Friday, March 14, 2014

Mind Palace - A How To

Welcome back. Using a mind palace to store information is a bit like tricking your brain into working like a computer. In order to create a mind palace which will function effectively, you're going to need three things. You'll need a place, data, and an encoding method. Your place is a bit like a hard drive - it's the place where all the data goes. More importantly, it's the place where all the data is stored, waiting for you to need it, at which point the data will be right there where you left it. The data is a little trickier to think about - it's anything. Absolutely anything that you need to remember can be data (phone numbers, playing cards, people's names, etc.). And how will you remember it? You'll need an encoding method. If your place is your hard drive, your encoding method is your software. It's what allows your to translate the data into something that your brain (hard drive) can understand and store away for later.

1) A Palace - A mind palace is a place. It can be any place you'd like (your house, your friend's house, your work, even your city). It can even be made up (although I'd advise using "real" places until you've got some practice in). The important thing is that the place does not change - it could be sunny, rainy, whatever - but the building itself, the architecture, does not change. This is very important, primarily because you will be "filling" your place with things, and those things WILL change. It's best to have some element of constancy to anchor the variable things on. Finally, you need to pick a route within your mind palace - a specific path you follow when walking through. It doesn't always have to be the same route every time, but when storing/recalling the same set of data, you must walk along the same route. This will become more clear as we go on. I'll post some more tips on optimizing the efficiency of your mind palace once we have a good understanding of how to use one.

2) Data - In order to store data in a mind palace, you'll need to figure out exactly what it is you are storing. Typically, you'll want to avoid storing multiple kinds of data in the same mind palace (there's no law against having multiple palaces - in fact, it's highly encouraged). In my first experience using a mind palace, I was memorizing a shopping list full of random items. I've since used it to remember a deck of playing cards in order, a list of names of people I'd never met, and even a list of landmarks in ancient Rome for a quick cramming session. The reason I'm telling you this is so that you understand the importance of knowing your data. you can't remember something you've never seen. You have to hear, see, touch, taste, or smell it. You can't memorize a shopping list that you can't read. Make sense?

3) Encoding Method - This is the crux of the mind palace. This is how you turn your hard-to-memorize data into something your brain can use. In order to do this, we'll be converting all of your data (names, numbers, playing cards) into images. Those images will then be "placed" in your mind palace, just like we did in Part 1 of this topic. Then, by walking through your mind palace along your pre-defined route, you can remember which images you placed where, which will then be decoded into the data you originally stored. How do we decide which images to use? The secret - it's all about using your imagination. Your brain very efficiently processes and stores very specific kinds of information - the funnier, weirder, and (in some cases) sexual your images are, the easier it will be for your brain to remember them. For example, in order to remember that the first thing you need to do in your day is call Peggy, you might imagine a pirate with a wooden peg-leg yelling into a cell phone. It sounds silly, but it gets the point across.

To demonstrate, let me take you back over the mind palace we created in the introduction.

We started at the front door, where we found a doll-house, which reminded me to tell you that you need a place to store the images. Then, we step inside to find a giant playing card with things written on it, which reminds me to tell you about the kinds of data you can store in a mind palace, and give you some examples of what you can use it for. Then, as we get into the next room, we see the bank of computers with the large flash drive - this is the part where I talk about the encoding method, which converts images into things that your brain remembers better. The other two images refer to the science of mind palaces, and remind me to tell you about where they came from (history). They also remind me to talk about how to maximize the efficiency of your own mind palace, and the different encoding methods you can use.

But that's for another post. Later!