Copyright © Christopher Parker
‘There is no scientific study more vital to man than the study of his own brain.
Our entire view of the universe depends on it.’
A winning partnership
Right now, sitting above your shoulders is something truly amazing. Not only is it truly amazing, it’s all yours.
What is it?
The human brain.
And the great thing is as you stand or sit there now, creating meaning out of these agreed shapes we call words, your brain is doing the work. It’s helping you to make sense of this. Just as it does everything else.
What many of us tend to forget as we go about our daily business is that the brain is the central, most important factor in all of our lives. It’s our brain that allows us to function on a daily basis. It’s our brain that controls the multiple independent systems within our body, and helps to shape our understanding of ourselves and the environment around us.
The human brain – our brains, your brain – runs our particular life-show. It influences us every step of the way. It helps us to make sense of the chaos of daily life. It plays a vital role in determining our level of physical and/or mental performance in every context. As Neil deGrasse Tyson, the American astrophysicist, emphasised, ‘Everything we do, every thought we’ve ever had, is produced by the human brain.’
However, too often – and for too long – many have chosen to accept the myth that the human brain is so complex and mysterious that it’s essentially unknowable; better, therefore, to just ignore it in favour of those other aspects of ourselves that we do have some understanding of.
Such thinking is seriously flawed.
Our knowledge about the brain is growing daily and at a significant rate.
This is a really important point.
As we will show in Chapter 1, people have been studying and learning about the brain throughout history. Now we are learning more quickly than ever before. We know more than we ever have about how and why the brain always wins. We certainly know enough to be able to actively manage our relationship with it. Indeed, we know enough to say that we should prioritise this relationship.
We should, therefore, all be thankful to the dedicated academics, applied scientists, and researchers who work so hard to make this possible. We’re committed to sharing their work with you and encouraging you to seek out more.
We want you to actively avoid the temptation that all books present – which is to focus only within the boundaries of these pages. We regard this book as one part of a much larger, on-going process of brain learning and sharing. So in the Appendix that accompanies each chapter we give you very clear directions to other valuable sources and resources that, if studied and/or used in conjunction with what you have here, will enhance even further your ability to make meaningful changes. This is one of the reasons why we so deliberately refer to our brain management program as a Process.
As we will explain the level and quality of our performance – in anything, from work to sport, to the management of the relationships in our personal lives and, even, how we communicate with our self! – is ultimately determined by our brain. Of course, it’s important to keep other parts of our body healthy and well. However, as we’ll show, by doing this we are actually serving the brain; giving it what it needs to run the show, our show, to the best of its ability.
Perhaps you have never thought of yourself as a performer before. Yet each and every day we are asked by others, or ask of ourselves, to be mentally and/or physically alert and able to perform for at least for some portion of time.
You don’t need to be an elite athlete, play in a world cup match, drive on the track at Nuremberg, attempt to return a serve at 125 miles per hour or appear on stage to be a performer. When you lead a business meeting, take part in a business presentation, or share an important update with a colleague, you are performing. In fact, every time we act out our professional self we are performing in one way or another. Then, of course, there is also the precious time we spend with the people we love most in the world. Performance is part of being a partner or parent, of being a supporter or a soul mate. Indeed, for most of us the results and relationships we create in our personal lives are even more important than those we develop at work.
To be honest, we nearly called this book Your Brain Always Wins because your brain is uniquely your own. Indeed, your individuality is a result of your brain function. And, although there are some universal truths we’ll share about the human brain, when it comes to optimizing performance we know that most training is only truly impactful when individuality is taken into account. That is why we’re providing you with a brain management Process that provides you with everything you need to create your own customized program based on your individual needs and contexts.
The benefits of increased brain health and performance are truly significant. Not just for us as individuals, but for the societies in which we live. Through better brain management we can, for example, change the status of economies (by reducing negative health expenditure and improving output), develop the quality of our education (by applying the latest cognitive science to the learning and evaluation process of students), improve sporting performance (by assisting with training, talent identification and rest and recovery) and raise the standards of medicine and health care even higher (through targeted prevention and targeted treatments).
Conversely, the costs of getting our brain management wrong are great and take many forms. Sadly, we experience and witness examples of these all too often. Soldiers returning from war suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, people unhappy and underperforming at work because of inappropriate negative stress, students limited in their learning by nervousness, self-doubt or fear, economies losing literally billions of dollars every year due to physical and mental illnesses that limit productivity and demand costly resources.
So, you might ask, if the brain always wins how is it that we can experience such pain and negativity?
