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When Jim Karol got laid off from his job at a steel mill in Allentown, PA, his prospects looked grim. When his doctor told him he also had a dangerously enlarged heart, Jim knew it was time to turn his life around. However, nobody could have predicted what happened next. In the first episode of a podcast series with author and memory expert Jim Karol, Dr. Daniel Amen, Tana Amen, and Jim recount the fascinating story of Jim’s redemption.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics where we have been transforming lives for 30 years, using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit amenclinics.com.
Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to brainmd.com
Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome everyone to a very special week with our friend Jim Karol. We are going to have fun talking about memory, it'll be a little zany I'm sure. Jim is a good friend of ours. He is the author of a new book, Ultimate Memory Magic, which is phenomenal. I wrote the forward to the book. He and I also did a course together on Amen university, Jim Karol's Memory Master Course. You want a better memory? Read this book, take the course. We're going to talk about Jim's story, which I just dearly love. Jim also has been on national television including the Tonight Show, the Ellen show, the Today show, Howard Stern. He also has held three Guinness World Records and has become a regular speaker at many prestigious places like MIT's McGovern Institute for Brain Research. In 2016 the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Joseph Dunford, invited Jim to host the chairman's holiday tour to Afghanistan, Qatar, Turkey, Ireland, and Germany. That's actually where I met Jim. So funny story, Scarlett Johannson was there-
Tana Amen: Oh, yeah.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... and somebody I had thought about once or twice-
Tana Amen: Yeah, a lot. Just once of twice.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... in my life, and I got to meet her.
Tana Amen: And I get a picture, you text me a picture of you with Scarlett. I'm like, "What is going on?"
Dr. Daniel Amen: But I told Tana afterwards, I'm like, "It was really cool meeting Scarlett, but you have to know about my new friend Jim Karol."
Tana Amen: He's like, "That wasn't the best part." I'm like, "Do I want to know about the best part, if that wasn't the best part?"
Dr. Daniel Amen: So welcome Jim to The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast.
Tana Amen: Yes, welcome Jim. This is fun.
Jim Karol: Good seeing you guys again, you look great. Both of you.
Tana Amen: Thank you, so do you. Thank you.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So let's start at the beginning because now you're an author, you're a memory athlete, you're known around the world. But you really started not doing well in high school. Actually, you were bullied because of your size. It's funny, I was too, he's big, I'm not. And then you worked in a steel mill. So how did someone from a steel mill transform himself into really a world renowned celebrity? How did that happen?
Tana Amen: So let me clarify what... I'm confused what you mean by that. You mean someone from a steel mill who wasn't required to use his memory very much? I mean, I don't know what you mean by that.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I like the story of how that happened.
Tana Amen: Okay. I mean, I just want to make sure people working in steel mills don't go, "What does he mean by that?"
Dr. Daniel Amen: I'm always hurting somebody's feelings.
Tana Amen: Yeah, I'm always having to clean up behind you.
Jim Karol: We had to use our head at the steel mill, but in a different way. It was... Yeah. Anyway, yeah, I worked at the Bethlehem Steel, just like the Billy Joel song living here in Allentown, it reminds me of my life back then and it was a lot of fun. I mean, don't get me wrong, it was fun. I got pushed around a little bit when I was in high school and my first couple of weeks at the steel mill, I got pushed around again, until I took matters into my own hands-
Tana Amen: Uh-oh.
Jim Karol: ... and things worked out. Yeah. Seriously, I mean I had such a blast down there afterwards, but unfortunately I got laid off, I lost my job and when I got laid off, my wife was pregnant with our second child and I didn't know what to do. I'm like, "Wow, the only skill I have is crane operator working in a steel mill and I can do a couple of card tricks." So I took my wife's Avon account, went door to door selling her Avon because she was eight months pregnant. And could you imagine me knocking on your door, "Hey, you want to buy some Avon?" What do I look like? I look like be a-
Tana Amen: I'm thinking I'm not answering the door.
Jim Karol: Yeah. I look like I should be in the WWE, not a Avon sales rep, but it worked out. I mean, I don't know if the women felt sorry for me or they liked my card tricks, I became the biggest selling Avon guy and they hired me to do a show-
Tana Amen: Were you the biggest selling Avon guy, or the only selling Avon guy?
Jim Karol: Probably the only guy.
Tana Amen: Yeah. Okay, I was just curious.
