Cooke and all the other mental athletes I met kept insisting that anyone could do what they do. It was simply a matter of learning to “think in more memorable ways,” using a set of mnemonic techniques almost all of which were invented in ancient Greece. These techniques existed not to memorize useless information like decks of playing cards but to etch into the brain foundational texts and ideas.
It was an attractive fantasy. If only I could learn to remember like Cooke, I figured, I would be able to commit reams of poetry to heart and really absorb it. I imagined being one of those admirable (if sometimes insufferable) individuals who always has an apposite quotation to drop into conversation. How many worthwhile ideas have gone unthought and connections unmade because of my memory’s shortcomings?
At the time, I didn’t quite believe Cooke’s bold claims about the latent mnemonic potential in all of us. But they seemed worth investigating. Cooke offered to serve as my coach and trainer. Memorizing would become a part of my daily routine. Like flossing. Except that I would actually remember to do it.
Foer did his research on memory (which he shares) and then began to train his own. As his memorization skills improved, he decided to enter the U.S.A. Memory Championship himself. And then he won it. Link
(Image credit: Marco Grob for The New York Times)