In this edition of Interviews With Brilliant People, we are joined by Ryan Levesque, neuroscience researcher, published author, and master teacher of memory improvement techniques. Ryan has made multiple appearances in reputable publications and journals (Wall Street Journal, New Hampshire Union Leader, American Pediatric Society, and the Society for Pediatric Research) and is also fluent in Chinese.
However, it’s Ryan’s exploration into learned memorization that really stands out as impressive and makes him a must-have for our series. Ryan Levesque is a Jedi Master in the art of trained memory, and his Rocket Memory program works, plain and simple. One read through this interview is guaranteed to make you smarter.
Q: Could you explain a little about the concept behind Rocket Memory?
Ryan Levesque: Well, my purpose and focus for the past ten years has been teaching people how to upgrade the performance of their brain. It’s what I do all day every day. At Rocket Memory, there are two primary ways my team and I do that through the courses and programs we offer:
First, we show people how to upgrade their mental hardware – by improving the health and performance of your biological machinery – your brain – through things like super foods and dietary supplements. Second, we show people how to upgrade their mental software – by using little-known mental techniques, strategies, and tactics to do things like dramatically improve your memory.
Your brain doesn’t think in terms of words, instead it thinks in terms of images. So your ability to memorize is only limited by your ability to visualize. I tell people when it comes to memory, if you take away just one thing from talking with me, it should be these nine simple words:
When you can visualize it, you can memorize it.
Q: Interesting. So, what do you mean by ‘visualize’ exactly? It sounds like you’re talking about photographic memory?
Ryan Levesque: Well, when I say “visualize,” it’s important to know we’re not talking about photographic memory here. In fact, photographic memory (at least the way most people think about it) is nothing but a big, fat, ugly myth. Instead, when I say “visualize,” what I mean is your ability to translate information into mental images.
With the right set of techniques at your fingertips, you can learn to translate almost any type of information into mental images. I’m talking about everything from numbers, to facts and figures, to names and faces, to quotes and scripture, to speeches and presentations, to notes for an upcoming test, and even entire books.
Your brain is actually hard-wired to process and store information in the form of mental images or snapshots. In fact, did you know that 80% of your cortex (the “thinking” part of your brain) is devoted to processing visual information?
What that means is, as human beings, vision is our dominant sense. It’s our primary sensory experience. For bats, it’s sonar. For dogs, it’s smell. For us? It’s vision.
And it makes sense, right? You dream visually. You think visually. Even when you close your eyes and relax, your brain will start naturally and automatically producing mental images, even in the absence of any visual stimulus. What that means is we have a tremendous capacity to encode, store, and recall vast amounts of information in the form of mental images.
Most people go through life and never tap into that mental hardware. It becomes part of that proverbial 80% of your brain that sits there idle. But the ability to translate information into mental images – everything from facts, figures, names, and numbers to quotations, speeches and scripts – is a skill you can develop in as little as 10 days. It all comes down to arming yourself with the right system of techniques — the right “Mental Software” — so to speak. In fact, it’s something I’ve actually taught over 26,000 people around the world through our programs and courses.
Q: Cool. Now, on your web site, you mention that you learned how to train your memory at a young age. Can you expand on that experience and when you recognized that a good memory could be as much a skill as a talent?
Ryan Levesque: Well it all started when I was in high school, and got this crazy idea I was going to become the first person in my family to go to college – and not just any college, because for some reason I was an idiot, and had my mind set on the Ivy League.
But I was a bit naïve at the time, because I grew up the son of a shipping clerk in a working-class family, in which nobody had ever gone onto college. In fact, in my family, nobody had ever made it past high school. Growing up, I was barely an average student, but I managed to get decent grades through what I call “brute force study methods.” For me, the real problem was this: I was still a horrible test-taker, and my SAT scores, in particular, sucked.
In fact, after taking the SATs twice and sucking both times, I’d pretty much given up hope on my college dream, when by chance, I happened to meet a mentor who changed my life forever. This mentor was a retired college professor who moved in down the street, and was the man who first introduced me to a sub-set of the memory methods I now teach.
Long story short, using the techniques this mentor showed me (which were completely foreign and new to me at the time) I managed to boost my SAT scores 320 points, going from the 52nd percentile to the 97th percentile, and was accepted into every single college I applied to.
That experience inspired me to study neuroscience in college at Brown, teach a section of Neuroscience 101 for two years, and even publish my own research on brainstem development in premature infants. In short, I became obsessed with finding ways to upgrade your mental hardware and software, and maximizing the performance of your brain.
Q: So, can you share an example of how you used some the methods you now teach in your own career or business outside of school?
