Your Polymath Journey: Building your Mind Palace

As we work towards polymathy we come against the daunting challenge of data acquisition. Functionally different from skill acquisition this process requires the absorption and utilization of information that cannot be directly translated into skill. This information can be foundational to support the acquisition and understanding of needed to utilize a skill adequately. The challenge here is in rapid learning and subsequent recall that exceeds your past experiences of cramming with an all-nighter. For the polymath this information needs to be retained and used in order to build something truly remarkable.

For a quick reminder on what a mind palace is and where it came from you can check out my previous article here.

For this article we will focus on tips and tricks for building your mind palace. Filling the palace with data will be handled in a future post.

Lets start with a walk through your house, apartment, or dorm room. We’re going to physically walk through and look at everything. I will illustrate this with my current house. I am on the front porch looking at the red door, there is a fan shaped window at the top. The front door is protected by a metal, glass, and screen storm door attached to the house with a broken door closer that allows it to slam as opposed to close softly. To the right of the door is the small black mailbox, beaten and weathered with the number 71 in small fading stickers. Above the mailbox is the more visible number 71 made of dark tin and attached to the white plastic siding. To light the porch there is a lonely metal and glass lantern with a yellow bulb fixated above the mailbox. To the left and right of the porch are wooden railings and two pillars supporting the pitched roof. On the front of the porch roof is a faded plastic star approximately 12 inches in diameter. There are two broad steps painted the same gray-blue as the rest of the floor leading up to the landing.

You get the idea, right? From this description I have a bunch of loci, points to attach data, in a tight place. Here is the quick list. Steps up to the landing and landing(3); Railings (2); Pillars (2); Mailbox (1); Porch light (1); Roof/Ceiling (1); Star (1); Numbers (2); Screen door and broken door closer (2); Red door and fan window (2). From this description I have 17 loci points in which to place information. Continue this process for each room of your house.

Next make a map. You will need to know a pathway through your house/apartment/dorm that you will walk to retrieve the data you need. The map will direct you to each room in order. Following the pathway in a sequential order helps with recall in the early stages of data acquisition. For me the sequential order of Loci on the front porch are as follows. I start with the pitched roof, move on to the star, continue down the the first step, the second, the landing, the left pillar, left railing, screen door, broken door closer, red door, fan window, mailbox, numbers, lantern, right railing, right pillar. ( My preference is to move clockwise around a room, though this is not mandatory). From here I will move into the foyer and review the loci therein. I will then continue through the living room, kitchen/dining room, my office, my fiancée’s office, the bathroom, hallway, washroom/pantry. Since each room can have on average 20 loci, this gives me approximately 180 loci in the first level of the house. If I continue through the basement and second floor I can expect a total of about 400 loci. That is a lot of information.

Alright, so you have your first mind palace, now what? Now you find a nice cozy cushion and settle in for some self-guided meditation. I want you to sit quietly, perhaps put in some earbuds without music or sounds, and mentally walk through your palace. Recall each room in detail and cycle through the loci points you identified in your physical walk through. Do this a couple times a day until you are comfortable with the process and can quickly cycle through the loci.

Now that you know how to set up a mind palace you can continue to build upon it. Having roughly 400 loci is a good start, but if you’re serious about absorbing as much information in as short a time as possible then you will likely need more. For example, some of the projects I have worked on in the past have required multiple buildings all laid out around a courtyard. Depending on the type of information I was learning at the time I would use different buildings from my past that I could still mentally fly through. You can do the same thing.

Now lets go through some advanced mind palace building techniques.

Advanced 1: Get creative! If you’re young, or if you’ve only lived in your parent’s house and a dorm room, then you may find yourself a bit lacking in the past building experience. To shore up this lack of personal experience you can create a fantasy building to fill with loci and data. My favorite tool for this trick is Minecraft. Yes, you read that right. I have experimented with building my fantasy buildings full of fun nooks and loci, in Minecraft. There is no limit to the size and complexity of your build in this world, which makes it the perfect tool for such a task.

Advanced 2: Write out a description of your mind palace. If you’re a little unsure of the process at first, or if you’re more drawn to the written word (guilty here!), then you can write out a description of your mental palace as well as each of the loci. Like a treasure map you can refer back to this document to prompt your memory.

