What I learned from being the USA Memory Champion

Home Memory Champion What I learned from being the USA Memory Champion

Two time USA Memory Champion and memory training expert Ron White memory guy shares what it was like being the USA Memory Champion and what he learned from the experience:

I have done a few things in my life that I am very proud of and just as many that I am not so proud of. The things I am not proud of, I don’t make excuses for but instead make an effort to learn from and became the man I want to be in the future. The things that I am proud of are often a result of previous failures or mistakes that I learned from in the past.  Good or bad there is always a lesson to be learned from life experiences.

My time as the USA Memory Champion from 2009 to 2011 was such an incredible learning time for me. I first intended to compete in the USA Memory Championship in 2007 – yet I was also a member of the US Navy and instead I was deployed to Afghanistan that year. In Kabul I would practice for the 2008 USA Memory Championship in my free time. Yet, looking back it was really unstructured training and I had no clue what the tournament was actually like. So my training was not adequate. 8 weeks after returning from Afghanistan I competed in the USA Memory Championship and came in 4th place. It was a good feeling but even more importantly I realized how close I had come to winning it and winning it became my goal.

In the time from March 2008 and March 2009 I hired a former US Navy SEAL, TC Cummings to coach me to become focused, disciplined and organized. I consulted with former USA Memory Champion David Thomas on strategy and researched articles written by another former USA Memory Champion Joshua Foer (who ended up writing a highly acclaimed book on the tournament, ‘Moonwalking with Einstein). In 2009 I was incredibly well prepared and seemed to almost coast to victory. When I walked in the room I KNEW the tournament was mine…I saw the trophy and knew within hours it would be mine.

In 2010, my times were better and I had become a better Brain Athlete in the year prior. Yet troubles in my relationship and personal life distracted me the month before the tournament and resulted in me not sleeping the night before the tournament. In 2010, I walked into a mental tournament with some VERY VERY VERY smart people and on 30-45 minutes sleep hung on to win the tournament. Perhaps I am more proud of the win in 2010 than I am in 2009 for several reasons. Including the first 3 lessons listed here :

1. I didn’t have to compete again. Some will win the tournament and then not compete again so they can remain ‘undefeated’. Some who are looking to cash in on the victory believe it will hurt their chances of doing so if they lose. I on the other hand never competed for the glory – I competed for the challenge. So not defending my title was never an option. I am proud of myself for defending it. (As Chester Santos and Ram Kolli did)

2. In the months before the tournament I was sick (fever and throwing up) and my coach TC Cummings suggested I train despite the sickness. WHAT ARE YOU CRAZY?! Memorize cards between trips to the restroom throwing up!? But TC reminded me, what if you are sick the day of the tournament – this is perfect training for that. Turns out I wasn’t sick the day of the tournament but having trained while very ill was perfect training for competing on 45 minutes sleep. The lesson I learned in 2010 was train even when you don’t feel like it because when your ultimate challenge comes there is no guarantee that conditions are going to be perfect. I am proud of myself for being prepared for a competition with only 45 minutes sleep.

3. The devil is in the details!! Two weeks before the 2010 USA Memory Championship I posted something on my Facebook page. All it said was, ‘The devil is in the details.’ For me I was referencing the USA Memory Championship. In my mind it would all come down to the details. The smallest of matters. Every single detail of the tournament I had researched. I knew exactly how long it would take me to walk from my hotel to the event (yes I timed it with a stop watch), I knew the details of every single tournament (even the smallest of details). I had a gut feeling it would come down to details….and it did. In 2010, there were 3 left in the final round – myself, Nelson Dellis and Ram Kolli. Nelson was eliminated on the first card – not because of a memory challenge but details. He wasn’t aware of the rule that in the final event we start with the top card instead of the bottom. He was my toughest competitor and he eliminated himself because of a detail. I won that year. Lesson learned – the devil is in the details.

4. In 2011 I did not win. I was defeated by a very well prepared Nelson Dellis. Yet, in defeat I learned many lessons. The first being one that I knew but had forgotten. To my friends, family, coworkers and clients I was still a champion. The memory feats I have trained myself to do are still very impressive for them and in reality I wasn’t getting hired to speak because I was the USA Memory Champion. If that were the case the World Memory Champions would have more speaking engagements than me (they don’t). I am hired to speak not because of a titled but because of what I can teach others to do. While others may be impressed with the title, what they will pay you for is if you can teach them. Because of the success of Joshua Foer with his book ‘Moonwalking With Einstein’ many see the USA Memory Championship as a ticket to riches and fame. It is neither. The initial burst of PR after the tournament is nice – I learned to enjoy it, use it for marketing purposes but never let it define me.

5. Never allow yourself to be defined by a single day – good or bad. Instead, be defined by who you were in the time leading up to that day. In the weeks before the 2009 tournament I became very stressed and asked my coach TC Cummings, ‘What if I don’t win? What if I come in second and spent all this time training?’ He then reminded me the story of Rudy. The Notre Dame football player in the 1970 who never made the starting team but won the hearts of everyone with his dedication to that goal. He reminded me that the ultimate goal is not winning a starting spot on the team but who you must become in the process of competing. He reminded me that I, like Rudy, had busted my butt and in essence already won. That is how I would allow myself to be defined – not by the results of a single day. This was also a lesson I reminded myself of in 2011 after my second place finish.

So there you have it. Being Ron White memory guy is fun but being Ron White 2 Time USA Memory Champion was not only fun it brought many life lessons and these were just a few I thought I would share. I encourage you to find something to push yourself (maybe even the USA Memory Championship) not because you will take #1 but because of the person you must become in the process of competing.

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