Jim Karol: I don't remember seeing any other guys. And yeah, and then they hired me to do a show and they had these big screens set up on the side of the stage and I would do card tricks, and it would show up on the... And then here I am, 5,000 shows later. I made that a career doing card tricks and traveled around the country performing at colleges and, and then all the way up to about 1990 I had a dream of a daily number. It was just a dream. And as a joke, it started off as a joke, I told people, "Hey, play this number December 22nd and you'll win." All right? And I did that from November 8th all the way to December 21st, probably about 31 different shows I had, and believe it or not, December 22nd the number came up, 222, just like in the dream. So now that launched me as the psychic madman. I'm neither psychic nor madman, the madman was because of working at the steel mill, and the the psychic because everybody thought, hey, I predicted the lottery.
Hey, this is actually the 30th anniversary of that 2020-
Tana Amen: That's so funny.
Jim Karol: ... December 22nd, 2020 I'm going to try to really hype this up this year. Maybe do another prediction. I don't know. So that was great too. So now I'm going around the country, "Hey, it's the psychic madman." And and still no memory in sight. I didn't do any of the memory work. I'm still basically a steel worker doing magic tricks, and putting my hand in bear traps, and bending 60 penny nails, and doing these feats of strength and everything. And what happened was about 49 years old I had these pains in my chest. I'm like, "Oh, what the heck is this, gas? What's going on here?" I went to the doctor, they sent me to a cardiologists and they told me I had cardiomyopathy. And I'm like, "What the heck is that?" He goes, "You got the heartbeat of a 93 year old man." I'm like, "Wow, any more good news?" He goes, "Yeah, you have a enlarged heart."
And he actually said, "super enlarged heart." I'm like, "Wow, that's special. I have a super big heart." He goes, "No, this is serious." I'm like, "Ah." I went home, changed my diet. First thing I did, said no more Philly cheesesteaks, and 40 hotdogs a week, a box of donuts, every day. I mean, I really packed it in, guys. And I started doing this exercise bike. And I'm like, "Boy, this is boring." But I know I had to do this. I had to discipline myself to stay on this bike. So I took out my deck of cards and I would look through them and try to count and stack, put stacks together that I could make an easy to remember the cards. And then after a couple of days of doing that, I thought, "I'm not going to get off this bike until I can memorize this whole deck." I was on the bike that day for about two hours and 25 minutes.
Tana Amen: So you basically taught yourself to count cards?
Jim Karol: Yes. I taught myself, then-
Dr. Daniel Amen: But what people-
Jim Karol: ... I had to do something to keep from being bored, not knowing it was going to turn into what it did today. So what started as two and a half hours on the bike got down to two hours, to an hour and a half, to an hour. I was memorizing the cards in less than an hour. So now I'm like, "Well geez, I have to stay on the bike for at least an hour." So I threw something else in, I started growing in PI, digits of PI. I wouldn't get off the bike until I could memorize the whole deck and then memorize a hundred digits of PI. And then before you know it, the cards got down to two minutes, and the PI, it was insane what I was going through and what I was experiencing all the while, as doc knows, it was doing something to my brain, exercise my brain.
And something was happening with energy, I felt energized, even like now I can feel the energy coming in me from talking about it. So I started memorizing a hundred digits of PI every day, you know, 3.14 [inaudible 00:09:10]. It's almost like speaking Mandarin with English, there's cones involved with the memory. I created all these systems, which we ended up calling mental matrix thanks to Daniel. I mean, that was your idea, to say call it mental matrix, I believe. And so yeah, that's kind of how it all started and it energized me, and to make a long story short about that, at probably around 10 years of doing that, I found out my enlarged heart was normal after that-
Tana Amen: Wow.
Jim Karol: ... and I no longer have cardiomyopathy, so that's really freaky. I don't know what that is all about, I'm not a doctor.
Tana Amen: Yeah, it's crazy.
Dr. Daniel Amen: It's very important, and Jim, I want you to tell our listeners and our viewers, some of the memory things you can do, but it was training your mind while you were exercising that really ended up giving you super human abilities. So one of the things I know, if you have an audience of 2000 people, you actually pass out 2000 tickets with a 12 digit number on it. And what is it? They tell you-
Jim Karol: Don't even tell me, you don't have a ticket on you, I hope? Do you? That would be quite funny, if you had a ticket [crosstalk 00:10:32]-
Tana Amen: No, but I remember testing you on this. And he knew every single one of them when I would pull it out. It was crazy.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I know, it's crazy. So, so tell us about some of the, they're not tricks, the memory abilities you demonstrate in front of audiences.
