Use these tactics to recall names, details
Eight-Time World Memory Champion shares tips
July 1, 2016
One of my peak experiences was attending a lecture by Dominic O’Brien, the World Memory Champion who demonstrated some of his amazing memory abilities. He believes that you should exercise the mind every day just like an athlete stretches his or her body regularly.
To achieve the rank of World Memory Champion, you must be able to perform several superhuman feats. For example, you have to memorize 1,000 random digits in less than an hour, the exact order of 10 decks of shuffled playing cards, also in one hour, and one shuffled deck in less than two minutes.
O’Brien focused on one deck of cards at the presentation that I attended. He spent about two minutes, and he was able to record the order of the cards in his long-term memory. After that, anyone could come up and cut the deck. O’Brien was able to name the other cards, forward and backward, from wherever the deck was cut. I spoke with him about an hour later and he was still able to call the cards from my fresh cut.
Besides the card memorization, O’Brien allowed anyone to write numbers on a large chalk board. Eventually there were several dozen random numbers. O’Brien stared at the blackboard for a few seconds and was able to flip it over and rewrite almost all of the numbers.
During the first half of O’Brien’s presentation, I really thought that he was using some trick, similar to what a stage magician might do. Eventually, I realized that there was no trickery involved. At that point I started thinking of the movie “Rain Man,” with Dustin Hoffman. I started to wonder if O’Brien was a savant. I finally realized that O’Brien was an average guy who had trained his memory to perform at amazing levels.
As you might imagine, an improved memory could benefit the average person in many ways. According to O’Brien in his book Learn to Remember, anyone can improve their memory with practice, and by learning some simple techniques.
Mnemonics. This technique uses wordplay, ditties and other associative techniques. For example, I could create an anagram by taking the word HOMES to help me remember the Great Lakes (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior).
Visual pegs. Visual pegs are relationships between the components of a group. For example, suppose you were trying to memorize sets of five items that had different sized items. To help the memory process, you would think of the largest component and progress to the smallest: (for example: elephant, deer, cat, ant).
The story method. With this method, you would string together a list of items or events that form a logical story. Make the links interesting and add color, suspense and movement to tie the items together.
Mind maps. Mind mapping is a whole-brain method for generating and organizing ideas, largely inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s approach to note taking. Mind maps use pictures, images, color coding, highlighting to stimulate the creative association and enhance the memory. Write the main idea in the middle of a page and connect other ideas with pictures, images and keywords.
The art of recall. Our ability to retrieve memories depends largely on how we organized and stored them in the first place. The art of recall is the skill by which we can make the appropriate link that leads us to the memories that we want to retrieve. For example, to remember the name of a town we visited, try to recall as many associative details as possible such as street names, sounds we heard there along with other associated impressions. Often the name suddenly comes from the depths of memory. A “surprise random recall” is when a sight, sound or smell unexpectedly triggers apparently forgotten memories, and indicates that more memories might be rediscovered if we could find the right triggers to bring them to consciousness.
Remembering names and faces. The key is to link together the face, name and place in a chain of association. Are there any distinguishing facial features? Do they remind you of someone else you know who has those features? Do they remind you of another item you can associate that person with? Repeating the name several times and linking it to related associations can help the recall process. There are over 20 points to observe in a face. Try to remember at least three of these prominent features such as face (round, square, etc.), hair (wavy, straight, bald, etc.), eyes (large, slanted, hooded, etc), nose (hooked, pointed, etc.), ears, lips, chin, forehead, age, etc. Draw the face (actually or mentally) and compare the picture with the actual person, then redraw it.
Additional tips: Crosswords, brain teasers and challenging reading materials can help to keep the mind active. O’Brien believes that memory does not deteriorate with age; only the speed at which our brain processes and stores our memories will change. Physical exercise supplies oxygen to the brain which is also very important to keep the memory sharp.