So Everest training is going well. Nearly 6 months from now I will be leaving for Kathmandu to tackle the beast of a mountain. More importantly (in my mind anyways), in just under 6 months from now will be the 2011 USA Memory Championships. I am training equally hard (if not harder) for that competition. My regiment is pretty strict and I've been really tough on myself on making sure I get certain times during training and that I do a specific amount of reps of memory exercise each day. For those of you who aren't in the sport (everyone should be!), you may have read from previous blog posts that there are varying levels of methods that people use, whether it be for numbers, words, cards, etc. Typically for numbers say, there are 3 levels. The first level is a 1-digit system which means one would assign each 1 digit number to an image (1 = a stick, 2= a swan, etc.). That's simple enough, and an easy way to start. But if you want to memorize a 100 digit number you're going to have to look at each of those 100 digits as 100 separate images. NIGHTMARE! Not only is that a lot, it's also bound to have dozens of repetitions (i.e., you will have to memorize on average 10 swans and 10 sticks for a 100 digit number...that's confusing!). So most people abandon that method and go for the next level up, the 2-digit system.
The 2-digit system requires every 2 digit number to have an associated image (00 - vampire, 01 - alice in wonderland, whatever!). This is a bit better. If you encounter the same 100 digit number, you only need 50 different images. Woohoo for halfing! Some people take it a tad further and add actions and objects to those 2 digit numbers (i.e. 00 is a "vampire", but also has the action of "sucking blood", and the object "fangs"). These people then number crunch a little bit and group digit pairs by 4's or 6's. This reduces a 100 digit number to 25 and 17 images respectively. That's pretty efficient, only 17 images to represent 100 digits - pretty awesome.
The next level up varies a bit but it involves, in one way or the other, mapping every 3 digit number to an image. Do the math; that means you need 1000 images, that's 900 more images than the 2-digit system. Now, the perceived holy grail of all number systems is the 3-digit system that groups triples into a person/action/object so that you are memorizing 9 digits in one image (reducing that 100 digit number down to about 11 images). This system is a TON of work, and to be really great at it, you need to be able to see any 3 digit number and instantaneously recognize it as its image. This is possible if you practice hard enough. Compare it to learning 1000 vocab words in a completely foreign language - not the easiest thing in the world. And if you enjoy a social life, it makes it THAT much harder to devote time to. Some people break the system down to some hybrid that uses 2 digit and 3 digit groupings (i.e., 2-2-3 (person/action/3 digit object) or 3-2-3 (3 digit person/action/3 digit object)), but it all boils down to a lot of work.
I have spent a lot of time recently preparing to switch to a 3 digit method, but I realized yesterday that it may not really be necessary. At least, I don't believe so. I've been using a 2 digit method for about 2 years now and with all the training I've been doing (lots of speed drills), I've been able to push my system to places I never thought I could. Last year I was all about upping my system and thinking that increasing my systems to have more images would be better. Although I have no doubt that it would, I don't want to waste time starting a new system while I could be speeding up the one I have right now. Just yesterday I came close to breaking a memory WORLD RECORD! 100 digits in a minute (the world record is 102). That means, i can potentially memorize a 500 digit number in 5 minutes (don't worry, I'm not even close to that yet - but eventually), all with a 2 digit system. If I'm not mistaken, I think Dominic O Brien memorized 316 digits in 5 minutes with a 2 digit system. That's amazing. Same with memorizing cards - Boris Konrad recently posted on Facebook that he memorized a deck of cards in 28 seconds with a 1 card system!! That's nuts. That means he looked at each card in a deck for half a second each. What has to happen in that half second is two things - recognition of the card's image, and storing that image in a location. I think typical recognition of objects occurs in the brain between 100-400 milliseconds. So what Boris has trained his brain to do is memorize quickly not create a powerful system.
My point in this blog is that for those that want to learn some memory techniques or for those that are trying to get better, you don't need a complicated system. Get to know your system if you have one already and if you don't have one, don't feel overwhelmed by those who use the larger systems - it means nothing. Make whatever system you use your baby. I remember last year, when I wanted to improve my memorization of cards, I spent 1 day with each of my cards. One day I took the 8 of Spades out to lunch (Homer Simpson). It sounds insane and somewhat disturbing, I know. But what I was doing was forcing my brain to stop seeing 8 of Spades, but instead, Homer Simpson (the image the card represented).
Alright, hopefully I've inspired you! Get your memory systems going! Train your systems if you got 'em! Prepare for the 2011 competition!