10 Awesomely Simple Brain-Hacks That Will Give You An Unfair Advantage. Really!

(Reading time 5 minutes)

While people like Ray Kurzweil, Peter Diamandis, Elon Musk and a group of other visionaries are developing AI (artificial Intelligence) to extraordinary levels, most of us fail to materialise even the basic capabilities that we are already endowed with. We are not applying the latest science to our education ad self development, and missing out on some serious goodness, both in terms of our own capacity to do amazing stuff, as well as the intensity and quality of our experience of life.

Fortunately, most of it is actually surprisingly simple. You don’t have to go to the extremes that Tim Ferris has experimented on himself in order to get more mileage out of what you do. And it is not about efficiency, productivity, paleo-diets or fitbit apps. Instead change a few simple things in your daily routine.

1. First of all, get smart about learning.
Before anything meaningful can improve you need to improve your ability to learn – and retain information. And since our information comes primarily from written and spoken sources, reading speeds and listening are essential.
Learning hack # 1: Do this simple 10 minute exercise 3 or 4 times over the same number of weeks and you will see your reading speed increase from 250 words per minute to 600 and higher (we know that comprehension begins to fall apart at about 900 words). If you double or triple your reading speed – will that have an impact on your life? I am assuming that you are not just reading pulp fiction but meaningful stuff that will refine and develop you.
Learning Hack # 2: Listen to podcasts at 1.5 speed. Again this does not affect comprehension – although it may take a little getting used to listening to what sounds like over-caffeinated speakers on helium, you will be able to either listen to a podcast repeatedly (and increase retention) or simply be able to listen to more of them. 1.5 times is .5 more than what other listeners are getting through.
Learning Hack #3: Do all your learning activities within 2 hours of going to sleep. In 2009 a study at Berkley University conclusively established the relationship between learning and sleep. Motor skills and cognitive skills are processed separately in different stages of sleep, but in any case, having a decent sleep after studying or practicing a physical skill will help you get better at it faster. If you want the condensed version watch this interview with author Josh Kaufman.

The reading exercise alone will be enough to get you fired up about consuming books, so start with stuff you always wanted to read but never have time for, or finish that book that has been collecting dust for the last six months on your bedside table. If you are studying this will change your life, and your results.

Before we move onto items 2 and beyond, the first question will possibly be “What should I learn/read/practice?”

I suggest keep it simple. Don’t try to over-reach, pick one thing that you always wanted to learn or get better at, and commit to that one thing for a couple of months, longer if necessary. Why? Because the most difficult thing will not be the learning part, but developing enough discipline to do it regularly. Your practice needs to become habitual. If you don’t get to that then most things will not get past the attempt.

Besides learning to learn, here are a few more proven brain-enhancing hacks.

