Take two decks of cards. Shuffle them together. Now get ready – you have five minutes to memorize the order of the cards. That’s one hundred and four cards, in random order, and you’ve got to remember them in sequence. Do you think you can do it?
Miami, Florida resident Nelson Dellis can, or at least enough of them to win the 2012 National Memory Competition held last week in New York City. He can also remember sequences of 200 random words or 300 random numbers, and has a great memory for names and faces. He’s trained himself to gain this ultimate memory capability over the years, though he admits that before he started training, he “never had a good memory.” After seeing the impact of Alzheimer’s on his grandmother, however, he decided that getting top memory skills was important to him, to keep his brain active and healthy.
One of Dellis’ favorite memory tricks is often referred to as the “journey” method. Using this mnemonic device, you place the things you want to remember in order along a mental “path” that you travel. It’s easy to choose familiar locations for this exercise. Think of the rooms in your house, or a map you know well and can visualize accurately, or the route you travel on your way to work or school each day. When you have something to remember, especially in a certain sequence, you can mentally set each item at a landmark and associate the item with the landmark. Then, when you imagine yourself traveling the path (around your house, or to work, or from one city to another), you’ll “see” the items at each landmark as you reach it.
For example, let’s say you have a to-do list for the day that looks like this:
- return books to library
- buy beefsteak and eggs at grocery
- take coat to cleaner’s
- meet Taylor for lunch
First, put the tasks in a logical order – you’ll want to buy the groceries last, and it will be more efficient to minimize the distance you have to travel between spots. We’ll say the library and the restaurant are close together, and the cleaner’s is farther away from your house than the grocery.
Next, pick the “map” that you’ll visualize. Most people are familiar with the shape of the North and South American continents, so let’s place the first task (“take coat to cleaner’s”) at the top, in Canada, where it’s very cold in the winter – a logical place for a coat. Right below, we have the United States; we’ll put your library books here, resting them on the horizontal borders between many of the states, like shelves. You and Taylor enjoy the spicy food of Mexico, so write down the time and place of your meeting anywhere from Acapulco to Zamora. Finally, put your groceries in South America. You might associate beefsteak with the cattle grazing on the pampas of Argentina, and perhaps the eggs are resting in the nests of the many birds in the Amazonian jungle.
This might seem like a time-consuming and elaborate way to remember things, but keep in mind that (1) visual images are easy to remember, the more unusual the better; and (2) the more you do this visualization, the quicker it will get.
For more tricks from the memory champion, listen to an interview here.