How to Build A Mind Palace

Have you ever had to give a speech or presentation?  Have you ever tried to memorize that speech? How did you do it?

You likely spent HOURS repeating, rehearsing, memorizing one line at a time, adding another, hours and hours and hours.  And afterward – as soon as you presented it and the pressure is off, what happened to all that effort? – gone. Your brain was like, “Well, I’m done with that forever.” and released it.  All memory of that beautiful speech you spent hours of your life writing, and hours and hours rehearsing? Gone!

And weddings are wrought with speeches – although we put time limits on everyone, and tried to minimize the number of them as well… But anyway. I wish I had known about this memory trick back then – AND when I was memorizing my speech years ago in Japan. I had entered a Japanese speech contest and I can’t tell you the TIME I spent on memorizing that one! WOW. Oh boy, this would have helped me with that!  

And time is your most precious resource. It is finite, and you don’t want to waste it memorizing things in the most inefficient way – rote repetition.

So, I thought I would teach you this awesome trick today. It’s actually centuries old, but I learned it from my favourite Brain Hack-master, Jim Kwik about a year ago. 

And, like I said, I’ve been using it a lot lately, and it’s been totally helping.

Usually, I prefer to work off a script, because I tend to go off on rants and lose my place, when I wing it, and I’m not as articulate as I am when I’ve written things out.  However, I find it challenging to read from my script AND look into the camera at the same time. It just looks choppy – I’ve downloaded a bunch of apps, I’ve tried online teleprompters, but nothing was cutting it.

And then, I remembered this trick, and decided to give it a whirl. 

So, it’s call The Loci Method – or, if you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan, this Loci method as the Mind Palace. 

Loci is the plural of Locus, which means location.  So, the history behind the loci method, or memory palace takes place 2500 years ago in ancient Greece, where an orator named Simonides (sy-MON-i-deez) was giving a speech inside a stone banquet hall.  Just after stepping outside to chat with someone, the giant stone building collapsed, and everyone inside perished.  And, their bodies were unrecognizable.  

But, Simonides realized that he was able to identify the remains because he remembered where each person was sitting – he could associate each person with a location.

And so, this Loci Method was born.  

And today, I’m going to teach you how to expand it a bit more, to be able to memorize larger bits of information, or longer pieces of text – like speeches, interview responses, introductions, formal thank yous, presentations, and those kinds of things.

As a human, your memories are wired to be associative.  That means, we store information based on what it is associated with – it’s called elaborative encoding – it’s how our short term memories become long-term – by connecting a new memory with a pre-existing one.  Every memory has another memory attached with it.  And, the stronger the attachment, the more easily that memory can be recalled. 

It’s like… let’s say you are invited to a party at your friend’s house.  When you walk into the party, you take off your jacket and lay it over the back of a chair.  You spend time at the party, chat with the other guests, have a great time, and then 3 or 4 hours later, you go back to where to retrieve your jacket?  The chair.  Why? Because that chair held your jacket in your brain.

So, the first thing you want to do is pick a place, or series of places you’re very familiar with.  Like, rooms in your house, bus stops on your route to work, highway exits along your daily commute, buildings or landmarks on your walk home from school, objects in a familiar space like your home, classroom or office, or even route maps within your favourite video game – and number them.

Now, you want the locations to be familiar, so that you’re not using brain power to think about them.  This is why we want to use things that are permanent and easily accessible to your mind without effort. So, this step is important.

Choose locations and/or items within them that will represent permanent items in your memory.  

Actually, let’s try this together.  Assuming your house is a very familiar place to you, close your eyes, take a breath, and visualize your house.  And, we’re going to assume we’re working with something like a speech here, that we’re going to break into 10 parts.

Choose one room in your house and see it in your brain.  Within that room, find 5 large permanent objects in your mind, and give each one a number – it may help to scan the room from left to right, just to keep things in a smooth flow as we move through.  

Choose prominent permanent objects, and avoid choosing 2 of the same object, like don’t choose dining room chairs 1, 2, 3, and 4. Instead use the set of chairs as one item. 

Also, you want things that are easy to notice, and identify, so large objects are best vs. things like plants, figurines, small picture frames, and such.

So, if you’re imagining your kitchen for example, maybe the microwave is 1, the sink is 2, the window is 3, the fridge is 4 and the table is 5.  

Whatever items you choose, picture them now, and give each a number – that’s your route – and you’re going to follow that same route every time you use your mind palace.  This helps lock down your long-term grip holds for your new memories to hook onto.

Now, I said we were going to look at a speech with 10 points, and we’ve only established 5 locations thus far.  So, you’re going to move into another room in your house – one that makes sense and flows from the route you just laid out – what’s the next room?  

Do the same thing there – choose 5 large, permanent items there – and number them 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10.  If it’s you’re living room, maybe #6 is the couch, 7 is the clock on the fireplace, 8 is the corner floor lamp, 9 is the tv, and 10 is the coffee table.

Run through those 10 items in your mind over and over.  Quiz yourself – “What’s #8?” or “What’s the 3rd item in room 2?” If you can answer that without having to walk through items 1-7, you’re brain is primed and ready.

