How to Make a Memory Palace: An Overview of the 'Loci Method'
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.