• Remote learning memory techniques for kids

    More likely than not, your kids are going to be doing a lot of learning from home this school year. What better time to have your children learn some super simply and effective memory techniques to help them remember more of what they learn, right?

    About ten years ago, my grandmother passed away from Alzheimer's disease and it inspired me to dive head-first into the world of memory––what it was, how it works, and how to effectively use it in all facets of life. It ultimately led me to win the USA Memory Championship four times and as a result, transition my career to one where I now teach life-changing memory techniques to others––business professionals, athletes, college students, and yes, even grade-school kids.

    To keep things simple, here is the three-step memorizing process that I teach kids ("Mind Tools", I call them––taken as an excerpt from my latest book targeted to school kids who want to remember more: Memory Superpowers!: An Adventurous Guide to Remembering What You Don't Want to Forget):

    Nelson's three mind tools, See—Link—Go


    This first tool is all about SEEing the thing you want to memorize as a picture in your mind. We have the amazing power of somehow being able to see things using our imagination. For example, if I asked you to imagine a slice of pizza, you could see a picture of that slice in your mind, right? Maybe you're picturing it on a plate in the kitchen, waiting to be eaten, or maybe you're imagining a rotten, stinky slice you've thrown against the school bus window because you're angry at your mom or dad for packing the wrong lunch. Well, what if I asked you to give this pizza slice a pair of roller skates to wear? Now the slice is doing pirouettes in the kitchen (or down the aisle of the bus). How about now giving the slice a pair of sunglasses, a crazy green, and blue Mohawk, and making it whistle "Jingle Bells"? Bizarre, right?

    What's great about SEEing is the fact that we can SEE anything we want in our minds. No matter how outrageous it is, our mind's imagination can always bend backward and see the impossible. That's what makes this so fun, too! So no matter what you have to memorize, try to SEE it as a picture in your mind.


    Once you've found a way to SEE what you are memorizing, the next step is to LINK it to something that you already know. The problem with most people's memories is that they don't put the things they want to remember in places that are easy to find later on when they need to recall them.

    Think of it like this: You've saved a file on your computer before, haven't you? What usually happens? You click the save button, right? And then what happens? A little box pops up and asks you to give your newly created file a name, and then you need to tell the computer in which folder you want it be stored ("Documents" or "Nelson's Awesome Memory Techniques," for example). We do this because the clever folks who invented computers wanted you to have an easy way to find that file later on. (You know it's a document, so it's probably stored in your "Documents" folder, under the filename you gave it — voilà, you've found it!) Now imagine that computers didn't work like that — that instead, when you clicked save, no box popped up at all and the file you saved is in some random place inside the computer. Yikes! How would you ever find it again? Probably never! And your computer would be a downright mess.

    I hate to say it, but that messy computer is what your brain is like, too. When you try to memorize things, you're not "saving" them correctly. That's what the LINK tool is all about. Taking your mental picture from SEE and saving it correctly to your brain's mental hard drive. Thinking about how to do that exactly may seem a bit weird or might even sound impossible, but it's actually quite easy to master with just a bit of practice.

    Now, what does LINKing actually mean? And how do we do it?

    Think of something you know. What's the name of the street you live on? Or what's the third letter of the alphabet? Or when is your birthday? There are things you know like the back of your hand, which can be used to LINK new information. Actually, your brain does this a lot already. Whenever your teacher is teaching you something new, they might compare it to something else you already know to help you understand it. For example, let's pretend that the only animal you know of is a dog and your teacher is trying to explain to you what a bird is. (I know you know what a bird is, but let's just pretend!)

    Your teacher might say, "A bird is like a dog, only smaller, with wings and feathers, with a beak instead of teeth, and can fly." BAM! Now you know what a bird is. You've managed to use that super powerful spiderweb of brain neurons to LINK a "bird" to that familiar "dog."

    There are many different ways to use the LINK tool for storing pictures in our head, but the important thing is to first understand this process. This is actually how we learn and integrate new knowledge into our memories.


    Okay, at this point you've taken what you wanted to memorize and found a way to SEE it and LINK it — now you need to take that final tool, the GO! tool, and get all of it spinning together. Let me explain what that means.

    If you need to memorize something quickly, coming up with pictures (SEEing) and placing them in a location (LINKing) will do the trick for a little bit, but if you really want to make something unforgettable you need to GO! Think of the GO! tool as the final step in which you mesh and glue everything all together and add that extra magic bizarre sauce that makes a memory stick like the strongest superglue you've ever used!

    Here's how you use it: Take what you have from SEE and take what you have from LINK and smash them together as one. In other words, take the mental picture you have in your head for what you're memorizing and LINK it to the thing you already know. Imagine them connected somehow. Things don't stick unless you add glue or tape or gum, right? So that's what the GO! tool does. And the way to make that glue really sticky in our brain is by using at least two (or more) of the following things:

    · Senses — Use sight, touch, smell, hearing, and/or taste.

