How to Improve Your Memory - Chester Santos

memory skills Jul 07, 2021
Mark Struczewski, Chester Santos

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U.S. Memory Champion, Chester Santos - “The International Man of Memory” is the world’s leading memory skills expert and founder of MemorySchool.NET.

UNEDITED TRANSCRIPT

Mark Struczewski
He is the US memory champion. His name is Chester Santos. He's known as the international man of memory. He is the world's leading leading. Did you hear that leading memory skills expert and founder of memory school dotnet Chester, welcome to the show.

Chester Santos
Thank you so much for having me mark. I really appreciate it. I'm looking forward to talking with you.

Mark Struczewski
Now I got to give you a little little tidbit about my life way back when in in our lifetime I was a radio DJ and most radio DJs have a different name so people can you know look you up and stalk you. My first radio name was Chester marks I kid you not? Wow, that's interesting. Yeah, when I wrote your name out on my note sheet today, I'm like Chester Chester mark, I used to be known as Chester Mars. That's another lifetime we're going way back in the 80s. Chester way, way back, you don't look like you're old enough to remember the 1980s.

Chester Santos
I was around in the 80s. It's rare Chuck, it's you know that the name Chester is pretty uncommon nowadays. So it's it's Yeah, interesting. hear that story.

Mark Struczewski
Now, before we get into how we can be better, better at memory, do you ever get people harassing you about? Oh, did you forget Chester? Or did you remember my birthday? Chester? Did they kind of reveal like that?

Chester Santos
Oh, yeah, I would say there are mostly positives to being a memory champion. But that is one of the negatives. If I do happen to forget something, I definitely get more negative feedback for it then then the average person would for for sure.

Mark Struczewski
Nice. So what is a memory champion? What do you have to do to be crowned memory champion?

Chester Santos
Yeah, so I won the United States National memory championship, which is a one day competition. It's held at various locations, depending on the year nowadays, it's held at MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology over on the East Coast, we memorize decks of playing cards, strings of computer generated random digits, about 130 plus digits forwards and backwards is what I memorized in five minutes. Hundreds of names in 15 minutes. So those are some of the events in the US memory championship.

Mark Struczewski
So how did you get into this? I mean is one day you're just sitting around and you realize that, wow, I have a pretty good memory. How did it come about your interest in this?

Chester Santos
Yeah, so I happened to catch a segment on at CES 2020, that evening news program, they had a segment on the United States memory championship, and it just sparked my interest, because people would often comment to me, wow, you have a really good memory. So with those comments, sort of in the back of my mind, when I caught that segment on TV, I thought, hey, maybe I can do well, in this, you know, national memory competition, people say I have a good memory. But I quickly found out that although I was good to start with, I wasn't on the level of the best people in the country, memorizing decks of playing cards, and just a few minutes, hundreds of names and minutes, things like that. So that's when I started doing research. Okay, how can one magnify their memory ability from where it's currently at? I did a lot of research found what seemed to be working best for me personally stuck to training myself in that subset of techniques. Until eventually I was able to win the United States memory championship. And since then, I've been training other people around the world. Now I've given presentations in more than 30 different countries, for various types of organizations, I'm really confident that anyone out there can improve their ability to remember things and use their memory skills, leverage them for more personal success, business success, and also to help kids out that they might have in school.

Mark Struczewski
And just a few minutes, we're going to do a test right on my show. And I told Chester, if he embarrassed with me, I'll just edit it out. So it remains a mystery to see if you're actually gonna hear it on the show. But I probably won't edit it out. Because I think I have a pretty good memory. And I when as you're talking there, I'm like, you know, I wonder how many people are listening? And I would say, give a good number and they go, I have an awesome number and they pick up their iPhone. No, that's not we're talking about, okay, we're not talking about using your iPhone, we're talking to actually remembering things. So what is there an easier thing to learn and memorize more than others? Is there? Is it places is it numbers or doesn't matter when you learn the skills that you know?

