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A Grandmaster of Memory

by Nelson Dellis


We had the pleasure to talk to four-time USA Memory Champion Nelson Dellis recently! He agreed to share his journey of becoming "a grandmaster of memory", his inspiration who was his grandma who had Alzheimer's and his new Extreme Memory Challenge with our blog readers. He also gave exclusive tips to help kickstart your memory!




My name is Nelson Dellis and I am a four-time USA Memory Champion and Grandmaster of Memory. ​ I didn’t start off with a great memory. In fact, my memory was horrible. Frequently forgetting people’s names, why I walked into a room, and where I parked my car, was the norm. But that all changed a number of years ago. Memory became something that I taught myself and honed through many hours of practice, over the course of the last seven years. I only really started training my memory after my grandmother passed away from Alzheimer’s disease

It was a life-changing experience, her passing. I suddenly realized that I didn’t want the same thing to happen to my brain and that I was going to do anything and everything in my power to make my brain strong. I initially had no ideal what that meant, but soon discovered something called the USA Memory Championships — a competition where people of all ages come together to compete in a variety of seemingly impossible mnemonic challenges: memorizing a deck of cards in just 40 seconds, memorizing 200+ names and faces, recalling a 339 digit number in just 5 minutes, just to name a few. Incredible, right? ​ The real interesting part that I soon discovered was that these “mental athletes” were all self-trained. None of them were doing these feats of memory with pure raw talent. All of them had spent a good amount of time training, just like any other skill — playing the piano, painting, playing tennis, etc. That to me was the real game-changer. Once I realized that memory was a skill that could be trained, rather than a natural born talent, I thought that maybe I had a shot at improving my memory.




I spent the next year obsessively training and ended up as the winner of the 2011 USA Memory Championships. What followed were a series of more championship wins, many US memory records broken, and the highly sought after title of Grandmaster of Memory. I had trained my brain from zero to champion in just a number of months. 


Along the way, I founded a charity where I raise money and awareness for Alzheimer’s disease (www.climb4memory.org). I figured I needed to share the techniques and strategies I had learned over the years to improve memory and brain health with the world. I still do that to this day. My mission is to teach people how to do the things I do (as I believe that anyonecan do this) and to spread the idea that brain health is just as important as overall body health.


Part of an effort to bring an end to cognitive debilitating diseases like Alzheimer’s, I work on a research project called the Extreme Memory Challenge. If you go to our website (www.extremememorychallenge.com), you can take a short memory test and help us get one step closer to finding a cure.

In exchange for taking the test, here are three tips I can give you to help kickstart your memory!

1 -- Pay Attention! I know this sounds obvious and maybe somewhat silly to bring up, but it’s true. No good memory can exist without focus and paying attention. In this day and age it’s so easy to not pay attention; easy to be distracted. If you take just a moment to tell yourself that something is important and that you need to remember it, your mind will suddenly turn into a mega-focusing machine and your memory will improve instantly. This is the single most important thing you can do immediately to improve your memory, I promise! 2 — Think in Pictures. It has been proven that the brain remembers pictures better than anything else. Why’s that? Because pictures evoke personal meanings and associations, which in turn makes things relatable. If we can relate something abstract to something personally meaningful, we can remember it better. So when you have to remember a number, a name, a list — whatever — try to imagine each item as a picture in your mind. The best way to do this it to think of and visualize whatever the thing you’re memorizing reminds you of. Maybe it sounds like something you know orlooks like something you know. Go with whatever first associations pop into your mind! 3 — Use a Memory Palace. Finally, you’ll need to store those pictures in an organized manner to keep them in order. If you imagine each of those imagined pictures along a path through a familiar place (your house, apartment, office, etc.), you’ll have a place to think back on when you want to recall them. Using these “familiar places” is what’s known in the memory world as memory palaces, and is a technique that is thousands of years old. This is the technique that allows us memory champs to memorize decks of cards in under a minute. Trust me, it works. ​

Use those three tips and you’ll be a memory champion in no time! Okay…maybe not a champion (that takes serious practice) but at least you’ll be remembering the things you need the most in your daily life, rather than having to scratch your head in frustration trying to recall them all the time. At worst, using these techniques makes life a little more colorful, vibrant, and of course…memorable! To learn more about me and what I do, or if you want to hire me for personal memory coaching, a seminar, or speaking engagement, head to www.nelsondellis.com.



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