At 5:36 PM on Jan 26, 2016, I rang the doorbell to my Apartment. No one got the door. I rang again. No response. I was sure there was music coming out of the house, so I pulled out my phone to call my flatmate. As I dialed his number, I heard an explosion.
Dust enveloped my space. I was too shocked to cough because I realized the door had fallen out only a few inches in front of me.
And on the other side was the human who had kicked open the door: Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. No shit. He raised a single eyebrow, asked me if knew what he was cooking and told me to come in. With that, I stepped into the most bizarre day of my life.
As I stepped in, I realized the music was blaring from the kitchen. Serena Williams was dancing to it. The bathroom door flung open and out came Jackie Chan, wrapped in a towel. Snoop Dogg and my pious uncle were hanging out on my flatmate’s bean bag, smoking.
The Mughal King, Shah Jahan, in his grand attire — was on my Yoga mat, stretching. This starry meth lasted seven minutes and forty-four seconds, ending with Batman throwing eggs at the neighbor kids.
I went back to check if everything I had experienced was true. From the Rock to the Batman, every single one of it was true.
And with that, I had just memorized the exact order of a shuffled deck of 52 cards. That’s a possible 8*10^67 combinations giving this exhausting lark of an accomplishment an error rate higher than a rocket launch. I was one-upping rocket scientists and you were guessing what drug I was on.
What exactly was I doing with my life memorizing a deck of cards?
At the end of 2015, I realized I was forgetting a lot. I had to do something about my memory. I decided to go all in. After memorizing the number plates of every car in my apartment (the security weren’t thrilled either) in the first half of Jan, I went onto memorizing a deck of cards.
I remember what I ate on 26th of the month, how much I paid during my first time at Starbucks, the story an Uber guy told me, and inner-child belongings like running past the security check at work, walking in the rain, and pretty much every detail of the house I lived in.
While improving my memory was my goal, creating memories was the result. While remembering is what I wanted, memorable is what I got.
In memorizing a deck of cards (you can do it with less than a week’s practice), there’s a concept called the memory hook. The Rock, for example, was my hook for the Ace of clubs (the first card I had to memorize) while Jackie Chan, the third card in the deck, was three of spades.
The house I lived in was the memory palace (think of it as a large key-holder) in which I placed these various hooks. Of course, there’s a method to form the hooks which is irrelevant in this context. Let’s say you have 52 memorable hooks for 52 different cards. That’s your first step in memorizing a deck of cards – creating hooks.
Now, what if you had to create only one hook? And instead of a card, what if you have a day. Your day. That mundane, unexciting, repeatable day you may as well skip.
Why do I remember how much I paid my first time at Starbucks? Because I paid nothing. I walked into the shop and told the human behind the counter it was my first time there and that my first drink ought to be on the house. While I have never tried that since, it’s something I go back to when the days blend into one another without any semblance of life in them.
More than an exercise, the idea is a reminder to slow down. To experience. To break the part of your life that houses repetition, remorse, and regret. Bear with my crummy rant:
Life is like a deck of cards. Anyone that has an alternate simile about life ought to be punched in the face.
Everyone gets dealt a hand. Some wait for better cards. Some are stuck with useless cards and believe there’s no way out. Some get lucky. And some just want to peek into everyone else’s hands. The point of the game is to be patient, play, and hopefully, win. The winner is not someone who goes out with the most money. The winner is he/she who makes the most of the cards that have been dealt with.
And to do that, you need to remember the cards you have been dealt with and remember the ones you want are still out there. Winning is not the goal. It’s the bi-product of remembering, noticing and making the most out of what you have. And, as has been the case, hope.
Because being up there as a winner is but one moment. And what makes the moment memorable is the collection of memories and experiences you had getting there. Your hooks.
Every day, you have a chance to create an experience for the hook to latch on to. You could shut yourself off or go out and walk in the rain. You could sip another cup of overpriced, overrated what is seemingly coffee or turn that an experience you’d remember.
We don’t know what cards we will be dealt with every day. But behind every card, there is a Serena Williams dancing in the kitchen. If you fail to see it, you are going to get to the end and remember very little. Even the moment you won will seem like a meaningless blur.
As you grow older, one thought will repeatedly haunt you: where’s all the time going.
Life speeds up as you get older. It’s because life gets less memorable as you grow older. Weeks ago, I found my deck of cards as I was cleaning up. I want to tell you I memorized the whole deck in under five minutes. Nope. I didn’t remember most of it. But I remembered what the experience was like.
Because memory training is not about memorizing a deck of cards that will make your friends believe they have their own version of the Nobel laureate, Dr. Sheldon Cooper amongst them. It’s about creating hooks for memories to latch on to. And the only way to create hooks in life is by creating experiences that serve as an anchor for our memories.
If you spend your life staring into a screen, checking for the next stimulus (this is the drug we are all on and one you never bothered to guess), your life will slowly disappear into the black hole that’s people’s expectations of you. All that will remain of you are the pictures you clicked of yourself, yourself and no one wants to see that.
How much of yesterday do you remember? And the last week? Actually, screw that.
Do you remember today? Will you?