FRIDAY: Moonwalking With Einstein

Photo Credit: Jystyn

When I was growing up I couldn’t remember much in school. It seemed no matter how hard I studied, I’d retain a fraction of what I learned. I suppose it will come as no surprise to hear that I dreaded tests.

When I grew older I became very absentminded. I constantly forgot where I put things. I’d forget where I put my wallet or car keys, or to do a specific task that I wanted or needed to do. One year I parked in Washington D.C. for a day of museums and sightseeing only to wander the Capitol for an hour, trying to remember where I had parked the car.

Then one day I read a book review about a book called Moonwalking With Einstein by Joshua Foer. In it, the author had set out to see if it was possible for the average individual to improve memory to levels that memory champions enjoyed.

Over the course of a year, the world reigning memory champion mentored the author in techniques that today’s modern world has forgotten. Then after a year of practicing, he entered himself into the U.S. Memory Championship and won. He also set a then U.S.A. record in ‘Speed Cards’ for memorizing an entire deck in order in exactly 1 minute.

I promptly ordered Moonwalking With Einstein. I figured that if this guy could go from Average Joe to Memory Champion by learning some old memory ‘tricks,’ then I sure as hell could cure my absentmindedness.

What I didn’t realize then was that Moonwalking With Einstein was about to change my life. I was so energized after reading this book that I ordered another book, this one titled How to Remember Anything by Dean Vaughn. The book teaches techniques helping you to remember anything. If any of you reading this have a terrible memory, this book is for you.

After reading the book, I spent 2 hours a day for the next 3 months practicing and unlearning the terrible way we learned to remember things growing up.

In school, most of us learned to remember information by reading, taking notes, rereading, and taking more notes. Then we would reread our notes and maybe reread our books again. The night before tests you probably reviewed questions in your text books, and tried to remember everything by repeating it over and over again in your head. This is the “rote” method, and it’s the worst possible way to learn and retain information.

Back when the world didn’t have Google, handheld devices or even books, you had to remember everything. Everyone did. When books finally came about, only the rich and religious scholars were privy to them.

Have you ever seen a picture of a page from a very old book? We’re talking 1300’s old. There’s ornate pictures and scribblings filling the borders of pages around text. Oftentimes these images are overlaid within the text itself. What are these images for anyway? Why would someone spend so much time and energy drawing in a book?

The answer: they’re memory cues that the reader created in order to efficiently and accurately memorize the text. Through these images, you are able to visualize, hear, see, and mentally smell the information you want to remember. By doing so, you are activating several regions of the brain simultaneously, and the more senses involved when memorizing, the easier it is to recall information. It’s just the nature of how we’re wired. It’s something ancient societies understood well.

Rather than explain every memory method, and there are many, I can drive home the point by telling you a little about my memory now versus before. The difference is astounding.

I can now remember, in exact sequence, thousands of digits (before I could only memorize a handful, maybe 20 or 30 if given enough time); lists that are hundreds and hundreds of things long (before I was lucky to memorize a grocery list); entire chunks of data, like say, entire books of the Bible or other meaningful information like names, phone numbers, addresses, birthdays, etc., of everyone I know (whereas, before I was lucky to remember 7 pieces of pertinent data at any one time); and, even entire decks of cards amongst everything and anything else. Incidentally, my personal best is 14 decks memorized in one hour. Why 14? It was all the decks I owned at the time.

Before I go, I’m leaving you with 4 videos. I recorded them a couple years ago for family, but today I’ll share them with you. In the first two, I’m memorizing a deck of cards. In the last two, I’m recalling them in sequence.

Recall that in Moonwalking With Einstein, the author set a then U.S.A. record of 1 minute memorizing a deck correctly in sequence. It takes me about 53 seconds in these videos. No tricks. No gimmicks.

My personal best is 28 seconds.

The world record is mind boggling faster–google it. Not bad for a guy who once wandered Washington, D.C. wondering where he parked his car, don’t you think? And yes, I will compete in the U.S. Memory Championship the first chance I get.

*You can do anything you set your mind to. Believe in yourself. It’s that simple.

Continue reading “FRIDAY: Moonwalking With Einstein”

When I Fail

Wright Brothers Aircraft

“No matter what you do you need to be able to fail and know how to recover from it in order to one day succeed.” —Neil deGrasse Tyson—

The greatest lessons I’ve learned in life didn’t come about through my successes, but through my failures. Our failures force us to examine ourselves. In those moments when we are too stubborn to acknowledge that we’ve failed, the universe kindly allows us to fail again at the same task, the same effort, the same thing. “As you were,” says Mother Nature.

Right. As you were.

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16 and Forever

Those of you who know me won’t be surprised at what I’m about to say because you’ve heard me say it hundreds of times: life is what we make of it. When we look for the positive, we find positive, and when we look for negatives, negative finds us. One of the secrets of life. So simple, yet so many people never realize this.

Years ago I used to tutor juveniles and eventually transitioned to mentoring. The moment where I realized that mentoring was what I wanted to do, my life changed. It is a beautiful thing to help someone in need and to see them overcome and grow. This is what life is all about. It is the meaning of happiness.

Of the many juvenile offenders I’ve mentored, Tim is one who has overcome and grown into a man with confidence and direction in life. When I first met him, he was a deeply introverted 16 year old facing a long sentence. An eternity for all intents and purposes for a boy of 16 years.

