Italy’s well-known ‘memory man’ and best-selling self-help author, Gianni Golfera, 35, maintains his skill as a mnemonist is not a genetic gift - but one available to everyone. This rings true as scientists still find evidence for a ‘memory gene’ elusive – despite research from such as the University San Raffaele in Milan. Gianni’s unique imaging technique - ‘the Golfera Method’- is proving beneficial cross-sector: from exam students to blind opera star Andrea Bocelli, and corporate companies including National Post Office, National Electric Company, iForce and the Chamber of Deputies. Controlled scientific tests by the University of Pisa confirm his genuine ability and in turn, he is working with doctors there to further research into conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dyslexia.
In demand as a teacher, lecturer and guest speaker on TV and radio around the world, Gianni spends most of his time shuttling between Rome – where he lives with his family – and London for his latest work.
What led you to introduce your technique to the UK - and write your first book in English?
‘I’d written five books in Italian, and started to think about sharing my methods worldwide. I found it difficult to translate my system, a specific way of thinking, into English. First, I went to Los Angeles but found I was missing Europe. After visiting London, I love the UK and through my Italian editor, was introduced to an organiser of seminars, who could publish More Memory. This led to an invite to host memory master-classes and join ‘The Best You Can Be’- events which represent such as (UK hypnotist) Paul McKenna (US self-help guru) Anthony Robbins and (creator of Neuro Linguistic Programming or NLP) Dr Richard Bandler.’
Do you think any cultural difference exists in the way we remember things?
‘Everyone can improve their memory, whatever their age or cultural background. I find memory-aid is best based on the sound of words. If you want to remember my surname ‘Golfera’, for example, you can try seeing in your mind playing golf or the German car, the Volkswagen Golf. It’s about how to create pictures in order to remember. Most importantly, memory is an emotion - like everyone in the world can remember their first kiss. It’s good to use humour. However, a sense of humour can be different between countries. I find that Americans have a different cultural background, so maybe for them my system is harder to learn. Overall, the bigger your cultural background, the better the situation you create for improving memory. If you have a rich vocabulary, it’s easier to create association in your mind. In Europe, perhaps there’s more interest in culture in general.’
Why is the act of remembering so important when we now have technology to ‘memorise’ for us?
‘Good question! Self-memory is important because in the area of human relations, we have no technology to remember for instance, social situations. We have to remember someone’s name before using an Iphone! Also, technology is a sticking plaster for new information. Today, there is so much information overload it’s difficult to remember everything - or be able to make a choice. What’s important is the right information. If doing public speaking, say, it’s important to remember in order to persuade. In the case of students, they need to remember by themselves, and no computer can help with an oral test or exams. As a professional, it follows the better your memory, the better your confidence and prospects.’
Do you see computers as your ‘competition’; how do you feel about the digital world?
‘Computers are making people lazy. I’m 35 but when I was 14, Iphones and computers did not exist. With the introduction of the cell-phone and memory cards, etc, we forget how to remember numbers. If we need information, we go to the web. The human brain has to be re-trained. Technology is creating a lack of contemplation, a lack of memory; a lack of attention, even sociability. Every day we lose some capacity. Sometimes, I use technology in a ‘good way’ as a top-up. I like to lose my natural memory to remember emails and phone numbers to shopping lists; in any social situation and in relation to people. It’s better to grow your own brain by reading books and going to the theatre. Of course it’s important to understand the computer. My message is that if you always rely on technology and forget about your brain, the brain will simply go down. I found it helps to go back to the past to acquire information the way our ancestors did in the traditional sense. It makes us smarter, creative and more productive. To use the mind is better than a computer. I prefer to use my methods.’
It’s well-known that you’re applying ancient techniques to memory-aid, adapted to modern times.
Do you see yourself as part of a tradition of memory men?
‘Although I’m aware there’s a big ‘memory tradition’ in places like India, I follow a 2500 year old tradition inherent in Europe. Memory training began in Rome and ancient Greece; there was the Renaissance and techniques inspired by Cicero, who wrote his great book, De Oratore on how to persuade people in public speeches: the importance of memory in the art of persuasion. In the Renaissance, Giordano Bruno wrote De umbris idearum or Shadow of the Ideas and Pico della Mirandola followed suit. I translated the latter’s book when I was 11 with the help of a family friend. My own biggest lesson was as a young boy struggling to remember lessons. My father suggested I read up on classical texts on improving memory – and the rest is history!’
Do you feel that the area of memory is still little understood?
‘Definitely. Memory is not something we have by birth but what we can improve upon. People are not aware of the possibility of memory and make the common mistake of thinking it is a gift. It is more method than miracle. Human memory is much under-estimated.’
Helping tenor Andrea Bocelli memorise the opera Romeo and Juliet must have been a proud achievement. Are there any similar link-ups on the agenda?
‘Yes, Andrea was a proud moment for me. When you’re blind, you still have an imaginative memory. Imagining activates long-term memory. The Andrea Bocelli connection came about through the University of Pisa. I’m working with Italian doctors and researchers there, setting up systems of solutions for various memory problems such as dyslexia. Kids with dyslexia are very smart and have very good memory – if used in the right way. My method helps these kids with ways to remember using visual memory instead of repetition. The Golfera method trains the brain, also reducing the possibility of Alzheimer’s as the brain cells remain active. When people stop working, they can stop using their brains. But if you use your brain in the right way, it helps.’
As you have such an agile mind, how do you switch off?
‘To relax, I like to fly robotic planes. Flying is my way of relaxing – and it helps that I am a professional pilot. I like to spend time with family at Tredozio in Tuscany. I plan to buy a second home in Essex where I also have family. I spent a lot of time there in my youth.’
You now live between Rome and London. How do they compare?
‘I was born near Turin but worked in Rome. I like Rome for its great history – you see it everywhere in the city. It has a distinctive feeling and the food plus the weather is fantastic – even in winter. London I also like in a different way – it’s full of cultural possibility.’
Does having children make you want to bring them up according to your techniques?
‘I have a boy of seven and a girl of five. If they’re happy for me to, I will teach them my system, but if they don’t want me to, I won’t mind. I wish to give them their freedom. I don’t want to condition them in any way.’
It has to be asked - do you ever forget anything unforgivable – such as your wife’s or kids’ birthdays?
‘I never forget such things! It would be grounds for divorce! As well as family, I have to call so many friends on their birthdays or it would spell disaster! It’s no easy job living up to my reputation!’
In the UK, Gianni will be staging a series of memory seminars in London and online in the near future. For more information including his e-book, More Memory, see www.giannigolfera.com.