So, now with your speech, you’re going to identify the 10 major points.  

Okay, so you have your 10 locations.  Your speech is broken down into 10 major points. Now we’re going to add that information to the locations by associating each piece with the objects in each rooms. 

Remember that your brain works better with pictures PLUS words, so you want to convert each part of your speech, or a keyword or phrase from it into an exaggerated, absurd or silly image, including sensory details, bright colours, smells, sounds, and/or movements. 

Then, you just proceed along your mind palace route, connecting those silly images to the loci in your palace. 

Okay, so that may have sounded like a long process, for an allegedly simple technique, but I assure you, it takes very little time to implement.  

So, let’s try it out together, shall we?  I’m going to walk you through 10 new pieces of information – 10 brain healthy habits, and I want you to use your loci method – your mind palace – to remember these 10 things.

The first thing you want to do to maintain good brain health is adopt a brain-healthy diet.  So, take your first location – for me, it was my microwave in the kitchen – and imagine all those brain healthy foods that we learned in episode 11 in that location.  So, I might picture my microwave overflowing with avocado, blueberries, broccoli, coconut oil, eggs, green leafy vegetables, salmon – eeeewww, I can smell that salmon in the microwave. GROSS!  But I know it’s good for me – walnuts, dark chocolate and water.  The microwave is jam packed and stinky, and what a weird combination of food to put in there, and it beeps and because it’s overstuffed, the door blows off, and it all comes pouring out.

You take those brain foods and put them in your location, exaggerate, make it silly and sensory to help your brain remember.

The second brain-healthy habit is squashing ANTs – Automatic Negative Thoughts.  My location 2 is the sink, so I walk past the microwave with the door blown off, step over the food on the floor, and look in the sink because I hear footsteps – and I see a huge stream of ANTs… with trumpets filing out of the sink and heading toward the food on the floor.  They’re ecstatic about the feast upon which they are about to descend, and so they’re cheering and blowing their horns, and saying “Don’t worry, ma’am, we’ll take care of the mess!” And I start trying to squash them (but I don’t like the idea of stomping living beings – especially talking ones – so they actually just squeak when I stomp on them and turn into sparkly beings – positive thoughts).

Number 3 is exercise – my location is the window, and I think about scrubbing the window and how sore my arms and shoulders are when I do that, and how I have to basically become a contortionist to even reach the window, and so I count that as my workout for the day.  Exercise. Put exercise in your 3rd location.  

Number 4 is nutrients – the stuff you don’t get from your diet, you can get from supplements, so put brain supplements like DHA, Vitamin A, D, magnesium, etc. in your location 4.  I might imagine giant pill bottles with the labels of the supplements on them in big colourful letters – they’re in the fridge all lined up in alphabetical order on the middle shelf.

A positive peer group is the 5th key to a healthy brain, so put that in your 5th location.   Mine was the kitchen table, so I picture my 5 positive peers sitting around the table chatting with each other. You are a combination of the 5 people you spend the most time with, so you want to surround yourself with positive people who support you. And, so they are all sitting around my kitchen table. Everyone is smiling, because they are positive, and they’re saying positive things to me.

6th is a tidy environment. My location was the couch in my living room. And I picture my pristine couch covered in plastic, (which it is NOT, in real life – but it’s my imagination here, so I can do whatever I want with it).  So, I picture a pristine clear, sparkling sofa that makes that plasticky squeaky sound when you sit on it.

7 is sleep, so take your location 7, and do what you will with sleep. I’m going to cut these last ones short, to give you the freedom to explore with your own imagination.  My 7th location is the clock on the fireplace, which indicates bedtime.  I imagine it’s gentle tick-tocking carrying me off to dreamland.

8 is brain protection – like wearing a helmet.  So, put that in your 8th location. Mine is the corner lamp – so I might turn the lamp shade into a 49ers helmet because that’s my team.  OR I could turn it into a Dallas Cowboys helmet, because, I don’t love them, and therefore it’s an eyesore for me, and stands out more in my memory.

The 9th key to optimal brain-health is new learnings. Put it in your location – mine is the TV, so watching documentaries, for example…. remember to exaggerate, use senses, make it silly.

And 10 is stress management. If you want your brain to be healthy, you need to manage your stress effectively.  So, I might imagine myself doing yoga or meditating on my coffee table.  What do you imagine in your 10th location?

So there it is.  It’s a bit of work in the beginning to set up, but ease and speed will come with time.  

And, if there is something new you have to memorize, you can choose a new palace, new loci – you are probably very familiar with many different places in your life – home, work, school, grandma’s house, school…

So that’s it.  That’s the loci technique. It’s very handy – it works like a charm, and imagine teaching this to your students to help them memorize things – facts, figures, categories of information, sequences, speeches, presentations, there’s all kinds of stuff it’s great for!

So, as always, I will leave you with our big 3 questions, and would love to hear about your responses: 

  1. How can you use this?
  2. Why must you use this?
  3. When will you use this?

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