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Nelson Dellis: Remember Anything, Memory Games & Climbing Everest

Our guest is a four-time USA Memory Champion and one of the leading memory experts in the world traveling around the world as a competitive memory athlete, memory consultant, published author and highly sought-after keynote speaker.

As a memory champion, mountaineer and Alzheimer's disease activist, he preaches a lifestyle that combines fitness, both mental and physical with proper diet and social involvement.

Our guest is Nelson Dellis.

In our show, you are going to get something that you've never gotten before and that is a live memory challenge. You're going to get to eavesdrop on a challenge that I post to Nelson on the fly and see if this guy is legit. Can he remember it?

We're also going to talk about breaking records and what it's like to compete. I know not all of us are competing out there in the world, but every day is a competition with ourselves. What does it take to compete at the highest levels?

We also talk about Memory Games, which is a special documentary on Netflix and climbing Mount Everest. I'll tell you, it feels like you're right there with him on the mountain.

We're going to talk about remembering anything. If you feel like you could do better with names, factoids, figures and important things to know in your life, you're going to love the show.

With that said, let's get to it.

Dustin
Nelson, you're scaling Mount Everest and as you enter the dead zone approaching the summit, you're nearly 300 feet away. Your oxygen mask freezes and your body shuts down. Take us back to that moment. What happens next?
Nelson
At that moment, I am wondering what the hell I'm doing there. Also simultaneously, I don't often talk about this part, but while that happens, there's a dead body ten feet away from me. The rope that we're connected to going up the mountain, it's veering off down the 3,000-foot face to my right and peeking over. It's dark as well. Its 2:00 AM. You see there's a dead climber hanging from that rope from the night before. My Sherpa behind me taps me on the shoulder and says, "You've got to unhook and walk the next twenty feet without a rope," on this knife-edge ridge and in the dark, mind you. All that together scares the bejesus out of me. I crossed through, I was okay, we clipped back into the rope and I climbed a little bit higher. I went to the Hillary Step, the base of it and that's when things got a bit hairier and I realized I wasn't in a good spot. I turned around. It wasn't an easy decision, but I live to tell about it and have since been able to make other attempts on Everest.
Dustin
You've talked about publicly that in this particular climb, turning around you had gotten a vision, you had seen images in your head. You had attributed to something else other than, "This is pretty darn dangerous." Can you take us back to that?
Nelson
I haven't thought about this in a while, but it's such a surreal experience being at over 8,000 meters where jet planes fly and your body is at its end. Pushing all cylinders to the max and everything feels dreamy. You're loopy on this lack of oxygen. There were some hallucinations. Part of it I'm sure is emotionally-charged out of fear or excitement. I felt like I was at times in other places, back home in the warmth of my house with my family, eating chicken nuggets. I remember that specific vision. I could taste that. It was bizarre. I popped back and I'd be like, "This is where I am." It was old memories and feelings of my loved ones and my whole life felt present at that moment. It was a surreal experience.
Dustin
When you're there and you're close to the top, I'm sure you had thoughts bouncing in your head, "I didn't come this far." As someone would say, "To come this far." How did you battle with that in your head? Was it clear like, "I need to get out of here?"
Nelson
Your alarms are going off in your head and it was clear, but you hesitate because it's exactly that. I didn't come this far. It took years of saving up and training and organizing my life around this to make it happen. If I could hold on for another hour up, I could have summited. Granted, you still have to come back down. All those things I had to weigh eventually and I realize it's not so much that point. The summit is nice, but the journey that I walked away with is amazing. I'm happy that I did what I did and I can always go back. I have gone back. I haven't submitted yet, but it's still this passion of mine and I love all the opportunities that I got to get that high.
Dustin
You're accomplished when it comes to climbs. I'm curious about me not being a climber and I’ve got to imagine folks reading, our family reading, what's appealing about it? Why do you chase and scale these mountains?
