1 Simple Way To Improve Brain Power: Create A Brain Extension

As a brain owner myself, (or does it own me?) I’ve taken an interest in the brain and how to improve brain power, since the late 1970s.

It would take a great deal of writing and reading time, to cover all there is to know about how the brain works. Most might be interesting but of little practical use to those who want to learn how to improve brain power, unless you want to become a neurologist or brain surgeon.

So here I include just a short introduction to the capabilities of the human brain followed by highlighting several limitations of the brain that lead to asking you to consider if you, like me, need a brain extension!

How To Improve Brain Power: A Rough Guide For Brain Owners

There used to be a myth that certain large dinosaurs had two brains. Humans (arguably) do actually have a couple of brains.

The brain in our head is an organised mass of organic ‘neurones’ and other specialised cells. A second similar mass of neurones hides behind the gut at our solar plexus. They are connected by a large tangle of nerves collectively referred to as the Vagus Nerve.

The neurones at our solar plexus monitor our organs and the microbes in our gut. Some experts say that our bodies and minds are in effect run by those microbes. We need to look no further for a very good reason to be careful with what we ingest!

From hereon, I use the word ‘brain’ to mean the organism contained in our head.

A Few Brain Facts

Just a few Neurones

Much has been written, in countless places, about the incredible capacity of the human brain. Every one of us carries with us about 3.3lbs (1.5kgs) of soft tissue protected by a boney structure, plus 3 membranes, with fluid to help absorb trauma shocks.

The electrochemical activity in the human brain provides trillions of times more computing power than any man-made computer to date. It consists of around 100 billion neurons that are joined via a quadrillion of networked connections.

That’s 1000 trillion connections, different combinations of which are multi-functional and constantly changing!

In addition, how the neurone connections work is extraordinary. Without going into detail, the connections and how they transmit signals are extremely flexible and provide virtually unlimited memory storage.

Contrary to popular belief, the brain is not a static organ, it’s a continually evolving and developing organism. The terms ‘brain plasticity’ or ‘neuroplasticity’ are used nowadays to refer to the brain’s ability to continually develop its neurone connections based on what it experiences.

Now… there is a popular myth that most of us only use about 10% of our brain, but scientific tests have shown that about 90% of it is active at most times and the other 10% or so is active as well when we are awake. We do indeed use our whole brain, but not usually all of it at the same time.

The Mind Is Where It’s At

As I am sure you are aware. our brains perform numerous functions some of which are collectively referred to as our mind. The functions of the mind are popularly split into two groups.

Those functions that we are cognitively aware of, known as the conscious mind (which rests when we sleep) and those that we are not normally aware of, the subconscious mind (most of which is active all of the time).

Although we are mostly unaware of activity in the areas of the brain where the subconscious mind operates, we are often aware of its effects through our senses. Despite this lack of general awareness, everything we do is actually carried out via our subconscious ‘programming’, including those things that we consciously decide.

The Importance Of Goals?

Now moving on… the relevance of setting goals is that having goals, or a purpose, is essential for our general well-being and happiness. People living with no goals or aspirations are invariably unhappy.

Success experts have often suggested that writing down goals is important. I’ve learned from personal experience of writing out my own goals, and through working for around 40 years as a coach and facilitator, with both individuals and groups that, recording goals really does make a positive difference to those who like to get things done.

I believe there are two main types of goals (or aspirations). First, there are those that I like to call defined outcome goals. These are the main goals that we set such as personal visions, high-level competitive targets, business results, project outcomes etc. Then there are the action steps that we decide are needed to achieve our ‘outcome goals’. I call these ‘action goals’.

(By now you may be wondering what the title, “One Simple Way To Improve Brain Power: How To Create A Brain Extension” is all about… please be patient… if you keep reading it will become clear).

Writing Things Down

I’ve already suggested that writing down the outcome and action goals makes a positive difference. I’m sure most people will agree with that.

The value-add of writing things down includes:

  • Providing focus;
  • Helps when communicating with others;
  • Acts as a reminder for ourselves;
  • Helps us organise and prioritise;
  • We can tick things off when completed – i.e. record our progress.

I’m sure you can think of more benefits.

However, there’s one overriding value that most people don’t realise, but which has a profound impact on our productivity and performance. It is, for most people (except perhaps for those who have nothing to do) the best way to improve brainpower.

Interference

The thing is, that unlike our lack of awareness of subconscious activity, we are well aware of what is in our conscious mind where logic, imagination, creativity and decision making come to the fore; otherwise known as thinking.

Our subconscious mind constantly monitors conscious thoughts and automatically attempts to deliver its interpretation of what is asked of it.