Advanced 3: Change the contents of your mind palace. If you’re familiar with the works of Miyazaki then you’ve probably watched Howl’s Moving Castle. In the castle was a door with a color wheel that, depending on the color, opened to a different part of the world. I have successfully used this technique with the same building to change the contents of the loci. I simply change the color of the front door to indicate the type of data that I want to recover. The color acts as an anchor for the data you wish to remember.

Building your mind palace is a good first step in memory improvement for the sake of working towards polymathy. The amount of information needed to master any subject is great enough to be daunting to most people. The aim of the mind palace is to take the edge off that daunting task by giving you an easy method of remembering a lot of information in a short period of time. In the next article we will review how to utilize your new mind palace by adding data in the form of mnemonic devices.

Never Forget Again: It All Comes Back to Loci Method

Photo by Josh Hild on

I’ve spent years looking into memory. How it works, ways to streamline the learning process, how to remember everything I see, read, and experience. It always comes back to the same methodology.

For those of you not familiar with the methodology of Loci, let me relate a story to you. For you BBC fans, you’ll get it immediately if you watch Sherlock.

It was some time during the fifth and sixth centuries BC when Simonides was invited to a party. There was much drinking, talking, and overall pleasurable company. After a time Simonides stepped outside to remove himself from the party. It was then that the building came crashing down on top of the party goers. All inside were killed. In the aftermath Simonides aided rescuers in removing the rubble. Many of the party goers were unrecognizable after being crushed by so much stone. In his grief, Simonides could see these friends as they were at the party. Slowly, he walked around, remembering the location of each friend, and thereby helping in the identification of those killed in the collapse.

Since then the loci method has been refined, and was used in ancient Greece as a method for remembering much information, not the least of which is the famously long oratory of the Greek and Roman philosophers.

The method starts in a place with which you are familiar. It could be your home, or your childhood home, or even an area you’ve secretly created in your mind. This will be your palace, your loci, or mind palace, if you will.

Next, whatever you choose to remember. Currently I am learning and remembering Spanish so that I may communicate more effectively with my girlfriend and her family (motivation). For each item you wish to remember you will attach it to a particular loci in your mind palace.

Any item you wish to remember needs to follow the rules of memory. Words, numbers, and anything without substance will be nearly impossible to remember. The memory must be tangible. Use your senses to make the object as memorable as possible. I want to remember to buy milk when I go shopping, so I place a cow and bucket near the entry to my mind palace. I can see the giant heifer blocking my path, feel it as I push against it, and can smell it’s barnyard scent. The cow will not move for me until I milk it.

Continue with the process, filling your memory palace with what you wish to remember. After that, all you need to do to remember is to retrace your steps through the palace to retrieve the particular memory.

I have experimented quite a bit with this method and have noticed a number of points.

  • Loci Method is not infallible. The longer you leave the information unattended, the fuzzier it gets. Review is key, especially with new information.
  • Loci Method is a highly visual and experiential technique. The more you practice, the better your visualizations and memories will become.
  • You can have more than one palace.
  • The mind is a far larger space than anyone can imagine.

That’s it for today. For the remainder of the week I will be hitting on a few clarifying points about Loci Method and the Mind Palace. Do you have any experience with this technique, or have you heard of it before? Join the conversation below.

Back On Track After a Late Start – 3 Ways to Recover from Waking Up Late

It’s 5:30 in the morning and my Google Home is blaring an alarm at me. I crack open an eye and the room is still dark. “Hey Google, stop.” I manage to call out. My eyes close and another hour slips by. Now I’m behind schedule.

The early morning has gold in its mouth – Benjamin Franklin

Waking early is perhaps the most direct aspect of control you can wield in building your polymathic mindset. Mind you, what is early to me is downright crazy to another. Bottom line, we all know the benefits of waking early, whether we chose to follow the advice or not. So what do you do if this is your goal, and you fall short? Let’s take a look at my schedule for today.