    · Laugh out loud — Have it make you laugh out loud!

    · Exaggeration — Make it bigger, longer, smaller, smellier, uglier.

    · Weirdness — Make it so ridiculously weird.

    · Opposite — Flip it around. If it's forward, make it backward. If it's big, make it small.

    · Movement — Give it an action. Have it do something.

    · Grossness — Have it make you go, Ewwww!

    Let's go back to that slice of pizza from before. To make that slice super sticky in your head, you're going to have to turn all the dials up to 11 and imagine the most insane pizza-related scene possible. We already made it pretty weird by giving the slice some roller skates, a Mohawk, and a tune to whistle, but let's go even further. Let's try using our senses more. That means the cheese on the pizza is bubbling and sizzling and it's making crazy gurgling noises (there's your sound). The grease is dripping off of it and scalding your hands (there's the touch/feel). Better yet, your hands are on fire because it's so hot. ARGHHH! Or maybe it doesn't smell and taste like pizza — maybe it's more like dog poop (smell). YUCK!

    In the end, the important thing is to make it MEMORABLE. The more you build your mental picture into something with all your senses and that weirdness overload, the more those mind tools will kick into gear and the more your memories will start to stick!

    So basically, all I'm asking you to do with this third tool is just think of the weirdest, silliest thing you can come up with that moves, uses your senses, and makes you laugh. Not too hard, right?

    To learn more about these techniques, and to help your children dive deeper into the fun world of memory techniques, make sure to grab a copy of my book: Memory Superpowers!: An Adventurous Guide to Remembering What You Don't Want to ForgetYou'll never forget it!

  • The USA memory champion shows you how to memorize like a champion

    I decided to enter my first USA Memory Championship only a few months after I'd first learned it existed. This was two years before it entered the wider public consciousness after its portrayal in Joshua Foer's bestselling book Moonwalking with Einstein. Foer had written about the 2005 Championship for Slate Magazine, and in the process discovered that mastering the sport required no innate gift for memory. In 2006, he returned – as a competitor– and won the whole thing. I didn't know Foer's story at the time, and had yet to read his book, but I did know that anyone could win the Championship with enough practice.

    Then my grandmother passed away from Alzheimer's disease. She had been suffering from the disease for a number of years prior, but the shock and grief cut right through me as if I never knew the disease would eventually take her. In the midst of that troubling moment, I searched for, and found, a purpose to my own life. I thought to myself, could I beat back this disease that had taken my grandmother's mind and then the rest of her? Could I make my mind not only sharper but healthier?

    So, I trained. For hours a day, I practiced for each event in the memory championships. I hit plateaus and had to find ways to break through. My goal was to be the very best, and I knew I had to put in hard work to get there. That year (2010), I came in third. The next year, I trained even harder, and I finally became the USA Memory Champion. In 2012, 2014, and 2015, I won as well. Along the way, I also broke a number of U.S. memory records, achieved Grandmaster status, and was, at one point, ranked among the top 25 memory athletes in the world.

    Memory was something that quickly slipped away from my grandmother, but it was also something that grabbed hold of me just as quickly for the better. I had always thought that memory was static: something you either had or you didn't. After all these years of molding my memory into a machine of a recording device, I now know the ins and out of what make our working memories tick. Everyone has a memory, and everyone knows the frustration of forgetting something you really needed to remember. And now you know that memory is something that can be improved with a few techniques and a little bit of elbow grease.

    Remembering and storing information in your memory is like real estate: it's all about location, location, location. Let's put it this way: your mind is like a desk littered with all kinds of documents and supplies. Those things pile up over time, but no matter how messy the desk gets, it's never too hard to find the last thing you put on it – it's usually right on top. But that phone bill from last June? It's buried somewhere in the darkest depths of that ocean of paper, and it'll take a serious search operation to unearth it. Unless…you organize it in an appropriate (and accessible) way. So what if instead of piling up all that information on your cranial floor, so to speak, you filed everything away neatly in mental folders that were metaphorically color-coded and labeled, and as a result, made all those memories easier to find?

    There are a few ways to do this, but one of the ways is by using a technique called the Peg Method. The technique calls for you to use mental "pegs" (basically, other things you know on a pre-learned list) to "anchor" each item you want to memorize to. It sounds a little zany, but it's super simple and wildly effective for attaining true mnemonic mastery of any list — you'll be able to jump around that list like a champ, backwards and forwards!