Tana Amen: Yeah, but one thing. I know we're going to get people writing in wanting to know how to count cards, so just right off the bat, we're not going to teach you how to count cards.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, take our Memory Master Course, if you want to learn how to count cards.
Jim Karol: Yeah, it's actually in the course. [crosstalk 00:10:58]-
Tana Amen: Oh, dear lord.
Jim Karol: ... it actually is in the Memory Master... Yeah.
Tana Amen: We're going to get so in trouble, we're not going to be able to go back to Vegas to speak anymore.
Dr. Daniel Amen: You don't like Vegas anyway.
Tana Amen: I don't like Vegas, but-
Dr. Daniel Amen: I like Vegas.
Jim Karol: But that's how it started off, it was just to keep from being bored. And then I started developing systems to make it easier. I developed anchor systems and everything stuck. See what happens with memory is the more you memorize things, the easier it is to link things and stick things to that original list. And the original list started as a bunch of celebrities, all right? That that were in People Magazine at the time when I developed the list. So like I would put Denzel Washington at number one, as we described, and it would be easy for me to remember that because I would think of Washington being the first president and instantly Denzel Washington would be there. Or like Michael Jordan, I put at number 23 because he wore number 23 in his amazing, amazing career. So, and this is what I thought, if I could develop this anchor system then it would be much, much easier to remember lists of other things, and like you guys had just mentioned, I wanted to make it entertaining.
I didn't just want to memorize things, I wanted to make it entertaining. So I would put the movies that I memorized on tickets, and the tickets would number from one to 100, and somebody would say, "Hey, I have number, I have number 23." And then that movie would be The Natural because Michael Jordan was number 23 and he reminds me of The Natural, Robert Redford, in that movie. He's the natural basketballer. So I would create all these movies to the celebrities, and then after that I started putting everything else to him. Like countries, like number six is Chris Rock on my list, all right? So the country I would put for Chris Rock would be Costa Rica. The state for Chris Rock would be Massachusetts because Chris Rock, Plymouth Rock. So it just really all fit together, and I used it in an entertaining way. I didn't want to come out and bore people with memory, so I made it entertaining and made up those tickets, like you guys were talking about, and now the tickets are up to 2000. One to 2,000-
Dr. Daniel Amen: But the tickets also have a 12 digit number attached to them.
Jim Karol: Yes.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So you will not only... What will happen? They'll tell you the movie, and you'll tell them the 12 digit number?
Jim Karol: Exactly. You could either tell me the movie, or your three digit ticket number and then I'd tell you the 12 digit number attached to it. And it's really bizarre, but people love it and it's entertaining. [crosstalk 00:00:13:35]-
Tana Amen: So I have a question, because I actually... After meeting you, I became really inspired by this and I wanted to learn, and I did. I actually started doing this, while I was exercising, I would... I started memorizing the president's forward, backward. And I'm like, "Well, that wasn't that hard." And then I memorized the States, or not the States, the countries. I memorized where every state was and the capitals, then I went to countries.
Dr. Daniel Amen: What?
Tana Amen: ... No, I did. But here's the thing, here's my question for you, am I really stupid or am I normal? Because it really worked and it lasted, but when I stopped exercising that and stopped doing it, it sort of didn't stick anymore. Now when I went back to doing it again, it all started coming back, but when I got busy and stopped doing it, it kind of didn't last for me. [crosstalk 00:14:20]. So is it something you have to work like a muscle?
Jim Karol: That is a really, really good question. Let me... This is what my opinion is on that. See, when you memorize massive amounts of information like kids do in school, like doctors do in med school-
Tana Amen: Right.
Jim Karol: ... half the stuff they don't remember because they don't need it for their specific jobs. They just remember what they need for their job. So they could... They have the ability to let that information deteriorate over the years, just like I do with my memory. I could remember anything I want or I could let it just go.
Tana Amen: Right.
Jim Karol: And to remember it again, all you have to do is maybe review it once every two, three months-
Tana Amen: Okay.
Jim Karol: ... and it'll... and if you review it about three or four times, it'll be there forever and it becomes automatic.
Tana Amen: So that makes sense to me.
Jim Karol: [crosstalk 00:15:05]-
Dr. Daniel Amen: All right, when we come back we're going to spend the next three podcasts getting really practical on how you can have a better memory and a better life. Stay with us.
Tana Amen: If you are enjoying The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast, please don't forget to subscribe, so you'll always know when there's a new episode. And while you're at it, feel free to give us a review or five star rating as that helps others find the podcast.
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