So, I have a little test for you. Don’t panic. I’m not here to judge you. It’s just a little test, OK? First, you get 30 seconds to memorize 10 words in the right order. After that, you get 30 seconds ? Well, we’re going to start anyway. So, memorize 10 words in the right order in 30 seconds in three, two, one, go! OK. Stop. Now write down what you remember. OK, and stop. Now quickly check your answers. OK, and stop. Very exciting; I heard a lot of grunting and moaning. So I hope I didn’t stress you out too much. Now a moment of reflection. I’d like you to ask yourself, “How did I memorize this,and was it the best way to do it?” Now, for the generation of my parents and grandparents, being able to memorize something like this was an absolutely essential skill. But nowadays, why would anyone want to remember a list of anything? You just take a picture of the screen,and you’re done, right? it seemed as if memorizing has somehow become less important. So why should we then,in today’s day and age, still want to get better at memorizing? Well, to answer that question,I’d like to tell you a little story. In high school, I flunked a grade, twice. After seven years of torture,I finally got my diploma. Sweet, sweet freedom! What would I do with it? I didn’t know.
One thing I did know, however, was that I didn’t want to go back to school because that old learning business, it wasn’t cut out for me. So instead, I went to sunny California for nine months, and there I worked as a bagger,not beggar – bagger. So in a supermarket, I had to put people’s groceries in bags,and then I’d get a little tip. Surprisingly, that year I learned so much. I learned how to bag a bunch of groceries really, really quickly. I learned how to drive a car. And in California, people are a little bit more open than they are in Amsterdam. So I also learned how to have a little chat with a stranger, just for the hell of it. That year I discoveredthat I don’t hate learning, just the specific way of doing it. So I decided to go and study psychology. Now for the first time ever, I was getting information that I absolutely wanted to know. Now I was time in the library than I spent skipping schoolas a teenager, voluntarily. The only problem was that I was spending all of my time in the library because I’d never learned how to learn. So I started experimenting with different methods of reading texts, of memorizing texts, and I got my reading time of three hours per chapter down to one.
This way of studying enabled me to do an honors program, to get my degree, and to fall in love with learning. And now I happily work for a company called Remind, in which we teach people the science and art of learning. We’re trying to bring back into education what we ourselves missed. Now for the past three years, we’ve also organized the Dutch National Memory Championships for high scholers. We do this to show that everybody is capable of amazing feats of memory, but also to show that memorization is about a lot more than just learning your French or your Spanish words. And today I’d also like to share this with you. So, in the beginning, I made you do this little test, just to make you aware of how you’re memorizing things right now. Next, I’d like to give you a new type of memory experience. This time you can even sit back and relax. So I’m going to ask you to find a comfortable position to sit, to close your eyes,and to take a deep breath. Now, I want you to thinkof someone you know called John, and I want you to see him. Now, John just grabbed the sun out of the sky, and he just threw it on your feet.
And now your feet are getting really big and red and swollen because John just threw the sun on your feet. Now you look to your knees, and on your knees, you see 10 little guys playing basketball – very strange sight. And on their shirts, you can see in brightly colored letters the “New York Knicks,” so you have some Knicks on your knees. Next, you look to where your thighs are, but they’re gone. Your thighs have been replaced with Fords, the cars. They could be Ford Focuses or Ford Mustangs. Your thighs have been replaced with Fords. Now, with your bottom, you feel a hard plastic seat of a go-kart vibrating. With your bottom, you feel the hard plastic seat of a go-kart. Your belly starts rumbling very loudly. So you follow your belly,and it leads you to McDonald’s, and there Ronald McDonald starts shooting rays of light at you with a ray gun. Ronald McDonald is shooting rays of light at you with a ray gun. He hits you on your chest, and now from your chest,a big bush of gray hairs is growing. A huge bush of gray hair is growing from your chest. So obviously, you hurry home to shave it off, and on your doormat, you see a letter. So you open it and it has good news. As you read it, you feel a huge weight falling off your shoulders. A huge weight falling off your shoulders.
