How to Build a ‘Memory Palace’ (and Why You Should)

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Photo Source: BBC America

There are few people in the world who remember everything they’ve ever read, heard or experienced, and from all accounts, they find it a curse, not a blessing. Most of us recall enough to get by, and some not even that much.

Since the ancient Greeks, mnemonic devices have been used to bolster memory. At the most basic level, it’s as simple as creating images for the items you wish to recall and then connecting them to something solid you already know or recognize. For example, to help children remember the lines on the treble clef (EGBDF), they’re taught the mnemonic: Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge, where the first letter of each word corresponds with one line.

When it comes to remembering seven of the people you spoke with at the last industry networking event or the five casting directors you met most recently in auditions, how do you go about recalling that information, along with all your lines, acting techniques, and contact details of people you call or visit for work or pleasure? The answer for most is that you either recall as much as possible and just wing it, or it’s in your phone or a quick Google search away.

But what if you never needed either ever again?

In the BBC television show “Sherlock,” Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular hero dives into his “memory palace” to recall all the details he needs to find a criminal and save the day. His is a vast and sprawling mansion, but yours needn’t be so grand or elaborate to recall the address of the main five casting houses you visit regularly. Though you may now have the muscle memory to help you drive unconsciously to their locations, what about their phone numbers to call if you’re running late?

READ: 6 Genius Ways to Memorize Your Lines

Picture a two-storey house with a picket fence out front. On the fence is a letterbox and behind it a short path to the front steps leading to a porch. You open the front door of the house and enter a small room with a mat on the floor, through which you walk to another larger living room with a big TV screen. Off to the right, there is a kitchen and to the left, there’s a music room. From the living room, you climb a spiral staircase and arrive at the bedroom, and upstairs from that there’s an attic, with a weather vane and chimney on the rooftop.

After running through this two or three times you will have the beginnings of a “memory palace”: 15 individual sections in which to place information from different fields.

Let’s imagine a high jumper leaping the fence of our mini memory palace so that the fence to us now represents “sports.” To the fence, in our minds, we can now attach everything we’d like to recall about football, tennis, and the Olympics. Imagine a huge pile of dusty old documents, sepia photos, and boxes of heirlooms in the attic—this space now signifies “history,” in which we can place everything we learn about the Rosa Parks, the moon landing, and the Civil War. A Yin-Yang symbol, mezuzah, and crucifix nailed to the front door make us think of “religion and philosophy,” and so it’s easy to use the door to guide our mind in that direction. Watch the video below to deck out the entire building and see how easy it is. When you’re done, simply swap out history, geography, and sport for casting directors’ names, studio addresses, and acting techniques, and you’re well on your way to Sherlock-level memorization skills.

Memorizing lines of dialogue can be done in a similar way, so check out my other videos if you’re interested in finding out more. For now, build your “memory palace” and make it as colorful, detailed, and vivid as possible. The mind is always more attracted to stimulating things, so give it all the stimulation it needs by creating funny, silly, dangerous, rude, and hilarious images for it to latch on to.

This technique will vastly improve your memory and confidence, but it won’t help you recall every single second of your life; that’s not the goal. The goal is to recall everything you want and need to remember and let the rest fade into history.

Ready to dramatically expand your memory for dialogue, industry contact names and everything else you wish to recall? Join my four-week Online Memorization Challenge, starting May 9, 2017. From your own home, in your own time, anywhere in the world.

Now check out our film audition listings!

The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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Paul Barry
Paul Barry is an L.A.-based Australian acting teacher, author of “Choices,” and a Backstage Expert. Barry runs on-camera classes in Santa Monica as well as online worldwide and conducts a six-week program called Dreaming for a Living, coaching actors, writers, and filmmakers in how to generate online incomes to support their art.
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