In Philosophy, Sport, Words


I had my annual appraisal this week. It’s always a rather uncomfortable process when you’re self-employed, and this year it was especially so as I decided to introduce upward appraisals, whereby the employee appraises the boss. What downtrodden lackey wouldn’t jump at such an opportunity to stick it to the man?

One action point that arose was the need for me to trust myself more. When you’ve worked with me as long as I have, this is not easy. It requires a certain amount of letting go, of accepting that there will be mistakes, and buying in to the theory that it’s good to fail.

Let me give you an example. It was noted that when entering figures online, such as the numbers of a bank account and sort code, I don’t trust myself to remember them for the short time it takes to look at them in one window and enter them in another. I will habitually make myself check and double check and check again to make sure I’ve got them right.

It was brought to my attention in the appraisal that my brain might be capable of remembering more than I give it credit for. So I’ve made it my resolution for 2024 to trust my memory more.

Try it for yourself. Have a go at memorising a string of digits and see how far you get. The average number of digits the average human adult can remember is seven, which means an eight digit account number may well stretch you but you should be ok with the sort code.

Of course, there are humans who are far from average. At the 2015 World Memory Championships in China, ‘memory athlete’ Lance Tschirhart, of Beaumont, Texas, recited a sequence of 456 digits that had been read out to him at a rate of one per second. 456! I don’t have any video of that but here’s one of Tschirhart memorising a deck of cards. (I have to warn you, it’s not one of the great spectator sports.)

His method is a well known technique adopted by the Ancient Greeks and Romans called the method of loci. Loci is Latin for places and the method involves imagining familiar locations and mentally putting the things you’re trying to remember in those places. In other words, you’re using your visual memory to aid your recall of numbers, names etc.

Say, for example, you wanted to remember all the members of the Cabinet, you might imagine different geographical locations – a desert, a frozen wasteland, a swamp, the ice rings of Saturn… – and place a Minister in each one. Wouldn’t that be fun!

Then there are the people who memorise Pi: current record holder Rajveer Meena, 70,000 characters. That’s frightening. It’s like the memory equivalent of free diving, but I suppose it shows what we humans can do if we really try. And if really trying is a 10, most of use barely scrape a 1.

So anyway, I’ve been really trying to really try with my numbers and I must admit it’s created a better working relationship with myself. It all feels more relaxed, more empowering, more creative. I don’t keep double checking, I just look at the number once and then enter it to the best of my recall.

Sure, there has been the odd mistake. I paid my Corporation Tax to the local cat home and I’ve just spent £500 insuring someone else’s car, but these aren’t problems, they’re opportunities for improvement. And at this rate of improvement, I can’t wait for my next appraisal.

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