Idriz Zogaj on How to Become a Memory Master at TEDxGoteborg – Transcript
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Idriz Zogaj – Memory athlete
What if I told you that in a month from now you will be able to memorize a pack of cards by just looking at it once, and that you will be able to do that in under five minutes, with a little bit of training.
And what if I told you that, that is all the knowledge you need to fundamentally understand how your memory and your brain works. And that knowledge will then help you in your everyday life whether it comes to remember people’s names, commit important information to memory and then do it as a presentation at work. Or if you’re a school child who wants to score perfect on an exam. And what if I told you also that this knowledge implemented in schools would change the way we see the school system, not only in Sweden but in the whole world.
My name is Idriz Zogaj. I’m a memory athlete. I’m not some kind of a superstar or anything. This is my alter ego.
Before the age of 25, I didn’t know anything what I know today. And the interesting with the age of 25 is that, at the age of 25 that’s when the brain becomes fully mature. That is, you are a grown up. And before that I knew nothing.
I also finished — well I knew a lot of things but — I also finished my university studies. I was thinking what happens now — what am I going to do now in my life? I’ve always been very interested in traveling and getting to know other people, culture et cetera and that requires communication. So I was thinking OK. I like the challenge. And I like to communicate with people, so I’m going to learn a language, a new language, something completely different from what I know now.
I know the Latin alphabet but I want to learn something that I don’t understand when I look at it. It’s like Arabic or Chinese or Japanese, even Hindi crossed my mind. So while I was looking at courses I could take at home because I was tired of the university life. I accidentally came across a book on memory. And I was thinking, I want to learn this new language the way children do it, by practicing, going somewhere and talking to people and in that sense learning the language. I sort of don’t like grammar, so this was my way of cheating away the grammar studies.
So I thought if I’m going to do that way, I will want to come prepared. So I want to put a lot of words and phrases into memory and then go to that country, or that part of the world. And this book of memory was excellent. Why not start to read it and then see what happens. So I ordered the book and started to read and realized that it was all about – apparently all about techniques, like thinking the right way. And it wasn’t that difficult. I was very picky with the language I wanted to learn, so I was like reading the book, doing some exercises and seven or eight years went by, and I didn’t find a new language to select. But in the meantime I was doing these exercises and getting gradually better.
And another interesting thing about this book was that at the end chapter this person talks about that you can compete in memory. And I was thinking, what they have competitions in memory! I mean this guy Dominic O’Brien had won the World Memory Championships six times. So he knew what he was talking about. But it was competing in memory and I was looking at the level he suggested that you complete and I realized hold on. During this training I’ve actually reached many of these levels. So I thought, OK, I will focus a little bit more and that’s when I started to train the pack of cards and one of the levels was to do it in under five minutes.
And in 2004 I felt ready. At the age of 27, I went to the World Memory Championships in Manchester, I thought why not think big, just go to the world memory championships. I came 22nd in the world. I also became Sweden’s best memory, a title I will hold for five consecutive years.
So when I came back, my friends were looking at me differently. They were like, “when did you become such a great man?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, come on, you just went to the World Memory Championships and competed”.
Yes, but I just read these techniques and adapted them”.
“And I don’t feel different. I mean, I’m the same.”
“Really? But what do you do at the World Memory Championships?”
“Well, we compete in memory.”
Well, every competition is 10 disciplines. It can be numbers. It can be binary digits, one zero, one one, zero zero, one one. Very funny. It can be — can also be words. It can be names and faces, people’s names. It can be historic dates. Do you know that the world record for memorizing historic dates is about the same — is more even than all the days you learned throughout school system, including high school? And this guy does it in five minutes. Imagine that, 12 years compressed to five minutes.