Hello, I'm Hanley; a mind-palacing Welshman training to be a theatre director.

"Did your parents want you to be an 18th century opium smoking French poet?" - Carrie Quinlan on my name

Awaiting to hear from Benedict Cumberbatch about forming an awkwardly English names club.


20th January 2012

Post with 21,297 notes

How To Build Your Own Mind Palace


I’ve been using a mind palace since my teens and never thought it odd until I saw tumblr’s reaction to Sherlock’s use of the technique. A couple days ago I found myself building an extension in order to cram for my philosophy exam the following day and I figured I’d use this as an example and get you all exploiting the genius of this method.

UPDATE 20/1/2014: I’m afraid I cannot accept requests for further help due to real life constraints. Hopefully you will find your question has been already answered.

Basic facts:

  • AKA The Method of Loci or Memory Palace, the mind palace was developed by the ancient Greeks to capitalise on the idea that the mind is better at memorising locations than facts.
  • Your palace is a memorisation of the layout of somewhere familiar to you filled with images which, by association, trigger your memory.
  • I will repeatedly use either ‘image’ or ‘object’ here. You can use words to alert you, but ‘image’ is just easier in context.
  • UPDATE 23/1/12: 'it need not always be objects for the triggers. I for one have a set of colour and sound combinations that often form abstract concepts that lead to my memories' - alexandraya
  • Your palace is a memory aid, not a memory. You have to be aware of storing things in there in order for them to be there.
  • Most people will only need a small palace (ie a single room) for temporary storage; hence Sherlock’s talk of deleting things from his hard-drive. I use a large one as I’m a show off and a hoarder, but I also have a temporary storage section.
  • No, you won’t feel the need to mime things out when you’re searching for something. Yes, you’re perfectly entitled to if you wish. Do expect some gesticulation, though not everyone feels the need so don’t put pressure upon yourself if you find you’re completely still.


First steps

I completely sympathised when Sherlock wanted distraction banished. I need sense deprivation myself; eyes shut and ear plugs in. Sherlock’s pose is optional, but highly enjoyable as you do feel a bit of a badass.

For first-timers I suggest some classical music and to close your eyes. You might find yourself suited to different conditions; that’s just the way I prefer to do things.

Do prepare yourself. It’s a bit like meditation, a bit disorientating but oddly refreshing.

  • Decide upon your palace. For beginners it’s best to choose a real place you know intimately, such as your bedroom. Although the idea of having something grander is rather attractive, the caretaking takes a horrible amount of effort.
  • I speak from experience as my palace is Hogwarts. I have each subject divided into different rooms, though, so it’s more like I’ve a dozen different palaces rather than one. As it’s basically bullshit, you’ll be joining me for Philosophy in the Divination classroom.
  • UPDATE 23/1/12: Sombody (let me know if you know who!) reblogged disagreeing with the above, saying they prefered their imaginary palace; as do I. However, for beginners making their first palace the bedroom is the best practice in 99% of cases; once you’re more confident you can discard reality and head for your hills. Unless you’re completely certain that you can close your eyes and see Bilbo’s hobbit hole as clearly as the room you’re physically sitting in I believe it’s best to start with reality.
  • Picture your palace. Don’t worry about little items like books; all you need is a base layout. Walk around, familiarise yourself with everything.
  • Keep doing this until you’ve a concrete image in your mind which you can recall at will. It may take several days, but don’t fret. It’s a learning process; mastering your first palace is the hardest part.