Nelson
It's something I wanted to try a long time ago. It's a little over several years now when I climbed my first mountain, which was Mount Rainier. I blindly signed up for a mountaineering course. I've always loved to look at mountains. I travel to places that have these rugged landscapes of mountains and snowcap peaks and everything, but I wouldn't climb them. I didn't think that was something anybody can do. When I took this course, it was like, "Let me try. Let's see how this feels." I hated it. It was uncomfortable. It was cold. It was painful. We drove up to the trailhead, an area called Paradise near the base of Mount Rainier. We packed all our stuff and we hit it out. Five minutes in, there was a whiteout blizzard. We couldn't go any further. We literally camped off of the side of the parking lot there. It was miserable. We were freezing. We had to build these ice walls. I'd never done anything like that in my life. I got in a tent eventually and was like, "I'm out. This is not for me."
Another guy felt exactly the same way and he went as far as to go back. He told the guys, "I'm going home." Everybody, we had a meeting and the guides were like, "If anybody wants to go, you go now, otherwise you're here." For the duration of the week, the trip, no matter what. Something inside of me was like, "Don't raise your hand, just shut up." Even though as much as I wanted to go, I stayed and the whole experience was difficult and challenging. There were amazing points. There were low points. We ended up summiting and then at the end of it, that's when you realize how amazing the experience is. It's that type two fun where it's fun after you think about it. Since then, I've craved that adventure and that push that I can't get anywhere else.
Dustin
That's powerful to be on that edge essentially, if you had left with that guy.
Nelson
That's a life-changing split second.
Dustin
Those moments in time are crazy and I appreciate your sharing. I want to get into what most people are thinking about. Why are we talking about Mt. Everest when we have an incredible grandmaster of memory on? Before we get into all the accolades and all the things that you've accomplished there, I understand Nelson that your grandmother was getting Alzheimer's when you were a kid and seeing her deteriorate, which was such an impactful moment for you. I'm curious when you saw that happening, what was that point that said, "I'm going to dedicate my life or I'm going to go in this direction to make sure this doesn't go my way to make sure I don’t end up like grandmother.”
Nelson
You say kid, but I was maybe my young twenties when it affected me dealing with that. She passed away in 2009, which I was 25, 24 but we had seen her struggling more and more over the years before that, maybe 4 or 5 years. She lived abroad in France. I didn't see her all the time, but once or twice a year, which made it every instance of seeing her would be drastically different and worse each time. It was noticeable on our end. At the beginning of that, when I was twenty or something, I didn't notice, you think, "She's getting older." It's a few little slips of the mind, no big deal. When it started getting close to when she eventually passed 2007, 2008, I'd be at her house and she wouldn't remember who I was.
I speak French when we were there and she's French, I had stacks of books about the brain in French that I would go and buy at the store. I remember pouring over them and trying to find anything that would trigger my mind and give me answers to why this was happening to her. Am I destined for that? What can I do to turn that on its head for me? When she passed, it was the ultimate catalyst. It was already festering in my mind, but that's what set it off and I was like, "I have to do something." I don't know what that is. Luckily, I found the US Championship and I was like, "That's going to be my goal." I feel that's a thing I can train for and it'll have quantitative data for me to analyze in my improvement and the rest was history.
Dustin
Nelson, Alzheimer's has been in my family and the thought crosses one's head, if it's in the family, does it run in the family? I'm curious for you, is that what you were thinking? There's likelihood or there is a possibility that this happens to me and I'm going to go into this world as it means to prevent it. Is that what you were thinking?
Nelson
Yeah, that's exactly it. When I was 25, I have ways to go before that might even be anything, but something inside of me felt like, "This is going to be a long play." If there's something even a small little thing that I do every day to help keep my brain sharp throughout my life, I want to know what that is and make that change. I found these memory techniques and I fell in love with them. They're addicting because it makes you feel superhuman and I couldn't stop doing them or practicing them. It hooked into me and my life.
