continuous shape so that you won’t “lose” the mnemonic later.

Imagine this as big, bright, and colorful as possible.

And each new combination should be unique. If the headboard and the footboard of your bed look similar, don’t use them both to store mnemonics. The unique shape is what helps your mind find this again.

Should I use the loci method for everything?

No, please don’t! The loci method is splendid, but it’s a lot of work. You should almost always try flashcards first. (For instance, you could try memorizing the Old Testament books in chunks of 5.) It’s always more efficient not to use a mnemonic if you can help it.

You could also try to find or make a poem, or a simple chant. These can be very efficient too.

For a very short list of 5 or 6 items, you can also make the first mnemonic really big, and use it as “shelf” to hold the rest of the items. As long as you can remember that big mnemonic, you don’t really need to store it in any loci.

Still, some loci full of mnemonics can be the perfect tool for a big memory job.

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One Reply to “How to Make a Memory Palace: An Overview of the “Loci Method””

  1. Everything (or most everything) into loci
    First off, I REALLY want to start off with thanking you for making this website. I really appreciate all the effort you’ve put into these great posts, and I’m working on really concreting my memory as of late. You’re helping. A lot. I found your website when trying to compile a page of links to webpages that explain improving memory, and I appreciate your late posts, too, that talk about just UNDERSTANDING the information and being interested. I learned that barely before finding your blog – I had a funny and great teacher who would tell stories and give many examples to explain economics. And I’d remember what he had to say not because his copious PowerPoints had lots of pictures I could make into mnemonics (I still made my own sometimes for a few names and graphs I kept forgetting), but because he went into reasons so well. (Phwoo, long sentence.) He actually only had graphs for pictures. Never anything “fun” or colorful, haha.

    So, I was thinking, despite what you said in this post (I’m reading from earliest to latest, after reading your newest post), wouldn’t it be helpful to store just about everything in a mind palace and in loci so you can access the information anywhere, despite what the situation’s context is? ‘Cause I know available memories change often, depending on where you are, what the conversation is, who you’re with… Probably some other variables, too, though those are what come to mind right now.

    Just looking for your opinion on this. You have more experience with mnemonics than me, since I found out about them only at the end of this last summer, about eight months ago (at least these more complex ones; I’ve used gibberish acronyms for years to help me with tests I forgot to study for, ahahaha) and you’ve been familiar with them for years.

    And, unrelated to what else I’ve said: There’s a typo on this page. “Even if you thing you have a bad memory”…

    Yikes. Thanks so much for reading this long comment. I’m enjoying the blog; thanks for the suggestions and pointers. I’m definitely gonna make an Anki account; I’d seen people around talk about it a lot but thought I wouldn’t need it. Then I found out I’m too lazy to pick up old papers and review them at intervals, haha, so it seems perfect now.

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