How to Get "Mentally Fit," According to Memory Champion Nelson Dellis

Nelson Dellis is tied for the record of most wins of the USA Memory Championship.
Nelson Dellis is tied for the record of most wins of the USA Memory Championship. Courtesy of Nelson Dellis
click to enlarge Nelson Dellis is tied for the record of most wins of the USA Memory Championship. - COURTESY OF NELSON DELLIS
Nelson Dellis is tied for the record of most wins of the USA Memory Championship.
Courtesy of Nelson Dellis
Close your eyes and imagine a place familiar to you. Almost as if you're painting a canvas, fill the scene with lucid color, detail upon detail forming in your mind. Picture a walkway assembling itself on the ground ahead, puzzle pieces of a passage whirling through the air before settling on the path below. Now stroll along this visual trail as you take in all of the memories stored amid the dreamscape scenery.

USA Memory Champion Nelson Dellis calls this mental reimagining a "memory palace." He uses the technique, along with myriad other exercises, to strengthen his brain’s recall capacity every day.

Dellis, a Miami resident, is one of 154 people in the world to hold the title of Grandmaster of Memory. He’s memorized sequences of 1,000 numbers and the order of ten decks of playing cards in an hour — and one deck in less than two minutes. Astronomical accomplishments such as those come across as inconceivable for those of us who forget where we put our keys on a daily basis.

Dellis swears it’s not a natural gift but a trained outcome. “I’ll always attribute my interest in memory to my grandmother. When she was suffering from Alzheimer's in the mid-2000s, that's really when I got fascinated with memory, what it means to have a healthy brain,” he says. "[Her passing] catapulted me into exploring the world, figuring out there were memory techniques, [and] being inspired to train so much.”

He began his quest to join the elite ranks of cognitive champions after he read his first book on quantum memory power. Years later, he’s an author himself. His latest work, released yesterday, is Remember It!: The Names of People You Meet, All of Your Passwords, Where You Left Your Keys, and Everything Else You Tend to Forget. Dellis says the book is “as loud, as colorful, as memorable as possible.” Chapter titles such as "When You Walk Into a Room and Forget Why," and "Uh, What Was That, Honey?" deliver lighthearted wit within a guide that strives to teach useful enhanced memory techniques.

As you’d expect from a mind connoisseur, his book tour signings won’t be quotidian. The part-time University of Miami professor is looking for active participants: “I’ll teach my three-step process for memorizing everything.” Dellis will coach attendees through a technique called See, Link, Go, which introduces a simple "memory palace," or imaginary location.

The memory champ wants society to know that strengthening recollection takes practice, like anything else. “I think a lot of people struggle with their memory in one way or the other, and they feel like that's just the cards that were dealt them, that's there's nothing to do about it.” Dellis vehemently disagrees with this manner of thinking. “That's totally wrong.” He compares the brain to physical exercising, saying it's a “mental gym” where you can get “mentally fit.”

A four-time memory champion who can spend up to six hours a day working on retention drills wouldn’t have time to watch Netflix like the rest of us, right? Wrong. He's not only a celebrated memory athlete, three-time Mount Everest climber, college professor, consultant, and author on a book tour, but also someone who occasionally enjoys an Ozark binge. “I still have time for Netflix, for sure,” he chuckles. “But [training] is a huge priority for me, so if I have to choose whether it's binge-watching something or getting my memory training in, I definitely lean towards my memory training.”

To Dellis, our brains are vital to our longevity. If he could send a message to all seven billion people on the planet, he’d tell everyone: “Value your brain." The master of the mind says it's underrated in a generation where devices do everything for us. "Investigate what you can do to make it healthy too.”

Remember It! Readings & Signings With Nelson Dellis. 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, October 3, at Books & Books in Suniland Shops, 11297 S. Dixie Hwy., Pinecrest; 786-552-3290; Admission is free.

6:30 p.m. Thursday, October 4, at Books & Books, 9700 Collins Ave., Bal Harbour; 305-864-4241; Admission is free.

6:30 p.m. Friday, October 5, at Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables; 305-442-4408; Admission is free.
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Ayurella Horn-Muller is a South Florida native, Florida State University alumna, and freelance journalist. She covers arts, culture and music for Miami New Times, and news for New Times Broward-Palm Beach. You can also catch her work in Forbes, Elite Daily, Film Threat, Elephant Journal, and Face the Current.