From my presentation at Confoo, tech conference, opening keynote, audience 1000 engineers, managers, and founders
It was in June 2019. I am nervous, I am at the Ontario memory championship. The place is a martial arts dojo. I take off my shoes, the floor is soft but it feels cold. I see medals hanging on the ceiling, the wall is decorated with plaques and flags that celebrate martial arts around the world. I see a blank wall, so I rush towards the wall.
I did not want to see my family who were there to support me. I needed focus. I put one pair of foam earplugs, and on top of that, I put an industrial noise-canceling headset. My world is silent. I breathe in, and out, I close my eyes and visually activate my memory parts. I visually connect the neurons in the brain. It’s me against my brain.
There are two decks of cards in front of me. One is the shuffled deck that I have to memorize, and the other one is for me to reorganize using my memory. Here are the first 8 cards out of the 52 in a deck that I see:
This is what I see
And deck after deck, I score a perfect 100!
Now I am going to use what every memory champion does to double their brainpower. I am going to show you how the same system can help you leverage your built-in memory so you can be more efficient, confident, and less stressed.
Our acronym is I’m A CEO. “I’m”, stands for “Intend to Memorize.”
Intend to memorize
When I ran trying to ignore the medals and flags, when I used my double noise canceling system, I was guarding my memory buckets. We have 5 buckets allowed every 30 seconds. If you train, you may get to 7 or 9, but most of us have actually 4 buckets. I wanted them to be empty squeaky clean for my real work. Intend to Memorize is the first step to doubling your memory.
Now I am going to ask you, is there something you can do to guard your buckets? Can you also get the help of others so you can intentionally be more productive?
I advise my corporate clients to think about buckets when they are meeting with their prospects, clients, employees. I tell them to stop “throwing up lists, features, or tasks”. Take one point at a time, and intentionally keep pressing their save button.
You may think “duh” of course we have to intend. But the reality is that we are overloaded with information and stimulus that are overflowing our short-term memory. So unless we know what we will be in our short-term memory (5 buckets allowed every 30 seconds), your brain won’t process the information, even if it is right in front of your eyes.
A is for the association.
It is the secret to making the memory be strong and fast. Let’s say you needed to deliver flowers to your mother who lives 2 hours away. You will use existing roads, right? Just like that, it’s better are we use existing infrastructures than to build a new road. That’s our existing neuro connections.
Let’s try this with cards. This is what every memory champion does. Each card is a person, object, or action. In my case, I use P (person) and A (action). Some use all three, but for me, I realized that PA works best.
To memorize the 8 cards displayed, most of us use repetition, also called rote memory or brute force. Repetition is great, it is the most common technique, and it works. The only issue is that it takes a lot of time.
If I ask you, was the 7 of hearts there? Isn’t it difficult to know? But if I ask you did you see Jeff Bezos, what would you say? You just took the vague and abstract cards that don’t mean anything to you and connected it with something that you already know.
Make any information sound like, feel like, or look like something you already know. And by doing so, you are working smarter, not harder.
Let’s go one step deeper. Let’s say it together, our acronym is: I’m a CEO. C is for Chunk. 2 0 2 4 1 0 4 2 0 2, this is a ten-digit number. For that, you need ten buckets. what about this: 202-410-4202. You just chunked the number and now you need only three buckets. See, we already use this memory system, we just need to do it more often.
Let’s go back to the cards. I will chunk two cards at a time. The first card represents a person and the second card is the action. So the sequence becomes:
Now, instead of 8 items, I have 4 to remember! That fits nicely into the 5 buckets in the short-term memory. By chunking, I reduced information overload.
Experts in efficiency recommend to put related tasks together, and that’s basically chunking. Are there things that are similar, let’s say all the phone calls, could you chunk them? Can you breakdown your code and remember them in chunks? Think about how you would use the power of chunking to release some of the issues with information overload.
You meet lots of people. Let’s say you meet James Beltz. To remember James and Beltz, James, I think of James bond. So I will find a place in his face for a gun. If he has a lot of hair, I imagine hiding the gun underneath.
Or if I see a scare on his face, I will think “maybe he has a scar from being a stunt for a James Bond movie.” Then with Beltz, I associate it with a job. Beltz, I think, “he is a belt designer.” I used associations. And chunked, I have retired James bond stunt turned into a fine leather belt designer. I used one bucket instead of two buckets for his name.
I saved the best for last.
We are now at the EO, Efficiently Organize part.
In your kitchen, you have drawers, to organize your spoons, plates, and pots. But what if those items were spread everywhere in your home, on the bed, under the sofa, hanging from the plant, it would be impossible even to start cooking. So ask yourself, is your brain a nicely organized kitchen, or chaos central?
Nobody taught us how to create a living internal organization system in your brain. But we are going to change that right now. The secret is the memory palace. Any space or room is a memory palace and we are going to find 4 stations. Scan the room you are in. Can you find four distinct stations? Let’s look at this room from HGTV. I am going to focus on:
- Station 1: The couch on the left. I turn that into a mud station, a swamp. The couch is white, but I make it darker. Here I put mickey mouse being attacked by eels. Maybe Minnie is trying to help him!
- Station 2: The bookshelf on the left. Here I put Kim Kardashian boxing. Maybe she has to punch every object on that shelf, that’s part of her training. She’s upset that she was not invited to the MET gala.
- Station 3: The fireplace. Here, I put Michael Jackson peeing. You could turn that into a toilet, but it would actually be more memorable if he peed “illegally” on your fireplace. (The weirder the better). One his hand, see his iconic sparkly glove.
- Station 4: The lamp on the right. Here, I put Richard Branson playing hockey. I imagine the lampshade turning into a hockey helmet and the lamp pole turning into a hockey stick. The game is sponsored by Virgin Airlines.
Let’s recall the stations together. On the first station, mickey mouse is… On the second station, Kim Kardashian is … The third station is now a toilet, tell me who is going what? The last station, tell me who is going what? You guys are amazing! You can use this memory palace system today, to remember the lectures. When you are in the classroom, do this:
- Find stations about 10 stations, clockwise. It can be the projector, curtain, garbage can, etc.
- Place what you are learning in the stations.
- Review the stations before you leave the room and before you go to bed.
This works especially well for things that have a sequence, such as your code. I don’t know much about coding, but from Arduino, I know that if the semicolon is misplaced, I am in trouble. I remember this entire article using a memory palace, and right now, I am in my bedroom, at the small table I have next to the bed. It’s now your turn to try the memory palace to remember a presentation.
The memory palace works because you are using space and visual senses at the same time. The memory palace is the way to 10x.
Everything I just talked about is not just for memory champions, it is for all of us.