Lauren asked: Hello, I’m an INTJ and I have a question about the mind palace memory technique. I started using the mind palace technique about 2 years ago. Maybe I just haven’t devoted enough time and energy to it but I’m having issues with information remaining in tact. For instance, I want to remember a suspicious car, so I put it in my mind palace but when I return to it only pieces remain. I can remember the make and color but not the model and license plate. On the other side, things aren’t being permanently deleted. I throw everything away in a trashcan but a few things still keep persisting. What am I doing wrong and how should I fix this? Thanks.
For starters: Memory Palaces for Dummies
Specificity is Key
Based on your example with the car, it sounds like your main problem is that the image/concept of the car that you’re placing into your memory palace is too general. If you’re trying to remember a piece of information that’s extremely specific, you’ve got to plant an equally specific image in your memory palace.
How to make your images more specific
#1 Walk through your mind palace in a specific order: First of all, it’s always wise to walk through your mind palace taking the same specific route every time. Before I can get to where I’ve stored George Orwell’s Shooting an Elephant, I must pass Salman Rushdie’s English as an Indian Literary Language by Salman Rushdie, Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, Fredrick Douglas’ Narrative of the Life et cetera.
The reason we walk through our mind palaces in a specific order is simply to avoid confusion. It’s the same reason that musicians practice scales before practicing their concerto, or why dancers stretch before they dance. This is why the memory palace system doesn’t work for improvisors. It’s a method for people who plan ahead and who work at a steady pace rather than in bursts of energy.
#2 Pre-place your images: The memory palace that I use for memorising information quickly and on the fly already has 20 images that I’ve pre-placed in a specific order so that I don’t have to make up new ones every time I try to plant a new piece of information in it. This is a diagram I drew to explain it to a friend when I was 14 (it’s not great, but I’m too lazy to make another one).
The numbers (which, in reality span well into the hundreds) follow a specific route through the memory palace, and each is associated with a specific image. For instance, I know that number 4 is always going to be Nikola Tesla with his lightening machine.
So, if I want to remember that I saw a suspicious car, I simply find some way to associate all of the details with that image of Nikola Tesla and his lightening machine.
#3 Make sure your image is different from your concept By this, I mean that if you’re trying to remember a suspicious car, the image you place in your mind palace isn’t necessarily going to be a car. The pieces of information that I connect to the Nikola Tesla #4 image have nothing to do with Nikola Tesla until I deliberately connect them to the image. Your pre-placed images can really be anything you can imagine. You simply have to be able to visualise them distinctly, and they have to stand out as unique and out of the ordinary. If your mind palace looks like a regular house, the images you place in it should look out of place.
You can’t place a piece of information in connection with an ordinary looking lampshade and expect to remember it the next day when you go back to it.
#4 Layer your concepts:
Layering is the act of simultaneously placing multiple concepts within one image. Location #4 in my memory palace is associated with not only Nikola Tesla, but with the number 4, so I know that any piece of information placed in that location will be fourth in line if I’m memorising chronologically.
Give me a list of 20 random words/phrases with only 30 seconds to memorise them. Then tell me a number between 1 and 20 and I can tell you which word/phrase coincides with that number. All this is simply due to the fact that I already have both a number and an image in place.
You can make trails like this in a memory palace up to hundreds of places if you get good enough at it.
Taking out the Trash Properly
If you’re using your memory palace according to the specifications above, you shouldn’t have any problem with deleting things. In fact, the majority of your images will simply delete themselves if you don’t go back to specifically try to recall them. It’s like when you stick something in the fridge and forget about it. It just goes bad.
See, the thing about the memory palace system is, if you’re using it properly, the only things that will really stay there long term are images that are quite specific that you reference often. This means that you regularly walk through your memory palace and revisit all of the images that you want to keep firmly planted in it.
The ones you don’t want, you simply ignore until they disappear.
The only time you actually need to go in and “delete” something is when you need to make room for a new piece of information. Regardless, the best away to make sure that any piece of information is permanently deleted from your memory palace is to replace it with a new piece of information.