The power of our brains is often admired. What is talked about less often, is that the brain/mind combination is not well designed for certain functions:

  • With the exception of areas that house our conscious thinking, the brain operates in some respects like a computer in the sense that It makes no value judgements on information passed to it. Useful or not, it takes it in, then uses it based on instructions that have been developing at least since birth, mainly from elsewhere, including from the conscious mind. This has many implications but I don’t want to digress too far from the point here;
  • The brain has an enormous capacity for memories, however, recalling specific memories is actually not always easy. For example, we easily remember exciting or traumatic incidents then sometimes forget to buy the bread;
  • Often we ‘order up’ a memory using our conscious mind, and the subconscious delivers when it gets around to it, sometimes at the most inconvenient of times. The subconscious has no sense of time.
  • All information is treated as current by the subconscious mind regardless of how long it has been held. Such information is often applied to current experience inappropriately. For example, a childlike reaction to a situation can surface at any time;
  • Memories become part of our subconscious programming and can be changed and sometimes lost. This seemingly negative trait is a double-edged sword. It can be useful to be able to make changes to our subconscious programming;
  • The conscious mind is unable to multi-task. When we think we are multi-tasking what is really happening is that we are switching from one task to another… albeit often extremely fast;
  • Also, our conscious mind can typically hold only 3 to 5 thoughts at any one time, and often loses some through being distracted by external events, or through subconscious ‘interference’, or because we try to consciously remember more than we are capable of;
  • Our subconscious mind just loves to ‘talk’ to us. Although perhaps with our best interests at heart, it regularly interrupts conscious activity, whatever we are doing or thinking, with random messages (a bit like some people’s texts I guess :-);
  • The conscious mind operates very slowly in comparison with the lightening speed of our subconscious mind.

So what we all have in our bodies, for our very own personal use, is in effect, the most powerful computer on the planet with several flaws that most people don’t compensate for. To be more precise, the brain/mind is well developed for being creative, and much less well developed for quickly recalling memories, or for holding memories consciously. These flaws often cause us to perform less than optimally.

The Case For A Brain Extension

Now imagine… your alarm has just gone off in the morning. It’s time to get up. You remember that around 3 am you had woken up with a brilliant idea for a new post for your personal blog. At 3 am you thought: “I must remember to write that down in the morning”.

Three things happened following on from this – first, you spent the next twenty minutes thinking about your idea; ‘worrying’ it, until you fell back to sleep. Secondly, by then the idea had been partially ‘parked’ somewhere in your subconscious mind and thirdly, it was dropped by your conscious mind when you went back to sleep…

Later in the day, twenty minutes into a half-hour team briefing at the day job your subconscious reminds you what the early morning idea was (i.e. it gets around to responding to the request you gave it when you woke up). This time you write yourself a note. The manager running the meeting asks for your opinion and you have no idea what about…

Then, when driving home a subconscious part thinks it’s a good time to talk to you about how embarrassing it was, having to admit that you’d lost the plot of the discussion at the meeting. You cringe at the emotional reaction and nearly run a red light… but another part of your super fast subconscious mind notices and jolts you back to reality just in time to avoid a catastrophe…

How To Improve Brain Power: The Solution Is Simple

Learning how to improve brain power is not essential, but is extremely useful.

The first part of the solution is simple but not necessarily easy. It takes a day or three to set up, and some discipline. The solution to the story above is obvious. Using a few minutes to record the idea when it woke you up would have avoided the subsequent consequences.

The factor that makes the solution not so easy is that this situation can and does occur regularly, at any time, without warning, for any of us, especially when we have a lot going on.

Today we are bombarded with ideas and opportunities most of the time. As the mind has evolved it has become excellent at recognition, at spotting ideas and opportunities, but relatively poor at recall.

There are three ways to handle the unintentionally disruptive behaviour of the subconscious mind:

  1. Ignore the interruption. Some of the interruptions add no value. However, some are useful and if ignored may simply disappear (be forgotten);
  2. Handle the interruptions as they arise, which can make sense if it only takes a minute or two;
  3. When it doesn’t make sense to take immediate action for any reason, take steps to capture the interruptions as they arise, for handling later. Write a reminder!

How To Improve Brain Power: Why Create A Brain Extension?

Recapping: we have a brain that has a vast subconscious memory bank and a very creative consciousness.

However, its ‘design’ is such that it’s often slow to consciously recall what we want from the memory bank, and we can’t actually hold much at any one time in our conscious, creative mind.

Our conscious mind, naively (it never seems to learn unless we specifically train it) attempts to remember far more than it is capable of. We often think a new thought or idea will be easy to remember later… we end up either forgetting whatever it was or consciously worrying about the possibility that we might forget something. Either is a recipe for stress.

