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  • American science journalist, Joshua Foer, always thought his brain was pretty average.

  • But one day in 2005, while covering the USA National Memory Championship, a competition designed to test the limits of the human brain. He's presented with an unusual opportunity - a former champion offers to train him to become a mental athlete.

  • Over the course of the year, Joshua learns ancient methods like memory palaces.

  • This is where you associate pieces of information with a location in your mind to make them unforgettable.

  • He also uses cutting-edge mnemonic techniques, which allow him to remember hundreds of playing cards in a specific order.

  • Soon, Joshua's competitive instinct takes over.

  • He trains in his parents' basement for hours a day.

  • By 2006, he's ready to attend the championship again, but this time not as a journalist but as a competitor.

  • Round after round, Joshua the newcomer gives former champions a run for their money.

  • He makes it to the final.

  • Despite being up against the formidable opponent, he uses the brain training methods he was taught... and wins.

  • How could a novice like Joshua become a champion so quickly?

  • Does this mean that anybody could become a mental athlete?

  • To really understand Joshua's success, we need to consider the role of opportunity.

  • It was long thought that richer children did better than poorer children in school because they were more "naturally gifted."

  • But now we know that it is times when children aren't in school, including the long school holidays, when poorer children lack access to extracurricular activities, that often creates an attainment gap.

  • Nutrition and access to technology also make a contribution, which is partly why IQ scores across the globe rose an average of 30 points in the 20th Century, factors that have literally nothing to do with genetics.

  • When it comes to differences in outcome, it's not nature but nurture which has the greater impact, and it's the same with Joshua Foer.

  • His expert training, access to special techniques his opponents hadn't yet discovered, and a quiet place to study - his parents' basement - that all contributed to his success.

  • Though it's also worth knowing that despite being a memory champion, even Joshua can sometimes forget where he put his car keys.

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American science journalist, Joshua Foer, always thought his brain was pretty average.

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Can anyone become a mental athlete? | BBC Ideas

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    Summer posted on 2021/10/07
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