Full text of Idriz Zogaj on How to Become a Memory Master at TEDxGoteborg conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: MP3 – How to become a memory master by Idriz Zogaj a TEDxGoteborg
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.
So OK but I think it’s easy if I show you. So they would take a pack of cards, shuffle it. Not the ones that we had before it shuffled. So they give it to me and then while we’re chit chatting, I would start and then after a while the rest may address, when are you going to start? Well actually I’m already done. What do you mean? Take the card the pack, split it anyway you want.
OK, so this is Diamonds of 9. So what comes after Diamonds of 9? What do you mean? What is the card that comes after Diamonds of 9? Clubs of 2, right? And what comes after Clubs of 2? Hearts of 10. And what comes after Hearts of 10? A Two Fives. That’s good. It’s, one is Diamond and one is Hearts. I would say that one’s heart.
So OK. So how do you do this? Well it’s just about adapting techniques and actually I think it’s easy if I show you with an exercise. OK. Look at these two images. Do you see a connection between them? I give you a hint. There is no connection. It’s just two randomly picked pictures. But here’s what I want you to do. I want you to make a fun, vivid, animated story, use all your senses. See how it looks like, feels like, to connect these two images together. And do it in 3D, even though you don’t have the 3D goggles. Your brain is amazing, it can do it anyway. It’s projected in 3D. I give you a few seconds to do this.
Here’s how I would see it. Let’s see at the audience where you’re sitting. You see a big signal. You look next to you, you see a big signal. It has a door on it, you open the door because it says welcome, so you open the door and you’ve never been inside a [snap cell]. You go in and oh it’s like I’m in here, why they do that? Look at these two images. OK, give you the same, make a story.
Let’s take the stairs where I came up. And you see a flamingo building a big brick wall. So we have to climb over it. It’s no point but at least three, what do you think? We all know white elephant and you can see a big elephant, you all know why they are strong, why they carry a lot of weight. So — and you see a big giraffe up to the screen and a skier like I’m going to go skiing down the draft neck. Look up on the roof. This is — the last one is a little bit obvious, right, because you see a reptile, they like to be in the sun. It’s quite common, so you might think this is an obvious one. This one I will remember. And that’s a dangerous thing. Because obvious things we tend to forget. I bet I could find people in this room that don’t remember what they had for breakfast. Maybe today was different because you were going to TED, so you had breakfast later or whatever. But it’s a common thing you do, so it’s easy to forget, not registered.