Think Like Sherlock Holmes

I identify as a visual learner. Visuals tend to be my most effective mode of communication and retention, whether in the form of a graph, diagram, sketch, or photograph.

One of my favorite shows is the BBC series “Sherlock”. This modern take on the classic character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle does an excellent job of showing how the titular Sherlock Holmes rationalizes and analyzes the cases he’s tasked with solving. In addition to the classic powers of deduction, Sherlock uses a technique he refers to as his “Mind Palace“. The show’s boom in popularity has made this phrase something of a cultural phenomenon. However, this concept is as ancient as the Greeks, and is a logical extension of something we learned in grade school: mnemonic devices.

My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Noodles.

Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally.


These phrases we learned as children to remember the planets, order of operations, and the colors of the rainbow are known as mnemonic devices. The underpinning for every Mind Palace is simply a mnemonic device called the Method of Loci. More specifically, the Method of Loci is a spatial mnemonic. The idea is that you can link a set of ideas to a specific image, designated as a “loci” or point, more easily than remembering each idea on its own. By tracing through these loci, one can quickly recall the information coupled to these points. To make this process of recollection easier, many practitioners of the Method of Loci use a house or familiar area, and couple the images to points along a path through this known location.

Rather than remembering your mom’s birthday as a March 15th, 1980, try picturing a framed painting hanging outside your mom’s room, showing 15 leprechauns watching Ronald Reagan win the presidency. When you want to recollect that image, all you have to do is mentally “walk” to the known logical location (i.e. the wall outside your mom’s room) and view the picture.

Harnessing the true power of the Method of Loci requires years of mental discipline and training. By learning to coupe visual qualities like color, size, and spatial location to a given thought, you can more efficiently sort and recall data. Rather than memorizing hierarchical and ordered lists, try creating “pathways” between items that are logical and representative of a “walk”. Try using the method of loci and see if it works as well for you as I have found it works for me!