    What do I mean by "pre-learned list"? Literally any list of things you already know. If you're a baseball fan, for example, you already have a list of the different fielding positions (1 for pitcher, 2 for catcher, etc.) already memorized. If you happen to know the order of the planets in our solar system (Mercury, Venus, Earth, etc.), because it was ingrained in you at a young age, there's another peg list ready to go as well. Or numbers! We all know how to count from 1 to whatever number you want (1, 2, 3, etc.), right? There's another list! Or how about one of the most universal lists that we've all already memorized, though: the alphabet (A, B, C, etc.)? Basically, anything that is in the form of a list that you already have memorized and know well, can be used as your peg list. Once you have your peg list ready, the next step is to create an image for the things you want to memorize (something memorable, of course) and then anchor them, or imagine them interacting rather, to the things on the peg list. When it comes time to recall the list, you'll have the fixed order of your peg list to keep the order of your memorized list.

    Let's try an example.

    While using the alphabet or countable numbers as peg lists are great places to start when first applying the magnificent power of the Peg Method, there is another amazingly convenient peg list immediately ready at your disposal: your body. Choose as many body parts as you like, as long as they connect in some kind of order that is obvious and memorable (maybe start at your head and make your way down to your toes, or vice versa), and you've got a portable peg list! Let's jump right into an example that uses ten body parts to memorize ten things. How about the ten largest countries in the world by population?

    Our ten body parts, starting at the head, will be:

    1. Top of your head
    2. Ears
    3. Eyes
    4. Nose
    5. Mouth
    6. Chin
    7. Armpit
    8. Belly-button
    9. Knees
    10. Feet

    The ten countries we want to learn (in order) are:

    1. China
    2. India
    3. USA
    4. Indonesia
    5. Brazil
    6. Pakistan
    7. Nigeria
    8. Bangladesh
    9. Russia
    10. Japan

    The first thing we need to do is create a memorable image for each countries. To do this, I'll just think of the first thing that comes to mind. If nothing comes to mind, then I'll maybe try to think of something the country name sounds like:

    1. China – Chopsticks
    2. India – Curry
    3. USA – Hamburger
    4. Indonesia – In Dough (IN-DOUGH-nesia; imagine pressing in some dough with the palm of your hand, like a baker)
    5. Brazil – Bra (BRA-zil)
    6. Pakistan – Pack of Cards (PACK-istan)
    7. Nigeria – Cheerios (Ni-CHEER-ia, close enough…)
    8. Bangladesh – BANG!
    9. Russia – Vodka Martini
    10. Japan – Pan (Ja-PAN)

    Next, we take these images, and in sequence, imagine them interacting with each of our body parts from our peg list. Since the items on our peg list are real things that are actually on your body, go ahead and imagine the images for each country interacting with your own body parts, as silly as that may sound!

    1. Top of your head – Chopsticks are resting on the top of your head, drenched in soy sauce and wrapped in some remnants of noodles.
    2. Ears – Dripping out of your ears as a spicy curry sauce.
    3. Eyes – A hamburger patty is in place of your eye socket. Maybe a single tear of mayonnaise rolls down your cheek.
    4. Nose – Imagine pressing in some dough into your nose, with some of the dough seeping into your nostrils, plumes of flour jetting out of the side of your nostrils as well.
    5. Mouth – Like a magician pulling an endless mutli-colored flag out of his mouth, except it's a sexy, lacy bra. Ooo la la!
    6. Chin – Resting on your chin is a full pack of cards. Maybe a Blackjack dealer is about to deal the cards straight from your chin!
    7. Armpit – Cheerios are flowing out of your armpits into a bowl for your consumption. It's got that extra BO tang. Yum!
    8. Belly-button – From out of the deep crevasse of your belly-button shoots out a bullet like it's a gun–BANG BANG!
    9. Knees – Your knees are two martini glasses filled with some seriously potent Russian vodka.
    10. Feet – Down on your feet is a burning hot pan cooking your dinner. Your feet, as a result, are covered in nasty blisters.

    Now close your eyes, try to visualize that pathway through your body from head to toe, recalling the images and countries as you go. Voila! There you have it. Resting on your body now lies the largest populated countries in order! Well done!

    In short, memory is all about paying attention, visualizing (encoding the information into silly, memorable images like we did for each country), and finding a place to store it (it doesn't have to be your body, any familiar peg lsit will do). That's it! If you can do that, and if you can put a little effort into using your memory, then you too can one day be a champion of your own memory.

    To read more about all of the techniques I employ and how they can be applied to your daily routine, make sure to check out my latest book, Remember It!: The Names of People You Meet, All of Your Passwords, Where You Left Your Keys, and Everything Else You Tend to Forget (out September 25th). It's chock-full of everyday, practical memory tips and strategies to get you by in the real world. The book is beautiful, filled with color and illustrations, and….oh, yeah….it's MEMORABLE! It can be purchased/pre-ordered at most online book sellers. For more detail about it, head to my website.