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The Mind Palace (Part 1)

Woman Thinking


It's been a long day and all I want to do is go out for a run. Actually, I don't want to go for a run at all. Who am I kidding? Haha. I am exhausted from another days work and have a number of things flying through my head. But something tells me that I need to do this, if only to just take a moment to feel my feet striking against the pavement. I'm about to reach the door when my beautiful mother named Carole says, "I want to tell you something".

I don't know about you, but when I hear these words from anyone, my stomach drops. It always feels like the beginning of the end. The inevitable dread sets in. "What did I do this time?" I think to myself. We stand together at the kitchen counter as I brace myself. She tells me something about my childhood that shocks me. (NEXT TIME, ON RYAN'S LIFE)

"Did you know that when you were younger, you had a really hard time spelling and recognizing words?" This is news to me. I mean, I'm not going to win any awards for spelling, but I don't recall ever having a hard time remembering words or how to spell them. But I guess that's sort of what it means to be a child. You tend to forget all the little struggles that are superfluous to the day to day challenges of adulthood. She went on to explain that she would sit with me to go over vocabulary words. No matter how hard I seemed to try, I would always forget them. She would make lists for me and I would forget. We would do rote memorization and the words would leave me. It wasn't until she tried something a little bit differently that I started making progress.

She told me that she would take the words and place them in different locations throughout our house. Almost like a scavenger hunt. She said that, 'after that, you soaked the words up.' This memory is interesting to me partly because of how effective the technique was for learning. But it also interests me because I had completely forgotten about this moment. It was a complete blank for me. But the skill I learned on that day, escaped the void. I still use this technique.


Female Teacher Teaching Young Girl


Let me rant for a moment. In retrospect, one of my biggest misgivings about public education was I was being taught what to think, not how to think. Much of my schooling revolved around memorizing dates of events, understanding how grammar works, literature, mathematics, etc...Maybe you can relate to this? What was your schooling like?...What good is all that information and time spent, if you can't remember it all? At a young age, I adopted the philosophy of utility over quantity. The only things worth learning, were things that mattered to me.

This limited viewpoint served me well. Because I no longer cared about information that I deemed useless, I only remembered the bare minimum to pass my course work. I sort of stole the idea from Sherlock Holmes. He didn't care about how the earth moved around the sun because it didn't further his work. So why should I care about when Shakespeare was born? Needless to say, I was a mediocre student at best. But the benefit of this method is powerful. You become a specialist in certain fields, but a bit of a dunce in others.

But enough ranting. Back to the technique my mother taught me. This technique I still use to this day. When I was learning Anatomy and Physiology, I would turn my house into different portions of the body. As I walked through them, various elements of how the body worked were plastered in various places. I had reused the method I had long since forgotten where I got it. The memory had died, but some artifact of remained. This is an important concept to highlight so make sure that you take this key point away. Our memories are ever shifting and can be hard to capture, but most of them are somewhere in our minds. We just need a way to retrieve them.

Try to remember when you first learned how to tie your shoes. Can you do that? What about when you first learned to throw something? What about when you first learned to walk? Okay, that last one is a bit unfair. Children's brains are being rewired and changing rapidly in development. It's no wonder we can't remember when we first learned to walk or speak. However, we still use those skills we learned despite the fact that we can't remember when those things happened.

Unfortunately, your brain isn't like a library. I say that "unfortunately" because I like libraries and think they are excellent examples of organization and information. But we don't have books (memories) that we just return to cluttered shelves that sit in topical and alphabetical order for easy referencing. It's the compact nature of the information that would make it hard for us to create a reference point in our minds eye. Also, words themselves can be hard to remember. So even if your mind was like a library and you could just walk to a shelf and locate a specific memory, the book you open would look just like every other book on the shelf. What distinguishing features or text would make the book and words on the pages memorable enough to keep it in your minds eye?

Let's focus on the technique my mother taught me which I want to share with you? Our brains are marvelous at spatial recognition. What do I mean by that? Think for a moment about the last time you were brought into a new building or place. It could have been a store, it could have been school, your workplace, it could have been a home. Do you remember how it looked? Do you remember were key locations were in the place like the restroom or sink?

Once again, our brains are amazing at spatial recognition. We can use this to our advantage. Grasping this concept is the start of how the mind palace works.


I have a question for you. What was the last vacation that you had? What was it like? What did you find to be the best part of it? If you can answer that question, you might think, "big deal". Memorizing information about things that are novel or that interest us, don't seem challenging. It happens naturally and without much thought at all.

Even if your vacation was many months ago or even years, you probably still remember it. For myself, the last interesting place that I visited was a a waterway near my home. It was beautiful. There were man made reservoirs and plenty of greenery. I ran a 30 minute run that left me feeling invigorated and happy.

But let me ask you another question, what did you eat for lunch 5 days ago? Is it hard to remember this? To be honest, I don't think I can recall unless someone told me a number of the events that surrounded the meal. Those things would have to give me enough context to reconstruct events that lead to the meal. But that's the thing, with enough proding, the memory of the meal would eventually come to the surface. But how do we turn our mundane memories, the ones we tend not to remember, into memorable ones? How do we turn every memory, into a vacation memory?

What would happen if we combined these two elements together, our ability to make automatic memories associated with interesting things and our extreme gift at spatial recognition? We would have the necessary elements to complete a mind palace.

You may have heard of the mind palace from Sherlock on BBC. Sherlock is a pretty incredible character and it can be easy to think that his mental ability is beyond the reach of most of us. The truth is, Holmes, if he was a real person, had to develop the skills and talents that he had including his memory palace. The good news is, you can do the same thing. You can develop a memory palace to remember virtually anything.



Because I think this concept is extremely useful and it takes time to really appreciate the principles of it, I have decided to separate the post into the elements that make up the mind palace and the actual creation of it.


  • Our brains are great at spatial recognition. Recognizing spaces and remembering the layout.

  • Our brains don't entirely forget but information can become fuzzy.

  • We remember things that are memorable and interesting. We can use this knowledge to help us make memories stick.


For one week, spend 10-15 minutes a day locating 10-12 places (physical locations) that you can use for your memory palace. You can use your home if you like, but I personally only use my house as a location for practicing the exercise. I feel that the most important memories should be stored in my home. You can use your local hospital, fast food restaurant, school, town hall. You just need to be familiar with the space enough to ensure that you can visualize it.

If you enjoyed this post, feel free to share it or just discuss some of the concepts with your family and friends. Continue to love to learn again.

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