Chester Santos
Yeah, well, for an individual without memory training, it will vary. So some people have a natural inclination more towards numbers, they're actually better at memorizing numbers than other information, but another person might be better with music. So it really depends. But the great thing is that with the techniques that I help people to learn, you really can become good at remembering just about Anything at all. And there are really a lot of great business applications for this giving presentations from memory, minimizing the amount of notes so you can maintain eye contact with the audience. Be more interactive, keep their attention, you'll be a more persuasive and effective speaker, remembering important facts and figures to better demonstrate your expertise when you're meeting with clients, potential clients, exam training material, foreign language, vocabulary, to build better rapport with clients that might speak other languages. They're really just a wide array of applications.

Mark Struczewski
I'm 56 years young right now. And I still remember my phone number from my house, I lived up in a suburb of Rochester, New York, this is before the internet before cell phones, I can still remember those seven digits. But I can't remember the phone number I use maybe six, seven years no longer than that maybe when I lived in another apartment complex for bought the house like 16 years ago? Is it because I actually back then I had to dial those numbers. There was no speed dial, I had actually dial numbers that why that particular phone number sticks in my brain all these years later.

Chester Santos
Yeah, there could be a number of factors going on there. So you have back then, you know, you're using more of that physical, you know, move movement. Some people remember things in that way, it really most likely is because the encoding process was working tends to work better early in our lives, that process of encoding information into memory and retrieving it, it tends to work better, because we use our memory more early in our lives, then we tend to do later in our lives. So when you think about it, when you're younger, right? A lot is new to you, you're learning a lot of new information from a lot of different areas. It's our schooling years, right? We're testing on our recall of that information for quizzes, exams, right? When you start first start a very new job, you have to learn a lot of things or call them to perform your job functions properly. But then we all start to enter this 20 3040 plus year period, where things start to become a routine. And we're not using our memory as much right, and our brain is just much less stimulated later in life. Not that much is new to us. And I think things are worse nowadays, perhaps. I mean, it could be perhaps worse than any other time in history in terms of human memory ability, and that we are outsourcing our memory and other mental functions to electronic devices. So you know, you mentioned that that phone number that you can remember from you know, decades ago, but nowadays, people can't even remember one number really, if you give them one number that they need to know they feel paralyzed. And it's getting so bad that there are a lot of people out there today that don't even know their own phone number. So it's a really good example, I think a bit of a scary example of the use it or lose it principle as it applies to memory. But the positive aspect is because no one is working on their memory, there's an opportunity to really set yourself apart become more memorable, more impressive in business, if you will work on your memory, even to a small degree, people will notice it.

Mark Struczewski
What's interesting is I know my phone number because I'm an entrepreneur like you. And if someone goes what's your number on speed dial one, it doesn't work. So I have to have my phone number memorized. But I know a lot of people are exactly what you just talked about. They go Ah, let me look at my phone because they don't know the number you should know your own phone number. Okay, if you don't know, if you can't memorize something very well. And you're going to tell us how we can become better at memory skills. You should know your phone number, you probably know your address, you should know your emergency contact, you should get those memorize. Because what if your phone is destroyed? How are you going to contact your emergency contact? Something else that's interesting that you mentioned memory skills you memory, you mentioned technology. So I use Duolingo and I'm trying to learn a couple languages. So all during 2020 in the first part of 2021, I'm learning I'm learning French before then I was learning Spanish so I decided okay, I'm gonna take a break, go back to Spanish. And I went back to lesson one. And I was amazed at how much stuff I actually remembered. I'm like, wow, I remember all this stuff. I started going through the lesson until I went to I were stopped learning Spanish. And I was impressed with how much my memory remember that stuff. Now I don't know if it has something to do with the way Duolingo teaches or my excitement of learning languages or combination thereof. Why do you think my brain remembered all that Spanish I learned and then I didn't forget it when I was learning French.

