If you have trouble remembering your friends’ birthdays, or perhaps what you had for breakfast this morning, Yaanja Wintersoul’s impressive mental feats will leave you with an undeniable pang of jealousy.
The memory champion, who is also a world record holder for memorising the largest number of names and faces, was dubbed Ikea’s human catalogue recently.
However getting the title was no easy feat. Yaanja, who lives in Sweden, was given just a week to memorise all 328 pages and 4,818 items of the 2018 catalogue.
She was able to prove herself time and again during multiple live sessions and interviews, picking out minute details from any page of the catalogue.
When asked if she was born with a photographic memory, she was quick to say that “photographic memory isn’t a thing”.
“I don’t believe in photographic memory at all, I challenge people all the time. They always come to the competitions and end up last”, the 23 year-old joked.
Instead, the motivation to complete a four year business undergraduate program in two, and pure chance led to Yanjaa’s discovery of the memory techniques she uses today.
The avid reader says that she “just happened to read a book about memory techniques, titled Moonwalking with Einstein, when studying for an exam”, and as we know, the rest is history.
1. Go on a ‘memory journey’
The first method she usually employs is the memory palace or memory journey technique.
“The memory palace really helps for speeches and presentations because you don’t have to know everything word for word”, says Yanjaa.
A memory palace is an imaginary location in your mind where you can store mnemonic images – or images that will help you retain facts or a large amount of information.
This technique usually involves making a journey through a place you know well, like your bedroom.
Along the journey, there are specific locations that you will always visit in the same order, making it easy to remember lists of information.
Yanjaa says that “it’s so complicated when you explain it, but when you actually use it it’s way easier.”
For example, if you need to remember a list of countries where India comes first and China is second, picture “Indian furniture on your bed, and all your Indian friends jumping on your bed and having a good time. Then on your nightstand, is Chinese food. It kind of goes on like that, and you carry on on your pre-made journey”, advises Yanjaa.
See how Yaanja does it in this video:
2. Make associations with things that you already know
When you are trying to remember facts, try to associate them with things that you already know, and “then have fun”.
For example, pretend that you are trying to remember the definition of ‘solipsism’ – the theory that only the self exists (or extreme egotism).
The word may remind you of a solar eclipse, which is a type of eclipse where the moon partially or fully blocks the sun. When the sun is being fully blocked, it could be because of the moon’s “egotism” and belief that only the moon is of utmost importance.
Thus, whenever you think of ‘solipsism’ you’ll be reminded of the solar eclipse and the moon’s “egotism”, which will lead you back to the actual definition of the word – that only the self exists.
This technique makes foreign information seem a lot more digestible and easy to remember.
Even for the human catalogue, some things are better put on a calendar.
“A huge mistake that a lot of people do is try to keep all this knowledge in their head”, says Yanjaa.
While she utilises the memory techniques for important information or dates that she wants to keep forever, for more trivial knowledge, she simply “puts it in a calendar, Google notification or Facebook reminder.”
After all, even the world record holder and memory champion admits that she has to reset her passwords “all the time” – proving she is human too.
But she has also become “ very good at memorizing things that (she) needs, and compartmentalising things” that she doesn’t.
4. Talk to yourself, like you would talk to a friend
When coping with a stressful situation, it is important to talk to yourself nicely.
“When we talk to ourselves, we are really mean. If anyone talked to us like that in real life, we would be like ‘okay, you’re not my friend’ ”, says the memory champion.
By motivating yourself and telling yourself that you are capable of memorising a list, or acing your presentation, your brain gets used to the idea and performs a lot better.