Dustin
I'm curious as to that first thing you talk about finding your way to the Memory Championships, but you had mentioned the books. Were you watching videos? Was a book the first thing that you picked up and then you went down the rabbit hole and then found the championships?
Nelson
Yeah, there was a chain of events. I remember being fascinated in the mid-2000s, the mid-aughts are what you call them. 2005-ish, 2006 there was a special on Discovery Channel about this guy, Daniel Tammet, who was an autistic savant. He had Asperger’s. They showed him memorizing pie and how all the numbers felt like he had synesthesia and he could do these mental calculations in his head quickly. I was more fascinated by the calculations that he was able to do in his mind. I come from a physics, math background, I was hooked on that. I stumbled upon the Mental Calculation World Cup. What I found out quickly is that there's a lot of memory techniques used for a lot of these large mental calculations because you've got to hold these big numbers in your head while you do other bits of the calculation. There was an overlap there. The memory part took over and I learned later that Daniel Tammet, some people say that he was a bit of a fraud. He was a memory guy pretending or exaggerating his natural abilities. He would compete in memory competitions in the early 2000s. Not many people know that under a different name. Have you heard of him before?
Dustin
This is the first time. It's fascinating to me. 
Nelson
Look it up. It's an interesting thing. 
Dustin
You talk about a grandmother being there and then you exploring this path. I'm curious, do you take days off? I read somewhere that you daily train, but are there days that you take off and you veg out or you love it and want to do it?
Nelson
When I started, I remember I would never take a day off ever. I was that obsessed. Because I keep track of all my training data and there was not a missed day at least for 2.5, 3 years. One a couple of times, I allowed myself a day off here and there. I still do a little bit, almost every day. Maybe once every other week, I don't do something. I always try at least to memorize a deck of cards or try to have some software that I use. Sometimes we'll open up that stuff and do a set of names or list of words.
Dustin
I thought you might after winning many championships and being a finalist many times here. I thought that maybe the case. I thought we'd put you to the test and maybe get in a mental exercise. Are you up for it, Nelson?
Nelson
Yeah. Always.
Dustin
I want to let people know too because we haven't gotten to your amazing resume of what you've done. You being a four-time Memory Champion, a seven-time a finalist, it's safe to say you enjoy the competitions. I thought we'd make this a little exercise. We'll do a little competition. I want to give you a series of numbers that are important to me only in that there are house numbers of where I used to live or addresses I remember where I worked.
Nelson
Give me a pause between the numbers so I can process them.
Dustin
Nelson, let me ask you here, all of these that I'm looking at, I could give you the number or I could give you the address. What do you recommend that I do? The number or I could give you 1716 is the first one. I can say 1716 Oak Street.
Nelson
Let's do the full street. That would be fun.
Dustin
I love it. The first one is 1716 Oak Street.
Nelson
Let me review them in my mind if I have any gaps. I have it. It'll be more fun that way if I don't hear it again.
Dustin
Keep them in suspense. I love it. You know the showmanship of it. You can memorize a pack of cards in 40.65 seconds, which is a US record. I'm curious, number one, how you do it? I want to talk about the process. Two, how do they judge? Do you touch a button? If I come in at 30 seconds and I hit the button there and then I recite it then I win. If I get it wrong, then they cancel that entry and the next guy. Will you explain it?
Nelson
Let me set a couple of things straight though. First, I'm 40.65 was a record at one point. It was the International US record but that has since fallen dramatically. My personal best in practice is 29 seconds but there was a US Champion who did about 13 seconds. The current record is 12.75, which is absolutely mind-blowing. The way that it works in the competition is you have your own timer. They have these timers that you touch with both hands. When you lift your hands, it starts and then when you are done, you tap it and it stops. You can imagine you're holding the cards as you lift up, it starts the timer. You can look at the cards when you're done, when you want to stop looking at the cards, you slammed down at the timer and then later on, there's a five-minute period. They give you another deck of cards, which is unordered. It's a fresh deck, ace to king. You have five minutes without looking at the other one, place it on a table in the same order as what you memorized. What they do is they'll compare both decks and they got to match. If you get them all right, which is the goal, 52 out of 52, your time is your score. If you get 51 out of 52, then it doesn't matter what your time was, which can happen, sometimes you go fast and you have everything except two cards you swapped or something.