Chester Santos
Yeah, well, one really good thing I happen to know about your language learning in that before the interview I was looking at some of your social media posts actually, is that you're very consistent. So you don't, you don't really miss days. So you've set your mind to at least doing a little bit of language learning every day. So that is that process of encoding things in your memory and retrieving it is working really well, because you're very consistently using your memory. So that's going to definitely help with retention. So consistency is the key. And when people want to develop a new skill they've got to just get started is the hardest part and stick to it. So I think because you've been very consistent, your memory starting to become very, very strong. And that again, encoding retrieval processes working pretty well.

Mark Struczewski
Now, if I could only ever get to the point where I can be conversationally fluent. In Spanish, I will be really happy I live in Houston, Texas, a lot of people speak Spanish here. And I can catch certain words. But I'm still when they do the long sentences on Duolingo I gotta hit the turtle. So they speak really like, you know, Don de so I can because they say the regular one. They go really fast. I'm like, Okay, wait, I got the first word. So I that's one of the things I want to learn Spanish is because so I can you know, talk to other people don't speak English, maybe help someone else who's in distress or something like that. The other thing is my mother suffers from late onset Alzheimer's. And I had the opportunity to talk to her neuropsychologist, I said, Is there anything I can do to mitigate my chances of, you know, getting Alzheimer's? He says, yes, you can get enough sleep. You can have a good diet. And he goes, Oh, yeah, make sure you're exercising your brain. And I'm like, like how I mean, you don't take your brain out for a run, he goes, you know, learn a language, learn how to memory thing, you know, puzzles, that that's how you exercise your brain. And so that's why I'm fascinated to have you on the show today. Because it is not just about memorizing things, so you can impress your friends, it actually helps your mental health.

Chester Santos
Oh, absolutely. So it's very interesting that they mentioned that to you as one of the things to do because I always mentioned that in my interviews as one of my tips, you know, they really don't know there's no doctor or researcher that can definitively tell you how to prevent yourself from getting Alzheimer's or another form of dementia. They can't say take these vitamins do these exercise you won't, it will prevent you from getting it. But what they do say can help to make you more resistant for sure that will give you more years of mental clarity even if you do unfortunately, develop some disease down the line is things like that exercising your brain, one of the best ways they say to exercise your brain is learning foreign languages, you're building up so many extra brain connections, those neural connections and you're really just forcing your brain to work hard when you're learning languages. So that's that's really great that you have set your mind to doing that.

Mark Struczewski
How many languages do you speak?

Chester Santos
So because I am really good at what I teach other people and that's about it I practice what I preach and I'm good with I'm so I'm good at memorizing very quickly new vocabulary words and short phrases. So I speak a little bit of many different languages actually. But I'm really not fluent. Other than English. I'm getting pretty good with Russian now. Because my my main issue, although you do have a very big advantage with memory skills, memorizing vocabulary and short phrases, grammar is going to be a little bit different, not just straight up memorization. And then also my biggest issue is with the pronunciation. So I remember the words but getting my mouth tongue position, correct to say the word in the right way. That's really one of my largest issues. But again, although memory skills might not be quite enough to become fluent, you will have a big advantage in that you'll be able to memorize vocabulary, words and short phrases very quickly.

Mark Struczewski
I had a friend on the show two three years ago and they were telling me one of the benefits of Mandarin Chinese is they don't have like masculine and feminine, you know, words Like, as you know, they have it in Spanish and French and English. And I got so excited like, Oh, yes, I'm gonna learn Mandarin. I lasted about maybe a day, because they teach you the really basic stuff in the beginning. And then they show you sentences that are written in Mandarin, I'm like, I'm coming back to Spanish. I stuck to it, I probably could have done it. I my hat's off the people who speak or can read or write languages that are using the characters. I don't mean you were born there. I mean, you learn those languages, because to me, they're very difficult. So let's pivot right now let's, let's do your little experiment. So what he's gonna do now, he's gonna use me as a guinea pig. But I want you to do the exercise that Chester is going to walk me through, don't don't be a passive listener to this show and go Yeah, yeah, that's nice. While you're walking the dog, I want you to actually do this. Because my goal is that you get value from every episode of the show. So listen carefully. If you you know, you're someplace you can't listen carefully, then come back to this part of the episode, because I really think you're going to get a lot of value on this. And I'm going to be your test, dummy, so to speak. So Chester, lead us on the exercise you talked to you about?

