Here's my story
Hi, I’m Tansel Ali.
I used to have a terrible memory. I’d forget people’s names, conversations, numbers, and even had difficulties retaining what I had just read. I had pretty much given up and accepted having a bad memory. This acceptance, which I thought was a fact, also affected things like my listening ability, learning new things, and being mindful and attentive on a daily basis.
Even my bass player in the band I was playing in at the time was constantly frustrated with me as I could not, for the life of me, remember notes and chords on the guitar. All he remembers me saying is that I had a ‘shocking memory’.
Whilst my bad memory didn’t affect things like my confidence, I felt it did affect my learning ability. I was frustrated. I was failing my one university subject required to obtain my degree, multiple times. I knew it was my memory but of all the memorising I had to do. All the hours of cramming and rote learning, no matter how many hours I spent, didn’t work.
How it started
Then one night watching late night television I saw so called ‘memory experts’ remembering everyone’s name in the audience, memorising long lists of words, numbers, dates, etc. I thought they were somehow fake and that they were trying to simply sell their memory tapes. It had to be fake right? As my memory was terrible so I did not connect.
Later on a friend of mine came up to me and told me he can memorise a random list of forty words in a matter of minutes. I didn’t think he would be able to do it so I had to test him. After giving him a list of random words, he surely enough memorised them all perfectly.
At this point I wasn’t convinced. I thought he was playing some kind of trick on me. He told me it was no trick, and that all he used was memory techniques he learned from a book. I asked him which book, but he couldn’t remember!
This now peaked my interest. Would I be able to do this as well? I found myself Googling memory techniques and came across many great websites and resources. I learned very basic systems and practised them. They all worked!
I couldn’t believe all it took was learning a memory technique to show me my memory was not terrible, but in fact untrained. As I started to learn more I was hooked.
1 day away from death
Then life took a turn for the worst. I was rushed into hospital. I was in extreme pain. I had an abnormal growth from my stomach and had to be operated on. I was advised by the surgeon if I hadn’t had the surgery on time I would have been dead.
They cut out part of my intestines, added 31 staples down from chest down to my lower abdomen showing a nice scar, and for three months I lived with an ileostomy bag.
The new job I had started had already sacked me by then whilst I was recovering in hospital and I had lost a total of 30 odd kilograms and on 20+ pills a day for my illness.
Five years prior to surgery I was diagnosed with an inflammatory bowel disease called Crohn’s Disease. It had indeed almost spelled the end of me. Fair to say life was kicking me in the guts. I needed something to focus on. Something to bring life into a new healing body and mind.
So I continued my quest into memory training. All from my hospital bed. My friend who introduced me to memory would visit me in hospital and we would chat about memorisation methods and I would be in my hospital bed trying to memorise a pack of cards.
Once I re-learned how to walk and was out of hospital, I was fortunate enough to make it just in time to my university graduation day, ileostomy bag and all, and I was slowly getting my life back together at the age of 24. Recovering at home, I spent quite a bit of time reflecting on life, reading, and getting back to my newfound curiosity of memory techniques.
My curiosity grew
I was amazed at how quickly the techniques were working for me, despite my terrible memory. I was remembering lists of words and had systems for remembering names and everything else I wanted to do. As I kept researching and learning more about memory I came across the Australian Memory Championships. From that point on, my life had taken another big turn entering the competition as memory athletes.
The Australian Memory Championships
The Australian Memory Championships was a memory competition that tested competitors memory like no other. There were ten events in a whole day competition which comprised of remembering things like random lists of words, hundreds of digits of numbers, dates and poems, random shuffled decks of cards, even people’s names and faces.
Tony Buzan, our mind mapping and memory hero was there overseeing proceedings along with organisers Mindwerx (Bill Jarrard & Jennifer Goddard) who had layed the foundation for memory championships in Australia.
The best memorisers in Australia had flown down and my friend and I were nervous. At this point I still believed I had a shocking memory and only knew a few memory techniques to help me memorise for the competition.
Thinking we’d come last, my friend and I ended up breaking national memory records and finishing 2nd and 3rd in Australia. Before we knew it, the media had picked up our achievements in the competition and we were on television being interviewed on primetime as ‘memory experts’. More media followed soon after, then papers, magazines, and even more television.
At this point I thought I still had a crappy memory, but the techniques made me look a lot better than I am. That is when I got hit with a good dose of imposter syndrome. Who was I to be a so called ‘memory expert’ or ‘memory guru’ when all I did was just apply memory techniques for the competition. In reality, my memory was still below average. So I really wanted to do something about it and get better at this skill and actually feel that I need to live up to the guru name.
Competing at the world level
So the following year my friend and I entered the Australian Memory Championships, again placing 2nd and 3rd. We were much better ‘memory athletes’ this time round and decided to compete internationally at the 2003 World Memory Championships in Malaysia.
