• Starr Knight

Being a Mental Athlete - Exclusive Interview with Tony Buzan

Updated: Mar 16, 2018

The man behind Mind mapping, the World Memory Championships and Mind Sport Olympiad gives an exclusive insight into the life of a mental athlete.


Can you remember your mobile number? Probably.


Can you remember 120 numbers in 60 seconds or 1,500 binary digits in 30 minutes? I can’t.


Over the last three years I have been surrounded by some of the most intelligent, and interesting people who have the ability to memorise beyond belief. There are a number of memory athletes who can memorise a pack of playing cards in less than 20 seconds, and recall it perfectly.


Whilst I have immersed myself in the world of memory both attending, competing and running events, there was one person I wanted to sit down with, and interview.


A man named Tony Buzan brought the memory world to light back in the 1970’s with his BBC tv show; Use Your Head (amazingly, still on YouTube). Following this show, Tony then introduced the first Memory competition in 1991 and has grown in event and competitor numbers ever since. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Tony on the first day of the UK Memory Championships and was intrigued to see what he had to say.


How did you start building your memory empire?

At University, I found that my memory was getting worse. My notes were boring and one colour which is very monotone and when your brain gets bored what does it do? It forgets. Shuts down and tunes out and this is exactly what my brain did.
I began using colours and images when note taking which eventually turned into the creation of mind mapping. Doing this would help me learn and remember more just by making small adjustments. After my BBC show aired from 1974-1989 I wrote a book called Use Your Head. This is where I began my journey into the memory world.

What was your next step?

I had been travelling for 30 years. During the first 20 years I had visited 79 countries and I would ask random people what their main problems were. Regardless of the country I was in, the answer was always the same. Memory and concentration. 90% of people were frightened about their memory and concentration getting worse as they got older. People like to remember cards, houses or even mobile numbers and more importantly, people like to learn. In the late 1980’s, I noticed that there were championships in everything from Football, Boxing, Chess, Bridge, Poker and even Tiddlywinks. You name it, there were championships.
I suddenly thought what is the most important thing in all these championships? What would happen if Football was to be taken out of the human race? The human race would continue. If you took memory out of every human being… what would happen? The human race would die within about four days. Nobody could talk, eat, think, learn or solve problems. In 1991 I launched the first Memory Championship.

Half way through the interview, I found myself being questioned on Barry McGuigan. Tony asked me to recall from the top of my head, what I remember about him. I knew his nationality, his sport and that he was on the smaller side however that was as much as I could remember. He then told me that he is a great physical athlete but when he retired, he worked on his mind through the use of memory training and mind mapping. Because Barry learnt how to train his mind, Tony said that he is one of the best commentators in boxing history.


You have said that memory is its own sport, separate from the likes of Football, Tennis or Boxing. How would you explain this?

Mind sport (particularly memory) requires Mens sana in corpore sano (healthy mind healthy body). The Japanese discovered that centuries ago. When a brain is trained mentally, all the physical skills improve and vice versa. A physical sport, for example the recent commonwealth games, what did all the gold medal winners have in common?
If you listen to people like sir steve redgrave, the only difference between a winner and a loser is their brain. If they have programmed their mind correctly, they are more likely to win. The way you think changes your entire body’s chemistry.
If you look at Chris Eubanks and his son, he has learnt from his father the most important part of the game. Yes, he has everything a boxer needs to be special but the reason he is so strong is because he knows how to get into people’s heads. Every athlete either wins or loses because of their brain. This is the difference. Physical sport is a mental sport.

Why is being a mental athlete so draining?

In a 5 hour championship, a competitor is likely to lose at least 5 pounds. This is because when someone is thinking, their body accesses billions of brain cells with each one requiring oxygen. 40% of the blood pumped around the body goes straight to the brain (20% when not concentrated) so when someone is engaging with all of these brain cells, it is very draining. For your brain to get better, it has to get fitter just like the the rest of your body. Most people only use 1% of their memory but if you spend 1 day working on your memory, you will double your capacity to remember.

What would you say to anyone wanting to get involved in the sport of memory?

If you want to improve the physical aspects of your life, you will need to work on your brain to be the best you can possibly be. I have published many books on memory and mind mapping. If you are thinking about getting involved in becoming a mental athlete, read “The Memory Book” to help you train your brain to be better.

After spending close to an hour with Tony, I fully understood his passion, and love for the sport of memory.

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