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Authors: Dominic O'Brien

Tags: #Non-Fiction, #Self Help, #memory, #mnemonics

How to Develop a Perfect Memory

BOOK: How to Develop a Perfect Memory
5.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub










To my dear mother Pamela who is forever saying,

he do it!’

The author would like to thank Jon Stock for his invaluable

assistance in preparing this book.

This is an electronic republication by of the first

edition, 1993 by Pavilion Books Limited., PO Box 425281, Cambridge, MA 02142, USA

ISBN 1-59561-006-5

Copyright © Dominic O’Brien 1993

Electronic Version Copyright © Dominic O’Brien 2005

All rights reserved.

Father of the Bride
speech by Richard Curtis and Rowan

Atkinson is reproduced by kind permission of The Peters, Fraser

& Dunlop Group Ltd and PJB Management.

Dominic O'Brien is the eight times winner of the The World

Memory Championships and has a number of entries in the

Guinness Book of Records including the memorisation of 54

packs of shuffled cards after just a single-sighting of each card.

How does he do it? What is his system and how can it help YOU

remember names, faces, telephone numbers, pass exams, learn

languages, win at Trivial Pursuit and clean up at the Blackjack

table? How to Develop a Perfect Memory will show you in simple

language and easy stages.



I know what it is like to forget someone's name. In my time, I have forgotten appointments, telephone numbers, speeches, punch lines of jokes, directions, even whole chapters of my life. Up until recently, I was the most absent-minded, forgetful person you could imagine. I once saw a cartoon of two

people dancing rather awkwardly at the Amnesiacs' Annual Ball. The man was saying to the woman, 'Do I come here often?' I knew how he felt.

Within the last four years, I have become the World Memory Champion. I

regularly appear on television and tour the country as a celebrity 'Memory Man', rather like Leslie Welch did in the 1950s. There's no trickery in what I do - no special effects or electronic aids. I just sat down one day and decided enough was enough: I was going to train my memory.


Imagine going out and buying the most powerful computer in the world. You stagger home with it, hoping that it will do everything for you, even write your letters. Unfortunately, there's no instruction manual and you don't know the first thing about computers. So it just sits there on the kitchen table, staring back at you. You plug it in, fiddle around with the keyboard, walk around it, kick it, remember how much money it cost. Try as you might, you can't get the stupid thing to work. It's much the same with your brain.

The brain is more powerful than any computer, far better than anything

money can buy. Scientists barely understand how a mere ten per cent of it works. They know, however, that it is capable of storing and recalling enormous amounts of information. If, as is now widely accepted, it contains an estimated 1012 neurons, the number of possible combinations between them

(which is the way scientists think information is stored) is greater than the number of particles in the universe. For most of us, however, the memory sits up there unused, like the computer on the kitchen table.

There are various ways of getting it to work, some based on theory, some on practice. What you are about to read is a method I have developed independently over the last five years.

Throughout this book, you will be asked to create images for everything you want to remember. These images will come from your imagination; often

bizarre, they are based on the principles of association (we are reminded of one thing by its relation to another). Don't worry that your head may become too cluttered by images. They are solely a means of making information more

palatable for your memory and will fade once the data has been stored.

It is essential, however, that you form your own images. I have given examples throughout the book, but they are not meant to be copied verbatim. Your own inventions will work much better for you than mine.


I have a stubborn streak, which kept me going through the long hours of trial and error, and I am pleased to say that my method is all grounded in personal experience. Those techniques that didn't work were altered until they did, or thrown out. In other words, the method works, producing some remarkable

results in a short space of time.

The most dramatic change has been the improvement in the overall quality of my life. And it's not just the little things, like never needing to write down phone numbers or shopping lists. I can now be introduced to a hundred new people at a party and remember all their names perfectly. Imagine what that does for your social confidence.

My memory has also helped me to lead a more organized life. I don't need to use a diary anymore: appointments are all stored in my head. I can give speeches and talks without referring to any notes. I can absorb and recall huge amounts of information (particularly useful if you are revising for exams or learning a new language). And I have used my memory to earn considerable amounts of money at the blackjack table.


Some people have asked me whether they need to be highly intelligent to have a good memory, sensing that my achievements might be based on an exceptional IQ. It's a flattering idea, but not true. Everything I have done could be equally achieved by anyone who is prepared to train their memory.

I didn't excell at school. Far from it. I got eight mediocre O levels and dropped out before taking any A levels. I couldn't concentrate in class and I wasn't an avid reader. At one point, my teachers thought I was dyslexic. I was certainly no child prodigy. However, training my memory has
me more switched on, mentally alert, and observant than I ever was.