Dustin
Before we get into the process, because I know we're going to invest some time there. It was a US record and it's come down and it's even blown you away. With these records at this point, is it the 4-minute mile concept where it's like, "Nelson did it at 40 and we never thought it could be done." The next guy does it, it’s like, “What else is possible?” Do you think it's that? Is there something that they're getting access to that maybe you don't have access to? Why do you think they are dropping?
Nelson
I've hypothesized about it a lot. I talk about it with my old-time friends that were losing ground in the race. We're the old guys talking about the good old days when people could barely break a minute but it's exactly that. I feel back when I was doing it, the 4-minute mile was the 20-second mark. Even breaking the 30-second mark, there were maybe a handful of people who can do it in the world especially in competition. For me, I learned how to do this when the US record was 1.5 minutes. That was my aim and I got past it quite substantially. I wasn't aiming for 20 seconds, for 15 seconds. People who are new, that's what they're aiming for. They go directly to that or closer to that. For me, I'm trying to get there, but I'm stuck in my old ways. It feels a heck of a lot harder for me to get those extra 15 seconds than it is for these newcomers that are young that go from not being able to memorize a deck of cards to instantly, within weeks, 30 seconds. It’s insane.
Dustin
That blows my mind. The big thing on people's minds or on my mind most certainly is what this process is? Are you superhuman? Are you born with a photographic memory? Is your IQ off the charts? Nelson, what is it here?
Nelson
No, not superhuman. I feel superhuman when I do it, but anybody can do this. It's something I have to learn. At one point, I could not do a deck of cards. No matter how hard I looked at it would have been extraordinarily difficult for me. It might've taken me hours to memorize a deck and even so, I would've killed myself. It would have been boring and difficult. I learned a certain technique and with practice, like any skill, I was able to get better at it faster, more efficient. The basics of the technique are basically turning something complicated into something easy to imagine. Think of a deck of cards. It's a bunch of numbers, colors, suits and all that stuff. One or two of them it's easy to remember. If you see a king of hearts or a jack of clubs, those are pretty memorable pictures but 52 of them in order can get confusing. Was it red, black clubs or spades?
What you do is you give each one unique image representation. There are different systems to do that. You can go by emotion, like hearts, could be maybe people that you love or friends. King of hearts could be your dad because he's the king of the family. Whenever you look at a king of hearts, instead of seeing a K and this red symbol, it's your dad and your dad comes with so much imagery, emotion, action, thoughts and memories that are way more memorable than this dry letter with a shape. Imagine being able to apply that same idea to 52 cards and knowing those images as if you're looking at a photo. Jack of clubs is Jason Alexander from Seinfeld. I picture him saying, "Jerry." Ace of spades is Arnold Schwarzenegger. There he is pumping iron and making an Arnoldy sound. That's way more memorable. Imagine all those coming together. What you do is when you see a sequence of cards is you place them in a story that connects to each other. If it's King of Hearts, Ace of Spades, maybe it's my dad and Arnie pumping iron in the gym and then you move on and they run into Jason Alexander who's screaming at Jerry Seinfeld.
Dustin
There are two things. One, does Ace of Spades change for you? Let's talk about it for you. Have you programmed your mind to every time you do this trick or every time you do this in front of people, the ace is always going to be it because you've already built up some association?
Nelson
It doesn't change. That's the important part of the technique is these 52 images never change. Every time I see them, it's that familiar friend. There are all those feelings associated with that card. Ace of spades, it's funny that always training. Whenever I see that A with that shape, that spade, it feels like I'm watching an Arnold Schwarzenegger film, it's him. If you put a picture instead of that card, it would feel exactly the same to me.
