Tips To Improve Your Memory

A major sporting event took place this weekend.

No, I am not referring to March Madness. And I don’t mean Major League Baseball’s Opening Day.

I am talking about the U.S. Memory Championship, which took place in New York on Saturday. I know you are probably thinking this is an early April fools post and that I am going to tell you the Memory Championship is televised on ESPN Ocho.

But I am not kidding around, this is a real contest. And apparently it has been around for 17 years.

I had never heard of the U.S. Memory Championship until this weekend (or maybe I had and just didn’t remember), but I find it very interesting.

The competition takes place in one 10-hour long contest and features four categories.

The first contest requires the competitors to memorize names and faces. The players are asked to memorize a number of pictures with corresponding names. From there they must take all of the names and correctly match them up with the right photos. And they have to get them all correct. One mistake eliminates them from the contest.

In the second category, the remaining players are given five minutes to memorize a series of numbers that randomly generate on a computer screen. They are then asked to recite the numbers in order. Again, one mess up and they are out.

If they advance to the third round, players must quickly memorize and recite poetry verses, words, and recall personal information given to them on the spot about a stranger. In case you haven’t figured out how this works…one mistake and they are eliminated (this is how I picture the eliminations).

Once the field has been cut down to three, the remaining contestants are given a deck of cards that has been mixed in a random order. They have five minutes to memorize the order of the entire deck. Whoever can last the longest in reciting the sequence of the cards is crowned the winner!

This year’s champion is a 28 year old named Nelson Dellis.

Dellis, who claimed his third U.S. Memory Championship crown on Saturday, says he was inspired to improve his memory after seeing his grandmother suffer from Alzheimer’s.

How has Dellis developed an extraordinary memory, you ask? By doing ordinary things such as:

  • memorizing grocery lists
  • memorizing names of people he meets
  • eating foods rich in omega 3, like fish
  • and staying active

Dellis say there is nothing magical about how he went from an average dude to a memory champ.

I myself am a 28 year old and an average dude, and I find it encouraging to know that the way to improve my memory is not too different from many of the other things we talk about on this blog.

Whether it is improving our writing, growing our confidence or upgrading our memory, we can fine tune our skills simply by working on them a little at a time. We may not be able to win the U.S. Memory Championship after one day’s work. But if we work on it little by little, who knows what could happen.

The Psychology of Why We Shouldn’t Judge a Book By Its Cover

I’ve got a quiz for you…

My friend, Chad, is very unorthodox. He has odd tastes in music, movies and art. He is married to a performer and has numerous tattoos. For fun, Chad likes to do yoga and visit farmers markets. An extrovert, Chad is always looking to take on a dare.

What do you think Chad’s occupation most likely is?
– Farmer
– Librarian
– Trapeze Artist
– Surgeon
– Lawyer

Based on that description, you probably guessed that Chad is a trapeze artist, right? After all, he fits with our existing thoughts of how a trapeze artist might sound.

However, that answer is wrong.

In reality, there are thousands more farmers than there are trapeze artists (and librarians, surgeons & lawyers). So based on sheer number of people in each profession, the correct guess to what occupation most likely we would find Chad, is farmer.

Thinking about it now, that answer seems obvious. Of course there are far more farmers than trapeze artists. No one would argue that.

So why did we just assume Chad flew through the air with the greatest of ease (instead of grew crops on the ground like lettuce and peas).

The answer can be found in what psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman call the representativeness heuristic.

A heuristic is a mental shortcut we take when making judgments. For every decision we have to make, we do not always have all the time or information needed to make a perfect choice. Because of that, we use heuristics, or shortcuts, to help make the decision. This happens without much thought and most of the time we don’t even realize that we are doing it.

But the problem is, just as a driving shortcut using a freeway can lead to a longer route, sometimes these shortcuts can lead to mistakes.

The representativeness heuristic is used when we estimate the likelihood of an event by comparing it to a prototype that already exists in our mind. For example, we seen a 7 foot tall man on the street and figure he probably plays basketball.

The prototype we are prone to choose is whatever happens to be the most common example we have in our mind of that particular event. Basketball players are tall.

The prototype of a trapeze artists might include an eccentric individual who isn’t afraid to take risks. So it makes sense that we would guess that occupation for Chad.

Unfortunately, we often overestimate our ability to accurately predict certain events. When we rely solely on representativeness to make judgments, we are likely to judge wrong because the fact that something is more representative does not mean it is more likely.

To put this in everyday lingo, I think this is similar to the old saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover.”

We judge a book (or a person or a situation) by the cover because that is the limited amount of information we have. If the book looks like what we have in our minds as the prototype for say, enjoyable, we guess that it would be fun to read.