I know, normally I try not to uber-schedule my day, but I’m in experimentation mode right now. So, what is the effect of that extra hour of sleep? Well, everything I wanted to get done from 5:30 to 6:30 get’s pushed back. Admittedly there’s not much between 5:30 and 6:30, but I really like my leisurely coffee, breakfast, shower, and other success habits that make the rest of my day. Instead, I’m rewarded with rushing, a quick dowse of hot water for my shower, and a choked down breakfast. Why? Well, I have to meet my 6:50 AM obligation of grocery shopping. Don’t scoff, I know you all do the same thing. Rush through the items you’ve missed in order to catch up to the schedule. The result? Pandemonium, anxiety, and next… Full blown freak out. So how do you stop it? Three steps:

  1. Halt the Freak Out
  2. Find Your Inner Stoic
  3. Get Ahead of Your Next Task

These steps are in a specific order. You cannot get a head of your next task or even find your inner stoic if you’re in full freak out mode.

Step 1: Halt the Freak Out (Objective: Recenter in the Now)

Alright… You overslept… You’ve managed a quick shower, burned your breakfast, attempted to make your bed, ate the burned breakfast, and now it’s 20 after 7, a full 30 minutes after you planned to start shopping. This is going to set back the entirety of your day, everything will need to be pushed back. The anxiety is building as you rush, and forget. You pull out of the driveway, pull back in, run inside to grab your wallet. It goes on and on (this actually happened to me this morning with an additional trip back home to grab my mask). How do you stop? Break the future rush and recenter in the now.

  • Take 3 deep breaths. Breath in, hold for ten seconds, breath out, hold for ten seconds, and repeat.
  • Look at your hands. Your hands are your most direct connection to the world. Touch a wall, or some other object to ground yourself.
  • Say out loud what it is you are doing, right now. If you are touching a wall say: “I am standing in the hallway, touching this wall.”

These steps sound silly, but it is the fastest way to stop a freak out centered on future (or even past) thoughts. Recenter yourself in the now.

Step 2: Find your Inner Stoic (Objective: Control Your Response)

Now that you’ve managed to find your center and your ground, it is time to put it into perspective. Accept that you overslept, and that the time is gone. You cannot control the past, but you can control your reaction to it.

  • Affirm to yourself: “I control my response to the world around me.”
  • Review your schedule for the current task and reschedule or cancel if necessary.
  • Look to the next item on your schedule.

Step 3: Get Ahead of your Next Task (Objective: Get Back on Track)

You’ve stopped freaking out and found your peace of mind. The next step is to get yourself back on track. Adjust your schedule to get ahead of the next task in line. By getting back on track the rest of your day will fall in line and you’ll find yourself just as productive as you would have been had you rolled out of bed on time.

What are your thoughts on oversleeping? How do you recover, or do you not recover at all?

The Modern Polymath

polymath (Greek: πολυμαθήςpolymathēs, “having learned much”; Latin: homo universalis, “universal man”) is an individual whose knowledge spans a significant number of subjects, known to draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems. (Wikipedia:

You may know that with the rise of the internet we now have at our fingertips access to thousands of years worth of information and human history. The amount of knowledge available to each of us on a daily basis is more than our ancestors could hope to consume in a lifetime of study. What should we do with all of this knowledge? Should we spend our days mindlessly feeding ourselves to the entertainment industry? NO! With such information available to us we can rediscover, with purpose, the ideal of Homo universalis. We can become the polymath.

If you’re still with me at this point it means that I’ve struck a nerve, something deep inside you knows that this is the way forward. From here I will discuss the difference between the specialist, the generalist, and the polymath. Find yourself in these descriptions and decide if you want to continue on this path. It is not easy, but the rewards are beyond imagining. Continue reading “The Modern Polymath”

Fuck This, I Don’t Have Time – The Worst True Excuse I’ve Managed

“I dont’ have time for this shit!”

That’s it. The worst excuse I’ve managed for the last 20 years since I left schooling behind. The worst part, it remains a primary excuse for me. There’s a lot that I want to do and a lot to learn, and the excuse is just as strong as ever.

In this post I’m going to turn the excuse around and empower it to a more fulfilling end. First, however, there needs to be a bit of background. One of my primary methods of learning is through reading and online classes. If there is something that I want to know then I’ll find a couple books on the subject or go through an online course or two. There’s a significant flaw to this approach though. My reading speed, until recently, was horrendously low. I was lucky to eek out a little more than 100 words a minute and my regression (eyes shooting back up the page to reread) was out of control. For every 10 lines read I’d go back to reread 5 of them. Continue reading “Fuck This, I Don’t Have Time – The Worst True Excuse I’ve Managed”