2. Add a musical instrument to your learning palette. Music is by far the greatest brain-enhancing activity. It improves all sorts of things from spatial awareness to self-awareness, from the the ability to stay calm to becoming better at maths, puzzles and geometry. Above all, you will suddenly comprehend jokes and the universe in a way that can only understood by other musicians.
3. Reduce your screen time to the absolute minimum necessary, and have one, two or even 3 screen free days every week. Seriously, I dare you. If the world ends on day 3 we’ll all know, otherwise let us all know how you did via the comments below. Screens are the antithesis to a brain-hack (with the exception of your kindle and reading important posts like this one)
4. Meditate daily. Start with 10 minute breathing exercises, and if you really want to alter your brain physically (all good ones) then work towards 20 minutes or longer in a single session every day. There is that famous Zen poverb: “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”
5. Put your to-do list in your diary. To-do’s take time, so if you are not scheduling some time for it, it is unlikely to ever happen! Besides you will learn really quickly to prioritise when you begin to run out of time-slots in your agenda. I could go on here about the power of saying no, but that’s best left for another post.
6. Write important stuff by hand. It has been verified over and over again that writing stuff by hand goes into your brain and stays there, in other words handwriting has a much higher rate of retention than typing. It is probably no big deal that the appointment you typed into Sunrise Calendar on your iPhone is forgotten until the reminder pops up, but it matters when you are taking notes at a meeting. Having important information stored in your brain will ensure that you solve complex problems more effectively. And don’t worry – it is extremely unlikely that you will ever get a notification from your brain saying “Brain full. Would you like to archive old files now?”
7. Dictate to your devices instead of typing. Not really a brain hack, but yeah, why not use technology to your advantage. Typing is slow, speaking and listening back will actually help with retention when your favourite notebook and pencil are not at hand. Besides, its the way of the future (for now). Most devices now do a pretty good job at this, and many of them learn to recognise your way of speaking. Spooky, but very very cool.
8. Get/keep fit with a 10 or 15-minute daily regime. No excuses here, there is a plethora of decent programs out there, find one and refine it as you get a routine going. The simple fact is that your brain works way better if it is carried around by a fit and healthy body. Slouching in a chair, mouse in hand for 8 -15 hours a day staring at a screen is not just destroying your body, it is also destroying your mind, which brings me to the next point.
9. Take breaks. Your thinking ability begins to decline rapidly after 45 minutes at the same task, and is totally zapped, zero, nil, at around 90 minutes. My personal favourite is the Pomodoro Method, where you work for 25 and take a 5 minute break, meaning 5 minutes of doing something away from the desk that has absolutely nothing to do with what you were doing before. If you can go outside, breathe some fresh green air, stare at the clouds and hear cows and birds in some kind of vegetated space even better. But beware – use a timer for this. Time flies when you are getting stuff done!.
10. Eat and drink well and regularly. Up the leafy greens and veg big time, more whole foods and less processed, ditch the sugars where you can, and don’t be afraid of oils and fats. your brain needs them! And of course keep up the water (or green tea).

That book you always wanted to write? A language you wanted to learn? Whatever it is that you have parked because it is to difficult to learn, you now have no reason not to start. It may not make you rich overnight, but I am certain that it will make you happier.

In closing, if you are a parent teach this stuff to your kids. I hope this helps look at your life and theirs in a different way.

You don’t need to be Lucy on performance enhancing drugs to overclock your brain, most of it is simple science, a little discipline and a lot of fun.

Practice makes you… Worse?!

Shakuhachi and Japanese Sheet Music
Shakuhachi and Japanese Sheet Music

We have all heard it – “practice makes perfect”. But does it?

A few years ago I decided to start playing a wonderful musical instrument called Shakuhachi – often also called Japanese Bamboo or Zen Flute. I found a teacher and started an amazing journey of learning far beyond what I had imagined. Since then I have learned so much more than just playing this beautiful instrument, I have learned about non-western composition, reading music in a completely foreign language and format, improved my pitch recognition, learned more about Zen, and refined my practice skills.

The most important factor enabling me to progress quickly was rigurous practice guided by a master. You are probably thinking that I stood barefoot in the snow for an hour every day for six years practicing just one single note, but I can not claim anything remotely this epic. By rigurous practice I mean that in spite of my clumsiness, my teacher always made sure that I was conscious of practicing the technique correctly. This was, is, and will always be challenging.

For everything we do there is a way of doing it that is easier, or comes more natural. We automatically tend to do this. So if we are not attentive, informed and willing to do it the right instead of the obvious way, we will simply become masters at doing things wrong.

So it is with everything that we do, the way we practice our life and business. We are all blessed with some of the worlds greatest instructors: from spiritual scriptures to more recent books from the likes of Emmerson, Napoleon Hill (one of my personal favourites), Lao-Tsu and Eckhart Tolle. The list is almost endless, but the lessons are remarkably consistent and simple. And it is not surprising that the people who put such advice to practice consistently out-succeed those who don’t.

Unless you can truthfully look yourself in the eyes (tip – use a mirror!) and can claim that without a shadow of doubt you have attained all the success that you have always aspired and imagined, then you must instead ask yourself what are you practicing? Have you become very good at doing the in-effective, the average or the easy? Have you refined skills of techniques that are known to yield poor results? Who is guiding you?

For the majority of the time, our practice makes us worse, and we all have been busy perfecting our mistakes. On top of this, history shows us that without some form of external accountability buddy, mentor or coach, we will continue to do so!.