In those early days, depression often seized upon him, and he struggled mightily to move forward from day to day. I remember those times. They were dark days for him. I’d spend time with him daily, mostly us sitting at a table and talking over random subjects like science and astronomy or stocks. Especially stocks. Tim took to learning stocks with eagerness and concentrated devotion. He has been the astute student and to this day drives himself to understand and succeed. I’ve been involved with stocks for 20 years now, and we often discuss trading strategies and game theorize geo-politics in order to discern the future direction of equities. I love our discussions and find them fulfilling and meaningful.

During his early days, when we weren’t engaged in discussion, we silently fought one another in games of chess. When Tim transferred to another institution, we continued our epic chess games through the mail. Tim is a deep thinker, and as time progressed he nourished that through college classes and self studies. Opportunities that weren’t always available to him.

An area of interest for Tim is writing. He has spent his time incarcerated developing his skills, and with his permission today, I am happy to post a work he penned a little while back. It is about his incarceration as seen and experienced by him and presented in his own words. He sees the world through a lense shaped by incarceration, from being a young boy alone in This Dark World, to the adult he is today. It’s a view that’s sometimes shaded, sometimes pessimistic, but always circles around toward hope and understanding. Even now, when I read his words, I am impacted by how much he has overcome since those early days. I am happy to offer this to you, and I am proud of the man Tim has become.

Tim will finish his sentence in just under two years from now, a long journey that he once told me he couldn’t see the end to. His family supports him, and all his future plans include them. I can’t wait to spend time with his as a free man, and do all the great things we’ve talked about doing over these years. Tim is an excellent example of how through seeming impossibility, hope, change, and goodness prevail.

It has been a long journey for him.

I’m proud to count him a friend.

You can read Tim’s writing here.

*If you enjoyed this post, please like and share with your friends. And, if you’d like to leave a comment for today’s guest writer, Tim, know that I will gladly get it to him. In the meantime, I’ll keep writing for you! Also, if you know of other blogs written by inmates, please let me know because I enjoy reading what other guys write. Frankly, it helps keep me sane.


Dr. Q

I often think of the many kind and wonderful staff I’ve met over the duration of my incarceration. These are individuals who were willing to help me when I needed help and individuals that helped me when I didn’t realize I needed help. All of them took a chance with me, and I am forever grateful.

I have so many stories to share about these good souls, and I credit staff with having gently steered me toward the path of reform many years ago. Today I want to tell you about a staffer who once worked here as a psychologist. By the time I met him, he had devoted more than 18 years of his life to helping juvenile and adult offenders find the path forward in their lives and overcome the mental obstacles that held them back. I shall call him Dr. Q.

Some years back, I had partnered with an inmate named Chad in launching a new program here called Life Development. The program was about teaching offenders the life skills needed at different stages of one’s life. It addressed issues that many offenders do not understand, and in order to get the program off the ground we needed a staff facilitator. When Chad and I sought out a sponsor, Dr. Q did not hesitate. As Life Development slowly came to fruition, a three staff core of facilitators emerged, each of them willing to devote large amounts of personal time to helping us. I am grateful to each of them for their selfless dedication.

During the early stages of hashing out the core of Life Development, Chad and I individually spent hours talking with Dr. Q. Through this process, I came to discover that Dr. Q had spent a lifetime studying and researching NDE’s, or near-death experiences. One day as we were hashing out Life Development material that concerned late life issues, Dr. Q offered to show me a video of interviews with local Cincinnati residents who had experienced an NDE. It was a video created in conjunction with the University of Cincinnati, Dr. Moody, and one Dr. Q.

The video showcased interviews with near- death survivors recalling what they had experienced. It was emotionally moving, and it unexpectedly brought back a flood of memories from my childhood that I had long suppressed. I speak about some of this in my post Angels Among Us.

In confiding in Dr. Q about my childhood, he provided an atmosphere and sincere outlet for me to explore, understand, and discuss what I remembered and experienced. Through our sessions I discovered that many of my childhood angel moments shared a striking commonality with those who have experienced NDE’s.

When I was 20 years old I had contracted influenza and nearly died. During those late moments I experienced a series of ‘wonderfully peaceful moments,’ for lack of better descriptive words, that would remain a source of confusion for me for years. It was an event I kept from family until decades later, both because of the trauma and the difficulty I had with reconciling my experience. Through Dr. Q’s willingness to explore NDE’s with me I found understanding and peace. This understanding has opened my eyes to the world and our place in it.

Many people across the world today and throughout time and across every culture have experienced similar things through NDE’s. Who can explain what they represent? Most people can’t except for one group: those who have experienced this for themselves. Experiencers come away from these moments spiritually changed and with renewed optimism for life and those around them. I understand this optimism and view because I too feel it and desire to share it with everyone.

Dr. Q is one of the most amazing people I have ever known. He’s a selfless man with an all encompassing love for others. He didn’t have to help me nor was he ever told that he must. He simply did. His impact on me will last until my final days, and because of him I was able to put the final piece of the puzzle together in my life. He is the reason why I can now share with you what I’ve learned and discovered: that life and the future is far more wonderful than we’ve ever imagined.

I am forever grateful.