Storing Things

  • You must take the same route through your palace each time, otherwise you’ll likely get a mental block. No matter what I’m trying to recall I always start in the Slytherin common room, taking the floo to wherever I need to go. If I’m searching I’ll abandon the place as soon as I find what I want, but when I’m storing I always floo or walk ‘home’ to the common room before I leave. It just helps keep things more ordered.
  • The best triggers are either absolutely ridiculous or logical leaps. I find a combination of both to be best, but go with whichever you prefer.
  • An example of the logical leap: I had to remember that ‘Belief In’ is an attitudinal belief, involving personal choices and values, while ‘Belief That’ is a factual belief. Now, dear Sherlockians, the link is painfully obvious.
  • Our belief in Sherlock is a feeling and that feeling governs the fact; the fact that Sherlock isn’t a fake informs our feelings of belief in him. So I have a badge on someone’s lapel which has a silhouette of Sherlock with the phrase ‘I Believe in Sherlock Holmes’ across it.
  • That little badge means I can remember everything I need to about that hypothesis; about four pages of solid text in the book.
  • An example of the ridiculous trigger: I had to remember Hume’s objection to something, which centers around him saying ‘you may as well compare the universe to a vegetable’, so I pictured Hugh Grant sitting at a desk chomping on a carrot.
  • Hugh sounds like Hume, the carrot reminds me of the quote, and Hugh’s happiness at his phallic vegetable informs me of another four pages of the textbook.


Storing Things: Advanced

  • So I’ve got my Sherlock badge and my once popular actor impersonating Bugs Bunny. That works perfectly for what I want to remember, but I need to remember more.
  • This is where interconnecting comes in. Earlier I mentioned that the Sherlock badge was on someone’s lapel; not only is that person a trigger himself, but his interactions with other objects set off six other triggers.
  • Interconnecting like this isn’t for everyone. You may find you’re happier placing things in succession, like on a shelf. When I’m in a hurry I do this and it works equally well, though tends to become confusing as your line of items gets longer.
  • Of course, you also might not need interconnection as your palace need never be that large.



Mind Palaces can be a bitch to get right at first. I went through several different styles concerning everything about mine before I found the one I’m happy with. You need to know the place like you do a lover; so intimately that it sometimes hurts in such a wonderful way. 

Most people use mind palaces for temporary storage of things like shopping lists and phone numbers. If you’re going to use it for an exam have everything in place at least a month before, do not do as I did; that was a dumbass move prompted purely by whatever devil decided to broadcast TRF three days before my exam.

…And Finally

A long-term palace is a commitment as your mind’s a bit like your muscles; if it’s not used your palace will atrophy. You don’t have to update it every day, just check in and review and ensure everything’s where it’s supposed to be. I do this each night while lying in bed.

If you do this you’ll be able to remember things years down the line just by accessing the trigger; I was talking to a woman in her 70s t’other day who had a mind palace as a student 50 years ago and could still remember the exact layout of the eye by returning to it.

[None of these gifs are mine. The Elvis ones are the-strangest-love, but I’ve forgotten where I got the others. My apologies!]


UPDATE: 20/1/2014, 4:20 GMT

I’m at a loss of what to say. For those who’ve not noticed the dates, it’s now been 2 years (to the minute!) that this hit the world. Literally hundreds of thousands of people posses palaces which began by reading this; if you’re reading for the first time take that as proof that you can do it to.

Six months after this was first posted I discussed it with Benedict Cumberbatch who was amazed it really worked. I heartily encourage you to keep on proving to him that it does; I couldn’t be any more ecstatic with the places we’ve all gone together. 


I cannot do justice to the impact this journey has had upon me. Life’s changed so much since then, but people are still learning. You’re always learning.

Unfortunately I am no longer able to accept requests for further help due to time constraints but I’ve put together a master post featuring links to the questions I’ve answered - if you’ve any other queries the answer is hopefully there.

UPDATE: 16/09/2014 10:46 BST

If you want to express thanks, please reblog this. I know a 12 year old John Green fan dying of cancer and we’re trying to contact him before she leaves us.

Please note that everything under the ‘how to build a mind palace’ tag is under a CC license. If you’d likely to contact me, in relation to this or otherwise, you may do so here: anotherbwl@gmail.com

Happy palacing!


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Tagged: How To Build A Mind PalaceMind PalacePhilosophySherlockSherlock HolmesMemory Palace

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