To prevent this from happening, do these two things right now:

  • Review your practice of all activities that are not yielding the results you expected. Get ruthlessly honest with yourself. You can start this in your head – nobody else needs to know! But I recommend that you write a reminder note somewhere that you will see again.
  • Have the courage to ask for guidance. Find a trustworthy and credible teacher or master. Make a commitment to them so that they can help you.

Only the right practice can ever make you “perfect”.


** If you have enjoyed reading this you may also like some of my other posts, and register to join the conversation. Someone you know will be grateful to you for sharing this with them on your favourite social network. **

Practice makes you… Worse?!

We have all heard it – “practice makes perfect”. But does it?

A few years ago I decided to start playing a wonderful musical instrument called Shakuhachi – often also called Japanese Bamboo or Zen Flute. I found a teacher and started an amazing journey of learning far beyond what I had imagined. Since then I have learned so much more than just playing this beautiful instrument, I have learned about non-western composition, reading music in a completely foreign language and format, improved my pitch recognition, learned more about Zen, and refined my practice skills.

The most important factor enabling me to progress quickly was rigurous practice guided by a master. You are probably thinking that I stood barefoot in the snow for an hour every day for six years practicing just one single note, but I can not claim anything remotely this epic. By rigurous practice I mean that in spite of my clumsiness, my teacher always made sure that I was conscious of practicing the technique correctly. This was, is, and will always be challenging.

For everything we do there is a way of doing it that is easier, or comes more natural. We automatically tend to do this. So if we are not attentive, informed and willing to do it the right instead of the obvious way, we will simply become masters at doing things wrong.

So it is with everything that we do, the way we practice our life and business. We are all blessed with some of the worlds greatest instructors: from spiritual scriptures to more recent books from the likes of Emmerson, Napoleon Hill (one of my personal favourites), Lao-Tsu and Eckhart Tolle. The list is almost endless, but the lessons are remarkably consistent and simple. And it is not surprising that the people who put such advice to practice consistently out-succeed those who don’t.

Unless you can truthfully look yourself in the eyes (tip – use a mirror!) and can claim that without a shadow of doubt you have attained all the success that you have always aspired and imagined, then you must instead ask yourself what are you practicing? Have you become very good at doing the in-effective, the average or the easy? Have you refined skills of techniques that are known to yield poor results? Who is guiding you?

For the majority of the time, our practice makes us worse, and we all have been busy perfecting our mistakes. On top of this, history shows us that without some form of external accountability buddy, mentor or coach, we will continue to do so!.

To prevent this from happening, do these two things right now:

  • Review your practice of all activities that are not yielding the results you expected. Get ruthlessly honest with yourself. You can start this in your head – nobody else needs to know! But I recommend that you write a reminder note somewhere that you will see again.
  • Have the courage to ask for guidance. Find a trustworthy and credible teacher or master. Make a commitment to them so that they can help you.

Only the right practice can ever make you “perfect”.

** If you have enjoyed reading this you may also like some of my other posts, and register to join the conversation. Someone you know will be grateful to you for sharing this with them on your favourite social network. **

In memory of Bob Brozman.

Absolutely shattered to find out that the amazing Bob Brozman is no longer with us. I had the great fortune to meet the great master on two occasions, to learn from him and converse about all things mind and music, and also to see him perform live. He had a wealth of knowledge that he shared with generosity and humility.

Bob opened my ears to musical subtleties and genres that I would otherwise never have discovered, and that have since become inspirational and influential in my compositions. He was the reason I begun playing on resonator guitars.

Bob, you leave an incredible legacy of music and musical education to future generations, I guess the sleep that you once talked about is now here… “There’s so much music out there…I guess I’ll get some sleep in the next life!”

Bob Brozman, you will be missed dearly by guitarists and musos all over the world. Thank you from the depths of my heart and my muse for the amazing work that you have devoted your life to, and the joy and inspiration that you have given me through it.

_/_ May your soul find peace. _/_

* About the video:
This was more recent performance of “Down the road” – the first BB song I ever heard. In my mind it captures the virtuosity and fun that was so much a trademark of his playing. Enjoy and share.