Ok here it is, after many requests, my story about memorizing the Yellow Pages Phone book.
How it all started
One day I received a phone call from a PR company. I had been recommended by a colleague as a memory expert to undertake a challenge not many people would even think of. The PR company wanted me, as the Australian Memory Champion, to memorize the Yellow Pages as part of a marketing campaign for the brand.
Such was the timing. Two weeks prior I had decided to quit my passion after 9 long years of training, coaching, competing and setting up a business which had trained thousands of people. It was indeed one of the toughest things I had ever done because I just loved what I did, but had to make a choice. The choice at the time was to leave my business for good. Fate just so had it, that two weeks after walking out on memory – it had come back to me in the biggest way possible.
So my initial reaction was of disbelief. Memorizing not one, but two big fat books of the Yellow Pages? You cannot be serious! There were however many questions to ask about the memory feat itself. After discussions with the PR company, we worked out what I needed to memorize. Over 2000 business names and their phone numbers. This was no easy feat! They gave me some time to think about it. You see, this could not have come at a worse time as I was studying three subjects at university – which is more than than the usual part-time, working full-time, maintaining and feeding a family and having some health problems with a recurring chronic illness for which I’ve had two operations. I was rushed to hospital on a Wednesday requiring urgent surgery. I was told if I wasn’t operated on the Friday it would have been too late.
I was sitting on the couch with my laptop about to write back with a ‘thanks but no thanks’ email. Health was the most important thing for me as the memory feat would further add to the chaos that was surrounding my life at the time. Suddenly something clicked. I knew I could memorize the phone book. I went and re-did the calculations in my head again. If it takes me 30 seconds to memorize one advertisement, then I would be able to achieve the memorisation of 2000 ads under 20 days. Having done the calculations, I knew that if I went ahead with this challenge, I would need to make sacrifices like taking time off work, possibly not going to some uni classes, and the hardest of all – not seeing my 2 and a half year old son for most of the day who I love more than anything in this world. After careful thought I knew that by playing it smart and organising myself and making slight sacrifices, I would be able to achieve something noone else has ever achieved. So I deleted what I wrote in my email and responded with “I’ll do it”.
From that point on, my mind was switched on ready to work efficiently and effectively. To be honest I didn’t even think, what if I can’t remember or get the numbers wrong. I knew I could do it. Belief is such a powerful thing. I knew that if I did not believe I could do this, then there was no point. After debriefing with the PR company again and agreeing to take on the challenge of memorizing a phone book, there was only 24 days left until the Sydney HIA Homeshow convention where I was going to be tested along with several TV and radio interviews live.
The Memory Process
I had finally received my two copies of the Sydney Yellow Pages in the mail. A-K and L-Z. They were indeed much bigger than Melbourne’s! I stared at them for a while and thought bloody hell what have I got myself into. After flicking through the pages I had to devise a strategy to memorize this beast as you simply cannot sit down and start memorizing. The strategy had to involve a great deal of planning, calculating and had to be precise so that I could have the time to test myself, revise and be confident that I have effectively memorized 20,000+ digits that made up the 2000 businesses.
I used visualisation to picture the name of the business. This process was the most important. If I did not have a strong visualisation/picture for the business, then it would have been equally difficult to recall the numbers from it. I memorized the numbers using the Major System. A system used to decode phonetic sounds for numbers. So the whole process to memorize an advertisement was to visualise the ad and then link the number of the business to my visualisation of the ad.
For example, to remember the ad for “Bob’s Cleaning 9217 7747″, I first imagined a person bobbing down and scrubbing the floor as hard as he could. Then I linked it to the number by having cleaner Bob take out his ‘Pen’(92) write his invoice on his ‘Dog’(17) with the dog jumping into a ‘Cake’(77). As the dog jumped into the cake, ‘Rocky Balboa’(47) jumped up yelling “Adriaaaaaaan”. This took me a good 30 seconds for one ad. For all you memorisers out there, no I did not use the journey technique for many reasons. Firstly it would have been a much longer approach and I would have no way memorized in the alotted time. Secondly, I did not have enough locations. Thirdly, as I was going to be tested with random ads, there was no point trying to remember in order, which is the specialty of the journey technique. This is why I chose the basic linking strategy and it worked exactly how I wanted it to.
