Hi, I'm Tansel Ali, 4-time Australian Memory Champion best known for memorising two Yellow Pages phone books in just 24 days.
Now I know what you're thinking. Why would anyone in this day and digital age do that?
Well, it wasn't my idea, or a dream I had desperately wanted to pursue since childhood. It was a PR company that called and wanted me to memorise not one, but two big fat books of the Sydney Yellow Pages as a marketing campaign for the brand.
As the Australian Memory Champion at the time it was easy for them to pick on me for this mammoth task. To make things worse, they only gave me 30 days to memorise the phone books and be accountable to media for testing my recall nationwide! As crazy as I thought the idea was, I went along and accepted the task at hand, and through memory techniques, I was able to eventually achieve what I never thought was even possible - memorise over 2300 business names totalling 20,000+ digits of numbers in only 24 days. It was indeed a successful campaign for Yellow Pages for years to come.
Where did this amazing memory come from?
I often get asked a lot, was I born with this amazing gift of memory? The short answer is - no.
In fact, I used to always complain about having a very bad memory. When it came to remembering people’s names, I would not even attempt to try as I had already given up and accepted having a bad memory.
This acceptance, which I thought was a fact, also affected things like reading, listening, learning new things, and being mindful on a daily basis. I would read a sentence and as soon as I’ve finished reading, I would instantly forget. One of the reasons why I barely ever read books. 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 a guitar. All he remembers me saying is that I had a ‘shocking memory’.
I used to watch late night television a lot when I was younger and see so called ‘memory experts’ on, remembering everyone’s name in the audience, long lists of words, numbers, dates, etc. I always thought they were somehow fake and that they were trying to simply sell their memory tapes.
What Sparked Your Interest In Memory?
One day 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 thought to myself, what’s this guy up to now. I have to test him. And so I did. I gave him a list of words and surely enough he had memorised them 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! Funny how that happened. Anyway, I found myself Googling memory techniques and came across many great websites and resources.
As soon as I started applying the memory techniques, it started working straight away. I was remembering lists of words and had systems for remembering names and everything else I wanted to do.
Tell us about the Australian Memory Championships
As I kept Googling away I came across the Australian Memory Championships. From that point on, my life had taken another huge turn.
I immediately sent the link to my friend and asked him if he wanted to compete. We checked out the previous year’s competition scores and were a little freaked out as they were quite high. Nevertheless, we thought we’d enter and come last. Have some fun along the way and meet like-minded individuals wanting to better themselves.
We trained together in his bungalow, sometimes until very late morning, trying to out-memorise one another. He’d always beat me! I put it down to home ground advantage. We weren’t making much progress, however we were having fun.
It was held at Docklands at AFL (Australian Football League) headquarters in Melbourne. 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 we were kind of 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 a few 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 more television.
At this point I thought, I still have a crappy memory, but the techniques make me look a lot better than I am. In fact, they actually did. Because I used memory techniques, I was able to memorise and remember anything I wanted. I was still nowhere near perfect, however I knew I had systems in place to deal with forgetting. I thought that was pretty cool for a forgetful guy.
I almost never got there!
A year earlier, 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 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.
That is the same time I came across memory techniques. 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 to my university graduation day, ileostomy bag and all, and I was slowly getting my life back together at age 25. Recovering at home, I spent quite a bit of time reflecting on life, reading, and getting myself ready to work again.
The following year my friend and I entered the Australian Memory Championships, again placing 2nd and 3rd. We were much better 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. We thought we were definitely going to come last competing against the very best. However, it would be super fun seeing the best in the world compete and also go shopping in KL.
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 records. 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 had also achieved a Grandmaster of Memory Norm 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 remember anything I wanted. I just had to use techniques.
It made me think that if someone like me can do it, anyone else surely can. I set my task on trying to help as many people as I can learn these techniques as I knew they had a deeper application than just remembering a series of numbers or playing cards.
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, spoke in schools, and did a lot of 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.
We heard you had huge success helping people with dyslexia?
Yes, 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 every week, for a whole year. Their parents were paying megabucks 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.
I knew memory techniques was working well for students, so I brought the techniques to schools. Students, teachers, and everyone involved in education was amazed at how these systems help with learning and personal development. Inspired by the success in schools, I created the world’s first School Mind Games competition.
My trainers and I 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, in 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.
The more I worked with schools, the more I understood about memory and its applications. I was invited to speak and train in corporate environments. The application of memory changed from remembering for studies to remembering speeches, names and faces to build better relationships, and the acquisition of knowledge through various mind strategies.
It was a whole new world and opened my eyes to the possibility of reaching an even greater amount of people. The more I presented in conferences and events, coached executives and entrepreneurs, the more applications came out of memory techniques. Applications such as combating stress, time management, boosting confidence and mental performance, and becoming a mindful leader. Memory techniques were only a vehicle taking us to higher levels of achievement.
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, ten years after I started my memory journey I wrote my first 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 will 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. I’ve since been involved in various TV shows, documentaries, newspapers, magazines. I now speak internationally and coach high achieving clients to utilise the skills of memory and live a successful and value filled life.
I now work with amazing like-minded individuals at Tansel Institute to help people 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.
My mission is to help spread this knowledge to as many people as I can so they too can change their lives.
That’s my story in a nutshell. 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, then there is something you can do.
Learn memory techniques and be amazed at the possibilities of not only what you can achieve, but how it will change your life. Because it certainly has changed mine
By Tansel Ali - 4 x Australian Memory Champion, Celebrity Memory Trainer & TedX Docklands Organiser.