How to become a World Class Improver: Mindfulness and Visual Input
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on February 23rd, 2011

In 2005 journalist Joshua Foer covered the U.S.A. Memory Championship, to write what he thought would be an article about people with a rare talent for recall – as he put it “the Super Bowl of savants.” Instead,  he found that none of the elite “mind gamers” had demonstrated any unusual ability for memorization prior to becoming interested. Instead they had developed a ‘world class memory’ through disciplined training.

Intrigued by the possibility that ordinary people could develop extraordinary capacities, he decided to test that proposition himself by embarking on memory training. One year later, Foer himself won the championship and broke the US record (improving it from 1 minute 55 seconds to 1:40) for speed-memorizing the order of all 52 cards in a randomly shuffled deck.

Insights he gained about the potential for anyone to achieve far more than had ever conceived lessons apply as much to improving your swimming as to feats of memory.  Here are more excepts from his article, Secrets of A Mind Gamer

Attention is a prerequisite to memory. The most effective techniques in training the brain to become a ‘world class memory athlete’  enforce a degree of mindfulness that is normally lacking.

“Rhetorica ad Herennium” makes a distinction between natural memory and artificial memory: Natural memory is memory which is embedded in our minds, born simultaneously with thought. Artificial memory is memory which is strengthened by a kind of training and system of discipline. I.E. Natural memory is the hardware you’re born with. Artificial memory is the software you run on it.

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors didn’t need to recall phone numbers or word-for-word instructions or the Advanced Placement U.S. history curriculum or the names of dozens of strangers (because they lived in relatively small, stable groups). What they did need to remember was where to find food and resources and the route home and which plants were edible and which were poisonous. This helps explain why we are better at remembering visually and spatially.

In developing a ‘world class memory’ Joshua Foer was focused on training cognitive neurons – those devoted to thought. If you read the article, you’ll see that a critical tool was to create visual representations of anything he wished to memorize.

To become a ‘world class improver’ in swimming, you need to create powerful connections between cognitive and motor neurons, those responsible for movement.

Visual and spatial memory — the kind our brains were built for during a million years of human adaptation — is even more critical in learning movement, training motor neurons. The information or instructions that guide our motor neurons come from thought or cognitive neurons. Understanding that, her is the process that will be most effective in improving swimming skills:

(1)        Watch them performed well – in person or on video – to create a mental blueprint.

(2)        Try to recreate in practice the visual image we’ve stored. This links visual with spatial information.

(3)        Compare physical perceptions to our mental blueprint — linking cognitive and motor — then adjust and repeat. With each repeat, we strengthen our self-perception — linking sensory to cognitive to motor neurons.

Your critical information source for any improved movement skill is a visual representation of the skill you’re trying to learn. Verbal descriptions provide additional context – particularly when they’re kinesthetic (how it feels) in nature. But the most accurate and enriched information will come from seeing someone perform the movement live or by watching video.

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4 Responses to “How to become a World Class Improver: Mindfulness and Visual Input”

  1. patricia putnam says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your incite into memory
    How would you apply this to learning math or problem solving
    word problems like in 3rd to 8th grade math?

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  2. Do a google search on The Algebra Project and Bob Moses. You’ll find a story there that will provide invaluable insight into how to supercharge learning in kids.

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  3. […] How to become a World Class Improver: Mindfulness and Visual Input Share this:FacebookLinkedInTwitterLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  4. Outlook says:

    this was a great share cheers for the help.

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