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Deep Dive #7 Nelson Dellis on Becoming a Memory Champion

Nelson Dellis is a 4x USA Memory Champion and one of the leading memory experts in the world, traveling around the world as a competitive memory athlete and a highly sought-after keynote speaker.

Ali Abdaal
Ali Abdaal

Nelson Dellis is a 4x USA Memory Champion and one of the leading memory experts in the world, traveling around the world as a competitive memory athlete and a highly sought-after keynote speaker. As a Memory Champion, Mountaineer, and Alzheimer's Disease Activist, he preaches a lifestyle that combines fitness, both mental and physical, with proper diet and social involvement. In this discussion, Nelson shares his experiences of becoming a memory champion, some memory techniques that we can all use and why practising these techniques is useful in our everyday lives.

Here are some of the highlights from our discussion:

Memory techniques focus on being able to access information rather than committing it to memory – any memory problems we have are essentially filing and recall problems. Therefore, we should focus on encoding and organising of information which we can practice using techniques such as the peg system or memory palaces.

Memory techniques can get information into your head but to remember things for the long term you need to regularly review.

We remember spatial information very well, so we can use familiar spaces to encode information in what are known as memory palaces. These tend to be routes you can imagine in a space that is familiar (your home, a scene from a movie, a video game etc), you chose locations along the way and you place images in specific locations. It seems like a complicated way to store memories, but it makes it stick extremely effectively.

Developing your memory develops a toolset that becomes so ingrained that it becomes more natural. Although there is no definitive evidence to suggest that memory techniques will prevent neurodegenerative issues such as Alzheimer’s, learning how to utilise and leverage your memory in different ways will undoubtedly provide some benefit even if just as a crutch.

Memorising a deck of cards trains a particular part of our brain for memorising and rather than it just being domain specific to a deck of cards, we can apply it to anything that needs to be applied to memory. An analogy we can use is going to the gym where we do very specific movements with weights which we wouldn’t use in real life. However, the idea is that we go to the gym to work out all those different muscles so that in the real world all the training helps us with the ordinary movements and actions we need to perform on a day-to-day basis.

Although there is so much we can store on our digital devices, that doesn’t mean it’s the best thing to do. In fact, practicing and developing memory techniques helps to exercise our brains to enhance our cognitive faculties beyond simply tapping on a screen.

Photographic memory doesn’t exist in the way that people talk about it – otherwise these individuals would be winning every memory competition in the world. There are people who might be better at scanning a page and analysing what is there and there are others who might have an autobiographical memory where someone remembers every detail of their life. But this doesn’t mean that these people have a photographic memory for everything – it’s very hard to measure.

Deep Dive

Ali Abdaal

Junior doctor, YouTuber, web designer, aspiring musician. Trying out this blogging thing.