Swimming With The Magnetic Memory Fishes

procrastination blog post featured imageDo you struggle with procrastination?

It’s one of the major issues my readers tackle when using the Magnetic Memory Method to memorize foreign language vocabulary.

It’s understandable.

After all, many times when we start a new activity, we experience a dropping-off of energy and resolve.

Then we sabotage ourselves by finding excuses that take us away from moving forward.

Sensory memory exercises can help restore our energy. But we need to see the problem from a higher level first.

Why Procrastination Ruins Our Memory Improvement Progress

Procrastination often occurs at the beginning of someone’s experience with the Magnetic Memory Method, but procrastination can happen even after you’ve begun memorizing.

For example, when we hit a challenging word, we might think about checking email or about washing the dishes or about doing anything but the work of memorization in order to avoid the challenge.

Yet we all know that the memorization of foreign language vocabulary and terminology is one of the key activities that leads to our goals of fluency.

And the strange thing is that some of the best memory athletes deliberately frustrate themselves. Memory expert John Graham talked a lot about this as one of his primary memory training secrets.Next Level Memory Training Secrets with USA Memory Champ John Graham

Usually when we find ourselves procrastinating instead of memorizing, the first thing we need to ask ourselves is a deeply intimate question: What am I afraid of?

The Paradox of Fear

There are several things we fear, but the two major fears are paradoxical. They are:

1) The fear of failure

2) The fear of success

We fear failure because it frustrates us and puts negative, self-defeating ideas in our minds. If we never get started, we can never fail. Or so we seem to think.

Looked at another way, not getting started for fear of failure may be the ultimate failure.

But a lot of that comes from “head trash,” something you can remove with a very simple technique I shared at a TEDx Talk convention:


Fear of success is a bit more difficult, but it often causes us to procrastinate because at the subconscious level, we fear change.

We know that if we achieve our goal, we’ll be a different person.

This is huge, and it’s no small reality to face. Just imagine what life would be like if you achieved fluency in a language or aced all your exams. With great power comes great responsibility.

Undeserved Success

Another reason we might fear success is the mistaken belief that we don’t deserve to succeed.

Self-worth is very important, and can be a huge barrier when negative beliefs surround this essential element of inner health.

Connected to self-worth is the belief that there are people out there who are smarter, faster and better than you. All of that may be true, but it has nothing to do with your success.

Some people fear success because they belief that success is impossible.

However, there is a golden rule when it comes to mental abilities that humans can learn.

The rule is that if someone else can do it, I can too. You can learn from others, find mentors and follow the same paths that have worked before.

Therefore, nothing that has already been achieved is impossible so there is no reason to fear impossibility. When it comes to memorization, the impossible simply does not exist.

Above All Else, Fear Your Excuses

“I can’t” is more of an excuse than a fear, but it becomes a fear every time we say it, either silently in our minds or out loud to the people around us (some of whom will unfortunately agree).

But just imagine what you could achieve if you went around for an entire day, a week, a month or even a year saying “I can” every time you would normally say “I can’t.” You’d probably achieve your dreams very quickly.

Do You Really Want It?

The last fear I want to mention is the fear that you might not actually want to achieve your goal, and that it might not really be worth the time and effort.

And you know what? Sometimes this is true.

That game on your Smartphone that you want to beat? The hours its going to take to achieve level 94 might not be worth the work in the grand scheme of things.

This isn’t to judge video games, because they’re great, but I use it as an example of the kinds of goals we sometimes make that ultimately fall flat with respect to other things we could have been doing.

When it comes to achieving bilingualism through the acquisition of foreign language vocabulary or professional mastery by learning the terminology of our field, we all know that the effort is worth it.

In fact, it’s far more than worth it!

So, ask yourself:

Do you hold fear of success in any of these ways? Answering these questions may be the prompt you need to overcome any procrastination you have in your life.

Next, we need to remind ourselves why we started learning a new language or taking up a new subject of study in the first place.

Sure, we can keep putting off our goals until we are 90 and can’t read the dictionary or the lines of a textbook anymore.

But that would be a waste of the knowledge we’d really rather have in ours mind across all of those years.

Do we really want to put off the experience of discovering what it’s like to hear and read and speak a new language with the highest level of fluency we know we’re capable of?

Ideally, we want to experience that dream as soon as possible.

Priorities & Focus

For most people, prioritizing presents a major hurdle. It’s difficult to know exactly where to begin, and with so many distractions in the modern world, focus can be quickly scattered. Before you know it, we can find ourselves running around like a memorizer without a magnet, and not really achieving anything.

Prioritization comes from focus, and there are in fact two kinds of focus. I’ll talk about just one of those kinds today. Here’s an example of how one my students prioritized German phrases so he could focus on memorizing them.

The first is a generalized vision that we hold for ourselves.

Think of it like being a fish in a fishbowl. You are the fish, and the bowl is your goal. The question of how big your vocabulary or knowledge will grow reflects the size of your bowl and how much you focus on swimming every bit of the water surrounding you.

Keep in mind that you are a magical fish. You can increase the size of your own bowl to give you more water to swim at any time. But you also know that there’s plenty to discover in the amount of space you’ve already defined for yourself.

The best way to ensure that you stay focused on the present goal (the size of the fishbowl) is to create a mission that is directly aligned with your goal. Make sure your mission includes a dedicated practice regime.

The first part of the mission should be to identify what sorts of things distract you.

Do you actually know what characterizes the majority of your distractions?

Have you identified what parts of the memorization process hold your attention the most and found ways to focus on these aspects to help maintain focus?

Do you know what takes you off track and what gets you back on track again?

If not, it’s time to improve your focus, teach you how to circumvent distractions, break up your memorization tasks and prioritize them.


Ultimately, I want you to be able to focus on a few key questions:

  • Is building my foreign language vocabulary truly important and meaningful to me?
  • Will I truly feel a significant sense of accomplishment if I apply myself to memorizing 100 words next month?
  • Would I benefit from imposing a deadline upon myself with respect to my goals?
  • What future opportunities am I going to miss if I do not increase my vocabulary or knowledge now?
  • Are there other people in my life who would benefit if I achieve my goals?
  • Would not achieving my goals set a precedent for other goals I want to achieve?
  • How about the opposite? Would achieving my vocabulary goal set a precedent for the other goals and dreams I want to achieve?
  • Do I have an appropriate set of exercises that are proven to increase memory power?
  • Do I have a scheduled time in my calendar for showing up to practice?

That’s all for today, dear Memorizers, but here’s some homework for you in the meantime:

1. Get out a pen and paper or something you can journal with.

2. Define your goal and write it down. If it’s 10 words a day, write that down. If it’s 100 by the end of April, write that down. Make sure that it’s concrete. “Speaking fluently the next time I go to Peru,” is a great goal, but it’s not concrete enough. Be specific.

3. With reference to the Magnetic Memory Method, write down the first three steps you need to take to get started with vocabulary memorization. Number one could be filling out the Magnetic Memory worksheets, for example.

4. Take the first step. Consider using Evernote if some of the manual Memory Palace techniques I talk about are too heavy for you.

Next time we’ll talk about building a memory feedback loop. Until them, let me know in the comments if you have any questions.

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