Chester Santos
Okay, cool, I'm really glad that you're up for doing this, for letting me put you on the spot here, Mark. So I'm gonna have you memorize and this for those listening, it should take about five minutes grand total, the whole exercise. So I'm going to have you try to commit to memory very quickly the following random list of words, it's going to be monkey, iron, rope, kite, house, paper, shoe, worm, envelope, pencil, river, rock, tree, cheese, and dollar. Now, if most people attempt to do this, how they would approach it is that you would usually want to write out all of those words over and over again, they would want to read them over and over recite them continuously to themselves until they feel that they've drilled that word list into their heads, right? If you're able to pull it off using that approach rote memory, it will only stick in your head in the very short term, okay? Instead, we're going to use a much more fun and interesting approach that will be much more effective for long term memory, right, I'm going to simply guide you through a visual Mark and I want for you to just do your best to see in your mind what I described, you can do it with your eyes opened or close, whatever is more comfortable for you. But just try to visualize a monkey. All right, because that was the first word. So just see this monkey in your head. The monkey is making monkey noises. Whatever a monkey would sound like the point here is to try and see and hear the monkey All right, the monkey now picks up a gigantic iron like you would iron your clothes with right because that was the next word. So just see this like a movie or cartoon playing in your head. The monkey is dancing around with this giant iron. The iron starts to fall but a rope attaches itself to the iron. Maybe you even feel the rope imagine you can feel it maybe it feels sort of rough. Interact with that rope. You look up the rope you see the other end is attached to a kite and it's flying around in the air. Maybe you reach up and try and touch that kite. really see the kite the kite now crashes into the side of a house. visualize that as best you can see the kite crashing into this house. The house you notice is completely covered in paper for some weird reason it's completely covered in paper. See that in your mind as best you can paper was the next word. Out of nowhere a shoe appears it starts to walk all over that paper maybe it's messing it up as it's walking on it that shoe okay. really see the shoe the shoe smells pretty badly so you decide to investigate and see why. You look inside of the shoe you find a worm crawling around really see the smelly worm crawling around inside of that shoe. The worm now jumps out of the shoe and into an envelope maybe it's going to mail itself or something I don't know envelope was next. really see go into the envelope out of nowhere a pencil appears. It starts to write all over the envelope. Maybe it's addressing it or something that pencil. All right, the pencil now jumps into a river and there's a huge splash like you would never expect to see when the pencil hits that river. The river you notice is crashing up against the giant rock. really see it crashing up against that rock as best you can in your mind. That rock now flies into a tree. really see it crash into the tree. This tree is growing cheese you probably have never seen a tree like that this one is growing too. Cheese and out of the cheese shoots $1 $1 shoots out of the cheese really see that dollar as best you can. Their dollar was actually the last word. Now I'm going to run through this again in about 30 seconds. And you'll just replay through the story that you've created in your mind. So we had a monkey. It was dancing around with what it was an iron right? When it started to fall what attached to the iron it was a rope. Okay, the other end of the rope was attached to what it was a kite. That kite crashed in something it crashed into a house. What was the house covered in it was covered in paper. Something walked on that paper, what was it it was a shoe? What was crawling in that shoe? It was a worm. The worm jumped into the envelope. What was writing on the envelope, it was a pencil. The pencil then jumped into the river. The river was crashing into what a rock that rock flew into a tree. What was the tree growing it was growing cheese. And what came out now it was $1 right? So at this point, it should be fairly easy to try and recall all of the words. By simply playing through that story in your mind. Each major object that you see in the story will give you the next word. If you're up for it, Mark, you can give it a try. It's up to you at the very least I hope that people listening to the interview will attempt to see if they can recite the words to themselves first forwards they can even try to recite the words to themselves backwards by simply going through the story forwards and going through the story backwards in their minds.