During the course of writing this book, I have discovered that my method bears many similarities with the classical art of memory. The Greeks, and later the Romans, possessed some of the most awesome memories the civilized world

has ever seen.

There are also some striking resemblances between my approach and the

techniques used by a Russian named Shereshevsky but known simply as S.

Born at the end of the nineteenth century he was a constant source of bewilderment and fascination for Russian psychologists. To all intents and purposes, he had a limitless memory.

I can't help thinking that there must be validity in my method when such similar techniques have been developed independently of each other by people from such different cultures and times.


No method, however, produces results unless you are prepared to put in a little time and effort. The more you practise the techniques I describe, the quicker you will become at applying them. And remember, an image or a thought that might take a paragraph to describe can be created in a nanosecond by the human brain. Have faith in your memory and see this book as your instruction manual, a way of getting it to work.






A list of ten items, whatever they are, should not present a challenge to our memory, and yet it does. Take a simple shopping list, for example. Try

memorizing the following, without writing any of it down, within one minute.

• fish

• football

• margarine

• ladder

• chess set

• clock

• milk

• tape measure

• light bulb

• dog bowl

Most people can remember somewhere between four and seven items. And

there was I announcing in the introduction that you have an amazing memory.

It wasn't an idle boast. By the end of this chapter, you should be able to remember any ten items perfectly in order, even backwards in under one

minute. To prove my point, try doing the following two simple exercises.


Think back over what you have done so far today. What time did you get up?

What was on the radio or television? Can you remember your journey into

work? What mood were you in when you arrived? Did you go anywhere on

foot, or in a car? Who did you meet?

Frustrating, isn't it? Your memory has no problem at all recalling these everyday, mundane experiences (ironically, the forgettable things in life) and yet it can't recall a simple shopping list when required. If you were to take this exercise a stage further and write down
you could remember about today, however trivial or tedious, you would be amazed at the hundreds of memories that came flooding back.

Some things are undoubtedly easier to remember than others, events that

involve travel, for example. When I think back over a day, or perhaps a holiday, the most vivid memories are associated with a journey. Perhaps I was on a train, or walking through the park, or on a coach; I can remember what

happened at certain points along the way. A journey gives structure to the otherwise ramshackle collection of memories in your head; it helps you to keep them in order, like a filing cabinet.


If, like me, you found the first exercise a little depressing, revealing more about the ordinariness of your life than about your memory, you should enjoy this experiment. Try to
a day. Exaggerate and distort your normal routine...

Wake up in an enormous, feathersoft bed to the sound of birdsong; a beautiful lover is lying asleep beside you; pull back the curtains to reveal sun-soaked hills rolling down to a sparkling sea. An enormous schooner is at anchor in the bay, its fresh, white linen sails flapping in the Mediterranean breeze. Breakfast has been made; the post comes and, for once, you decide to open the envelope saying 'You have won a £1 million.' You have! etc,

Your dream day might be quite different from mine, of course. But if you were to put this book down and I were to ask you in an hour's time to recall the fruits of your wild imagination, you should be able to remember everything you

dreamt up. Imagined events are almost as easy to recall as real ones, particularly if they are exaggerated and pleasurable. (No one likes to remember a bad dream.) This is because the imagination and memory are both concerned with the forming of mental images.

Returning from the sublime to the ridiculous, you are now in a position to remember the ten items on our shopping list, armed with the results of these two experiments. Keep an open mind as you read the following few



To remember the list, 'place' each item of shopping at individual stages along a familiar journey - it might be around your house, down to the shops, or a bus route.

For these singularly boring items to become memorable, you are going to

have to exaggerate them, creating bizarre mental images at each stage of the journey. Imagine an enormous, gulping fish flapping around your bedroom, for example, covering the duvet with slimy scales. Or picture a bath full of margarine, every time you turn on the taps, more warm margarine comes oozing out!

This is the basis of my entire memory system:


Later on, when you need to remember the list, you are going to 'walk' around the journey, moving from stage to stage and recalling each object as you go.

The journey provides order, linking items together. Your imagination makes each one memorable.


Choose a familiar journey. A simple route around your house is as good as any.

If there are ten items to remember, the journey must consist of ten stages. Give it a logical starting point, places along the way and a finishing point. Now learn it. Once you have committed this to memory, you can use it for remembering ten phone numbers, ten people, ten appointments, ten of anything, over and over again.

BOOK: How to Develop a Perfect Memory
5.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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