Dustin
I’ve got to ask you this. This is fun. I saw you on ABC and they did a special on you. You're in New York Times Square. You can correct me anytime if I get this wrong, but you're getting people off the street and you're memorizing their zip code. I can understand a deck of cards, it never is going to change. Once you've put the work in, you keep getting fast, you have those images. When you take numbers from strangers and some numbers or phone numbers and some are zip codes and some are their weight, how do you do that?
Nelson
It's not too different from cards. It does feel like numbers can change, but it's just ten digits that are given in different chunks. What I do and what a lot of memory athletes do is they'll have sets of chunks ready with images. I have a system that's called a three-digit system. Every three digits, no matter which one, all the way from 000 to 999, I have 1,000 pictures ready to go that represent each one that doesn't change. If somebody gives me a zip code, that's five digits sure, but the first three I put together as one image and then the next two I can tweak it to still work with my system. It's not a big deal to change it from 3 to 2, but it's essentially the same idea. I can combine them into images and now I'm looking at a couple of cards, the same concept. That's a couple of images. A phone number is a little longer, it's a few more images strung together in my bizarre story.
Dustin
Names, numbers or factoids, it doesn't matter because at some point it all becomes some image in a story. Is that a somewhat accurate summation?
Nelson
Yeah. With numbers, the reason I have a system for it is that they are difficult and meaningless. I have to go out of my way to prep that. Whenever I see a number, I already have a go-to image for it. Words and facts, typically regular words and ideas can already conjure up imagery automatically. I don't have to have a system for every single possible thing in the world. Some of the more difficult structured things like numbers, I said there are only ten digits. I can come up with a system that's standard.
Dustin
Nelson, I'm curious, this came out of the left-field from me. It’s not a question I had anticipated asking, but if cards and numbers you can create a system for and knowing that many mathletes do this, do they try at the championships or at these competitions to enter in some new thing that you don't get to practice or is it do you know coming in?
Nelson
It's always random information, but the events are set. It's always numbers, cards, names, words and poems. Sometimes it's historic dates depending on the competition but years ago, I created my own competition and a big part of it was surprise events. There'd be random stuff that I would explain to them moments before they had to memorize it. Once it was a genetic sequence, those four letters G, A, T and C mixed together. Another one was we had built these boards with twenty different textures in a certain order. They were blindfolded. They had to memorize the textures by feel. We tried different sensory memory. We did stuff with sounds rather than visual. That was fun because it put people to the test to say a lot of this you can prep for. You can train. You never know this exact order you're going to get, but you have an idea of what to expect.
Dustin
Nelson, a lot of people always marvel at the ability of speakers to recite a speech without notes in that case or an actor or an actress to recite some or even somebody on stage reciting a play without any visual cue. Is this the same process? Can these techniques be applied for that?
Nelson
Yeah, and from some of the actors for example who memorize lines a lot, I've talked to a few of them, they almost do something like this. Some do it purposefully. They know about the technique. Some do it out of that's how it has happened. They'll use positions on the set to store or imagine imagery that relates to the line that they have to say at that moment. The blocking basically where they're positioned has a lot to do with how they remember their lines. When you're walking to the door to open it up, you put on the door an image of a cue for the line you need to say. Maybe they're yelling at someone at the door saying, "Did you get the milk?" something like that. On the door and there's milk splattered everywhere. After the door is open, maybe they go outside and on the grass you have this other line that you have to say that says, "How could you do that to me?" or something like that. You think of some imagery to convey that idea and it’s tied to the grass.
Dustin
A lot of people reading they could be saying, "That's great for Nelson. He's in these competitions, actors, actresses, speakers and that thing.” I know you work with business owners, you work with teams and you do all things. Can you give us an idea of how do we take what we're starting to learn here and apply it may be in a business context or in a corporate world or something like that?
