What can I say about the mental marathon that was the 2018 Asia Memory Championships?
The Championships were held in Singapore in September 2018 . It was a great honour to represent Australia as the current Australian Memory Champion and being my first international competition I was excited to be there.
As I arrived early the first morning there was a palpable buzz in the air fedby the many cameras that flashed at me as I signed in. Was this mental athletics? I felt like a movie star.
Australia does not have a lot of athletes relative to other countries and it filled me with enthusiasm to see the many international competitors. Suddenly memory sports felt a lot less geeky and more like a global community that shares a desire to grow and learn.
As I was shown to my table and began organising my cards and other equipment I was asked if I could read out the competitors’ pledge on behalf of all competitors at the opening ceremony. At first I was delighted, what an honour. But then it sank in, I couldn’t possibly stand up at an international memory competition as an athlete and simply read out the pledge. Despite all the nerves I would have to memorise it, and quickly. Luckily it turns out I am now rather good at memorising information like this super-fast. So I said the pledge from memory : )
After a few hours of that first day I wondered what I was doing there.
This year I have worked full time in finance and have a second job as a dance teacher. I am also a mother to three kids, so needless to say I rarely get the opportunity to train for stamina. I fit in 60 seconds or 5 minute training sessions where I can which has made me a sprinter in the world of mind sports. I quickly realised that for future long format competitions I will need to train like a long distance athlete.
Half way through the first day I was ready to cry. I was exhausted. My senses were overloaded with the stimulating high stress environment and the concentration required to get through events like 30 minute binary
Why was I doing this again?
I started training my brain like this as I love to learn, which makes me feel I am getting the most out of life. I was super excited when I first discovered that training these techniques meant I could remember things super-fast. It was like I was going to be able to fit two lifetimes of learning into one.
But at lunch on day one of the competition I did wonder if maybe this wasn’t for me.
As I ate my lunch I pondered gloomily how I was going to make it through the day – that much work again before I could go to bed. It is amazing the similarities between being physically exhausted and being mentally exhausted. I have known physical exhaustion from being a professional dancer, but saw that I felt just as tired from cognitive athletics.
But at an international competition there is an encouraging and supportive spirit.
Athletes come together from across the globe to compete and share knowledge. Many athletes share the ambition to discover what is possible for the human brain with training. While serious, there is a real spirit of learning and most are very open to discussing their training and strategy. There is the odd competitor who holds their cards close to their chest (pardon the pun) but can’t help but feel they only limit themselves in doing this.
At around 5pm we began our last event for the day, 30 minute cards with a one hour recall session (how many randomised decks of cards you can remember tin perfect order) . At home I can remember a card a second but with such mental fatigue I felt like I was staring at some cards for three or four seconds each before registering what they were. Somehow despite this I broke the Australian record for the event.
What I don’t remember about that day is how I got back safely to the hotel, it’s all a bit of a blur. The previous night I had difficulty sleeping due to nerves but that night I was out like a light.
I won’t bore you with day two other than to say that it was a lot easier. Perhaps the end was in sight or I was less stressed or maybe just in a better zone for extended concentration.
As I sat on the plane home and thought through all the new things I had learned I remembered why I trained my mind like this. I love the freedom that being able to learn quickly brings. If I want to learn anything, I can. This is super liberating.
Training your mind is just like training your body. It gives you a high, makes you feel confident in yourself and allows you to get the most out of life, whatever age group you fall into.
And just as you do not need to be a professional athlete to get the health benefits of regular exercise, you do not need to attend memory competitions or study numbers for hours each week to train your memory to be able to do incredible feats. A little regular training can bring significant and usable results.
The Asia Memory Competition was exhausting, educational and pushed me to my limits. This made it a truly enlightening experience. Bring on the next one!