The Information Age

In this modern, so-called ‘information age’ we are constantly bombarded by interesting, fun, useful and often not so useful information. Our brains (or should I say minds) are constantly being stimulated and tested. All this on top of our normal day to day activities and commitments leads to a degree of overload.

It has become impossible for most of us, for our brain to keep up with the bombardment. The overloading of our capacity causes problems of memory loss along with fuzziness from the interference of those things we are working so hard to retain.

So what we can do is create a kind of extension to our brain to help us improve brainpower. Somewhere ideally outside of our conscious and subconscious minds, perhaps functionally similar to a computer’s external disc drive. We need somewhere to download all ideas or thoughts that pop into our mind, that we either want to do or need to get done.

This isn’t just a to-do list. It’s a comprehensive list of everything useful that ‘crosses our desk’ or mind. It requires a simple system, that once set up, reaps enormous benefits and enables us to improve brainpower.

Once such a depository is created, regular reviews and organisation of the items that we capture can minimise and virtually eliminate stress. It helps to control the interference factor. When the mind knows that there is a process to capture everything important and possibly useful, it stops worrying unnecessarily.

Personally, for anything that occurs to me that I cannot handle straight away, I write it down. Then every week, I first discard any items that are not appropriate to keep. Then I prioritise the remaining items. Daily focus on doing ‘first things first’ gets things done in order of importance, without losing anything. There is more that can be done, but these are the essentials.

A Software Solution To Improve Brain Power

When I first started capturing everything, towards the end of the 1980s, it was all on paper. A few years ago I started using software solutions. I used a mixture of products and eventually used Evernote and Trello. Both are fantastic for what they do but limiting for my requirements.

Nowadays, I use software, currently free for individuals, called ‘Notion’ on my iPhone and PC. It combines the benefits of Evernote and Trello in an ingenious way that includes database functions.

I use the same software for my writing process, as well as various other areas of interest. Nowadays I organise my whole life within ‘notion.os’ software.

The notion.os software is provided on both the web and apps. The apps can be used offline and the various versions all update each other automatically when the internet connects to the device.

Whatever I capture on the iPhone (iOS) is automatically updated on the PC (Windows) and vice versa. There are versions of the notion apps available for Android and macOS as well.

Are You Interested?

“If you’re carrying around in your head 100 billion mainframe computers, you just have to get in there and learn how to operate them. I think it is your personal imperative to invest the time, energy, and study needed to better understand and use your mind power”

Dr Timothy Leary in 1992

So my question to you is, are you interested in learning more about the brain, and how to improve brain power, or perhaps in learning about how I use Notion software?

Please let me know by writing a comment, or ask any questions. I will always try to reply within 48 hours. I’d love to hear what you think.

If you enjoyed this post, please share.

Richard B

14 thoughts on “1 Simple Way To Improve Brain Power: Create A Brain Extension”

    • Hi John
      Thank you for taking the time to comment on my post.
      If you do get into Notion, you will find that it is useful for all kinds of things.
      In addition to controlling Things To Do, I use it for recording research materials, plus capturing and developing writing ideas,
      🙂
      Richard

      Reply
  1. Very interesting! I remember when I was younger and in the habit of writing poetry all the time, I’d wake up in the middle of the night and grab my pen and paper I kept on my nightstand to write things down because if I waited till morning it would have slipped off into my dreams.

    Today I still come up with insights or ideas but I have no real way to organize them so I’m excited to try Notion.

    And as someone who blogs about the gut-brain axis, I also appreciated you mentioning the gut as our second brain:) I really enjoyed the article! 

    Reply
    • Hi Nicole
      Thank you for your response to my post. Glad you found it interesting. IF you do try Notion, I’d love to hear how you get on with it.

      Reply
  2. Hi Richard, I love your article on how to create a brain extension for ourselves. I, myself will try my best to write down an idea that crossed my mind lest I forget them and come back later to that particular idea to see if something can be done or created with it. I am also intrigued with the app that you are using “notion.os” software but the only thing is I am an android user. Is the software available in android, I wonder?

    Reply
    • Hi Dominic, I’m really pleased you enjoyed the article. The Notion app is available for Android, iOS, macOS and Windows. I use the app on my iPhone mostly. The Apps are not as accomplished as the online version (which I mostly use on PC) but work well enough and keep me going when I have no internet. Take a look at the notion.os site for details.

      Reply
  3. Hey Richard,

    Firstly, I have to say that I’m still giggling at the “forgot the bread” comment, LOL.

    Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

    I’ll openly admit that I’ve always had more than just a passing interest in how we tick, but in truth my knowledge of the conscious and subconscious brain (mind) has only been aroused in recent years.