I also did learn from my mistake a while back when I was interviewed on 1116 SEN radio by Bill Brownless, Tim Watson and Andy Maher. They got me on the show to talk about memory and gave me a short memory test to remember ten words. I thought gee, we memorizers remember hundreds of these so it will be no problem. I had my favourite journey in my head to use for the test. The journey technique is used by pretty much all memorizers in competitions and is one of the most powerful memory techniques. I thought I had it covered. Boy I was wrong! Out of the ten items they tested me on, I only managed to remember about three. Listeners called up the station saying I was fake and they had memorized more than me. I also copped it from the presenters who also had a nice laugh.
From this point I learned a valuable lesson. You could have knowledge of the best memory techniques, however if you don’t use the right one for the right occasion, you will be embarrassed. So from that point on my focus was and still is teaching people how to use their memory effectively in practical situations and not just learning the techniques. I guess this is why people do come to me for coaching. Anyone can learn about memory techniques. It’s all on the net. It’s free. However it takes an enormous amount of time and energy to be able to use them correctly. Which is why I love coaching people so they can find that power within them.
This experience ties nicely into memorizing the Yellow Pages. If it wasn’t for that particular stuff up, I would have not even gotten close to memorizing the phone book in 24 days. I had to be effective and efficient to be able to meet this task. My experience had taught me this and subsequently allowed me to select the right strategy which paid off in the end.
The first night of memorization was very nearly the last. I had memorized for 70 minutes to only do 50 ads. I had my wife test me and I did not fare well. It was the longest I had to ever sit down and memorize, my neck was killing me and I was extremely exhausted after work and uni studies. I didn't know if I should continue. I even said to my wife I can’t do this. Just having a look at the number of pages left, I had barely scratched the surface.
I was however conscious that the most important thing for me was to remain healthy, drink lots of fluid and eat right, remain positive and pray like crazy! I was already in this now. I had no choice but to continue. I was fortunate enough that work allowed me to take two weeks off to memorize. Now I can focus fully.
The next day I did slightly better. The day after that, much better. Consistency was what I was looking for. Once I had gotten into a groove, it was almost robotic. I was memorizing 60 ads in 60 minutes. Although it doesn't seem like much of an improvement from the first night, I was feeling much better and my recall was greater than before. I was memorizing 60 ads and going back three more times to re-memorize them. I had memorized 60 ads four times and then moved on to the next lot of 60. I spent on average five hours a day memorizing. Some days I did slack off and did nothing. However the next day I would do 8 hours. The most I memorized was 10 hours, which was 5 blocks of 2 hour memorization periods. Something I never ever thought I’d do as I even hated memorizing for 10 minutes in the memory competitions. By the last couple of weeks my white office table had become Yellow from the phone book and I had a yucky metallic taste in my mouth from turning thousands of pages.
After 18 days I memorized both phone books. So what did I decide to do? I went back to revise the ads all over again so I can solidify my recall. I had 6 days to do this. When I started to memorize from the start again, I was almost doubling my initial speed with even better recall. 120 ads per hour. So in 24 days, right up until I was flown to Sydney for the interviews and tests, I had managed to memorize 2 Yellow Pages phone books.
Recalling The Memorized Phone book
Initially I was in Sydney for a few interviews however to my surprise, I was on every major newspaper in the country and my emails were flooding on my mobile phone with media interview requests. I was tested live on national television and radio. My hard work, strategy, consistency, and sacrifices had all paid off. I was successful in my recall and the PR company obviously looked great to their client. I did make a couple of mistakes in a few numbers, but then again no one is perfect hey! After the memorization I went back to my family, received the highest grades I ever have for my double masters at uni, went back to full-time work, and most importantly had my health intact.
Tansel Ali is a 4-time Australian Memory Champion most famously known for memorizing two Yellow Pages phone books in only 24 days. An international bestselling author of the books, ‘The Yellow Elephant’ and ‘How to Learn Almost Anything In 48 Hours’, Tansel is a sought-after memory expert, keynote speaker and memory coach.