Nelson
The first thing is you want to be aware of where your memory stands. Are you struggling with it? Are you good with names? What are your weaknesses? Recognize that memory is something that can be worked on, something that we all have the capacity to improve. If you give it a bit of love and that's the hurdle to get started and to change your perspective on what it means to have a good memory, healthy brain. You got to start using it and giving it some love. A lot of people tell themselves I have a bad memory and then that's the end of the story. They're doomed. There's nothing that can get you out of that hole. You got to stop saying that and start trying to remember things and you will. Stop using your phone, stop writing things down. It's a crutch. I'm not saying don't ever do that, but try to memorize something before you write it down, let's say. These techniques that I'm talking about, imagery, creating narratives and storing them on locations like that, those are to help make that process more fun, less stressful and easier. With practice like anything, you can get good at it. I'm proof of that.
Dustin
I am curious whether it's you or people that you've worked with, at some point I would imagine the information disappears. I'm assuming that so I should ask you, “Is that the case?” Stuff that you did a few years ago in a competition, do you still remember now?
Nelson
Some of those events are ingrained in my head because of the experience that it was and how memorable of a point in my life it was when I won the championship, lost it, broke a record, or whatever. I don't remember everything but I do remember a ton of detail about some of those sequences of information that I had to memorize. It's funny because a lot of people have seen me compete over the years on these competitions and I never remember them. They're like, "It's me." I'm like, "I don't remember you." We talked every championship. I always tell him, "I'm sorry. When I'm there, I’m not thinking about anything else. If I meet you, I'm thinking about my competition." That's the worst time to try to have me remember something even though I remember something insane. I remember stuff about the competition that pertains to my performance, but not necessarily the surrounding elements.
Dustin
That was funny. That was a question that I had for you. I do want to dig here. Outside right before you're about to compete, which I totally get. Your mind is essentially elsewhere. It's focusing on the task at hand. Is there anything else that you have a hard time remembering?
Nelson
Not really. I can remember anything I want. That's a confident statement I can say, but I still forget things. It's for reasons that I'm aware of that I know I could fix, which is basically I'm not paying attention or I'm not trying. That happens sometimes. Sometimes I don't want to try. I'm tired at the end of the day or my wife's going to hate me for saying this, but I'm doing something and she's telling me to do something and I'm not listening. In that case, I forget. I can confidently say, "If something do or die, I have to memorize it. No problem.” I feel confident that I could do that. I know what switches to turn on and I know how to go about it.
Dustin
Since you brought the wife into it, in my head, it sparked in me what a grandmaster is? A guy who’s won Memory Championships multiple times. What does your day-to-day look like?
Nelson
At the moment, it's changing a lot of diapers. We have a fifteen-month-old and another one on the way. There's a lot of that. I'm still doing my memory training. I go to the gym also. That's a big part of my training, physical training. I go to my office and it's exciting to watch because it's me quietly in my big soundproof headphones staring at material. In my head, it's a wild exercise of imagery, dancing around, and my heart rate racing as I try to write stuff down as quickly as possible. I'm doing that throughout the day.
Dustin
You've given me an idea with the baby. The visuals in my head are kicking, but I too have a young one and if I tell my wife that I am taking up a new sport or a new hobby, I can put those handy headphones on and I might not hear the baby cry. Do you ever get in trouble for that?
Nelson
We had a miscommunication. She comes in and she's like, "Can't you hear the baby crying?" I was like, "I can't." She's like, "You're supposed to be listening for that." I'm like, "I thought I told you I was training."
Dustin
I want to go back to the competitions because I want to give people a sense of what it's like. You described the process of judging. To the best that you can, what is it like to compete in a competition? Is it like a sporting event? Are you nervous? Are you watching the competition? What's it like in that room?
Nelson
It's totally like any other competition in any sport. That's why I love it. I'm a competitive guy and there's that aspect to it. You scope out the new blood whose rising star and whose maybe not trained much in the last year, who you thought might perform well, he's not going to. You look into all that stuff and pry what people's training schedules are like or what their records currently are. When you get to the competition, no matter how hard you've prepped or train, you still got those nerves and it's 3, 2, 1, go, memorize. Your heart's pounding out of your chest and you're trying to act confident. There's a bit of a mental game to intimidate others. At least on my end, I've always tried to incorporate that strategy and into the competition. It's fun. To the end, I've even played games with other memory athletes to throw them off their game and they have to me as well. It's all in good fun. We love each other in the community, but it's got an edge.
