Placing PAOs and mindmaps in mental palaces

When I just learn mental palaces I found them extremely confusing. Where do I place all of my memory objects within? How can I use these large structures to remember everything I need? Once the structure is full, how do I add more to it? It took me years to find the right way for me. Here is a small snippet of my solution.

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Mental palaces should be simplified

Originally when we learn to use memory palaces we are told to use a place we know, like the house we grew up in. I tried to visualize the house in all its details and it was very confusing. I spent years in the house. The furniture moved, and the designation of the rooms changed. Even when I was living in the home my eyes simply failed to notice 90% of the objects. So why should I notice them in visualization?

My solution was simplification. Take out everything that is a distraction. Leave only simple objects uniquely identifying the room. As I did that, the walls and the corners of the rooms opened up for the placement of my objects.  Think about it as a palace of a king long gone: a museum with a fixed itinerary for visitors and some centerpieces from the past.

In the next stage instead of using actual spaces, I started to use houses from video games, which are initially not crowded to enable free interaction. Some people absolutely need physical spaces, others absolutely love virtual homes. Everyone discovers for himself…

Use walls and corners

Once the walls and corners opened up, I started to use the corners for PAOs. It took me a couple of years to start using the walls for mindmaps. Each PAO encodes around 5 words and is fixed. Each mindmap encodes around 20 words and can be easily modified.

Before that, I used to place visualizations of a single object on the surfaces: the bed, the table, the shelves. These visualizations had to stand out against the background. The locations were fixed per room: about 20 locations in a room. Even then I occasionally forgot where I placed each specific visualization.

Negative space

Encoding 100 words per single room is very effective. In fact, it is more effective than we need. So some spaces should be left untouched or used for other kinds of visualization. For example, we can plant a landscape in a window,  a flowchart on a whiteboard, or a cartoon on a TV. These visualizations add flexibity. For example, if you want to remember a face you should place a portrait.

As you may want to add details to remember later on, you may intentionally leave some spaces empty or with placeholders. For example, you can place playing cards instead of mental maps and chess pieces instead of PAOs.

Itinerary streamlining

Some spaces need intentionally be empty every time we use the memory structure to streamline the experience. Ideally we want to move between the rooms at high speed, with one room at slow speed. The centerpiece room should include the most important element of the particular mental palace. This room will always feel crowded, and it is best to use a large room and not to put too many details in it.

Just like in a museum visit, you do not really want the itinerary to be unpredictable or cross itself. It is best to keep some rooms close, and mark the direction in a way that is not ambiguous. It is fine if occasionally there are no visualizations and the eyes simply rest. This rest should not happen too often.

Multiple buildings

In my courses, I teach ways to add objects to a given room if required, so that a large room can easily hold 10000 uniquely labeled visualizations. If you need to memorize a table of numbers, you may have no other choice. This is not something I typically use or recommend using.

Since we do not really want to maximize the utilization of each mental palace, it may be better to optimize the itinerary speed and ease. Then a single mental palace does not contain all the visualizations we need. It is fine to add more buildings and continue the itinerary. In fact, many museums have multiple buildings. Usually, each building is thematically different. For example, you can separate the innovative part from the part dealing with experiments and methodology.

Most scientific articles contain a very specific order of sections, and your palace complex may follow it. If you want you can add as many mental palaces as you need. Eventually, you will need to add some city planning. Most city centers can be perceived as mindmaps radiating from one extremely important and large building – or a square if negative space is used. The capitals usually have multiple centers, each with its own central building or square.


It is a common practice to reuse the same mental palaces every time.  Each mental palace is used a hundred or a thousand times. Initially, it was hard for me to reuse palaces. I introduced thematic wallpapers to differentiate between contexts. Then I started to use memory objects on the walls for differentiation. A window may point to a unique landscape. The placement of a mindmap vs a TV with a cartoon vs a portrait on a wall provides further hints.

I also started adding markings on the floor and the ceiling, like a particular sort of illumination device.

As we walk the mental palace we usually look at the exhibits along the walls. Any doors, windows, lamps, and floor mosaic provide the context. The floor can be very elaborate and involve branding symbols like a coat of arms. The ceiling can hold elaborate frescos. So we can add as much unique context as needed.

The contextual elements should be used sparingly. We do not live in Barocco palaces and can easily get distracted by the contextual elements.


Mindmaps are used for modifications. They are built for it. Mental palaces with fixed itineraries should not be modified. If you provided some negative space, it can be a placeholder for additional information. Unused doors can become passageways into additional rooms. If you placed mindmaps on the walls you can modify them. Occasionally you can modify the mental city, adding city blocks.

In any case, it is best not to modify the basic structure of your mental palaces. If you want to brainstorm something, probably a mental palace is not a great idea. It can be very useful for reading published articles and books, as those are not likely to change.

How fast?

This technique is extremely fast and can be used in professional memory sports and speedreading up to 3000 wpm. I consider this an advanced methodology as you use multiple heterogenous memory structures. It takes time and practice to master all of them. The variability and artistic freedom can be huge, so I never get bored by this particular methodology.

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