The answer relates to the brain’s dominant role in determining how we perform in every aspect of our life and its primary purpose in ensuring our survival.
We use the phrase the brain always wins as a reminder that it’s our brain that ultimately determines how we feel, think and behave. It drives our ability to avoid or manage threats to our wellbeing, solve problems, and adapt. It does this by responding to the stimuli – the feedback - we present. Inevitably, if our interpretation of a situation is flawed then our response will also be flawed. If, for example, we constantly perceive threats where none exist our brain will automatically shift us into flight or fight mode, and it will keep us there until we can acknowledge our safety. In this respect our brain is winning. It is governing how we are feeling and acting based on the stimuli it is receiving, on our perceived needs.
That’s why we need a Process to manage our relationship with our brain well, to ensure brain health and performance. Science teaches us that if we get our brain management right, we are far more likely to get everything else right.
Our brain is what separates us from every other living thing on Earth. It is the most amazing organ we are aware of. It has enough computing power to put most super computers to shame. It is made up of 100 billion neurons. It is only 3% of our overall weight and yet consumes 30% of our calories and 50% of our daily oxygen intake! It does this without asking. It fuels itself without our conscious awareness. It is amazing and complex. Yet, despite its complexity, there are three vitally important things we do know for certain:
Although we still have much to learn about the human brain, we do now know enough to enter into a deliberate and successful working partnership with what Professor Michio Kaku calls ‘the most complicated object in the known universe’.
We can become partners with our brain in a way that once, not too long ago, would have been impossible. Now we have scientific evidence that proves it is possible to manage brain health and performance and to identify and measure the outcomes. We also know that doing this creates the most positive results.
Better yet this works for everyone, not just those seeking to be the elite in a particular domain. We can all play a conscious role in supporting what, until relatively recently, has been only a subconscious process.
This book will teach you how. That’s why it’s here. This is how it works:
Building blocks, skipping and the opportunity to take what you need when you need it This book is designed with you and your brain – specifically how your brain works - in mind.
We make learning easier by engaging with your brain in the way it most naturally works. So we have written a summary at the start and end of each chapter. This will prime your memory and engage your brain with regard to the take away messages each chapter contains. We also include:
The chapters are ordered as independent building blocks. If you wish to start at the beginning and work your way through the book in the usual, linear fashion, we provide a clear route. Yet if skipping around the book is the way forward (and maybe sometimes the way backwards) for you, the content and sequencing will still work.
Next, we introduce you to your brain. We explain its structure and function and, importantly, the role it plays in governing everything we do. In the main body of the book, we address each aspect of our brain management Process and highlight the value of combining them. The Process incorporates:
Rest and recovery
Each chapter is divided into two parts. In the first part we provide essential knowledge, giving you an overview of the associated science and relevant influencing factors. In the second part we provide the training, making specific recommendations before giving you options to choose from and directing you to additional resources identified in the Appendix. These resources include a range of further reading, associated media sources and examples of technology – much of it available free of charge - that can be used to monitor, measure and enhance your brain health and performance.
The influence of technology in our lives, and how to manage our engagement with it to ensure optimum brain function, is an important topic we will address in future chapters. We mention it now because there are potential negative effects to our increasing use of technology in the workplace and beyond. Our focus in this book, therefore, is on how to manage technology in order to achieve your goals whilst maintaining – ideally, enhancing – your wellbeing. So we encourage you to explore the different examples we recommend and to select and incorporate those that best suit your needs.
Too often health and performance programs adopt a ‘one size fits all’ approach. However, we know that we are all in many ways unique; we have different starting points, different ways of learning and operating and different end goals. It follows, then, that although there may be certain principles or practices that benefit us all, we also need the guided freedom necessary to create our own personal Process for success. This is why, although we are prescriptive at times, we provide a wide range of activities and resources for you to choose from based on your understanding of yourself, your lifestyle, your values and your purpose.
Although each aspect of the Process can be addressed and managed independently, and benefits will be realized by improving any one, we encourage you to think and act systemically. The Process is interactive and synergistic in nature. We experience the best results, therefore, by ensuring that eventually we develop all aspects.
The Nobel Prize winning Scientist and Educator, Santiago Ramon y Cajal wrote, ‘Any man could, if he were so inclined, be the sculptor of his own brain.’
If you are so inclined do keep reading and, no matter what other skills you have, we will help you to become a proficient brain-sculptor! The process is both enlightening and fun. The reward is great. It’s the quality of your life.