A FEW simple tricks can not only improve your memory, but also enhance your ability to plan for the future
There are few greater tests of memory retention than memorising pi. This mathematical constant represents the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter and is characterised by an endless string of decimal points, never forming a repeating pattern.
There are competitions held around the world for people to memorise and recite pi to as many places as they can. Hobart’s Bill Aronson is ranked No.14 in Australia (No.227 in the world), able to recite pi to 304 decimal places. This remarkable feat was intended to show the potential every one of us has to improve our memory. And Aronson is passionate about spreading his knowledge.
A career business consultant and manager, Aronson’s CV includes two years as director of the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and curator of the Festival of Voices in 2013. But he says a year ago he noticed his memory was not as sharp as it used to be – recalling names was a particular problem.
So began a personal quest to find out why and what he could do about it. After consulting a memory coach and experiencing rapid improvement, Aronson became determined to learn as much as he could and share it with others.
“I started to work with a small group of people at first, just because my coach said I should teach other people these tricks,” he says.
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“I started with 10, then went to 20, and suddenly it went to 70, and in May we’re putting on an event for 200 people in Hobart.” There is an almost religious fervour to Aronson’s crusade, which is driven both by how deceptively simple he says it is to make big improvements to your memory very quickly and the importance of making the techniques more widely known. Now working as a memory coach, Aronson runs classes called Memory Masters, teaching a mixture of ancient methods and modern science.
“I’ve learnt from a lot of sources and books and practised, practised, practised,” he says. “Many of these techniques have been around for about 2000 years, Greek techniques, Latin speaking techniques, such as how the great public speakers of ancient Rome could speak for hours with no notes to rely on. And also some cutting-edge techniques developed by neuroscientists, using the principle of neuroplasticity, which is our brain’s ability to constantly adapt and create new pathways.” Aronson says the sudden growth of interest in his classes is symptomatic of a rising problem in our technology-driven society, and one people are increasingly starting to notice in themselves.
“We’ve seen this quantum leap in the past 10 years or so, where we’re basically transferring the entire global memory into the cloud,” he says. “And that is fantastic, it has these amazing benefits for everyone. You can Google anything and get information about it instantly, but there is an unintended consequence of this. If you don’t use your memory, you lose it, and we see more and more people with digital dementia, the inability to remember names, where they parked the car, where they left their glasses and so on, and I think that is very significant.”
The cure for this, he says, is quite easy. And it does not involve becoming a Luddite and cutting yourself off from all contact with the internet, either. “Using that technology is fine but we must not depend on it in place of our own memory,” he says. “The cure is essentially about giving yourself a choice. Not memorising everything in our lives but choosing what you want to remember and choosing what you want to forget.
“We need to forget some things, otherwise we can’t learn new things. And that isn’t a matter of physical capacity – we could store 300 years of data in our brains. But the issue is about choosing what you want to focus on, what is important.”
Memory Masters graduate Gaye Barlow, of Blackmans Bay, says one of the biggest changes she has noticed is improved mental clarity.
Bill Aronson with Memory Masters gradute Gaye Barlow, of Blackmans Bay.
“It’s like I have a room in my head that was full of lists and screwed-up pieces of paper … and now it is all filed away neatly and I can find things when I go looking for them,” she says. “The first thing you learn is to focus on something and not multitask, just one thing at a time. You start to feel the benefits right away.”
Aronson’s method essentially uses a series of triggers to help you to keep your memories “filed away” in a more easily accessible order. At a basic level, it bears similarities to mnemonic learning: for instance, using the acronym BODMAS [Brackets, Orders, Divide, Multiply, Add, Subtract] to remember the order of mathematical operations, or children using the familiar tune of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star to help memorise the letters of the alphabet.
But rather than abbreviations and rhymes, Aronson’s system creates a number-based network of triggers and cues that act as a fixed framework to help you remember anything you need to use it for, and – crucially – forget information that is no longer required.
He says many beneficial side effects flow on from improving your memory and reducing your reliance on external memory substitutes.
“As your memory improves, your clarity of thinking also improves, and then your self-confidence improves,” he says. “As you become better at memory, you lose that little bit of anxiety you get about meeting someone and worrying you won’t remember their name, you stop worrying about forgetting your words when you’re up giving a speech or a presentation. And the one that has surprised me is it also improves your ability to chart your future. As you get better at remembering your past, you also get better at picturing your future. Neither the past nor the future exists, they’re just mental models we have and use. So as you get better at navigating the past, you get better at navigating the future as well.”
Many beneficial side effects flow on from improving your memory and reducing your reliance on external memory substitutes.
With a growing body of scientific evidence supporting the idea of neuroplasticity, Aronson finds it puzzling such techniques are not being taught in schools and used in aged care.
“There is this amazing long-term study being done in America, working with the same order of nuns since 1986, having their memories tested every year, and they have agreed to have their brains removed for study when they die,” he says. “They live in this stable environment, doing important work, they have purpose in their lives, they are part of a community. And the extraordinary thing is, since these people are living in such a stimulating environment, they have found at least 15 cases in which nuns had developed full-blown Alzheimer’s disease – but neither they nor anyone around them, not even the scientists measuring them, knew.
“They were bypassing it and using that spare capacity and functioning perfectly normally right up until the day they died. It shows our brains have this ability to adapt. People in aged care need to be constantly stimulated and involved in things to keep those pathways functioning and adapting, not just sat quietly and fed. And in schools, it is vitally important students learn how to learn, how to find patterns in the blizzards of data they are exposed to.” And it would also be nice to be able to remember where you left the car keys from time to time.
The “Master Your Memory” seminar is being held at Hobart’s Hotel Grand Chancellor on Monday, May 16, at 6pm. Tickets are $99 for a double pass (participants are encouraged to bring a friend), but you can get yours for half price by using the promotional code “Mercury” when booking your ticket at billaronson.com.au. For more information, visit the website or email email@example.com
Read more at http://www.themercury.com.au/lifestyle/total-recall/news-story/fa043d34e49babe9f5fb7c134c66b0f9