Though I initially passed on purchasing the book, a tweet caused me to reconsider. I spent the better part of my business trip’s downtime reading Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer. This funny and absolutely fascinating story follows the author, a journalist who becomes enamored with the concept of one’s ability to superhumanly improve their memory after covering a national memory competition – only to compete in it the following year.
It’s quite obvious how this book quickly became a New York Times Bestseller. Although I must sheepishly admit that I’m not any more inspired to improve my memory after reading the book, Foer does make some outstandingly salient points on self-improvement. Here are five keys I pulled out that will surely help anyone further their careers (or themselves), regardless of how good their memory is.
#1. It takes knowledge to gain knowledge
Who’s smarter: the person who’s drilled a multitude of facts into their mind or the person who taught themselves to creatively solve problems? Foer writes, “The Latin root inventio is the basis of two words…inventory and invention…In order to invent, one first need[s] a proper inventory, a bank of existing ideas to draw on.” What you already know only augments your ability to learn more.
The point: Do your research! No matter what your role or ambitions are, be sure to learn as much as possible, constantly. This is NOT limited to just work experience. Think about the thought leaders of your industry. I guarantee that none of them just woke up one morning and saw the direction of things by simply being “creative.” They read a lot and made numerous observations. Invest extra time into building your base of knowledge and increasing your potential for being at the forefront of your craft.
#2. It’s how you practice, not how long you practice
Many have heard of the “10,000 Hour Rule”, made culturally famous by Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success. It essentially states, based on mounds of scientific data, that in order to become a certifiable expert in something, you need to spend 10,000 hours practicing it – which takes most people about 10 years. But isn’t there still a difference between being an expert and truly being one of the best? Hours of regimented dedication will yield results, but to avoid an improvement plateau, your training needs to focus less on the amount of time spent and more on how that time is spent.
The point: Practice what you suck at. it’s that simple and yet that difficult. When you get good at something, you naturally try to stick to it. To get to the top, you have to throw yourself into your weaknesses pretty much EVERY time you practice. If you’re technically brilliant, but have trouble communicating ideas to non-technical people, it’s time start thinking on different terms. If you can drive the golf ball three football fields but can’t get out of the bunker, your practice time should be spent in the sand, not the driving range. Don’t over focus on your strengths in an effort to preserve them. Instead devote your time to weaknesses to better round yourself.
#3. Start thinking visually
Whether it’s mind-mapping, memory palaces, the Majors System, or any other ancient memory technique, each has one thing in common: they all convert a number, word, letter, code, or object into something profoundly visual. It’s how the human mind prefers to work. People understand visuals because they resonate much deeper in their memories and understanding.
The point: Think about how you can communicate your ideas, beliefs, and positions visually to any person. Whether it’s your taste for metaphor or literally having the ability to draw out complex thoughts, your capability for communicating on the visual level will make you more memorable to those around you. At Brainshark, we’ve long championed the importance of visuals in your PowerPoint presentations and honestly, how many times have you heard someone say, “I’m a visual person”? Guess what – we all are. People won’t naturally remember or back your ideas if they can’t understand them, so think about how you can become a mental artist in your spare time.
#4. Don’t be too extreme
Similar to the scenario that I brought up in the first point, there are those who believe that teaching experience and creativity will better serve students later in life, while others swear by memorization and a commitment to storing existing facts. Foer takes a naturally journalistic approach and quite convincingly suggests that the key is to really have a healthy balance between the two, as they are so closely intertwined.
The point: Don’t be a head-nodding “Yes man” or, on the other hand, intentionally contest ideas. Always take a step back and try to analyze each side of every argument to naturally decide what you believe is right, whether the solution is already proposed or it’s on you to figure out. It’s never easy to go against the grain, but it’s worth taking the time to think for yourself. You won’t always be agreed with, but you’ll likely be respected.
#5. Where there’s a will, there’s a way
Throughout the book, Foer has his memory paced by a group of scientists to track his improvement. At the end, Foer asks if his meteoric improvement in competitive memorization is an outlier. The lead researcher says it’s not likely, but that it was rather his “willingness to take on the challenge [that] make[s] [him] different.” Foer succeeded because of his unmatched passion and commitment to improvement, not the idea that he was able or unable to improve.
The point: Ask yourself if you’re ready to make the commitment to get better. The book proves that regardless of who you are, you’re capable of it – with flying colors. What separates us all is our respective levels of diligence and motivation. The greatest obstacle is not oneself, since humans are capable of fascinating feats. The greatest obstacle is believing in yourself and staying true to that belief.Follow @gpraysman