"Evolution: Holistic Ageing in an Age of Change"
19th-22nd March 2012, Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Organised by Malaysian Healthy Ageing Society

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INTAN MAIZURA AHMAD KAMAL - intanm@nstp.com.my

Buzan's memory improves with age

A tete-a-tete with mind mapper Tony Buzan leaves INTAN MAIZURA AHMAD KAMAL hopeful

I MAY not be the finest brain on the planet and my memory sucks, but I do have one thing in common with one of the finest mind mapping gurus of our time, Tony Buzan.

Like the distinguished inventor of mind maps - an effective method of note-taking that's useful for the generation of ideas by association, and, which has been described as the Swiss army knife of the brain - I also love colours. I write in colours. And if I had my own way, the words on my screen will be in colours. And colours, says the lithe 69-year-old Englishman, is what stimulates brain cells.

So there's hope for me after all!

Buzan, the man who, at various times, had coached Olympic rowing teams and chess champions, advised major corporations and government departments, lectured at universities the world over, presented television series and written more than 80 books, was in town recently for a free public workshop at Balai Berita, Kuala Lumpur.

The event, organised by the New Straits Times and the Malaysian Healthy Ageing Society, was a prelude to the 1st World Congress on Healthy Ageing to be held in KL in March, next year. Buzan, nominated for this year's Nobel Peace Prize for his global contribution to education and humanity, will be the star speaker.

"The main challenges to what I do are ignorance and prejudice," begins Buzan, his eyes piercing. "One of the big prejudice is that the brain gets worse as it gets older. The other is that colour is childish. I love colours."

"What colour pen are you using?" he asks, taking a peek at my writing instrument. Black, I shrug. I'd misplaced my favourite red pen somewhere. Most people tend to write in one colour, either blue or black, says Buzan.

"One colour in physics is a monochrome. A monochrome to the brain is a monotone colour. What word do you get when you combine mono and tone? Monotone. If something is monotonic it is by definition monotonous."

His eyes sparkling, he continues: "And if something is monotonous what word do we use to describe it?"

"Boring" I answer. He beams and continues: "And if something is boring what does your brain do?" "Switches off" I reply. Bingo! I'm on a roll here. The whole world, says Buzan, is using a note-taking system, which is unwittingly designed to switch our brain off, tune it out and send it to sleep. Colours, he elaborates, not only keep us alert but they give us focus and, therefore, concentration. They're more interesting so they draw us into the subject. They also highlight, which means they stimulate our brain cells and help us to structure and cluster. Buzan, who carries a four-colour pen in his inside pocket, confides that he writes in a rainbow of colours. "In my studio, I have 24 colours of the rainbow, four different shades of blue, three different shades of red, and then I have another 24, slightly thicker ones so I can be more emphatic." He has highlighters too of different textures so his notes become like a "symphony of colours." They all mean something so he can instantaneously remember stuff that he noted some time ago.

Has he always used this method?

He shakes his head. "No, which was why I invented it. I was in university, my marks were going down. I went to the librarian and told her that I needed a book on how to use my brain. She pointed me to the medical section. I said, 'I don't want to operate on it, I want to know how to operate it'. She told me there were no books on that. So I began plotting it."

Suffice to say, Buzan has a memory to be envied. I sheepishly confide that despite my penchant for red and green pens, I'm already halfway to losing my marbles. Is it an age thing?

He looks horrified. "The global assumption is that as you get older you lose most of your marbles. Actually, you should be gaining more marbles for your collection. To do this, you need to develop your intelligence."

If the brain is stimulated throughout life, it becomes more creative, develops a better memory, and becomes more knowledgeable, says Buzan. "We should teach our children that as they get older their brain will get a lot better and their intelligence would grow if they nurture it well."

Intelligence, he adds, is the brain's capacity to pass the most complex and comprehensive intelligence test of all. And it's not your IQ test or the Mensa IQ test. "It's a thing called life. That's the toughest test of all."

Buzan's fascination with latent genius began when he was 7. "My only interest at the time was nature," he says. "My best friend was a genius. He could identify birds by their flight pattern. But he was dyslexic and when we did a test, he was a moron (according to the classification). But I knew he was smarter than me. That raised in my mind the question of what was intelligence - who's smart and who says who's smart?"

It was these seedlings of thought that triggered a life-long love and work with the power of the brain and his pursuit for unearthing the true nature of intelligence. "The traditional definition of intelligence is to do with mathematical and verbal powers, but there are a whole host of other areas that denote our intelligence, which include our social, creative and spiritual powers. You play the concerto of your life with all of them. As you go through life you should be developing all of them."

Buzan confides that his memory is better now than it was when he was 50 and even more so than when he was at university. He keeps it well oiled in various ways. First, he uses mind map.

"It's like a gymnasium to your mind and gives you a multiple level workout," shares Buzan. "I use it when I'm planning my day, giving a speech, and when I'm writing a book." He also stays physically fit. "In England, I row between six and 16km every morning on the River Thames. I swim and do exercises in the pool. I also dance - modern dancing, gymnastic dancing, martial art dances, reggae, and ballroom."

His energy is derived from exercise. "If you exercise you get energy for your body and brain. And when you have more energy you can do more exercise. But you have to learn how to take rests and give your body a chance to recuperate."

Another thing that gives him energy, confides Buzan, is "having something that I really believe in and working towards it. I believe in global mental literacy, which means having everybody learn how their brain, body and spirit work."

Does he ever switch off? "I love switching off," he says with a smile. "I like to lie down under a tree on a spring, summer, or autumn day... sit by the river, or the ocean, watch animals play, go for a long walk in the woods..."

What's the one thing he can't say no to aside from a good Peking duck, great sashimi, and strawberry shortcake with dollops of cream?

"Intelligent women!" he replies, with a huge smile. His basic diet is like that of an athlete preparing for a competition. "Maria Montessori, the woman who founded the Montessori schools, and Queen Elizabeth 1, are my favourite females."

His mother was incredibly intelligent too, he says. Born in 1916, she was a medical and legal PA. "But at the age of 55, she got her first university degree, a master of science in gerontology (study of ageing)."

His father, meanwhile, was an electrical engineer, whose specific passion was to transform buildings by light.

"He could light a building so that it didn't look like the shape that it actually was."

Buzan also has a younger brother, Barry, a professor of International Relations at the London School Of Economics and the author of 30 books.

Download free videos of how to do a mind map and get free mind map software from www.thinkbuzan.com.