Last night, in an hour, I memorized all the titles of Shakespeare’s plays in the order he wrote them. Pretty good for a girl who has never given a damn about Shakespeare (the literal amount of “I do not care” I extend toward Shakespeare horrifies most of my friends). I sat down at breakfast and wrote them out in sequence for my family, much to their astonishment. I should have done it backwards and really watched their minds explode.
And I have Sherlock to thank for it.
Back in season two when the “Memory Palace” came up, I thought it an interesting idea but was preoccupied learning other things and didn’t bother to dive into any research. But this season, the Mind Palace has a much more prominent role so I decided to learn how to do it. Once I understood the principle, I realized I’ve been doing it subconsciously for years—always with success. I have a habit the night before I go somewhere of sitting down and planning the route in my head, imagining where I’m going and what I will see there, while planting things to do along the way. On the occasions when I forget my to-do list, it doesn’t matter – I do everything on it anyway, and usually in less time than I allowed.
The principle is that you anchor information to something familiar to you, and from there go on an imaginary journey of mental picture and word associations that triggers memory vaults. You follow the same sequence each time, which trains your mind to access that information in that order. The starting point must be somewhere you can clearly visualize in your mind. It requires intense concentration and repeated trips through this “information path” to cement the information in your mind, but then the more you retrace it, the faster the information enters your head on subsequent trips. This programs your mind to store the information to you – like building an escalator and later stepping on it and letting it roll you past stored information.
It requires only two things – the ability to visualize and imagination. You anchor everything to a specific place of your choosing and from there construct outer rooms as your knowledge grows, sometimes storing specific memories in certain places along the way. (Sherlock stores a childhood pet in one room.)
For someone who tends to focus on the overall picture rather than the details, this may be a useful way to retain what I learn. Since I’m such an internalized thinker, it’s exciting to think about having a vast labyrinth in my head to delve into whenever I want to explore past obsessions. The possibilities! This will be a lot of fun!
Footnotes: I started with The Memory Palace: Learn Anything and Everything. It was extremely helpful since I need to see a specific example of how something works to adapt it for my own use; the author takes you through a very vivid oddball world populated with things to trigger Shakespeare titles (if you can’t visualize the person or thing he suggests, substitute something that is meaningful to you – for the twins in the living room, I used Fred and George Weasley to remind me of “Comedy of Errors”).
Most of the negative reviews about the book complain it doesn’t work, but the readers then go on to admit they didn’t actually bother to visualize and learn the technique because they “weren’t interested in learning Shakespeare titles,” which defeats the entire purpose. It’s an exercise. It’s practice. It’s proof you can do it before you launch into building a massive library of information. Knowing you can do it is essential to success and prevents you from giving up. Once you learn the principle, you can go on and adapt it as needed.