UK Open Memory Championships – Geeks or What?

The UK Open Memory Championships takes place in London this coming weekend (Simpsons in the Strand 16-17th August).

26 competitors will attempt to memorise lots of cards, numbers dates, images and other seemingly rather meaningless data over these two days with winner going on to compete in the World Championships in Bahrain later this year.

“Why?” or “Whats the point?” I hear you ask.

The more cynical and maybe hard-nosed of you might remark “No friends eh?” or “Should get out more!”

So lets look at the point of competition.

When someone discovers they can do something really well (or indeed learns to do something really well) it is only natural to show off their talents to others.

Others watching might see what is being done and they may think “Id like to try that, let me have a go”.

So they try it out and discover they too can do it.

The competitive gene in our make up naturally encourages people to compare their abilities and so these get into competition to see “who is the best”.

At the moment the Olympics in Beijing is probably the most developed set of competitions that pitches the best in the world against each other.

So can and should there be a memory championships?

If you do a quick google for obscure sports you will find there are some very strange ones indeed.

How about the Extreme Ironing World Championships (!), or the Underwater Hockey World Championships or perhaps the recent Sudoku World Championships?

How these sorts of competitions start is that a group of friends discover a new skill or sport, compete against each other and agree to do it all again next year.

The more enterprising start to take it a little more seriously, give the sport a title, rally those interested and if they are the only ones doing it on the planet, call their regular competition the “World Championships”

That is pretty much how it started with Memory competitions.

In the early 1990s, a few followers of Tony Buzan (the inventor of Mind Mapping) inspired by his revelations on memory decided to try out the ideas and see who could memorise the best.

A quick look around and they realised they were the only ones doing it and so the World Memory Championships were born.

Ever since they have grown and developed, stuttered a little in the early part of the Millenium and now are a well established albeit somewhat niched event.

In the early days the World Championships were essentially a UK based competition but now as interest has grown around the world with more and more national events, this is probably the first true UK national championships.

It still begs the question though, why would anyone enter this sort of competition and what sort of people take up the challenge?

Well there is no simple answer to the first part of that question because each competitor has their own unique motivation.

According to the Times Body and Soul supplement this weekend, Katie Kermode, a translator from Cheshire, does it for the mental challenge of expanding her mind and the buzz of the competition.

Dominic O’Brien, 8 times World Memory Champion, does it because that is his profession – a memory expert who runs courses and writes books – he is quite good at it too.

I did it twice (The World Championships that is) and my motivation was to demonstrate what could be done with training (I historically had a poor memory) so I could then help business people develop their thinking abilities across a wide range of skills to improve their performance.

Having the Silver medal from the World Championships does bring a certain degree of credibility when you are helping people to discover what is possible for them too.

There are a mix of people who do enter competitions like this and in my experience the numbers who do are still too small to stereotype them into any distinct group.

Yes there is the odd geek or two but there are many more “normal” people from a variety of of different backgrounds who give these competitions a go.

What is clear though is that these people have taken the time and energy to discover how to train their memory and have done so to a very high standard indeed.

The effort and dedication required to perform at this level requires mental toughness, physical and mental stamina and a desire to succeed.

Whilst not as glamorous as the events in Beijing, there is as much spirit and dedication for those who excel in this sport and just like those pounding the streets of China, pedalling past the Great Wall or throwing themselves across the finish line in the Olympic Stadium, this competition offers hope to us all that we too can improve what we do in that area of our lives.

So many people think their memory is poor and much of that is because they are ignorant of what they can easily do with it to make it perform much better for them.

Now you might not want to learn how to memorise hundreds of numbers in one sitting or commit a shuffled deck of cards to memory in less than 30 seconds (yes that is possible and you could do it too if you were committed enough) but if you want to sharpen your memory, learn things faster and retain them for longer, then the strategies being employed in Simpsons in the Strand this coming weekend can and will help you too.