“Get out. I need to go to my mind palace.”
“He’s not gonna be doing much talking for awhile. We may as well go.”
“Oh, his mind palace. It’s a memory technique ~ a sort of mental map. You plot a map with a location ~ it doesn’t have to be a real place ~ and then you deposit memories there that…theoretically, you can never forget anything; all you have to do is find your way back to it.”
“So this imaginary location can be anything ~ a house or a street.”
“But he said ‘palace.’ He said it was a palace.”
“Yeah, well, he would, wouldn’t he?”
~ Sherlock, “the Hounds of Baskerville”
The quote mentioned above tells you what a mind palace actually does: it improves your memory by giving you an easy way to remember things. In a manner of speaking, if your mind palace is well developed, you will never be able to forget anything. In this post, I will attempt to explain to you as best I can how to create a high-functioning mind palace.
First what you have to do is imagine yourself inside your mind palace. Create an image of yourself inside your mind as if you were in an actual place. It’s easiest, I’ve found, to find things in your mind palace if you walk through it like you would walk through your own house. You could imagine yourself from a first-person perspective, just like if you look around the room you’re in right now, or you could even see it as if you’re playing a video game ~ seeing yourself as an avatar walking around in there.
Once you’ve decided how to travel your mind palace, it’s time to create your first room. I don’t think it’s quite as important to know what your mind palace actually is from the outside, because you’re technically always going to be inside it. I have found it useful to have one room that is like a control room or something, which will be the room you will always find yourself in when you tap in to your mind palace. It’s your starting point. The rest of the mind palace and all if its details and information will fill itself in around you.
When creating the control room, it’s best to make it simple without too many details so it’s easier to get into. You don’t want your control room to be full of color and activity ~ like a library for instance ~ because imagining all those books and chairs and tables will slow down your mental process and your ability to quickly get to the room with the piece of information you’re looking for. Personally, in my mind palace, my control room looks like the room that Jango and Boba Fett live in on Kamino. The walls are white, there are three simple doors leading elsewhere, and a large window on the one side.
Now that your control room is in place, you can start building onto it. You can design your mind palace however you want it to look, and it doesn’t all have to follow the same patterns. Just because my control room is white and looks like the inside of a building in a sci-fi movie doesn’t mean that the rest of my mind palace has to look like that. In fact, it’s more helpful to make your rooms drastically different from each other so it’s easier to imagine them. Always remember to have doorways leading nowhere in your mind palace, though, so you can always add new rooms.
Now it comes to details: what to put in your mind palace’s rooms. If you’re a visual person, it’s better to put items in there that will remind you of something ~ for instance, if you want to remind yourself to act with honor and respect, stick a suit of armor in a corner somewhere. If you’re someone who can remember things just by reading them, a library in your mind palace would be of great use to you. If you want to remember how to do a certain karate move, give yourself a martial arts practice room and imagine yourself going through the movements (this actually works incredibly well ~ I learned the kenpo move Checking the Storm this way after having done it physically only once, and some kenpo moves I have learned in my mind palace after just watching another person do it). If you want to remember a sequence of numbers, such as a phone number or your social security number, the easiest way I have found is by wiring a keypad into one of the doors so you have to enter that number whenever you want to enter the room. When using this method, always remember to actually visualize yourself pressing the numbers on the keypad.
Never rule out the option of putting a person in your mind palace. If you want to remember Babe Ruth’s batting average, just go ahead and stick a baseball player lounge in there and ask him yourself. This works for all sorts of people ~ Sherlock himself is in my mind palace, and he teaches me how to deduce and think things through logically just by going in to visit him. The reason why this works is that, having seen Sherlock so many times, I can put him in there and predict how he would think and see things by what I’ve seen of him on the show. (In case you Whovians are wondering, this also works with the Doctor, and though it’s difficult to choose just one regeneration of the Doctor, trust me, it’s EXTREMELY DIFFICULT to get ANYTHING done with THREE of them in your head all the time.)
All of the places in Sherlock’s mind palace are places he’s been before, and that’s a good method to use, as those places will remind you of memories that might be useful to you. However, all of the rooms in my mind palace are places I’ve never personally been, so I can’t say it’s entirely necessary to only use rooms you’ve been in. It IS easier to use places that you’ve seen, though: for instance, the TARDIS, 221B Baker Street, the Jedi Council Room in the Jedi Temple, or a place from another TV show or movie that you love.
So those are the basics of creating a mind palace of your very own. I encourage you to continue to add details to your rooms as you go along ~ just like with a real house, by no means are you required to leave your rooms exactly as you originally planned them. If you find that an item (which indicates a certain piece of information) is no longer of any use to you, feel free to toss it into the depths and replace it with a different item with an all-new meaning. And not all of the things in your mind palace have to remind you of some valuable fact (like knowing you can cross the Alps by dissolving boulders with vinegar). Like Redbeard, put things in your mind palace that will remind you of something that gives you pleasure (very useful if you’re fighting stress or an anger outburst). Your mind palace doesn’t have to be just one floor, either. I have only finished one floor on mine, but it goes ever deeper.
One VERY important thing to mention before you go: spend a LOT of time in your mind palace. It’s not just there to use when you need to remember something. The more time you spend walking through your mind palace, talking to people in your mind palace, doing things in your mind palace, and remembering why certain things are in your mind palace, the easier it will be to access information in your mind palace.
Good luck, and happy building!
(Oh, and Whovians ~ make sure the Doctor knows ~ YOU are in charge in your mind palace. Never miss a good opportunity to remind him of this. The look on his face is priceless.)