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How to Use the Memory Palace Technique

Learn how to use the memory palace technique in this Howcast video about memory techniques featuring memory expert Barry Reitman.


Hi, I'm Barry Reitman, and I'd like to talk about the Memory Palace. Memory Palace is a system that goes back about 25 hundred years. It was invented by a Greek poet, Simonides, and by the way, this is a true story. It was recorded by Cicero. Here's what happened and here's why it's important. Simonides was at a banquet in a giant, old room built of stone. Someone asked that he go outside to meet with a visitor. While he was outside of the banquet hall, it collapsed, and all these giant stones crushed everyone. They were crushed beyond recognition, but Simonides realized that he could identify everyone even though they were unrecognizable by where they were positioned at the banquet tables, and that led to his development of the system.

At your home, be it a house or an apartment, you are very familiar with the rooms in your home. So I'm going to tell you a little bit about my home. When you use this, you're going to use your home. The nice part about the Memory Palace system is that after you learn ten things in each of five or six or seven rooms, you can then start a whole another system with the rooms in the home that you grew up in. You remember that pretty well. You can use it in a number of different ways, but here's the system. The first thing I'm going to do is pick ten items, and if you want to start with five items in a room that's okay, but I suggest ten items in every room in your home, and always use the same ten items in the same order. I happen to go around my rooms in a clockwise direction. You can go counterclockwise, as long as you always do the same thing.

When I walk into my living room, the first thing I see on my left is a small bookcase. My number one in my Memory Palace is bookcase in the living room. The second thing I see is a picture window, a large picture window. Number two. Number one is that small bookcase. I walk around, there's the picture window. Number three is a small picture that's hanging to the side of the picture window. Number four is the fireplace. Number five is a large oil painting over the fireplace. Let's stop there just for demonstration. You can see that I go around the room to the sofa, to a bar cabinet, around to a small glass table, to a small couch, to a small loveseat, and then to a larger table. Whatever you use in your room is going to be fine. Use it regularly. Now, here's the trick.

Let's say I wanted to remember the periodic table of elements by the numbers. Number one is hydrogen. I am going to take a hydrogen bomb and blow up that bookcase, and as always, I focus on things and I picture them, so I'm not going to be talking about a hydrogen bomb and the bookcase. I'm going to see it blow up. I'm going to see it explode. Number two in the periodic table of elements is helium, like the helium that's in a balloon that makes it rise. So I'm going to see that picture window rising up to the ceiling. The wall is going to be there and the picture window is going to be up on the ceiling. Helium has brought it up there. Number three in the periodic table is lithium. You can use whatever you want to picture lithium. It happens to be a kind of a salt, so I'm going to take a salt shaker, take off the cap, and throw this salt at that picture. Number four on the periodic table is beryllium. You know what I'm going to do? I'm going to take wooden barrels, beryllium, barrels, and shove them into the fireplace.

Number five is boron. Number five, in my Memory Palace around my living room is that large oil painting. And you know what? I don't like it. It was painted by a moron. Boron, moron. Rhymes are good to help us remember things. So the first thing I saw when I entered that room is a hydrogen bomb blowing up the bookcase. The next thing I saw was helium, number two, lifting up that picture window. That's impossible. That's what makes it work, things that are impossible or silly. Number three, lithium, a kind of a salt. You can come up with another picture if you prefer, but I'm just going to take the top off a salt shaker and liberally throw the salt all over that small picture. Number four is the fireplace, and as I'm saying it, you're probably seeing those wooden barrels being shoveled into my fireplace, burning up. Beryllium, barrel-ium, beryllium. Number five is boron. Oh yeah, the moron who painted that large picture.

You can go around your entire house and easily come up with ten things in order that you use all the time in each room. If you have a five-room apartment, that's 50 numbered items, 50 numbered items that you can easily remember by not trying to remember them, just picturing where they are in your Memory Palace.

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