The Sport of Memory

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Have you heard of memory sports? Maybe you have, but forgot!

In memory sports, memory athletes participate in competitions where they attempt to memorize and then recall certain information.

The most common type of memory competition involves memorizing the order of randomized cards in as little time as possible, after which the competitor must arrange new decks of cards in the same order. Sounds awful! I would come in last place every time.

You may think that the practice of remembering things is not a sport. But I would argue that since there is serious training involved and competitions held, it qualifies. The World Memory Championships is a yearly competition that began in 1991. Memory athletes from around the world gather to compete in contests that require memorizing as much information as possible within a given period of time. There are ten memory disciplines used in memory competitions:

1. One hour: numbers (23712892….)
2. 5 minutes: numbers
3. Spoken numbers, read out one per second
4. 30 minutes: binary digits (011100110001001….)
5. One hour: playing cards (as many decks of cards as possible)
6. Random lists of words (house, playing, orphan, encyclopedia….)
7. Names and faces (15 minutes). World record: 164 names.
8. 5 minutes: historic dates (fictional events and historic years)
9. Abstract images (black and white randomly generated spots)
10. Speed cards – Always the last discipline. Memorize the order of one shuffled deck of 52 playing cards as fast as possible.

Alex Mullen at the 2016 World Memory Championships in Singapore

The current World Memory Champion is 25-year-old American Alex Mullen. Mullen is the first American to win the world title, which he has won in 2015 and 2016. He is the world No. 1 ranked memory competitor as well as the current USA memory champion. Mullen can memorize a deck of cards in 17 seconds.

What are Mullen’s training techniques and will they work for the average person? According to a recent study, ANYONE can train their brain using the same tricks the top competitors use. The most common technique is called the ā€œmemory palaceā€ and it requires you to picture a familiar place (your home, school, or town) and filling it with imaginary objects. For example, choose ten locations in your home that you can fill with objects on your shopping list, or whatever you are trying to remember. Then connect each item with the particular location and the memory will stick. Humans are naturally good at visual learning and navigation.

The more bizarre and outrageous you get with your memory palace, the easier it will be to remember things.

So, while Iā€™m not about to begin my training for the World Memory Championships, I WILL start using my memory palace to help me remember everyday lists, numbers, and appointments!

According to the study, the more I practice the better my memory will get – and that sounds mighty good to me.

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