But upon reading the book we might actually learn that it wasn’t very enjoyable.

That is an example of when our shortcuts, or heuristics, led us astray.

This post doesn’t have a moral or a lesson. It is simply something interesting to consider next time you are forced to make a snap judgment.

So remember, shortcuts can be quicker, but they aren’t always accurate.

Maybe the saying should be “It is quicker and easier to judge a book by its cover, but just know that you might not always be correct.”

But I guess that doesn’t fit as well on a bumper sticker.


Side note, Chad is a fictional person made up for the purpose of this post. The idea for this topic was inspired by a very cool (and free) online class called The Science of Everyday Thinking. Click here if you want to learn more.

Thankful For Trees I Did Not Plant

Think back to a time you experienced a hot afternoon.

The sun was scorching. Your skin was sizzling. Sweat was slithering down your face. You wanted nothing more than to have a bucket of ice cold water dumped on your head.  Unfortunately this wasn’t the Super Bowl, so the Gatorade shower was nowhere to be found.

When all else seemed lost, you noticed a huge, shaded saving grace. You ambled over to a giant oak tree and tumbled in joy at the earthy covering the tree provided.

Oh what a feeling!

What had just been sweltering heat instantly because a serene summer day (if only for a moment).

The tree that made you feel calm, cool and protected, did you ever stop to think about where that came from.

Probably not, and I don’t blame you. Trees are just kind of there, right?

Isn’t that an awesome thought?

The thing you needed most on that miserably boiling day was just kind of there. It was already there, just waiting for you.

Journalist, Walter Lippmann, once wrote that “men plant trees they will never sit under.”

Think about it…When was the last time you sat under a tree that you actually planted? One in your back yard, maybe?

Most of the time we enjoy shade from trees we had nothing to do with planting or growing.

I heard an interview with Warren Buffett and he pointed to the Lippmann quote as to why he is so generous with his fortune.

“We’ve had the shade and other people have planted those (trees),” Buffett said. “And so I think it behooves people in that position to plant a few trees themselves.”

Buffett recognizes that he profited greatly from the work of others. I think it is important that we all recognize the same.

We all benefit from something we had nothing to do with growing.

It could be an actual tree, or a business or even Facebook.

I had nothing to do with WordPress, the blogging platform used to publish this post, but I benefit from it. You likely had nothing to do with WordPress, but if you enjoy this blog or others, you too benefit.

I can point to dozens of other trees that I did not grow that I use on a daily basis.

Where would I be if someone hadn’t taken the time to plant those? Luckily I don’t have to answer that question.

So today I am thankful for the trees I did not plant. I am thankful for their shade and I am thankful for their inspiration to plant a few trees of my own.

Thankful Thursday(Click the image above for more Thankful Thursday posts)

Why Does Twitter Have a 140 Character Limit?

I’ll admit it…I am not good at Twitter.

Rarely do I know what to tweet or when to tweet. Even when I come up with what I consider a good tweet, I often forget to use it.

I also realized that I have no concept of how many words make up 140 characters.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with Twitter, the social media service limits your posts to 140 characters (letters, numbers & punctuation). You can post less than 140, but you can’t post more. No ifs, ands or buts.

For some reason I assume 140 characters allows for way more words than it actually does.

On numerous occasions I have come up with a funny, witty or interesting tweet only to find that I have gone far over the 140 character limit. Frustrated, I figure the only way to get it under 140 is to randomly cut out words and move others around. After about 5 or 6 drafts I finally get under the limit only to find that my new acceptable tweet makes no sense.

Here is a recent example…

What I wanted to tweet  –

“I just took an online survey that asked the question, “To which race do you most identify?” That’s an odd way to ask that question. Shouldn’t they just have asked, ‘What race are you.’ I wanted to answer Caucasian or marathon.

If you add it up, I am way over my character limit. After moving and cutting out words, here’s what I ended up shortening it to…

Just took a marathon survey. I am odd and white.

While that is technically not untrue, it is not really want I was trying to say.

So why does Twitter impose such a strict limit? Let’s find out in this week’s Wonder Why Wednesday.

Why Does Twitter Have a 140 Character Limit?

According to Media Bistro, the constrictive 140 character limit was created to be compatible with SMS messaging.  SMS (short message service) text messaging was created to let users send short messages to one another.

The worldwide standard length of SMS is 160 characters. The founders of Twitter decided to stay within that limit so that when tweets were sent via phone, the messages would be received in whole and not split up across multiple messages. 140 characters was chosen to allow for 20 characters for the username of the sender.

I guess that makes sense, but it doesn’t help me become a better tweeter. However it does help explain why I am also a bad text messenger.

Wonder Why Wednesday copy(Click the image above for more Wonder Why Wednesday posts.)