Dustin
Would you say in that environment, your environment that you thrive in, are you competing against yourself or are you competing against others? How would you weigh that?
Nelson
It's a personal sport, a private sport in that sense. When it comes down to memorization, it's you battling out with your mind. How can you quiet out the noise in your head? Your voice talking to you, distractions and focus on the numbers that you're looking at and how quickly you can convert them to images and encode them and store them. All that stuff you're thinking about and racing through. I'd say more than anything, you're right, it's you against yourself. There's a bit more added on top of that, which makes it a lot more challenging.
Dustin
Nelson, everyone likes to talk about the wins. When I was looking at your record, at least the facts that I have, you're a four-time USA Memory Champion and a seven-time finalist. Is that still accurate?
Nelson
Yeah. There was a video, I've talked about it and I counted out seven or maybe it's 7 or 8.
Dustin
I'm curious, the wins and you're only a handful of people to do it four times. What stood out to me is the final seven times, which means you're right there. It got me thinking about why the losses? I want to ask you, is this you receive bad news? Is it a bad diet? Is it you had a bad day? When you look back over it, are there any factors that contribute to it or the other guy or gal was the better guy or gal that day?
Nelson
It's a mixture of things. I go home on those days, the ones that I've lost trying to question what went wrong. In 2018, I made it to the finals and then completely choked. I still don't know why but I remember feeling that day out of it. I felt good right before the competition starts. Suddenly, we sat down to memorize. It was an out of body experience, I was not myself and I was panicking. I was like, "What's happening?" I don't feel anything is sticking. I don't feel I'm even able to focus on what I'm doing. It was nuts and I got eliminated in the first round, surprising everybody. They thought I was going to win or get to the end. In other years I felt confident and maybe too confident and slipped up. I lost to lack of focus when it counted. There was a year where I misunderstood the directions and when I came to say my information, I said it wrong even though I memorized it correct in my head. This past year, I came in second and this was a perfect example of the other guy got the better of me. He was marginally better and that's all it needed to get past me.
Dustin
I'm curious, how long do you think you're going to go? Is this something that you compete in every year, do you think?
Nelson
I don't know. It's these shows that go on too long. You never know. I probably should have stopped when I had won my last one, but something in me was like, "You’ve got to win five." That's the number because nobody's won five before. There's another guy who's won four a long time ago. I'm tied with him, but five would be awesome. If I'm going to get the guy who won four times but he lost fifteen times, I don't know about that.
Dustin
I'll tell you, Nelson, it's refreshing. Usually, when you think I'm going to interview a Memory Champion, I'm going to interview someone who is superhuman. Do you think they're the guy that you described? Maybe a little savant, but you seem like a regular dude to say, a regular guy had a baby, got a life and regular but in my head it was like, "This could be maybe a little off."
Nelson
I feel like a regular guy. I'm into some pretty weird things and I had some crazy rare opportunities in life, but I feel when it comes down to it, I've paid those for myself. I wasn't handed those to me. I worked for everything that I've earned and nobody can stop anybody from doing the same thing. Maybe that's not everybody, but I feel everybody can do that. I am an everyday guy.
Dustin
It came to me late. I had seen the clip of you in the media and that was fun and fascinating. Through your website, I stumbled on because there was so much information given to me to prep. You’re part of a Netflix documentary, Memory Games. I caught the part primarily where it's talking about your life and the climb a little bit. I'm excited to go back and watch the whole thing at home. It got me thinking, "How does even a Netflix documentary come to be?"
