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Creative Career Path

Leading an Extraordinary Life2012.02.07


    What sort of things in life leave a deep impression? Things which are out of the ordinary, a great movie, a special meal, sensational news. What sort of things fail to leave an impression? Information, school work, fast food.


    In most cases it is the extraordinary things which stick in our memory and leave an impression, often deep enough to be able to recall in detail many years or decades later. Go back and listen to the music that you listened to in high school or college, and you experience a slip in time.


    We leave impressions in memory, impressions on people, on paper, and to seal our agreements. The character for Impression 蜊ー contains all of these meanings, as well as that of the carved signature seal, and the mudra or iconic hand gesture in Buddhist statuary.


    For the past 8 years, each year in early February I serve as a judge in the All Japan Memory Championships in Yamato Kナ荒iyama City, Nara Prefecture. This year marks the 1300th anniversary of the Kojiki, the Record of Ancient Matters, the oldest chronicle of Japanese mythology, comparable to the Iliad or Odyssey of Homer in Ancient Greece. It is a chronicle of remarkable events which though mythological in origin, have remained more vitally in memory than any of the dry facts of history.


    In the Memory Championships contestants perform remarkable feats of memory working against the short times allotted, such as memorizing a shuffled deck of cards, random sequences of numbers, 99 names and faces, and long lines of poetry that have no rhyme or meter. In all cases the items to be remembered are not only ordinary, they are either random or highly abstract, with no obvious patterns to render an easy impression. Yet the contestants master it, one after another, in a competition that lasts the better part of a day.


    There is no way to cram for this test, nothing to memorize in advance, just your ability to engage with the data in a memorable way, working under pressure. This is done through memory systems first developed in Ancient Greece and Rome, in which the abstract is made concrete through images and associations, and memory hooks are created that enable you to reconstruct the random data by converting the images or stories back into their original abstract form.


    World Champions have managed to memorize a shuffled pack of cards in around 20 seconds. In 2006, Haraguchi Akira recited the number pi π to 100,000 digits, a feat which physically took over 16 hours to recite. While such feats in themselves are extraordinary, what is really exceptional about them is their mental process, their ability to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary, thereby forming a lasting impression that stays in memory long enough to be recalled.


    While the ability to remember random data may seem to have no practical use, in fact it has an extraordinary side benefit, the ability to remember anything you want to remember. You can't make EVERYTHING extraordinary, but you can make exceptional the things and people that you want to remember.


    The best way to do this is to keep a special notebook at hand specifically for capturing such impressions you want to keep. If you make a habit of doing this, your experiences will always be fresh, and if you don't the months and years will blur into a monotonous sameness that passes all too quickly.


    Although memorization had been at the core of education for more than 2000 years, it was given a bad name in the second half of the 20th century to make room for what was purported to more creative learning styles. The point has been missed, for at the core of the art of memory is an extraordinarily flexible creative imagination. Sadly, modern education has not only robbed us of access to real memory training, but also to the ability to capture impressions that make for great stories, cultural diversity, and an extraordinary life.



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    Article Writer

    William Reed

    William Reed is a renowned author-speaker who coaches physical finesse and flexible focus for a creative career path. A certified Master Trainer in Guerrilla Marketing and 7th-dan in Aikido, he combines practical wisdom of East and West to help you learn personal branding at the Entrepreneurs Creative Edge.

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