    I think like many of us I have had a lifelong struggle with the subconscious mind, although it took a long time for me to realise what an huge impact this was having on my daily life.

    As you’ve mentioned, the subconscious is perfectly capable of provide a great deal of insight and positivity.

    That being said, I do recall reading that we typically have somewhere in the region of 60,000 thoughts a day, and up to 90% of them are negative in nature (don’t quote me on that).

    And the vast majority of these thoughts are stirred up by the subsconscious, whether we realise it or not.

    Much like yourself, I started out with good old “pen and paper” for noting things down.

    In fact, they are still dear to me, and used every single day.

    I like to have what I refer to as a “brain dump” first thing every morning.

    I typically set a timer for about 15 minutes, grab my pen and pad, and just write down whatever is on my mind.

    Most of it is incoherent nonsense if I’m being honest, but I produce the occasional gem once in a while.

    I think you’re a little ahead of me Richard, I still haven’t graduated from my phone’s notepad feature for getting my thoughts down.

    But, I will admit that Notion has peaked my interest.

    Richard, a thouroughly enjoyable and though-provoking read.

    Food for thought you could say.

    My “Brain Extension” definitely needs working on.

    Thank You

    Partha

    Reply
    • Hi Partha
      Thank you for such a thoughtful comment!
      As you conclude… an understanding of how the brain and minds work gives ‘much food for thought’.
      Personally, I think that along with subjects such as Budgeting and Financial Planning, how the brain and mind work really should be taught in schools.
      The earlier we take our brain functions seriously, and in particular we can learn to control our mindset learn that we can control our own mindset, the more successful we are likely to be.

      Reply
  4. I really like Dr. Timothy Leary’s quote. And I completely agree. I know it takes time and energy to master our brainpower, but I also know it’s completely worth our time and effort.

    Another point I agree with is writing our goals! Yeah, that’s really powerful!

    I went over and checked notion, and the software seems super cool. Have you tried an app called Keep by Google? Is there much difference between Keep and notion?

    Thanks for this pleasant read.

    Reply
    • Hi Ann

      Thank you for leaving a comment.

      I have not used Keep but took a quick look. It seems to be good for taking notes but I couldn’t see what else. Also Google removed the Keep App from App Store in December 2020 so the App is no longer available, it’s just the online version now so it cannot be used without the internet. 

      Notion provides a simple spreadheet plus database and Kanban views. It was originally designed as a tool for building Apps without needing to learn code … so you can effectively create your own app for controlling any information you like. BTW… I am not sponsored by Notion nor am I an affiliate… I just think it’s superb.

      🙂 Richard

      Reply
  5. Hello there, Richard! This is an interesting post. It’s amazing how we can remember so clearly certain events from many years before but cannot remember something like a task to do that is more recent. It has happened to me before where I had some really great idea moments after waking up, but then after going to sleep, I forget most of it. Then I would recall going to work or school trying to remember what that epiphany moment was. But in the process of recalling, I don’t pay attention to whatever I am doing at the moment. It feels like a mess at times. Definitely need to start writing things down especially if it is a good idea. I will need to look more into Notion. How does it work since I am not too familiar with Evernote or Trello? Thanks for creating this post.

    Reply
    • Hi Mike

      Thanks for your comment. You’ve clearly understood the point and perhaps gained a bit more knowledge now about what is happening when we think we’ll remember something, then later can’t recall it. For the subconscious mind to take something in for later recall it either needs a lot of repetition, or a strong emotion attached to it. 

      A brief introduction to: 

      Evernote … it was developed as a note-taking tool and has evolved into a storage system for any kind of information. Easy to use. Great for recording/storing research.

      TRELLO … developed as a project management tool. Uses a Kanban-style board – it is a simple concept that takes space and time to explain. Here is a post that explains  https://blog.trello.com/beginn

      A recently wrote a post myself that introduces Notion:  https://my.wealthyaffiliate.co

      If uyu have any further questions please do ask … you know where to find me  :-).  Richard

      Reply
  6. Saw your comment to Michael and it interested me. So I read this article. I am a great believer in goals, but still use the pencil and paper.
    I am especially interested in the brain in relation to managing pain. I have just scratched the surface in my understanding of it in relation to meditation, mindfulness and most recently brain plasticity.
    I will bookmark your site. I think I can learn from you.
    Barbara

    Reply
    • Hi Barbara.
      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. Appreciated. I have become more interested in finding the best ways to influence health through the mind because I have been diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy. It may be that my type of MD (not really diagnosed in any detail yet) won’t respond but it would be remiss to not try. Best wishes, Richard.

      Reply

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