IKEA's Human Catalogue and memory champion Yanjaa Wintersoul shares great tips on improving kids' memory!
IKEA's human catalogue Yanjaa Wintersoul shares with theAsianparent her success mantra and secrets to having a super sharp memory!
By now, we have all heard of her. For not only is she the highest-ranked Female Memory World Champion, she is also popular furniture chain IKEA’s first Human Catalogue!
Yup, 23-year-old Yanjaa Wintersoul has managed to memorise the entire 2018 IKEA Catalogue – all 328 pages, and 4,818 items of it, in just 1 week!
theAsianparent managed to quiz Yanjaa on her success mantra and secrets to having a super sharp memory. Read on!
IKEA’s Human catalogue, Yanjaa Wintersoul, shares life tips for Kids
Growing up, did you always feel that you were able to remember things better than other children?
Not always, I barely graduated middle school because I had a hard time focussing on subjects I didn’t find the joy in. But I always did feel I had a knack for other subjects that I found fun and I think it was because I was unknowingly using memory techniques in those subjects.
- Can you share a bit about how your parents raised you? Was meditation and exercise part of growing up?
My mum always treated me with respect and never talked down or scolded me for things.
Even when I set fire to my bed when I was three and ran from the crime scene, I remember her being very nice about it and asking me to reflect on why playing with the matchsticks went wrong and why I chose to run away.
She has also taught me a lot about mindfulness and contemplation around actions and reactions. My maternal great-grandfather was a buddhist monk and we often practice buddhist rituals during signficant life events.
Once, someone stole how cow and his only reaction was “I guess the cow found its true owner!”. So, I learned to take loss lightly from him.
Exercise, spirituality/religion and meditation wasn’t as big a part of my childhood as I wished it had. However, as I grew up with Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Hindu friends, I’ve grown to adapt some of the parts which resonated with me, such as practicising zakat.
I was also an active sports player when I was younger, including fencing, ice-skating, hockey, ice hockey, horseback riding, gymnastics etc. But none of them felt as right as when I finally landed in memory sports.
What is your own personal learning style? Are you a visual learner?
My personal learning style is that I either learn for the sake of learning or I start with why.
When memorising the entire IKEA catalogue, I had an easy time finding the flow and joy in memorising it because it was an exciting challenge. Although sometimes I do have to remind myself why I was doing it.
However, for the most part it was fun because I could make associations with the furniture to friends and family in Sweden. A friend of mine who lives in the island of Ekerö in Stockholm for example, has a very similar living room to the one on page 16-17 and funnily enough there’s an armchair called EKERÖ on those pages!
So I wouldn’t say I’m more of a visual, narrative, kinesthetic or auditive learner. Many studies suggest that people are better at remembering visual memories, but I think we haven’t thought about story-telling enough.
We can see a great picture and remember it vaguely but we almost never forget a great story. Some fundamental studies done on how memory champions remember show that many prefer narrating their “images” rather than “seeing” them in their mind’s eye.
Could you give a simple example of how school children can use mind maps to remember things better?
A meta study about mind mapping concluded that mind mapping is more effective than “reading text passages, attending lectures, and participating in class discussions”.
The same study also concluded that it is slightly more effective “than other constructive activities such as writing summaries and outlines”.
In addition, they concluded that low-ability students may benefit more from mind mapping than high-ability students. [From Wikipedia just for reference]
Let’s say you’re reading a book for literature class. The common way to do it is read it once and then read it again when you forget.
However, with a mind map, you start with the general idea first and put it in the middle before drawing bigger “branches” of what you think this book is really about. This way you’re actively reviewing the material you’re learning and engaging yourself with the subject in a creative way because you have to consciously reflect on what you’re reading about.
I did a mind map of the catalogue before I started memorizing it so I knew what was most important for me to know first (the room sets and the marked out furniture) and then drew longer branches of what is nice to know, but not a must (like the fact that the SANELA cushion cover is made out of 100% cotton velvet). This also saves time, because you start prioritising how to spend your “study time”.
Benjamin Franklin once said “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn”.
When you’re drawing things from your perspective on what you’re learning, you’re getting involved. You have to make more of a personal creative and logical effort to remember.
Different people will categorise things differently, maybe for some people the history lesson is more about the dates and for others it’s more about the major events and so it becomes a more personalised way to remember things in and around the topic.
As IKEA’s human catalogue, do you feel the pressure to succeed each time? Do you ever get worried about failure, and not living up to people’s expectations?
I did what I could, with the time that I had and that is good. I mostly want to make sure people understand the amount of thought, details and love that goes into making the IKEA catalogue.
I believe I can do that by finding and telling people about those details that most probably many people worked hard at creating. The team at IKEA has also been very nice about reminding me to have fun and not feel to much pressure about having a perfect memory.
I’m the human catalogue after all.
How can children keep cool under stress? How can they make their stress work positively for them instead?
I think there’s a spectrum for stress. Good stress can keep you motivated and focused on completing the task at hand, but when it’s overwhelming you can’t learn.
If we’re emotionally overwhelmed we need to distract ourselves to be calm, one of the worst things is to instead tell someone to calm down.
We often learn better when we’re happier so a tip for when we’re feeling overwhelmed by our studies is to try to talk to yourself the way a good friend would.
A good friend would never say you’re stupid and that you should’ve started studying earlier, instead she would say that you can achieve a lot within the time that’s left and that this task at hand and your performance doesn’t define you as a person (at least that’s what I tell myself).
Could you please suggest some study tips for Singapore children taking their PSLE this year?
- Search for explanations about memory techniques, find out for yourself if it helps you to use mnemonic devices and mind palaces.
- Think about eating well, things that keep your energy up and stable (like nuts, dried fruits). Make sure you are hydrated but don’t drink too much.
Caveat: I’ve never done the PSLE so this is more general advice for standardized tests.
- Try doing as many other previous PSLE tests as possible. Reflect on what you need to work on, what went well and why after each test. At least once before the actual test, do the test under the same time constraints as you’ll have during the actual test.
It’s very important to get used to the time pressure and know how much you can do in certain periods of time. So during your time-constrained practice tests it’s important to think about how to be strategic with your time.
Most importantly doing the test in a similar setting helps keep your nerves calm because you know what to expect and what you expect from yourself.
- Try to find someone who is better than you in the subject(s) which you want to improve, and get them to sit down while you do a test session, and have them explain what you’re doing differently than her/him.
Do you feel that certain foods help in improving memory?
My friend, former world memory champion Jonas von Essen is a vegan and he swears by it.
I’m a vegetarian and I must say I definitely feel like my thoughts are “cleaner”, I don’t know how else to describe it.
Other than that, I would say that having enough rest, a social life, as well as moving and taking walks once in a while is more important than your diet.