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Tiffany Matthé

Memorizing the World's Capitals

Learn, Productivity2 min read

This might seem like a difficult, near impossible task.

A few weeks ago during a Zoom meeting, that is exactly what was running through my head.

I was in the midst of an introduction meeting, my screen filled up with tiny colorful squares of people's faces. One by one, each person was giving their name and a random fact about themselves. I was trying to stay concentrated, but once I had said my part, it was getting difficult to focus on the last sixty people's names. As my mind wandered, some guy said something out of the ordinary. "I have memorized all the capitals in the world."

Now that has my attention.

"Uzbekistan?" we ask.

He takes a few seconds to reply. "Tashkent."

A quick Google search confirms it.

He is a genius.

At least that is what I thought. I thought memorizing all the capitals of the world was crazy. There was no way I could do that. I hate memorizing. It reminds me of my high school days, where I would regularly try to cram my brain with history dates, French verb tenses and biological nomenclature. Memorizing is stressful. And my geography is, to say the least, not great either.

But it still got me thinking late at night. What if I could memorize all the world capitals? If a guy on Zoom can do it, why not me?

Recalling that a great productivity Youtuber and doctor, Ali Abdaal, has some tips online on memorizing effectively, I watched a few of his videos and was set to go. I followed his recommendation to use Anki, a spaced repetition flashcard software, and downloaded a set of over 1000 geography flashcards.

I am currently three weeks into learning all the capitals, flags, and locations of the world's countries. Here is what I have realized:

  1. There is a difference between memorizing for school and memorizing for fun. One is stressful, the other can be calmly spread out over time.
  2. My geography might not be great now, but that does not prevent me from improving it.
  3. Everything seems impossible until it isn't.

If you want to challenge yourself and fill up some of that quarantine time, try learning something new. It does not have to be capitals. It can be learning the human anatomy, a new language, juggling a soccer ball, anything. Pick a silly, near impossible task. And you might find that it is not so difficult nor impossible anymore.

P.S. A part of me might have started memorizing capitals because I struggle with accepting that I cannot do everything, but now I am genuinely learning for fun.

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