What Michael Jordan & Patrick Ewing Can Teach Us About Rejection

In the 1982 NCAA men’s basketball championship game, Georgetown center Patrick Ewing was given a very strict instruction…any shot that was taken near the rim, block it out of the building.

So that was exactly what Ewing did.

In the opening minutes of the game, the Hoyas center goaltended five Tar Heel shots. He swatted shot after shot, trying to send each one crashing into the rafters.

Observers of the game thought that maybe the freshmen was just nervous. But with one goaltend after another, it became obvious that nerves had nothing to do with it.

Ewing was doing it on purpose.

Before the game, Georgetown head coach John Thompson Ewing, “everything that comes to the rim, take it back, take it back.”

He was instructing his freshmen center to reject every single North Carolina shot. Even if it meant doing something illegal that would result in 2 free points for the opposing Tar Heels.

In basketball, a shot that is blocked at the rim during its downward motion is called goaltending. This results in points for the offense, regardless of whether the shot would have gone in or how far the defense blocks the ball.

So why did Thompson tell Ewing to block every single shot to start the game? Was he not aware of the goaltending rule?

Of course he knew the rule. But he chose to ignore it for one important reason.

He wanted to send a message to North Carolina.

Thompson later said that “kids don’t remember goaltending calls. They remember getting their shot blocked.”

He wanted Ewing to seem so imposing, so much larger than life, that he was willing to sacrifice a few points on the scoreboard to gain a few points in the mental game.

What may seem like an odd strategy actually makes a lot of sense.

As a basketball player, there are few things worse than having your shot blocked. You are quite literally getting rejected.

Outside of basketball rejection also sucks.

Thompson is right. We don’t always remember the circumstance surrounding the rejection. We just remember getting blocked.

That emotional, physical or mental block can take its toll on us.

It is how we respond to that rejection that determines the outcome.

Luckily for North Carolina, they were able to overcome the constant rejection. Despite Ewing’s imposing presence, they kept shooting.

Good thing they did.

Thanks to a game winning shot by a freshman guard you might have heard of named Michael Jordan, the Tar Heel went on to defeat Thompson and the Hoyas, 63-62.

You are going to constantly get rejected in life. Will you keep shooing?


(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s When It is Not So Bad To Act Like A Baby

As I sat in church I noticed a cute baby just three pews ahead of me.

He spent the entire mass reaching his chubby little hands to try and grab anything and everything.

He reached for the song sheet, his dad’s beard, the hair of the lady in front of him.

His eyes got really big when he spotted the next thing he wanted to grab.

I doubt he had a plan of what he was going to do if he got a hold of the things he was reaching for, but that didn’t stop him. The important thing was to get it. He kept reaching and reaching and reaching.

I can think of a few times when my eyes got really big and I spotted something I wanted. But I don’t remember the last time I just reached for it.

I often over analyze situations and over think things. That leads me to find reasons that reaching might not be my best option. That in turn causes me to miss out on many of the great reasons that reaching probably was the best option.

If we think long enough, we can probably find reasons not to do everything. I think that is called paralysis through analysis. We might think that the analysis protects us. But what good is that if we paralyze ourselves in the process?

I don’t know about you, but I think I need to reach a little more?

I am not saying that I am going to reach for beards, or hair or ladies in church.

I am just saying that sometimes it might not be so bad to act like a baby and not worry about what could go wrong if we just reach.

(Thanks to Flickr for the picture of that cute baby)

Little Things Matter

It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.  – John Wooden

I’m guessing coach Wooden would not have been happy if he were coaching at Cincinnati.

In yesterday’s NCAA Tournament second round match-up between Cincinnati and Harvard, the heavily favored Bearcats fell behind the Ivy Leaguers 12-6 to start the game.

At that point Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin decided to substitute junior forward Jermaine Sanders into the game.

This caused Cronin to be called for a rarely seen technical foul. Whoever filled out the Bearcats scorebook somehow forgot to add Sanders to the team roster.

Because the scorebook was filled out incorrectly, once Cronin tried to put Sanders in the game, an administrative technical foul was assessed and Harvard was given two free throws and the ball.

Harvard made one of the two free throws and went on to win the game 61-57.

Now, I am not here to say that the administrative technical foul was the sole reason Cincy lost. Obviously they won by more than that one point. And there are way too many possessions that go into a basketball game to simply say that one call determined the outcome.

But Harvard was given a free point and you better believe it impacted the game.

Cincinnati was well prepared for Harvard’s offense. Cronin had great scouting on his opponent’s defense. The Bearcats had all of the big picture elements covered.

Somehow they let one of the littlest things slip through the cracks.

Have you ever been guilty of something similar?

I know I have.

Little things matter.