Your shoulders get all light and tingly because you just paid all of your bills. Big bills, little bills, each and every bill has been paid for,and you have plenty of money to spare. Now you proceed to the bathroom, because now on your neck, a bunch of tiny bushes of thin blonde hairs have appeared. On your neck, a bunch of tiny bushes of thin blonde hair. As you look in the mirror, suddenly your mouth just starts talking all by itself, and it’s saying, “Yes, we can;yes we can; yes we can.” Now you turn around,and now suddenly your eyes are, ah, because Donald Duck just poked out both of your eyes with a trumpet made of pure gold. Now you can open your eyes again and come back to this place. Luckily, it’s a lot safer here than where you just came from. So, I just made you guys memorize the past 10 presidents of the United States of America in the right order. Now I’m going to show you, and then you can see how many of these you still know. So with each body part, I’m going to ask you what happened there, and then you could think of it. Even better would be if you just shout it out. Now, what happened to your feet? John threw the sun, yeah -President Johnson. (Laughter) Now, what happened on your knees? Knicks, yes – President Nixon.
OK. So what were your thighs replaced with? Fords – President Ford. OK, and what did you feel with your bottom? OK, President Carter, yes. Some people are ahead of the game. Now, your belly led you to McDonald’s; what happened? OK. Ronald McDonald shooting rays of … So Ronald Reagan. He hits in your chest, and you got what? Big bush of gray hairs – Bush senior. (Laughter) Now, your shoulders got light, why? Paid all your bills – Bill Clinton. Now, what did you have on your neck? OK, a bush of thin blonde hairs. Bush junior. What was your mouth saying? “Yes we can” – President Obama. And what happened to your eyes? Yeah, Donald Duck, trumpet, pure gold. Who else but Donald Trump? So, if you memorized more this time than the first time, please stand up. OK. So we have almost everyone standing up; that’s awesome. Now, if you think this way of memorizing is more fun than the last way you used, please stand up or remain standing if you’re already standing. Oh whoa, now we almost have everyone. I’m very pleased to see this. OK. You guys can sit back down. Thank you very much. Now, when you make bizarre images to memorize, suddenly it becomes a lot easier. If you tie these bizarre images to a place you know well, like your body, suddenly memorizing things in order becomes a lot easier. OK. Well, cool. But I asked you guys in the beginning, “Why should we, in today’s day and age, still want to get better at this – at memorizing?” Well, because by getting better in a skill like this, you can also get better at a different skill: the skill of experimentation.
By experimenting with different methods of doing things, I found out that I can get better at anything. I found out what works for me and what doesn’t. What if I’d never learned the skill of experimentation? I may have never gone back to school; I may have never enjoyed studying psychology, and I probably would not have been standing here today, because one of the things I thought I really couldn’t do was public speaking. Now, there are people of every generation not doing things that they might love, that they might even be great at because they think they can’t do it. So how beautiful would it be if in schools we can teach kids that they can get better at anything, and they can even get better at getting better at things, get it? But not just the kids, because the older generation is often seen as too old to learn. But they’re not too rusty. Anyone can improve themselves by experimenting, and I hope you experienced that today. Now at Remind, we break up this process of experimentation into three steps: the check, the experience and the experiment. The check is all about becoming aware of what you’re doing right now. So maybe during the first test,you became aware of the fact that you just repeat the words over and over and that that doesn’t work too well. The second step: the experience is all about being open to new possibilities and trying them out. So maybe during the visualization, you realize that this works a bit better or at least you like it more. And the third step is the experiment. This is about taking something from that new experience that you had and applying it in your own life to see how it works for you. So, maybe you’re one of those people that when someone introduces themselves to you, you just immediately forget their name. Yeah, sound familiar? And you want to use visualization to do something about that. So far I’ve only taken you guys through the first two steps.
The final step is up to you. So when I’m done here,I’d like you to take a moment for yourself and to write down an experiment on the little card we’ve given you and to put that in your wallet as a reminder. By continually following these steps of experimentation, you discover what you’re doing; you keep yourself open to new possibilities, and you allow yourself to continually transform. And regardless of what you’re learning, be it memorizing or martial arts or mathematics, you’ll get better not only in the skill that you’re trying to develop, but you’ll get better at the process of learning itself. And that’s something that sticks. It’s something you could take with you to your new job, your new hobby, your new relationship, your new whatever. So this is something absolutely everyone should know, and I believe we should teach it in schools. But let’s not just wait for it to be implemented in schools. I also believe that the most important change starts with the individual. It starts with you. So, go out there and experiment. Learn something new or a new way of approaching something old because there are few skills as valuable as the art of learning. Thank you.