The Past Year’s Journey and My Memory Training
The past year has been really crazy for me, and I don’t think that I’ve described the complete story in one place. I thought that I would summarize the year and provide an update on my memory training.
I’ve been traveling and working in different places since the 1990s. I found myself doing many kinds of jobs as I traveled, including driving 18-wheelers, working on luxury yachts, rose trimming, organic farming, cleaning public toilets, working in hostels, selling food at horse racing tracks, selling cotton candy and boomerangs at monster truck shows, and much more.
By 2003, I began teaching myself how to use computers and started an online Web publishing business. I spent years working on my computer from coffee shops in many parts of the world: North America, South America, Europe, and Asia.
I was still involved in this “working nomad” lifestyle when, in May 2011, I left on a trip to Europe where I planned to continue managing my business remotely as well as work on memory techniques. The Greek Islands are one of my favorite places, and I’d rather live in a tent or hostel there than rent an apartment in the US.
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to run a business 60-80 hours per week when both hands are injured with repetitive strain problems, and it was becoming apparent that my days of running the business were numbered. Also, I didn’t want to do it anymore, but wanted to have time to focus on memory techniques.
The Job Hunt
I began to look for a regular job with an existing company so that I could cut my hours back to 40-hours per week, let my hands heal, and work on memory techniques. I looked for jobs related to memory, but there isn’t really much work available in the memory field. I did inquire about one memory job, but the company wasn’t hiring, unfortunately.
A large part of my business revolves around the hostel industry, so I then sent out a notice in my hostel newsletter saying that I was looking for a job. It was just an experiment, but, surprisingly, I received promising job leads in at least seven countries. This was great news, since I was expecting a tedious job search. Sometimes one just has to ask, even if the idea is a little crazy.
At that point, I was running out of my allowed time in the Schengen Area. (The Schengen Area is a large area of Europe with no internal border control. People from the U.S. can stay in the Schengen Area for 90 days out of every 180 day period without a visa.)
Austria and Croatia
I was in Zagreb, Croatia, which is outside of the Schengen Area. One of the job leads came from a company in Austria, so we set up a meeting in Vienna for the interview, and I timed the trip from Zagreb so that I would be able to leave the Schengen Area again before the end of my 90 day allowance.
The interview did not seem to go very well, because they initially appeared skeptical about the need to hire an employee for that position. I went back to Zagreb because of my visa limitations. At that point, I was paying USD $10 per night to live in my tent outside of a youth hostel, running out of money, and frantically trying to keep my business alive via the wireless Internet connections of the hostel and the local brewery.
I still had one month left before my flight back to California, and I had been planning to spend it in Bosnia and Albania, but money was getting very low and the situation was about to become a disaster.
Back to the USA
I decided to fly back to the U.S. early instead of risking my running out of money somewhere in the middle of Albania and then losing all of my websites in the imminent tidal wave of unpayable bills. I changed my flight to leave early out of Budapest, and ended up barely making it out of the Schengen Area in time, with 89 of my 90 allowed days used.
I was still looking for a job at this point, because I didn’t think that job lead in Austria was going to work out. But to make a long story short, I did end up getting the job offer from Austria—but first I needed to get work papers, which is difficult for Americans.
Back to Austria
It seemed that it would be easier to apply for the work permit in Austria, and three months had passed since I had left Europe (meaning that I could enter the Schengen Area again), so I bought a roundtrip ticket to Vienna.
There were some unexpected delays in getting my work papers sorted out. Vienna is expensive, and I was still working too many hours, trying to keep my business from dragging me under. It was not making much money anymore, but still had a lot of bills. For much of that time, I was working at my computer from the moment I woke up, until I went to bed.
During the next three months, there were a few trips to Budapest, a travel industry conference in Jerusalem, flying to San Francisco and the USA Memory Championship in New York City. When I returned to Vienna a couple of weeks ago, my work permit was finally waiting for me, and I could begin my new job.
So, it has been just a short time since I began this new 40 hours per week job. Things are finally starting to become more normal.
I’ve picked up my memory system on and off over the past year, but things have always gotten busy, leaving me unable to focus on it. I’ve just started again over the past couple of weeks, and I have a lot of work to do if I’m going to be able to catch up with the training schedule.
Reviewing Images While Walking
When I was at the USA Memory Championship in New York City, I met Luis from AE Mind who mentioned a tip about going through his images during exercise repetitions. I thought that it was a really interesting idea, so I started going through my images from 00 to 99 as I walked to and from work every day.
It’s kind of like reciting images to a metronome. I walk reasonably fast and recite one image for every two steps: visualizing the number (e.g., “22”), saying the image’s syllable (“NU”), and picturing the image (onion). Sometimes I go faster than I can recall every image, trying to increase speed. It’s sometimes difficult with the distractions and noise of walking down the street, but training with distractions is probably a good thing.
My image recognition speed has improved. In the beginning I would go forwards and backwards through the entire list, but now I carry around sheets of randomized numbers. I’m not sure if it’s safe to walk while reading numbers and visualizing mnemonic images. I’m planning to switch to spoken numbers while walking as soon as I get a smartphone that can recite the numbers to me.
Alternate Day Calorie Restriction
After seeing Majid Fotuhi’s presentation at the USA Memory Championship, I started thinking more about the effects of certain foods on my brain – like fried foods and refined sugars. I also read an interesting study about alternate day calorie restriction, and I decided to try it.
I recently began restricting my calorie intake on one day and then eating whenever I want on the next. The first few days were difficult, but then I started to have much less appetite all the time. I eat a lot less now because of this experiment, and I try to keep the food that I eat healthy. I don’t feel any worse than I did before, but I’ll try to post an update about that in another couple of weeks. I’d like to measure my actual calorie intake once I get a smartphone.
This way of eating is just an experiment that I’m doing out of curiosity. It may not last long, but I’m kind of enjoying it at the moment.
I also cut back on meat and dairy, but am not a vegetarian at the moment.
Being chained to a computer for years hasn’t been healthy. I wasn’t getting much exercise, and I gained weight. I used to do a lot of hiking and biking, but not in the past few years.
When I returned to Vienna, I stopped buying monthly transportation passes, and now I walk everywhere. I walk about 15 to 20 miles per week at the moment, which is a start.
I also took up yoga and meditation. If you search the memory techniques forum, there are some threads about the benefits of yoga and meditation on memory.
This may sound ridiculous, but I only do each for 5 minutes per day. The reason I set such a low standard is that I’m really busy and I’ve read that starting good habits is easier if you keep your standards low, but are consistent with regularly performing the habit that you would like to form.
Actually, I noticed really great results from yoga in about a week. I don’t know what people who are seriously into yoga would think about only spending five minutes on it, but I recommend it and will probably expand it to about 20 minutes per day as I become used to my new schedule.
I wanted to avoid computers for the bulk of my memory training, but I’m really interested in trying out this Android app. I can’t flip through cards very much because it makes my hands go numb, so this might be an easier way for me to practice cards. I should be able to tap on a screen without too many problems. A smartphone app would also be useful for training during breaks at work.
I’m thinking of buying the Galaxy Note, because the large screen might be good for reading and memorizing poetry, as well as for Anki flashcards. I think I could also use the phone to create large memory journeys by taking photographs as I walk around town and then placing them on mobile presentation slides. If anyone has a recommendation for a different smartphone, please leave a comment below.
So that’s a quick overview of what my past year has been like, as well as some of the things I’ve been working on over the past couple of weeks. I’m glad to be working on memory training again, and I’m hoping that life stays calm for at least the next few months. I wish that I could work on memory training full-time, but I think there will be enough free time for enough training to reach my goals.