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Mattias Ribbing is a three-time Swedish memory master.
Being a pedagogue, he has always been fascinated by the brain and brain training. Nowadays, he is spreading knowledge and creating awareness of our ability to achieve astonishing results when we learn and practise “collaborating” with our brains. By becoming aware of the smartest strategies and getting accustomed to using them, we can change the way we use and work with our brains.
The basis of thinking more efficiently is to think in pictures. Doing this, the brain works far more smoothly and we can take in a lot more information. Additionally, this information has our own special stamp.
“Practising deliberately thinking in pictures is like always having a notepad at your fingertips. As soon as you consciously start to learn names and faces in this way, you develop a magnet that automatically pulls other things more easily into your memory. For example, what you have spoken about, whom you have met, where, etc. There are many positive side-effects when you push your brain in the right direction,” states Mattias.
Visualization is the key
Thinking in pictures can feel difficult and fuzzy. This is when we have to be aware that it is something vague. It is not the same as seeing with our eyes. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. Even a vague, flickering picture is enough for the brain.
“It is fuzzy for everyone, even people like me who have practised this. Yet, it still works. That’s what’s so cool about it.”
Thinking in pictures is like providing computer folders for your brain. Without such a strategy, we are loading our computer with masses of documents that have no name or place. They are there on the hard drive, but you will never find the right document just when you need it.
“Trusting our memory gives us the freedom to relax. There is no need to consciously cling onto input. Consequently, there is no stress. Indeed, pressure on the brain is relieved.”
Just as when learning to write the letters of the alphabet, practise makes visualizing more automatic. Mattias likens the process to bypassing paper and writing directly in the brain. It also uses a new alphabet made up of personally recognizable pictures.
“You never need to think how you are going to write something down. In deciding what you are going to write, the recording is done automatically. Thus, I select what I am going to store and note it in my brain. I rapidly imagine the necessary pictures and it’s done. I can trust they will stick there.”
Myths around memory power
As regards memory, we often say, for example, that a person is good with faces and names or hopeless when it comes to figures. Memory power is frequently perceived and described as something that someone either has or does not have. Hence, many people may be held back by a negative self-image.
Innate variations do, of course, exist. However, according to Mattias, a functional strategy and brain-smart training can result in far greater differences. Once there is control over the ability to take in information, innate ability plays no role in remembering figures, names, faces, etc.
“I had no impressive credentials or special abilities. When I started training at 28, I was your typical Joe Bloggs. Everyone who knows me can attest to that. I have progressed to now being able to memorize thousands of figures.”
There is hope even when memory power is impaired. An example of this is a martial artist who, after many blows to the head, seemingly lost the ability to remember things. However, he did not want to give up. After online coaching, he beat Mattias’ personal record and astounded the psychologist who conducted a follow-up test.
Memory training for all
We are more like each other than we believe. Our brains are not markedly different and we do not learn in entirely different ways. It is immaterial that experience, opinions and taste differ, our brains function similarly. Thinking in pictures helps everyone and can take all of us to the next level. This is especially evident in schools. Here, pupils are given a direction that works for everyone and in which concrete results are demonstrated early with the first steps.
“Because they relieve the brain, these types of strategy are, in a way, even more important in neuropsychiatric diagnoses and recovery from exhaustion or depression.”
Mattias communicates an inclusive message and the possibility of replacing powerlessness with drive.
Three brain-smart steps
A common newbie mistake is wanting to learn how to remember everything immediately. Gradually training the memory is a more constructive approach. Furthermore, with automatic links helping you to recall related information, each of these steps serves as a magnet.
The three steps can be used in connection with various types of event. Try step one when in the company of other people. Practise it and discover how you grasp things more easily and feel more relaxed. Train yourself in steps two and three in spontaneous conversations and when creating a presentation. Notice how they make it easier to maintain a central thread and to get your messages memorably across to others.
Forenames and pictures
Start by acquiring a strategy for forenames. When you are introduced to someone, the most important thing is to double-check the name by repeating it aloud. Next, turn the forename into a picture. Take whatever comes immediately to mind.
A few examples
Marie – Marie biscuit
Alice – a listening ear
Allen – key
Mohammed – boxing glove
If the first thing that comes into your head is a rhyme, no problem. However, it is not enough to think “Mark park”; you also have to visualize a park. Indeed, you have to see the picture in front of you in the room.
Magnify the inner pictures. Do not visualize a normal-size Marie biscuit. Make it massive and three-dimensional.
Position the picture in front of the person or on his or her shoulders. Picturing the person and the object together creates a link between these in the brain. Remember that it works even if the picture is vague.
Paint scenarios or broad canvases
To create links for listeners, paint scenarios or broad canvases. With the aid of pictures, we can compartmentalize and find our way back to the subjects of discussions.
If we have sat for two hours listening to something that is then immediately forgotten, the speaker has not managed to create links. Without links to familiar things, new information is like an island. An island that, even if it is interesting to visit, is very hard to find again.
Start with the full picture
It is vital to start with the “full picture”. This creates a “knowledge skeleton” to which fleshy details can attach. When people cannot relate details to something else, they lose focus.
The full picture opens the doors to attention and understanding. This is true whether you are speaking from a podium, at a business meeting or in a café with old and new acquaintances.
Commitment to own and others’ learning
Mattias is inquisitive about the brain, deeply interested in pedagogics and loves to learn new things. He was working as a teacher when musings on smarter ways of developing the “learning muscle” led him into memory training. Since 2012 and his first book, The road to a master memory (Swedish only), he has largely devoted his time to holding lectures and workshops on the subject.
To investigate how the strategies could be adapted for school settings, he spent a period following an upper-secondary class and a further education class. This resulted in The road to a maximum grade (Swedish only), a 2014 book that gives practical stimulation for thinking in a smarter and more fun way. Mattias continues to receive appreciative emails from teachers, students and parents testifying how wonderful it is to achieve good results.
In 2017, along with mathematician Per Sundin, Mattias wrote Get maths (Swedish only). The book revolves around understanding maths in a vibrant and playful way.
“This is how we learn. Because their learning is based on play, all children are ‘expert learners’ before starting school.”
From simple arithmetic rules all the way to advanced, upper-secondary mathematics, Get maths focuses on things that many people find difficult. The book is used by school pupils, parents and adults who wish to plug gaps.
His latest book, Smart parenthood: Strengthen your child’s learning, focus and creativity (Swedish only), was published in 2018. It is targeted at parents who want to give their children a cerebrally more harmonious everyday environment and the very best conditions for lifelong learning.