With the experience of 2008 behind me I was not focused on becoming the national memory champion. It is no secret that I am proud to be an American and to represent my country in the national tournament for my sport was an enticing idea. My strategy sessions for the 2009 tournament began about two months after the 2008 tournament in May of 2008. My first order of business was to email David Thomas (the former Guinness Record Holder for memorizing pi to 20,000). When I had met David a few months prior at the 2008 USA Memory Championship he said he was willing and ready to share his ‘unbeatable’ strategy for the tournament with anyone who would listen but no one had ever taken him up on the offer. I certainly wasn’t above asking for help and I did just that by emailing David.
I sent him a long, drawn out email on why not only must I win to avenge my integrityÂ (read that story here) but why I was OBSESSED with winning! David replied rather quickly with the title subject line of his email- ‘How can I help?’
He said he would be happy to coach me and his first order of business in coaching me was to not be OBSESSED! He instructed me that obsession would not lead to victory and further encouraged me to abandon all this talk about avenging my integrity as it just sounded all too over the top and dramatic for him. I took note and certainly did not bring this up to him again…
His instruction on not being obsessed also rang true, he said the people who succeed in their endeavor are rarely the obsessed but the ones who are calculating, methodical, calm and strategic. He encouraged me to stay far away from obsession and I once again headed his advice.
My first order of business was to consult him on my strategy of memorizing digits 6 digits at a time. It was a convoluted idea of having images for every 3 digit #, every single digit # and every 2 digit number and then memorizing in groups of 6. His reply was priceless and ground breaking for me:
‘You are making it way too complicated, my friend. If you have a solid two digit number system then you can get pretty quick just by practicing with character-action (let me know if you donâ€™t know what I mean by that) and putting 4 digits at each location. And when I say quick, I can do a pack of cards, which uses exactly the same system, in around 60 seconds. Dominic Oâ€™Brien can do a pack in 35 seconds just using character-action….’
He then went on to describe this character/action/object system:
‘….The way it works is simple. For every two digits you create a character, an action and an object. For example, the number 15 for me is Albert Einstein. His action could be chalking and his object, a blackboard.
So letâ€™s try and use a real example. Say we have the number 33-15-91. These three pairs translate into the characters Charlie Chaplin (33), Albert Einstein (15) and Neil Armstrong (91). We would take the character of the first two digits performing the action of the second two to the object of the third pair. This for me would Charlie Chaplin chalking on a space suit. Hopefully this makes sense to you….’
I replied….’YOU ARE RIGHT!’. And without hesitation he replied:
‘You think I am right?!!! Of course I am right. I am a bona fide, 24K, full monty, memory genius!!’
This was July of 2008 and now I had a specific system for numbers and cards, my confidence was gaining. In September my formal training had begun and I would sit at the kitchen table of my girlfriend (Wendi) and memorizing numbers for hours on end. She would sit across the table from me and act as the judge checking my scores. We ran through the numbers and cards events over and over and over and over.
At first it as frustrating, the previous year I had memorized 120 digits with a 3 digit system. Now I was memorizing numbers 6 digits at a time and still around 120 digits in 5 minutes. But Wendi kept with her encouraging words. ‘You are going to get this, we have 6 months, it is only September.’ I am not sure where her faith came from but it certainly wasn’t from me. I was leery that I would ever be the USA Memory Champion.
September, October and November rolled by and by December we were 3 months out. I really began to focus mentally on the tournament. I started a journal in which I would write in just about every day for the coming 90 days. I set my goal and written on the first page was:
– I will be the 2009 USA Memory Champion
– I will set a record for the fastest to memorize a deck of cards in under 1 minute 30 seconds
– I will set a record for the most numbers memorized in 5 minutes at 167 consecutive digits
Those were lofty goals for a man who a few years prior was in awe of these records, now I had set my sights on owning these records.
In 2008, Chester Santos had given up alcohol the 90 days before the tournament. Dang it Chester!! Why couldn’t you have given up marshmallows! Alcohol! I love my rum! On the other hand, I couldn’t let Chester sacrifice something that I wasn’t willing to sacrifice. I didn’t want to look over at him during the tournament and think, ‘Wow, he is more worthy of winning this tournament than me…he has given up alcohol for 90 days.’ I couldn’t let that doubt in my mind so I also refrained. This was tougher than I expected when I had a big fight with my girlfriend and we didn’t talk for 3 days. A glass of rum would have been a nice distraction…or New Years eve would have been a little lighter with a mixed drink. But I was committed.
I had given up alcohol, consulted one of the top memory experts in the world, trained with Wendi for hours at her kitchen table but there was still one order of business to address….my mental game. You may say, ‘Your mental game?’ Improving your memory is all mental and that is what you have been focusing on. Well, yes and no. By mental game I mean my confidence, discipline, attitude and mindset. To address this I did two things:
1. I devoured the book Mind Gym by Gary Mack and David Casstevens…wow FANTASTIC book on the mental side of winning.
2. I hired a former US Navy SEAL to coach me!
The former US Navy SEAL is TC Cummings and this may have been the biggest factor in my victory in 2009.