Mark Struczewski
Now I have not written this down. I want the listener understand that I have not written this down. So monkey, iron rope. kite. house made a paper shoe worm envelope. pencil, river rock tree cheese dollar. 100%

Chester Santos
Wow. And that was awesome. I'm very impressed. Because you know, I just really sprung that on you there. Some some hosts don't want to do that exercise at all. They they totally say no, we're not doing an interview. Sorry, Chester. So really well done. Very impressive. I think you could even do it backwards. You're, you know, up to you, Mark if you want to

Mark Struczewski
Let me try going backwards. And let me just say this, I hit this feeling that I'll be doing this podcast five years and I'll still remember that story. Okay, you probably will. dollar cheese tree rock River. Pencil envelope worm shoe, paper house. And the listeners go on. It's this this this. Okay, we're Oh, kite, rope iron monkey.

Chester Santos
100%. Even backwards. Very impressive. Very well done. Awesome. work there, Mark. So yeah, you got it perfect forwards and backwards under pressure. I'm sure that people from your audience, if they don't get 100%, they'll get pretty close to it. So that technique is called the story method. It's just one of many techniques that memory champions like myself use to pull off what might at first seem like, you know, some sort of extraordinary memory Feat. So they've had me on a lot of different TV shows over the years Science Channel Discovery Channel. But cnn a bunch of different news programs most recently was BBC World News, they'll have me come on perform what might seem like a memory feat, then give tips for viewers at home as to how they can improve their own ability to remember things. But I want to make it very clear to your audience that there's nothing different about my brain compared to everyone else's. I've just learned these techniques that are powerful, effective, and I've just put in a little bit of training and practice. everybody listening to this today is capable of doing extraordinary things with your memory. And again, in today's business world that will give you a huge advantage. You're going to be more memorable, more impressive to people when you have a good ability to remember things because most people can't remember much nowadays.

Mark Struczewski
Okay, let's get real practical here. Chester, birthdays and anniversaries help us guys out. Because there's Oh, we're always the butt of jokes for getting anniversaries and birthdays. What's a simple way that people can remember birthdays and anniversaries besides their iPhone?

Chester Santos
Yeah, so unfortunately, I have bad news. And that is that with anything that contains numbers, there's going to be an intermediate step. It for information that contains numbers or anything that it's a little bit more abstract. Like decks of playing cards, there's a system that you need to learn, it only takes about one hour to learn that system. But you do need to learn how to convert something like a number, sequence, or other piece of abstract information into a concrete image. Once you learn how to do that, then you could build the story, there are a lot of other things that you can do to help you to remember the information. But it does take that one hour of investment to learn that system. It's just beyond what we can cover in a in a short 30 minute or so interview today.

Mark Struczewski
Fair enough. I want to go back to something you said about, you know, speaking, I'm a speaker too. I haven't used notes in years. The reason why I don't use notes is somebody and I wish I remember the first person that told me this. They said mark, nobody knows what you're going to say. And I'm like, we get what's the what's your point? So if you forget something, how are we going to know and the light bulb came on. So if you skip something, don't stop and go, Oh, ah, I forgot. They don't know, just skip that section. And most people aren't even catch it. That I meant, I wish I remember who told me that, that solved all my anxiety. And speaking it literally removed all the anxiety, I also don't use visual aids. Because if you forget something, and it's up on the stage, and you're not reading your slides, which you shouldn't be, then you don't look really professional. So I don't use visual aids either. But just remember if you're just giving a speech, that no one knows what you are going to say. So that kind of relieves the anxiety. But I learned a lot. And I'd be very curious. I mean, this is July 7, I'm wondering if on December 31, I'm going to try to remember what we talked to I'm going to put a reminder on my phone, I'm going to sing a reminder, I don't want to forget to reminder my phone and say write out the list that Chester told you back on July 7, I want to see if I could remember it without listening to the episode again. And now let you know how I turned out.