Ryan Levesque: Sure. In fact, it’s funny you ask that, because after college, I realized academia wasn’t for me. I’m way too practical. That’s when I decided instead to try putting the things I’d learned about “upgrading my mental hardware and software” to the test in the real world.
I decided to give working on Wall Street a shot to see what that was all about. When I was interviewing to work for Goldman Sachs — the Wall Street investment bank — I needed a way to stand out, because I had zero connections and zero background in the industry.
Now, the investment banking interview process involves something they call a “Super Day,” which is basically like “speed dating” for a job. Imagine 100 or so 20-year-old kids from places like Harvard, Stanford, and MIT flown into New York for a day on the bank’s dime, competing for just two or three open jobs. Then for 10 hours straight, you do nothing but back-to-back heart-attack inducing interviews with top brass at the bank. In other words, it’s a pretty intense, competitive experience.
Now, one of the questions you almost always get from least one interviewer during one of these “Super Days” is “Did you read the Wall Street Journal this morning? And if so, prove it to me…” I knew that going in. So what I decided to do is use a skillful application of one of the memory techniques I now teach, with the goal of (hopefully) knocking their socks off.
First thing in the morning at the airport, I picked up a copy of the Wall Street Journal. Then on my 45 minute plane ride from Providence to New York City, I decided to memorize the closing stock price for every company in the Dow 30, as well as how much each stock price moved in the previous day’s market.
So in other words, I memorized that AT&T closed at 31.51 and was down 0.18 cents. I did that for every single other stock in the Dow 30, in under 45 minutes. When I finally got the inevitable question, I was prepared. I told the Managing Director who was interviewing me to give me any company on the Dow, and in turn I’d give him the exact stock price and movement from the previous day’s market.
We went through that little charade for a few minutes, and by the time we’d gone through about nine or 10 companies, the Managing Director was totally blown away. In fact, he told me he’d never seen anything like it and was so impressed that he offered me a job right on the spot.
But here’s the dirty little secret:
My ability to do that has nothing to do with being smart or having photographic memory. Instead, it has everything to do with learning how to use a series of simple but powerful memory techniques (which are a little unconventional), that make doing that sort of thing not only possible, but pretty easy.
One of the reasons why arming yourself with the same set of memory techniques I now teach in our programs is so valuable… is because memory is a leading indicator people use (rightly or wrongly) to judge a person’s intellectual fire-power.
Q: Very cool. In addition to neuroscience you also have a background in business consulting and Internet marketing. Can you explain a little bit about your philosophies on leadership and the traits that make it necessary to achieve a level success similar to yours at Rocket Memory and your other ventures:
Ryan Levesque: Well, there are many things that come to mind, but since our time here is limited one thing that stands out has been using something called Kaizen to achieve my personal and business goals.
Kaizen is a Japanese term which means achieving big gains or growth through the relentless pursuit of tiny, incremental progress. Historically, Kaizen is a business term that comes from the manufacturing industry. Most people don’t realize it has to do with how Kaizen affects your brain, and learning how to use something I call the “Kaizen Mind Trick.”
To your brain, any changes you make in your life – even the positive ones – are scary, because they deviate from your safe, comfortable routine. When you attempt to reach goals through radical or revolutionary means, those attempts often fail because big changes heighten anxiety — which in turn activates the primitive “fight or flight” fear response controlled by a structure in your midbrain known as the amygdala.
When you start thinking in terms of making positive change through tiny, incremental, steps (or in other words, the Kaizen way) you’re actually able to bypass your brain’s fear response, engage your cortex, and therefore stimulate your creative problem solving ability.
The result is you start making rapid progress toward your goals. Now, you can use this knowledge to your advantage to use a Mind Hack I teach called the “Kaizen Mind Trick” to help you reach your goals and get past sticking points in your business. In fact, if you’d like to discover exactly how the “Kaizen Mind Trick” works (and how to use it) you can check out this free seven minute interview, where I explain the “Kaizen Mind Trick” in step-by-step detail.
Q: Who should we interview next?
Ryan Levesque: That’s a great question! Well, one person who is doing some really interesting things in the internet marketing world is David Gonzalez – founder of something called Internet Marketing Party. Originally an “underground” Internet marketing event in Austin, Texas, that’s gone viral, and has expanded to San Diego, Denver, and beyond.
David is one of these guys Malcolm Gladwell would call a “Master Connector” in the Internet marketing space. David is absolutely brilliant at bringing together and connecting high-caliber people – and making them feel part of a tight-knit tribe. David also happens to be a fantastic (and very generous) guy – and I think he’d be an excellent addition to your interview series.