A keenly creative visual and spatial imagination can help you commit more to memory.

As Joshua Foer writes in the New York Times, the U.S.A Memory Championships was not where he saw himself (a mere pleb, nothing close to the savants he assumed populated these types of events) achieving greatness. However, what he discovered, much to his surprise, was that these memory specialists, some of them able to remember thousands of random digits in under an hour would never classify themselves as savants, but rather, as mental athletes.

Many of them don’t even believe in the idea of a photographic memory, but rather a highly developed spatial and visual memory system that allows them to commit numbers, names, even huge chunks of text to memory, with incredible speed and accuracy. The reason for this, is that our memory, like everything else, has evolved through a process of natural selection that was honed in surroundings very different from the current situation in which we live. Cave men didn’t need to remember the names of fifty new people that they met at a networking event, but the location of clean water and non-poisonous berries would certainly come in handy. Thus the mental athletes, when put in f.M.R.I. scanners while being asked to memorize numbers and pictures, were seen to be utilizing the parts of their brain known to be related to spatial memory.

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