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An Interview with Dominic O'Brien

A couple of years ago on this site I briefly profiled Dominic O'Brien as one of the great minds of our time. Dominic is the 8 times winner of the World Memory Championships and current holder of that prestigious title. When I first began to show an interest in developing my memory to a high level I chose to model Dominic and his strategies. I figured that if I wanted to be one of the best then I should follow the best. My approach worked and by using his memory system I first came fifth and then a year later I won the Silver medal in the World Championships. So thanks to his knowledge and inspiration I was able to embark on my current and much more exciting career.

Here at HappyChild we are always getting requests for information about Dominic so I thought I'd catch up with him during a brief break in his busy schedule to ask about his latest memory feat and the work he is doing now.

A couple of weeks ago Dominic attempted his latest world record. Many people are absolutely astounded when they discover that it is possible to memorise a pack of 52 playing cards and recite them in order. What is also amazing to most is that it can be done in under a minute (the current world record is just over 34 seconds). However when you tell someone that it is humanly possible for anyone to memorise 54 packs of playing cards (that is 2808 cards), all shuffled together and you only get one look at each card, then most people just can't comprehend that as a fact. It is a staggering feat of memory and this is what Dominic achieved at Simpsons in the Strand in London at the beginning of May 2002. The previous record, held by Canadian Dave Farrow, was 52 packs of cards and in 12 hours Dominic memorised all of the cards from the 54 packs. After an hour's "thinking" time, Dominic took just 4 hours to recite all 2808 cards. The Guinness Book of Records allows a margin of error of half a percent which equates to 14 mistakes. Dominic made just 8 errors, 4 of which were prompted corrections, one was a verbal mistake and 3 legitimate mistakes. The record was achieved in front of a prestigious panel of judges that included Tony Buzan, inventor of the Mind Mapô and Phil Chambers, chief arbiter and judge of the World Memory Championships.

Dominic describes this feat as a "mental marathon" and likens his strategy to that of spinning plates. I asked him to describe what he meant and he explained that the secret of these lengthy feats was to keep the data memorised in your short-term memory. Given that it takes many hours to commit so much information to memory, the cards memorised early on will begin to fade. So the knack is to review and therefore strengthen the mental image before it fades which will mean going back to it several times - just like keeping many spinning plates rotating on their sticks before they lose momentum and fall off.

This is an incredible feat of concentration, focus, discipline and perseverance by anyone's standards and even more remarkable when you consider that as a child Dominic suffered from Dyslexia and Attention Deficiency Disorder (ADD). Dominic explained that he suffered from a form of word blindness as a child. When reading he found that the words jumped around the page. He used his finger to help him read but was told not to by his teachers. He felt slow by comparison with others in his class who seemed to be shooting ahead with something he found extremely difficult. As a result he developed a fear of reading. He also struggled with listening to his teachers and often found himself daydreaming when he should have been concentrating on what they were saying. Dominic has his own theory about the cause of these early mental challenges and attributes them to a bump on the left side of the head he received as a baby, evident by the scar he now carries. He says he can't prove it for himself but does strongly believe that challenges at birth and early seemingly minor bumps to the head may affect the operation of the delicate circuitry of the brain. We discussed the issue of the labels associated to these apparent conditions and whilst in extreme cases there may well be a genuine condition, I think we both felt that often a bias towards right brain thinking in a child (daydreaming and apparent inattentiveness) is unfairly seen as "abnormal" in a left-brain-dominated educational environment.

Dominic now refers to his dyslexic condition in the past tense as though he no longer has it. It is quite obvious that his attention problems have disappeared (you don't get to be World Memory Champion with failing concentration!) - but what about his dyslexia? Dominic is totally convinced that having trained his memory to a remarkable level (he would be the first to agree with me that "remarkable" refers to the fact that very few people do, rather than that they can't), his mind has evolved to the degree that dyslexia no longer causes him any problems. Dominic is firmly convinced that a balance between the left and right brain activity levels is the key to "normal" brain functioning, and that an imbalance can present itself through conditions given the label of "dyslexia" or "ADD". In his own case he is sure that his childhood right brain dominance has now been countered by the left brain activity needed to be able to remember thousands of numbers, words and cards. 14 years of disciplined training have certainly paid off but does it really need to take that long to effect a "cure" for these conditions?

His total belief in this issue of balance, coupled with his research into the brain, neuro-feedback and photic-stimulation have led him, with a colleague, to develop the unique Brainwave Conditioning Systemô. This is a system that has been used to help condition peak performance in athletes and sportsmen and is now being used to help in the treatment of dyslexia and ADD, resulting in extremely rapid changes.

Clients who visit Dominic are first tested for their reading speed, memory and concentration abilities so that their performance in these areas can be baselined. Then they are connected to an EEG machine that detects brainwave activity. Dominic checks the frequency and amplitude of the activity between the two hemispheres of the brain. Invariably where there is a significant difference between the two sides of the brain, particularly in the power levels, it is a strong indication of a dyslexic or ADD labelled condition. It is the resolution and rectification of this imbalance that Dominic believes is the key to treating these conditions.

Having identified the imbalance Dominic then puts his clients through a brain stimulation process that combines neuro-feedback and photic-stimulation (the use of lights and sounds) to create the balance he feels is vital. Dominic himself has been using photic-stimulation for a number of years to fine tune his performance at the World Memory Championships and he believes that it gives him a 20-30% boost in his performance. Over a 2-day intensive one-on-one course, Dominic claims the process induces permanent change. Over 160 clients have passed through his training and, says Dominic, there is a very high success rate. I asked him to quantify "success" and while qualitative data is being gathered his answer was based on the subjective opinions provided by those who have been trained by him. Most felt much more confident about themselves and their abilities and Dominic's analogy of the "windscreen clearing" put it into context. There are those who think that ADD and dyslexia are permanent conditions but through the unique combination of these two processes, Dominic appears to have found a way to help sufferers. He says that using the word "cure" is misleading but that what he offers is a degree of control so they no longer become debilitating conditions. I personally will be watching Dominic's progress with this work with great interest.

One of the questions that we get asked about Dominic the most is the availability of his books and tapes, so I took the opportunity to get an update from him about his publications and courses. His latest book "Learn to Remember" is available in good bookshops as is his "Amazing Memory Box" (currently priced at £19.99). His first book "How to Develop a Perfect Memory" is out of print with no immediate plans to re-issue but his second book "How to Pass Exams" is currently being revamped with an expected release in the Autumn of 2003. On the cards at the moment are a series of small books in his "Never Forget" range that will focus on individual areas such as names, facts and figures etc. Dominic has produced an 8-hour tape/CD programme called "Quantum Memory" with the Nightingale Conant corporation which is available from their website. Available via mailing list only are his Super Memory Power monthly programme and his Black Jack video package. Both of these items are produced by Fleet Street Publishing and if you are interested in either then please contact Dominic directly at .

If you are interested in finding out more about Dominic's work with ADD and Dyslexia through the Brain Wave Conditioning System then visit his website, Peak Performance Training.

To ask about any aspect of Accelerated Learning, e-mail himself (at) . Due to Michael's hectic schedule, he may not be able to write back, but will do his best to cover the main issues raised, in future articles [more about Michael on the page here].

WELCOME PAGE The Accelerated Learning pages at Project HappyChild are written (free) by Michael Tipper,
Silver Medallist in the World Memory Championships.


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