Nelson
That was a journey in itself. The production company started filming us back in 2012. I was approached and they followed me to compete in London, the World Championships at that time. They followed me on Everest in 2013, the US Championship 2015, and Hong Kong Championships in 2017, all over. Every year I'd be like, "When is it done? Are we done?" I don't think at the time we thought it would ever get on Netflix. That was back in 2012. You would mail in the disc for Netflix. You order your videos online. They wanted to get it out in theaters, select theaters and film festivals, which did a couple of those. Ultimately, nowadays you're like, "Who can we sell it to? Who's going to air it? Is it HBO? Is it Netflix?" Disney Plus I guess nowadays. Netflix was the goal and they bought it. I don't know for how much, I didn't get any of that. I'm in the film and I've gotten a lot of business from that film, I can't complain. It's well done. I love that it captured a moment of my life and it's there permanently for anybody to see it.
Dustin
Your part that I saw in it and I know you're in it throughout, but the main chunk that I had seen was well done. I encourage people to check it out. I am going to watch it from start to finish.
Nelson
Watch the whole thing. There are three other memory competitors and me that they follow. Everybody's got their two-key version of what I explained to you already. They do it in their way, but it's roughly the same thing. Everybody has an interesting background.
Dustin
I want to talk about Climb for Charity and I respect you for turning something that is a passion of yours, which is climbing mountains and building a charity around it. When did that idea come to you and say, "I'm going to do this and I'm going to set up something and bill climb for charity?"
Nelson
The charity itself is called Climb for Memory and I started it soon after I started competing in 2010. The idea was I couldn't believe that the stuff I was learning nobody knew about. Having lost my grandmother, I wanted to bring it back to sharing this information and raising awareness for the disease, which had led me to my course. I thought of a million ways to start that, but I didn't think I'd make any noise. I thought, "What's the craziest thing I could do that would make people turn their heads?" That was when I said, "Climb Everest, how about that?" It seems radical at the time to even think that, I've climbed a mountain or two and nothing crazy but never seemed way out of my league. It was one of those moments where I thought something and I figured out the steps and I ended up being able to climb it or up to the point that we started this podcast in 2011, which was basically the first fundraiser we had for that charity. We raised that trip. I'm trying to remember, maybe around $15,000, $20,000, which then we split up to different other research efforts in Alzheimer's.
Dustin
Nelson, your story is fascinating. I respect you for what you're up to in the world. I encourage people to check out your website and to encourage people to check out the Netflix documentary. We’ve got to come back to the big thing, the series of numbers and addresses that were given to you. Are you ready? 
Nelson
The first one was 1716 Oak Street. I'm going through what's called a memory palace. I've converted to images and walking through it where I placed each image for each address. The next one was my buddy Kevin 42 having a beer 61, 4261 and he was saying Aloha Place. It was 5000, this one was a long one, Culbreath Key Way Apartment 9319 then it was 3033 Bunker Hill Street that was Conan O'Brien doing the robot bunker. It was Axel Rose 155 on 5th Ave. North.
Dustin
That's completely fascinating. Understanding this, turning these numbers, turning information into pictures, has there ever been in your life a short circuit? You put the wrong picture in or the wrong picture was accessed. Has there ever been that surprised you and caught you off guard or no?
Nelson
Sometimes when I'm speeding through information, maybe I read a King of Hearts as a King of Diamonds, I saw the red and the K and that was that. In my mind, I constructed it as James Bond instead of the king or my dad. When I go back and I'm like, "That can't be right. There are two James Bonds." Sometimes I have to either make a guess or make an educated guess based on what feels more right than the other. Sometimes I mis-encode it and that's an error that can happen.
Dustin
Nelson, I appreciate you big time. I want to encourage folks to continue the conversation. There's a lot of different ways to do that. That is at your website NelsonDellis.com. Check out also the YouTube channel. There are amazing videos on there and they're for free. They're well-produced to help you act on some of these ideas and see it visually. If you're interested in talking and in continuing the conversation, the website is mentioned and Nelson does offer private one-on-one coaching and comes into companies to help them in that way. All that information can be found out and all the good old social handles are on that website.
Nelson
Thank you so much.

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