Chester Santos
Cool. Yeah, please do. So. Yeah, you'll find you know, I get people emailing me weeks, even in some cases, months later, that list of words in there, they can't believe that they still remember it. Because when we use a technique like that, without realizing it, we're using a lot of the brain to encode the information into our memory, so automatically stays there longer. Now, if it's something like a presentation that you're trying to learn, and you want to make sure that it's locked into your long term memory, I would recommend using these types of techniques in conjunction with spaced repetition. So what I mean by that is as opposed to cramming in 20 or 30 reviews, just tonight, right? That's only good for short term memory. But if you'll review it, maybe later today, a week later, maybe two or three weeks after that, it starts to really lock into your long term memory more effectively. So spaced repetition, in conjunction with these types of techniques are very good for memorizing something like a speech or presentation, it could be steps from, you know, important processes, procedures, this applies to being more productive. I always say if you have to look something up more than three times, it's probably to your benefit in the long run to just commit that to memory. So you don't have to look through the Where was the email that laid out those steps, right? Who was it that sent me that email with the instructions on how to do this again, this applies especially I was a speaker over at Google for engineers that have reference books, they're always looking up the same commands over and over again, if they'll just commit those to memory one day using these types of techniques. And in the end, you're more productive.

Mark Struczewski
You know, I I never bought into cramming for an exam the night before. I never did it. Because I knew myself. Like I don't know stuff. Now, I'm not going to know if you're studying for nine hours and know what tomorrow. And it sounds like what you're saying that it's not really effective. Because you're not really understanding what you're trying to like cram in your memory just so you can pass the test. And you're hoping whatever you're studying is on the test. That's the other thing you don't know what's on the test. So you may be cramming, trying to memorize something that you won't even use tomorrow. And it may confuse you recalling what is on the test. So I've never been a fan of cramming. I don't think it works. I think you're better off doing what you said the spacing out before the exam. And that way it maintains your memory a little bit longer is am I off base on that or am I on spot on?

Chester Santos
Absolutely, you're spot on. So I talked with researchers at Washington University in St. Louis about this. They actually did some research on my brain along with some Jeopardy champions. Something called the superior Memory project over at Wash U in St. Louis. So I when I was there, when they were doing these experiments, I asked them, Hey, you know, how can I better help students out with the types of memory techniques that I teach people and they said, Chester, it's with what you're doing combined with this space repetition, they recommend that students after the lecture, review their notes, maybe at the end of the week, then review their notes, a few weeks later review again, then you would have students come final exams, they would know everything, and then they would graduate and actually remember something that they learned how, you know, realistically, students spend too much time just cramming, they spit it out on the exam, like you described, then it vanishes from their memory. So you get people have spent like 100,000 plus dollars on college, and they they can't tell you in a few things that they learned in the previous four years. It's a little bit scary there.

Mark Struczewski
100%, as well, I want to thank you for being on the show today. I'm glad I passed backwards and forwards. 100%. So where can we go to find out more about you, and the dent you're putting in the universe?

Chester Santos
Yeah, so if people would like to learn more, if they would like to further develop their memory skills, they can go to memoryschool.net I would visualize maybe a giant fishing net to remember that it's dotnet. So memory school dotnet. And I set up code mark, for your audience. In honor of being on your show it set for 25 uses, I don't know how many people might may or may not be interested, but at least the first 25 people to use code mark at memory school.net will get the enrollment fee set down to zero. That enrollment fee is usually $200.

Mark Struczewski
Excellent. Well, Chester, thank you so much for being on the show. I'm going to try to impress my wife and recite those words later on today. And I really appreciate everything you shared with us and your insight and your time. So thank you for being here.

Chester Santos
Oh, thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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