Probably the weirdest competition I’ve ever attended from an emotional standpoint

Saturday morning, competition day one I wake up on time (rare). I know I’ve been training every discipline in smarter, better ways – almost exclusively on paper. I’ve improved so much since the Asian Open some weeks ago. (There, a typhoon delayed the competition, I was overworked, I had little training, even less sleep, ate nothing but candy, improvised 552 of my 1352 images for cards and reused loci twice.)

Two mock championships indicate I should improve my ranking by a lot (which is important if only because the better ranked get to choose their seats first for the World’s and sitting at a strategic place is important for focus). With a bit of luck, I can break the world record in three out of ten disciplines. I’ve slept well, I didn’t go out for drinks the night before… I have my timer, marked cards, transparency sheets and stationary… I’ve never been so prepared for any competition.

I even had two plates of food for dinner, with three awesome people and four desserts!

And still I wake up with a thought in my head that echoes like the sound of a gong:

“I don’t want to compete”.

Awfully ironic since the only thing I want to do when I’m not competing is to compete.

Day 1 – Opening ceremony and the competition begins

At registration

I performed at the opening ceremony by showing off my skills as the IKEA Human Catalogue 2018
There were ministers and other important people there
More than 80 competitors from 8 countries

Here’s a clip of us trying to get the group picture taken.  Day one ends and I’ve done bad in every single discipline compared to my training scores. Even though I already have some gold and silver medals, I feel like giving up.

Day 2 – final competition and the award ceremony

Takeru and I were on the posters!

I felt slightly better at the prize ceremony with some good tunes

Despite going slower, repeating more and reaching for less – adjusting for what seems to be a lowered ability during this competition – I still end up with lots of gaps. I finish in second place. On the flight home my glass trophy rests in a bundle of medals and scarves in my carry-on. And I feel like the biggest loser ever.

Because competitions for me are, ironically, more about my own performance relative to my training and less about how well I do compared to others. And relative to my own training, it was really bad.

Possible reasons it didn’t go well:


  • I had PMS (the dysphoric sad kind, not the angry-cursing-the-Gods-for-no-ice-cream-in-the-freezer kind).
  • I haven’t been working out enough since the beginning of August, which has lead to more brain fog and now it’s really caught up with me.
  • A consequence of not working out enough is that I’m not eating (well) enough.
  • I was cold and shivering from the AC. Singaporeans are used to indoor winter. The Mongolian-Swede living Texas was not. I made a not-so-bright last-minute decision to not bring my blanket. The second day I wore half of the clothes I had brought with me, layer-on-layer-on-layer. My grandma calls this “going onion”. I went big onion.
  • My hat was too small and it hurt my head. Again. The previous one I had in Hong Kong burst open during 30-min cards. When will I ever find a hat that is big enough?


  • I didn’t turn off social media notifications.
  • I didn’t know the exact gate to enter at the venue.

Psychological & social

  • I missed friends and family.
  • A big motivation for this competition was to be better than Huang Shenghua and Simon Reinhard. I only found out last-minute that neither of them were competing. I was prepared to outperform them, but I wasn’t prepared for them not competing. Motivation dropped and the pressure to win increased.
  • I missed the upbeat energy of Team Mongolia.
  • I was sad because some major opportunities for cool experiences (and lots of dough) fell through and thinking about outside matters made me lose focus.
  • Worried about loved ones who were in difficult situations that weekend.
  • I let people’s opinions of me affect me. Most people don’t mean anything by commenting on your performance, appearance and so on… they’re just making conversation. I need to learn to handle it better. When shooting for IKEA I learned to give a stern “no” when anyone asked if I was tired and it effectively shut off any further conversation about fatigue (“you look tired, are you jet-lagged?” a kind and empathetic question, but alas not very helpful). That was a good coping mechanism, I need more of those.
  • The need to be nice (or perceived as such). I don’t have to take pictures with everyone who asks, answer every question, do every interview or perform, not during a competition. I should remember I’m there to compete.

Takeru kept me sane with insane pictures during the competition

I used to think it was for the people (and the lifestyle!). But after taking a break for two years I realized I just really love competing – the opportunity to grow as a person, improve and master specific skills. When I’m truly one with it, in flow… it’s one of the fullest expressions of my inner being. It feels like life.

Soo Wee Teng came first! She’s only been competing since June!
Shafa Annisa placed third! I’ve known her since she was a kid!

I relate so much with these words said by Maria Sharapova, on life around competing:

There’s moments of this that happen. As an athlete, you surround yourself with people’s opinions or choices or money and wealth, and it’s very … It’s such an easy distraction. I surrounded myself with good people, and the friends that I have today were my friends when I was a young girl. […] My mom is still very much my best friend. And another really good friend of mine, I met when I was 11 years old as well. I have this fondness of developing these real connections with people. I think it was so helpful for me as a young girl, because I competed in front of thousands of people and I still do. The walk to the tunnel and the walk to a press conference, and the walk back to the hotel room, it’s a very lonely journey. It’s difficult … You’re in your mind a lot, and you’re thinking a lot. So, when you have voices next to you that are the right voices, then it’s so helpful. But I know how hard it is to find. But I do believe that that is a big part of my success.

I felt I had done everything right for the first time and still lost.

The good news is you can do everything wrong and still win.

Which is how I feel most competitions go for me anyway, just not this one.

Poster people, because we all did The Brain China and are… local celebrities? Memory celebrities? Not sure.

Final note: competitions most often don’t accurately reflect progress. I had an “off” weekend, but I’m better skilled now than I’ve ever been.

Highlighted thoughts on competitions, from The Little Book of Talent by Daniel Coyle


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