He has won the World Memory Championship eight times in a period of ten years, can memorize a full deck of cards in a few seconds and is banned from casinos all across the world. He is Dominic O’Brien, the man with the world’s best memory.
Looking back at his childhood, 59-year-old Dominic O’Brien admits that he is probably the world’s most unlikely mnemonist. That’s because as a young boy, he had “severe attention problems” and “never listened to anything the teacher said.” Although the term ‘Attention Deficit Disorder’ (ADD) had not yet been coined in the 1960s, it is speculated that some sort of attention disorder may have been a likely diagnosis for Dominic during his childhood. He also used to write backwards and suffered from dyslexia.
“I had a knock to my head as a baby. I collided with a train and was actually dragged off onto the railway line,” O’Brien recalls. “There was severe bruising to the top of my forehead so they think there may have been some damage there.”
The eight-time World Memory Champion believes that if he has been able to become an accomplished mnemonist, despite his childhood problems, anyone can do it. All it takes is creative thinking.
Photo: Science Museum
Dominic says he got into memory training by accident, after watching a man memorise a deck of cards on television in 1987. “I thought that was amazing so I wanted to know how he did it. And that’s how it started,” the renowned mnemonist told Mental Healthy. He was 30 years old when he started training his memory, and claims that it only took him only a few weeks before he started performing extraordinary things.
“I didn’t start training until I was 30, but within a couple of weeks I was doing things that I thought were extraordinary for me. Then I suppose it was about three months before I could really start getting close to records like memorising a pack of playing cards very quickly,” O’Brien said. “Within a year I was in the Guinness Book of records for memorising six decks of cards, and now I’ve got a record for 54.”
Photo: Peak Performance Training
Dominic remembers that after setting his first record, Norris McWhirter, who co-founded the Guinness World Records with his twin brother, told him that six decks would be the human limit, but it wasn’t long before he proved them wrong by memorizing a whopping 54 decks of cards. “There is no limit”, he says. “It’s something you can develop very quickly and you can see enormous progress.”
Regarding how he managed to train his memory to a level way above average, Dominic O’Brien says he started by developing his own technique, which he later found out had been invented long ago by the ancient Greeks. “Gradually I developed a technique that I thought was unique but in fact the Greeks had already developed it over 2000 years ago,” he said. “I call it the journey method, I first wrote about it in 1994 for my first book How to develop the perfect memory. It’s about using a familiar journey, a journey round your house or a journey to work or round the park and on various stages along the journey you anchor images to it. So if you were shopping for ten items you imagine each item along the journey – so cornflakes on the park bench, a bottle of wine by an oak tree.”
“The journey preserves the order of information; it’s all about using your imagination and engaging the whole of your brain. It sounds a very simple concept but it’s an extremely efficient way of training your brain.”
So how does one become a World Memory Champion. Dominic says that typically, you have to memorize as many numbers as you can in one hour – the current record stands at just over 3,000 decimals – memorize as many packs of cards in one hour and memorize about 120 names and faces in 15 minutes. But the hardest challenge, in the eight-time champion’s opinion is memorizing a spoken number. “So you hear numbers being given over a speaker, at one digit a second, and it’s sudden death,” he told Caters TV.
You might think that such a great memory would serve someone great in a casino. Dominic did to, and actually tried his hand at card-counting for six months in 1991. he got so good at it that he started making a living out of gambling, but it wasn’t long before he was banned banned out of all casinos in the UK, Las Vegas and other countries.
Still, he claims a sharp memory is a valuable tool in other walks of life, as well. Whether it’s remembering shopping lists, appointments, phone numbers, dates or even names and faces, having a razor sharp memory makes a big difference.
Dominic O’Brien has written several books on memory training, co-founded the UK Schools Memory Championships and is an accomplished public speaker on the benefits of training your brain.