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You Are What You Remember by David Thomas

David Thomas is a US Memory Champion and Guinness record memory record holder for memorising and reciting Pi to 22,500 digits. In this article, he explains how we can all improve our memory.


What is the benefit of improving your memory? I think it is simply being able to do what others can’t or won’t.


Being able to remember names is a fantastic business and personal skill. Most people can’t do it.


Being able to present any kind of presentation without notes is the stuff of which promotions are made, yet few people even make the attempt to do so.


If you want to improve the quality of your life across the board, improving your memory is a great place to start. .


How can you do it? …

The first principle of  memory training is retraining your mind to think in images. If I give you the word breakfast, chances are you thinking about food, not the word ‘breakfast’ in black type on a white background. Yet, that is how most information comes. Websites, study guides, and training manuals at work—all tend to be two-dimensional.

This is simple. If I said my name was George Bush, would you be more likely to remember it? Of course! You have an image that you associate with George Bush, so it’s an easy name to remember. To remember names, we simply do this artificially.

My name is David Thomas. If you were to meet me, you might imagine me swinging a sling like the one David used in the David and Goliath story. Make it ridiculous and exaggerated. Imagine me swinging the sling around and smashing up everything in the room. You could also imagine me on a little train (Thomas The Tank Engine) riding around the room going “Choo! Choo!” As weird and unusual as this might seem, it’s memorable, and that’s what is important. If you use that kind of technique whenever you meet somebody whose name you want to remember, you’ll never forget their name.

The second principle of memory training is organisation. Imagine going into a library to find all the books have been heaped in disorderly piles on the floor. That is how most people learn. They pile information into their head in a disorganised way, and then they wonder why they cannot find it.

In reality, libraries are highly organised places. When you ask a librarian to locate a specific book or a certain subject, the system of organisation makes it possible for them to point you in the right direction with little more than a moment’s thought.

Let’s say you have a list of important information that you need to memorise. The best way to do this is to use The Journey Technique, which is all about organisation. Imagine yourself walking around a building placing important pieces of information along the way. This is one of my journeys:

1) Front door
2) Hallway
3) Living room
4) Kitchen
5) Downstairs toilet
6) Stairs
7) Bedroom One
8) Bedroom Two
9) Bedroom Three
10) Bathroom

Now I have my empty ‘library’ I put the books on the shelves:

1) Front door – blackboard and bag – I imagine a blackboard at the door. I touch it. It is dry, and I scrape my nails down it. On top of the blackboard is a huge sports bag.

2) Hallway – chair and glue – I imagine a chesterfield chair with stuffing coming out. It is covered in glue. It is sticky, I can smell the solvent and it is running down the hall.

I do this for all the objects in the list.

This technique can be used to memorise a list of anything. For example, if you have to give a presentation and you need to remember a list of key words, transform each of the key words into a discrete image that can be visualized in some way and placed into a mental journey.

The great news is that improving your memory is simply a question of technique, process, strategy, practice and application. This is also the bad news. If you don’t apply and practice these techniques, you will not get any better.

So, the only question is, how badly do you want to improve your memory?

The Best You

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