If you want to be good, study the best. And if you want to improve your memory, that translates as study Dominic O’Brien. This is the man who has been crowned World Memory Champion a record eight times. Even now, he says he memorises ten packs of cards a day just to ‘keep in trim’! He won the title of World Memory Champion eight times in the ten years from 1991 to 2001.
This former ‘average ‘ pupil who had trouble reading as a child because he suffered from dyslexia and ADD (attention deficiency disorder), saw Creighton Carvello on the BBC television programme Record Breakers memorising a shuffled deck of cards. If he can memorise the order of a pack of cards, Dominic reasoned, maybe I can too. Well, he did, after a while, and it got him interested in the whole field of memory training and personal development. He wanted to learn how to memorise long lists and memorise long numbers, and he worked at it steadily till he developed his own ‘memory tricks’ and techniques to improve memory.
That same dyslexic who was branded an average student with no real future has since proved himself to be one of the greatest exponents of memory the world has ever seen. He was proclaimed World Memory Champion a record eight times, before retiring from the world memory championships to give the others a chance.
Techniques to improve memory
How does Dominic O’Brien do it? By following a system of techniques to improve memory, and by practising his memory improvement routines regularly. He wasn’t born with a superior memory, and his school days brought him nothing but disappointment. But later in life he studied the systems of the memory masters and used them, and then developed his own, to the point where he can not only memorise a pack of cards, he can memorise more than fifty packs, all shuffled, with only a few errors. That truly is a prodigious memory feat (involving well over 2,600 cards!), akin to an ultra-marathon for an athlete, and there is only a handful of people worldwide who can even approach it.
One of the assets he prides himself on is his imagination. He says he always had a vivid imagination, and this has proved invaluable in his memory work. Trying to remember something vague is difficult, while something clearly imagined, in vivid colours, and with movement, action, and an added soundtrack can be a whole lot easier. So it’s not what you’ve got, as they say, it’s how you use it!
The memory journey
One of his most widely used memory boosting techniques, and it goes back to ancient times, is known today as the Journey Method. It was known as the Roman Room method for a long time, since the ‘journey’ was supposedly around a Roman’s house, room by room.
The journey method consists of making a journey, in your mind, around your house (or your town, or anywhere else you choose, as long as it’s familiar to you) and spotting certain specific and memorable locations along the way. In your house these could be pieces of furniture, or pictures, or a mirror, a washing machine, a microwave oven, or virtually anything else that you’re familiar with. In a ‘walk’ through town, these locations might be certain buildings, road junctions, statues, public gardens, or anything else that strikes you as particularly noticeable or memorable.
In your mind, you travel the journey, again and again, until it becomes second nature, and until the list of locations is firmly fixed in your mind. It is then an easy matter to ‘place’ items at the various locations so that you can later visualise them there. As you do so, make sure the things appear out of the ordinary – make the items appear bigger, or exaggerated in some other way, put faces on them, make them colourful, make them ‘do things’ – all memory tricks designed to shift the images from working or short-term memory to long-term memory, and in the process to help you memorise things faster.
The house journey
You can try this yourself easily and see right away that it’s one of the best memory improvement techniques. Quickly make up a ‘journey’ through your own house (it should be easy to do this and make it memorable since you know your own house so well) and then mentally place various items at each location. Now try to recall the list of items.
You’ll find it is a remarkably easy method to use, and you can imagine if you practised it regularly it would be of very real value, in many different situations – recalling lists of things to do, for example, or to pick up, recalling key points in a best man’s speech or a work presentation, remembering lists of books or CDs that you have in your collection, remembering exercises in a training routine, to name just a few. The uses to which this method can be applied really is limited only by your imagination. It can help you easily memorise long lists and memorise long numbers.
Dominic O’Brien insists that even though he has been so successful in the field of memory, he wasn’t born with a specially good capacity for memory. His assertion is that anyone, with training, can see real memory improvement. The main requirement is the determination to learn the memory techniques and mnemonics and to put them to regular use. He has written a number of books over the years outlining his methods, so if you are prepared to study the techniques and practise them, these books are well worth reading.
Memory shapes our lives
Without memory, Dominic says, our lives would be in chaos. It’s true, of course, since we are all little more than the sum total of our remembered experiences. Memory enriches our lives, and when a person develops dementia it is their inability to remember vital parts of their lives and their relationships that is the most heartbreaking for their relatives. As in so many things, it is only when a person starts to lose a thing that he or she really begins to fully value it.
But isn’t it confusing, you might think, putting all this information into one’s memory? Don’t you run the risk of creating internal chaos in your quest to become organised? If you repeatedly populate your mental journeys with people, or things, or appointments in your attempts to memorise long lists, won’t they all, at some stage, become just a big jumble of ‘stuff’?
Well, one simple answer to this is to note that there is not, as far as anyone has been able to ascertain, any limit to a person’s capacity to store data, or memories.
Dominic O’Brien’s answer to the same question is very simple; if you have lots of information set in place for a particular purpose and that purpose has been served, all you have to do is stop reviewing it for a week or two and the mental images gradually fade away. The same journey can therefore be used again and again, for any number of things. It’s like starting over with a blank sheet of paper each time.
Many memories, many journeys …
If you want to use the journey method, and you find it particularly useful, you can develop it quite easily so that it’s available for lots of different eventualities. All you have to do is create several separate journeys, and have them ready for use as you need them! You could have the old favourite, the trip round your own house, of course. A second one could be a trip into town, visualising all the junctions and shops and park gates and notable buildings on the way. Another journey could be around the town you got to know when you visited it on a particularly enjoyable holiday (you don’t have to know it particularly well, just enough to visualise, or even imagine, various notable locations). You could create other journeys too, some of them around the interior of particular buildings (your local town hall, a gym you use, or used to visit, a place you used to work, and so on).
Quantum Memory Power – a total memory conditioning course
Dominic O’Brien has produced a memory training course on 8 CDs that you can use to develop every aspect of your memory. It really is the complete memory improvement course. In his own words,
“The reason is simple. I devised each and every method from my own trials and errors. The systems that worked I kept and refined, those that were unproductive I threw out. My only fear in producing this course is that you may be the one person who will use these techniques to defeat me! I ask only one favor – that at the awards banquet, you at least acknowledge the fact that you used these techniques to beat me!”
Dominic O’Brien is without doubt a true giant of the memory world. His books and courses have helped countless thousands to develop their memory with his advanced memory boosting techniques. With his course you will “learn to remember names, faces, numbers, birthdays, dates, appointments, or any sequence of numbers you want … once you have unleashed your memory power there will be no limits to the type or quantity of information you will be able to store”.