World champion teaches you how to remember

​What do a cake, a ghost and a helmet have in common? Well, they represent the first nine decimals of pi. At least, that’s according to Jonas von Essen, student at Chalmers University of Technology and two-time world champion in memory. On October 6-7, the Swedish championship in memory 2018 is held and here Jonas explains how you can learn to remember.

Six years ago, Jonas von Essen had no idea that he would become a two-time world champion in memory. He even says that he had quite a bad memory. Thanks to a book on memory techniques he found at the library, Jonas started to get interested in the subject and only three months later, he won the Swedish championship in memory. One year after that he became world champion. How did this happen?

“Once I had found this book I started practicing different memory techniques. I looked up the different Swedish records in memory and became very motivated to try to beat them. I managed to succeed and then wanted to aim higher. On the way, I’ve met many interesting people, it was a new and fascinating world that opened up to me.”


Wants to share the knowledge

Jonas von Essen is currently studying his third year in the program information technology at Chalmers University of Technology. After his bachelor’s degree he plans to do his master’s degree in learning and leadership and he wants to use his education and his ability to remember to teach the techniques to others.

“These memory techniques have changed my life and my view on learning. I’m much more motivated to learn things now because I know I’ll remember it. Previously, I could learn something and a week later, it would be gone. If I use the memory techniques, I know that the information will stick. That way, it feels like I’m building a whole mountain of knowledge. I want to share this with as many people as possible.”


Memory palaces are the key

Jonas explains that the secret to remembering is a so called memory palace. During the spring of 2018, Jonas participated in the program “Sweden’s got Talent” where he memorised 50,000 decimals of pi. He managed to do this by converting all three-digit numbers into images using a digit alphabet based on the different numbers’ sounds. The first three pi-decimals together create the Swedish word for “cake”, the next three create the word “ghost” and after that the word “helmet”.  Jonas then place these images on a long walk in his head on a location he knows well, like his hometown of Skövde or the buildings on Chalmers campus.

“You don’t necessarily have to be a creative person to succeed with these techniques. It’s more about getting into that specific way of thinking. Once you’ve learned to do that, you can practice in becoming faster and faster at remembering the different images. Of course, not everyone can become world champion in memory, but I’m convinced that everyone can get an extremely good memory with the help of memory techniques.”

Aiming at a new world record

The first weekend in October, the Swedish championship in memory is being held at Chalmers. Jonas will be at the championship, helping out with the competitions, but he will not himself participate in this year’s championship. He is instead focusing on trying to beat the world record in remembering pi-decimals. The person with the current record can recite more than 70,000 decimals in a row and Jonas has the goal of reaching 100,000 decimals. However, it is not only the extensive memory training that is part of the challenge. It is also very demanding physically.

“You must recite all decimals in a row in one sitting, and for this many decimals it might take up to 20 hours. You just have to continue to recite the numbers and manage not to fall asleep during that time. That means there is also a lot of physical exercise required to manage to do this. We’ll see if it works!"

The Swedish championship 2018 will take place 6–7 October at Chalmers campus Johanneberg.


Text: Sophia Kristensson


Published: Fri 05 Oct 2018.