Moonwalking with Einstein

Joshua Foer - National Book Festival - 2011
Joshua Foer – National Book Festival – 2011 (Photo credit: squeakychu)

The other day I mentioned I was reading this book, Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer. It turns out that it doesn’t really teach you ways to improve your memory, even with the subtitle: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. Though it does touch on the memory palace technique that I knew about before. It’s really more about what the author learned while training for the US Memory Championship.

He talked a lot about memory through the ages and especially about the differences in reading and learning pre- and post-Gutenberg. But what really stuck out for me were the passages on experts.

Foer mentions the old 10,000 hours rule at the beginning of the book. But he goes further into the making of an expert. It’s not just putting in the time. It’s learning something so thoroughly that it seems to become instinctual. And those 10,000 hours? Those are 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice.”

Top achievers do three things to keep improving: focusing on their technique, staying goal-oriented, and getting constant and immediate feedback on their performance. You have to consciously push yourself past the “OK Plateau.” That means you have to be aware of your concentration, you have to stay vigilant instead of zoning out. You must be present in your practice.

I went into this book looking for techniques to help improve my memory. What I got instead were techniques to improve my metalwork. It’s helped bring my determination and inspiration back (which always seem to flag this time of year.) I enjoyed the book and it was really interesting to follow one man’s journey in becoming an expert (or at least a champion.) Now, if only I could remember what it was I was going to do next…