Memory Training in Stress

Do you know what one of the biggest zapper to your memory is? STRESS!

In his song ‘Pressure,’ Billy Joel says: “You will come to a place where loaded guns are in your face and you will have to deal with PRESSURE!”

Do you know of really smart and skilled people who almost curl up in the fetal position under pressure or stress? On the other hand, I bet you know others who thrive under pressure. To perform under stress is the mark of a true high achiever. How do they remain calm when all around them are crashing? What’s their secret?

I hired a friend of mine, former U.S. Navy Seal, TC Cummings, to help me train for the USA Memory Championship. He shared with me a SEAL principle — “The more you sweat in times of peace the less you bleed in times of war.” That means that the SEALs make the training so tough they don’t just win, they dominate!  The amount of stress put on a Navy SEAL is designed to teach them how to handle any situation and not crack under the pressure.

TC suggested that, in order for me to train under stress and distractions to put on a wet suit and snorkel gear, and get a deck of plastic playing cards. He actually had me memorize cards UNDER WATER! The fastest time I had in memorizing cards under water was about 1 minute 35 seconds. Now, to put that in perspective, NO ONE at that time had ever memorized a deck of cards faster at a memory tournament in the USA ABOVE WATER!

He also had me train in places with kids running around, and noisy bars. The point was that I needed to focus on the cards, and not the distractions around me, so when I went to the tournament I was able to cut out all the surrounding noises and action. I didn’t just win like a SEAL….I DOMINATED!!!

So, if you want to train yourself to be able to perform under pressure, but don’t want to get into a pool, what can you do?

  1. Take a memory training class, or learn a memory training system
  2. Take a book of poems to a restaurant or bar and give yourself 15-20 minutes to memorize 15-20 lines of the poem
  3. Go to a noisy mall with a magazine and flip through the first 25-50 pages and see if you can remember  the main idea from each page
  4. At your next business meeting, make a goal for yourself to memorize the names of everyone in the room, trying for at least 20 (my personal best is 301 names at 1 meeting).

In each of these situations there are distractions while you were trying to memorize. You will find it is far easier to learn to memorize or study in complete silence. To up the ante even a little more, have someone give you a list of words to memorize, and then recite the words back to them. Have them time you. Performing for others always increases the stress, as does the timing.

I can honestly tell you, THE BEST WAY to practice memorizing under stress is to participate in the next World Memory Championship or USA Memory Championship!! You don’t have to do it because you think you will win, do it for what you have to do, and how much you will learn about yourself, to participate! Do it because you want to see how your memory performs under stress.

Other ways to work on controlling stress is to:

1. Practice controlling your reactions when someone cuts you off in traffic, or is rude to you. The more you can learn to control yourself under stressful situations the easier it will be to memorize anything and retain what you are learning. It also makes you a more mature person — an added bonus!

2. When you find yourself worrying about other people and their lives, or your job, take yourself away from the situation and visualize how you wish it to be. That doesn’t mean take yourself out of reality, but by visualizing how you want it to be you can often find ways to make changes needed, and you have relieved the stress of worry.

So there you have it! Stress is your memory’s worst enemy. If you can learn to control it, you are way ahead of the game, and have freed your mind up to be able to memorize anything.

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