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 about 1980.
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 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 a number of limitations of the brain that lead to asking the question: “Do you 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 to each other 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
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 networked connections. That’s 1000 trillion connections, different combinations of which are multi-functional and constantly changing!
In addition, the way in which the neurone connections work is extraordinary. Without going into detail, the connections and the way in which they transmit signals are extremely flexible and provide virtually unlimited memory storage. The brain is not a static organ, it is 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 all our brain, but not usually all of it at the same time.
“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 (1992)
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 commonly split into two groups; the conscious mind (which rests when we sleep) and subconscious mind (most of which is active all of the time).
However, we are mostly unaware of activity in the areas of the brain where the subconscious mind operates; although we are 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 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 big difference.
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, 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. That is what this post is about.
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 a number of 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 Seems 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:
- Ignore the interruption. Some of the interruptions add no value. However, some are useful and if ignored may simply disappear (be forgotten);
- Handle the interruptions as they arise, which can make sense if it only takes a minute or two;
- 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, it’s ‘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.
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 need is a kind of extension to our brain. 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.
Once such a depository is created, the disciplines of 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 on a weekly basis, 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 limited 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.
Whatever I capture on the iPhone is automatically updated on the PC and vice versa. There are versions of the notion software available for Android and macOS as well.
In addition, notion.os provides both a web version and apps. The apps can be used offline and the various versions all update each other automatically when the internet connects to the device.
Are You Interested
in 1992, Dr Timothy Leary suggested:
“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”
So my question to you is, are you interested in learning more about the brain, the concept of a brain extension, 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.
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