When was the last time you try to learn how to learn? For most people that was probably in school, but not high-school, probably more when you were 3-5 years old. Because of this, we suck at memorizing stuff, and I know I am worse than the average. I just can’t memorize a thing if there isn’t logic. That made rather good in science, but really bad in history class or languages. I basically never learned how to learn.
But that changed a few years ago when I found a book on memory techniques. Suddenly, in a matter of hours reading the book, I became capable of memorizing lists, dates, numbers and names in a matter of seconds. But I still have to focus to actually memorize them. Because I learned those techniques when in my 30’s, it is difficult to change my habit. I don’t think it is impossible to change a habit, far from it, but it take practice and effort. And so I decided to practice my memory skills to improve.
My original goal was to practice for around 1h per day for 30 days. But nothing really went as planned. I had a pretty clear plan of what I wanted to work on and how to work on it. But it takes a lot of time to setup all the memory support on which you will learn what you want to memorize.
For the first 3 days, I was able to learn a support for a list of 52 items.
I then practiced my numbers. The concept is you assign a person, an action and an object for each number from 1 to 100. This way you can then create stories of people interacting instead of memorizing the actual numbers. That also took plenty of time, first of making the list, but then of practicing the list every day.
For fun I practiced memorizing the chemical element names with their atomic number. That is a lot of fun, but there are 118 elements in the periodic table. So again, if you want to know them well, it takes a bit of time.
Unfortunately, I didn’t work on the rest of the memory techniques. I would have loved to practice the name and faces, but I couldn’t find a proper way to work on it, tried to look for some app or website, but nothing came out.
Eventually I maybe practiced 10 days out of 30 during that month. That is one of my worst challenges I can remember.
So what did I do wrong and what could I have done differently to stick to it longer. I fell into a trap that often happens when you started learning something and come back to it much later. You believe it’s going to be easy because you already done it before. But because you didn’t practice that skill for a while, it turns out not to be as easy as you remember. The challenge feels more difficult than it should.
I should have started way easier. Instead on working on lists of 52 elements, I should have started with 10. And probably work on speed with small quantities instead. A list of 10 elements can be memorized really fast with the right technic. The thing is to be comfortable with that technic so that you can use it conveniently in your daily life. In normal life, you rarely have to suddenly lean a list of 52 elements. It’s a fun skill, but irrelevant on a daily basis.
My preparation was only half done when I started my challenge. I know what I wanted to learn, but haven’t got the proper support to work on it. Before I get back to this challenge, I need to have the tools to really practice in good conditions, maybe have a random face and name generator, have a random word list generator and a random number generator. Some exist on the web, but get limited really fast if you try to push them a little bit. The moral of this challenge is that its ok not to achieve your goal to your original expectations. Until you actually dive into your challenge, you won’t be able to judge its difficulty. Be ready to reduce considerably your challenge and have a minimum plan: what is the absolute minimum you have to do to consider you have worked on your challenge. For example, if your challenge is running, your minimum plan could be to put on your running gear and do one loop around your neighborhood, maybe just 300m. But with this you still reinforce your habit of getting ready and running. For memory training, maybe it could have been to learn one list of 10 words.