We were the first ever competitors to represent Australia which was exciting. I thought we were definitely going to come last competing against the very best. The World Memory Championships is a three-day event, as opposed to the shortened one-day affair of the Australian Memory Championships. We had events that took one-hour of memorisation, instead of the usual five minutes.
Nevertheless, despite our lack of experience we gave it a good crack. Both of us did really well. Personally, I had broken five personal best memory records and had a total of six Australian memory records (Out of 10 events). Something which had not been achieved before.
I had even beaten my memory hero and eight-time World Memory Champion Dominic O’Brien in two events – Names & faces and random/historic dates. I also achieved a Grandmaster of Memory Norm (A special international memory achievement) for memorising a randomly shuffled deck of cards in under three minutes. A feat which not many competitors had achieved back then.
Fair to say, it was a successful trip and it made me realise that someone like me with a ‘shocking memory’ can actually learn to remember anything I wanted. I just had to learn the skills and apply.
This led me to believe if I can achieve what I had achieve, then what about everyone else? So I thought it was imcumbent upon me to show these techniques to others, so they too may see results and experience transformation in their lives. But where would I even begin?
I started working with students as I thought something like memory techniques would help them learn a lot faster and better. I ran student workshops, presented in schools, and did a lot of personal coaching.
At the time I had no idea what I was doing, I just wanted to help as many people as I can so I spent a lot of my time working for free and donating my time, volunteering, making sure the techniques reached the people who needed it the most. The results were amazing. I couldn’t believe the impact that these skills were having on students, teachers and the whole learning / education community.
I remember one family who had heard of me, asked me to come and coach their dyslexic children. These children were being driven by their parents to a ‘memory specialist’ across the other side of town over an hour drive every week, for a whole year.
Their parents were paying a lot of money each visit along with travel costs. I went to their house and immediately tested their children. I gave the most basic words for them to spell and they messed up every single word. Not one correct.
I thought wow, these kids have been travelling for a whole year to a specialist, what had they actually learned? I felt for the parents as it was such a burden on them yet they kept at it in the hope that somehow their children will change.
Well it seems that they obviously hadn’t. After my initial test, I showed the children some memory techniques to apply for remembering how to spell certain words.
I gave them a new test with different words, and surely enough they memorised them perfectly. The kids and parents were shocked. In the space of twenty-minutes their memory, and more importantly learning had transformed. It gave me a whole new level of appreciation for memory techniques and I knew I had to get this out to more people.
Reaching Greater Heights
The more I trained and learned about memory techniques, the better I understood how to apply it to many areas of life. Remembering speeches perfectly, learning languages, passing professional exams, managing time, killing procrastination, boosting mental athletic performance, even reducing stress and anxiety – all with the use of memory techniques!
Writing my first book
Most people would have no idea knowing memory techniques would help with managing stress or earning a higher income. Yet, these all require the mind skills to make it happen.
Eventually, I wrote my first memory book, The Yellow Elephant. It was my greatest achievement. Not because I had written a book, but I had poured ten years of my heart and soul into a package that I know would benefit humanity.
Two years later I followed it up with my next book, How To Learn Almost Anything In 48 Hours. Both would eventually go on to become bestsellers. More importantly for myself personally, it would go on to help thousands around the world. The success of the books would eventually land me memory expert roles in various TV shows, documentaries, newspapers, magazines, etc. It also led me to speaking around the world in a topic where only years ago I felt useless.
The World’s First School Mind Games Competition
Travelling back to Australia I wanted to I introduced memory techniques into schools, but in a way where the skills were actively applied and not just viewed as a one-off presentation. Inspired by the initial success in schools, I initiated the world’s first School Mind Games competition.
I trained a few fellow enthusiasts as my trainers and we went into participating schools and ran workshops on memory, speed reading and mind mapping. When competition time arrived at the end of the year, the students, who were thirteen at the time, read my first book, The Yellow Elephant, a 200-pager in only 10 minutes.
Then they mapped out all the book contents on a wall, memorised its entire contents chapter by chapter, and presented it back to the audience and judges in great detail. As a bonus, they also memorised one of my student’s 11-minute TEDx presentation – word for word!
All this in the space of a couple of hours. Aside from all the shock and media publicity we gained, the students and teachers had knowledge and confidence that would re-shape their entire learning and education. Memory techniques had indeed changed their lives for the better.
Looking back, I never would have gotten into this if it wasn’t for discovering a system that worked and busted the myth I had in my mind about having a bad memory. Maybe it was by chance. Maybe it was luck or timing. Nevertheless, I did something about it. And my aim was to help people that had once suffered like I did with a terrible memory experience the transformation I did, and subsequently the growth, career and the life it gave me today.
So for over 20 years now, I’ve been coaching individuals to create a better life through memory techniques. I now know that it is not simply about ‘remembering’ things, but having greater value of ‘connection’ to the goals we want to achieve.
That’s my story. I’m passionate helping people overcome challenges through the use of mind techniques and strategies. If you think you have a bad memory, want to challenge yourself, or even down on confidence, down on life, lacking motivation, then there is always something you can do.