How to achieve your goals in 2012 like a piece of Pi

Achieving goals can be a piece of Pi. (Photo courtesy of Michal Zacharzewski; photo taken from http://www.sxc.hu.)

By Anthony O. Alcantara

Yes. It can be a piece of Pi. The Pi, of course, is that number introduced to us when we were in elementary or high school.

Pi doesn’t talk much, but it has a lot of digits in it. It is infinite, as far as existing supercomputers tell us.

So, you may ask, who am to give you advice on achieving your goals in 2012? Am I an expert? Am I a productivity guru? Well, no. But I’ve read David Allen and recently learned about the Pomodoro technique, among others. And I’m hoping that by the proven scientific principle of osmosis, I can give you some sensible advice.

But what has Pi anything to do with it? Well, in college, I had a math textbook containing the first 100 digits of Pi on the cover. I challenged myself to memorize it. Then in December last year, I rediscovered Pi while surfing the internet, and stumbled upon the Joy of Pi website.

Actually, I was looking for something to help me with my meditation. And since Pi is supposed to be a “transcendental number”, I thought it might help.

After setting a goal of memorizing 1,000 decimal places of Pi before the end of December, I realized that achieving this feat is a lot like setting and achieving goals in life.

So here are some tips:

1. Chunk it up.

Yes, I know you’ve heard it all before. But repetition can be a good thing. In any case, any big goal should be broken down into easy-to-achieve goals. It’s pretty obvious. If you masticate on a big chunk of steak, you are likely to choke, especially if someone decides to tickle you pink. So if you want to make the process more bearable and enjoyable, you cut it into smaller pieces.

It’s the same with memorizing random digits. What I did is to break down the 1,000 digits into 100-digit segments. Then I memorized those segments one at a time. Each segment is like a poem to me. “Come live with me and be my love…” Something like that, but less sexy.

2. Use what works for you.

I’m familiar with some mnemonic techniques that others use. Some have used transliteration of digits into letters, such as 0 for s or z, 1 for t or d, 2 for n, 3 for m, 4 for r, 5 for l, 6 for sh or ch, 7 for g or k, 8 for f or v, 9 for p or b.

So for the first 24 digits of Pi, for example, you can just memorize this sentence:

“My turtle Pancho will, my love, pick up my new mover Ginger.”

It’s cool isn’t it? But it doesn’t work for me. It makes me a lot slower when reciting the numbers because I still have to “translate” the letters into numbers. Neither do the other techniques work for me, such as the method of loci where you think of your favorite spots at home or some familiar place and make silly or outrageous images.

So I used my old technique which is a combination of visual and auditory stimuli generated by the numbers. I divided each 100-digit segment into five or six “sentences”. Within those “sentences”, there are two- to six-digit “words”.

There are some repetitions within the numbers. For example, 6535, 8979, etc. Somewhere between digits 701 to 800, there is also a string of six 9s. I don’t know how statistically improbable is that. I’m not a mathematician.

Anyway, I think there are few people who use the same technique.

3. Focus.

This is obvious. But certainly it’s very hard to do for most of us. I think it may help to make it mindless or automatic to a certain extent. Just like brushing your teeth or taking a bath, you should find the time to achieve one single task that would help you achieve your goals everyday.

I’ve come to love the blog of Leo Babauta. Though his articles have become a little repetitious, I’ve come to view them as useful reminders. Two posts that may be useful are those about how to set and achieve life goals and about how to establish new habits.

Establishing habits is important. I do recommend that instead of setting new year’s resolutions, we set habits instead.

You may want to try out the Pomodoro technique, too. It’s a simple productivity tool that you may like. I’ve been experimenting with it and, so far, I’m noticing some wonderful improvements in my productivity.

And as for memorizing the digits of Pi, I set aside 30 minutes each day. I have work and other responsibilities so this is the only amount of time I can set aside. And before December was up, I was able to memorize 1,000 decimal places of Pi.

Now I’m hoping that these tips I’ve learned from memorizing Pi will also extend to my ability to achieve other goals, and thereby make me more awesome, and less inclined to do seemingly useless things.

Here’s wishing you more awesomeness for the Chinese New Year.

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