Practical Memorization: Part 2 - 10 Tips to Choose the Best Loci for Your Memory Palaces


This is the second part of my series of articles on practical memorization. Today, we will go deeper into the memory palace technique. As a reminder, the memory palace is a powerful memorization technique used by ancient Romans and Greeks, world memory champions, and medical students.

In the last article, I showed you how to create your very first memory palace in your house. Today, I’ll give you 10 tips on the choice of the loci, based on my experience of building more than 80 memory palaces.

Remember that the loci are the different places in your memory palace where you store the objects you want to memorize. When you need the information contained in the memory palace, just walk on it in your imagination, loci by loci, to remind yourself what you stored in it.

Memorizing ideas for an article at the dentist

Before I give you the tips, I would like to illustrate a very practical use of memory palaces that happened recently in my day-to-day life. 2 days ago, I went to the dentist for teeth whitening. It is a long procedure that lasts one hour. During this session, I had plenty of ideas for a new article I was writing on good posture.

In total, I had 21 ideas during that session. Without the memory palace technique, I would have to write down all these ideas to make sure I capture them. And writing them was not an option, since obviously, you can’t write anything when you are in a chair and someone is putting their hand in your mouth. But using the memory palace, I was able to memorize the 21 ideas.

This was not shallow memorization. I didn’t run in panic after the dentist session to write down my ideas. In fact, I wrote them down confidently about 3 hours later. This is the magic of memory palaces. The information you store in them is very stable and reliable. But it requires that you choose your loci wisely, which is why I am about to share 10 tips on this subject.

10 tips to choose the best loci for your memory palace

So let’s say you want to create a new memory palace. As a beginner, I would advise you to do this using your current house or childhood house – this is the one I used at the dentist. These places are handy as they are the most vivid in your episodic memory – the memory of what happens in your life.

In the first article of the series, I explained that to build a memory palace, you simply need to identify a series of places in your house where you will store the objects you want to memorize. To give you an idea, my memory palaces usually have 30 to 60 loci on them. This means you want to find at least 30 places in your house where you will put the objects you want to remember. And there are a couple of rules to follow in order to optimize the retention power of your memory palace.

Here they are:

1) Don’t use 2 similar loci next to each other: this is a crucial point. For example, if you are in the dining room, you might like to use the four chairs of the table as four loci. Don’t do that. Each of your loci must be noticeably different than the previous and next loci. This will help avoid confusion while retrieving the objects stored in your memory palace.

2) Try to put the same space between each of your loci: for a house, it’s generally a good idea to separate each loci by about 1 meter. You don’t need to be extra perfectionist on this. But objects must be spaced evenly for optimal retention.

3) Avoid repeating patterns: this is similar to rule number one, except that you will want to avoid having similar clusters of loci. For example, if you take as loci: one table, one chair, then another table, then another chair, this is a repeating pattern that can cause confusion while recalling what is stored on your memory palace. Here’s an example of a place full of repeating patterns:

4) Always turn in the same direction: what you want to do is to browse your house, one room after the other, and take the places you find by turning in the same direction, for example clockwise. Let’s say you start with the hall and you turn clockwise. Then you would turn left around the hall and choose locis that you find in that direction, then you turn on the left in the next hallway to the next room, then turn left around the room, etc.

5) Don’t move back: it’s not a good idea to choose a place as loci, then move back and choose another place as loci, then move forward again. Try to follow a regular general trajectory.

6) Choose sufficiently big spaces: if you choose small places, or suspended ones, you might have difficulties imagining objects on them. So try to choose reasonably large loci. For example here, don’t choose the wall mirror as it’s hard to imagine an object in it:

7) Don’t align 3 subsequent loci together: while it’s not a good idea to move back and forth while choosing your loci, it’s also not a good idea to align 3 or more loci together. With experience, I noticed that you want to have a slight angle between your loci, to reduce the risk of ignoring one of your loci while visiting the memory palace for recall.

8) Keep the same height: try to have the same height for each of your loci. Don’t be a perfectionist on this. But if you put one loci, then move up for the next one, then go back to the floor, it might be too convoluted to remember. At least, try to avoid being forced to move your head up and down while browsing your loci.

9) Don’t choose dark loci: this might look strange but if you put an object in a dark place in your memory palace, you will remember it less clearly than if it is in a bright place. So don’t choose a dark loci. For example, this room is too dark:

10) Use remarkable architecture points: this rule is similar to rule number one. When you choose places that are strikingly different than the rest, it’s better for your memory.

Once you have chosen your loci, write them down somewhere, and review the list frequently. When I was a beginner, I often built memory palaces that I lost after a couple of months because I did not use them enough. It’s better to revise the list of loci from time to time, in order to be able to use the memory palace at will when you need it. I will show you how to do this in a future article.

Today, I gave you more details on how to create a memory palace, a powerful memorization technique used by world memory champions. As I told you, memory palaces are perfect to memorize your ideas in everyday situations where you can’t take notes such as while running, swimming, bicycling, or at the dentist.

But to retain the information effectively in your memory palace, you need to choose your loci wisely, which is exactly what we did using the 10 rules I gave you in this article. Also, don’t forget to take note of the loci you have chosen and review the list regularly, or your memory palace will disappear after a couple of weeks.

Photo credits: arpa sarianAli Lokhandwala and Danial Kalbasi on Unsplash

About the author 

Alex Philippe

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