So often we focus so much on the big picture items, only to have the little things come back to haunt us.

I am guessing whoever fills out the Cincinnati scorebook next season will double and triple check their roster.

Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

It’s the most wonderful time of the year
With all the fans yelling
And every team telling you “the championship is near”
It’s the most wonderful time of the year
It’s the hap-happiest season of all
There will be buzzers for beating and upsets in seeding
With so much college basketball
It’s the hap-happiest season of all!
There’ll be big men for posting
Guards coast to coasting
And highlight plays that make you say whoa
There’ll be Cinderella stories
And tales of the glories of
Tournaments long, long ago


It’s the most wonderful time of the year
There’ll be Grant Hill a-throwing
To Laettner for showing
When Duke games are near
It’s the most wonderful time of the year
There’ll be great picks for boasting
Bad decisions for roasting
And McDermott putting on a show
There’ll be injuries that are gory
And tales of the glories of
Bryce Drew long, long ago
It’s the most wonderful time of the year
There’ll be much replays for showing
And tears will be flowing
When losses are near
It’s the most wonderful time
It’s the most wonderful time
It’s the most wonderful time
It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

I am thankful for March Madness

Thankful Thursday(Click the image above for more Thankful Thursday posts)

Dark Horse

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament began yesterday. This is one of my favorite times of the year (more on this tomorrow).

This is also a time when we will hear many odd descriptions of the participating schools. We will read about universities that are considered sleepers, Cinderella stories and dark horse teams.

We know the story of Cinderella, and we can guess at what a sleeper might be, but what about the dark horse?

It very rarely describes a team whose mascot is actually a horse. This year the only teams in the tournament with a horse mascot are the Western Michigan Broncos & the Cal Poly Mustangs.

Instead of referring to the mascot, a dark horse is defined as “a usually little known contender that makes an unexpectedly good showing.”

At one point were all dark colored horses not considered good at contests? Sounds like horse racial profiling to me. Where did that term come from? Let’s find out…

Wonder Why Wednesday: Where Does the Term Dark Horse Come From?

According to Wikipedia, the term originated in the 1831 novel The Young Duke written by Benjamin Disraeli. The story’s protagonist, the Duke of St. James witnesses a horse race with a surprise finish. The story says, “A dark horse which had never been thought of, and which careless St. James had never even observed in the list, rushed past the grandstand in sweeping triumph.”

If you are like me, you are probably wondering if there is more to that story. What else happened with the dark horse? Was it involved in the rest of the book?

I am sure The Young Duke is a great story, but how did that little sentence create a phrase that has lasted nearly 200 years? The sentence didn’t even have much description. We don’t get much of a visual of the horse. He just called it a dark horse. Not a “pitch black mustang” or an “amber brown Arabian. I wrote a book that had sentences without much description. Makes me wonder what line from Maury C. Moose and The Forest Noel will create a phrase that people will still be saying in 2314.

Wonder Why Wednesday copy(Click the image above for more Wonder Why Wednesday posts.)

The Difference Between Happy And Unhappy People

Want to know a major difference between happy and unhappy people??

Think about a situation that didn’t go your way. Perhaps it was a time you lost.

Maybe you lost a big sports bet, lost out on a job promotion or lost your way and got lost while driving.

As hard as it may be, take a second and go back to the very moment of the setback.

The first thing you thought was probably something along the lines of bummer, bull$h!+ or maybe another word or two that I shouldn’t write on this blog.

But I am not concerned with that first thought. I want to know about how you view that experience now.

When thinking of that experience, what is the first thing that comes to your mind now?

The way we think about our previous stumbling blocks can tell a lot about our happiness.

In her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, author Susan Cain explains that “the way we characterize our past setbacks profoundly influences how satisfied we are with our current lives.”

“Unhappy people tend to see setbacks as contaminants that ruined an otherwise good thing (‘I was never the same after my wife left me’), while generative adults see them as blessings in disguise (‘The divorce was the most painful thing that ever happened to me, but I’m so much happier with my new wife’),” Cain says. “Those who live the most fully realized lives – giving back to their families, societies, and ultimately themselves – tend to find meaning in their obstacles.”

Do you see setbacks as blessings or bothers?

When you lost a big sports bet did you feel that the betting gods were out to get you, or did you take the experience as a way to curb your tendency to bet more than you budget?

When you lost out on the job promotion did you blame your boss for having favorites, or did you turn your frustration into creating better work?

When you got lost while driving did you slam your hands on the steeling wheel and shout that you will never get to your destination, or did you realize that it was time to get a better app than Apple maps.

If you want to be happy, don’t blame your setbacks. Instead, find meaning in your obstacles.

Learn more about Quiet by Susan Cain here.