Learning can be challenging, but did you know it can also be fun and empowering, taking you places you have never been before and helping you achieve your goals and dreams? In this week’s blog and podcast, I spoke to master brain coach, top podcast host and NY Times bestselling author Jim Kwik about how learning how to learn is one of the best things we can do for our mental and brain health, why our ability to use knowledge is our superpower, and how the brain is truly limitless, enabling us to be as intelligent as we want to be!
As a child, Jim suffered from several traumatic brain injuries, when affected his ability to perform in school. Eventually, his desperation led to his inspiration: Jim set out to understand how the brain and memory work, and learn how to learn. As he notes, how to use your brain is often not something that is taught in schools, where we are given lots of knowledge, but are not taught how to make the most of this knowledge—we ought to just know how to think, right? As a result, many of us incorrectly assume that intelligence is something that we are either born with or not, that it is a “fixed” thing, which is why some people do well and others fail.
Yet, as Jim has shown in his own life, which he describes in his incredible book Limitless: Upgrade Your Brain, Learn Anything Faster, and Unlock Your Exceptional Life, he went from being the “boy with the broken brain” to a world-renowned memory champion and brain coach who has developed a reliable and scientifically sound set of tools to enhance memory formation and learning. He now teaches his techniques to others with astonishing results, and is an in-demand speaker, a brain coach for celebrities and CEOs, the head of a large online learning program, and the host of a podcast with tens of millions of listeners!
What is the key to his success? As Jim notes in Limitless, the first step to taking back the power that is in your mind is to recognize the lies we tell ourselves when it comes to learning, that is the ideas we believe that limit us and keep us boxed in:
1. The first of these is the abovementioned belief that intelligence is fixed. Back in the 80s people were told the brain couldn’t change—you were just taught to compensate if you had difficulties. But, in my practice, I saw something very different: people could train their minds and learn how to learn again, no matter what had happened to them. As I used to say to my patients (many of whom had traumatic brain injuries and learning disabilities), you are as intelligent as you want to be!
Thankfully, we now understand that the brain can change and grow (i.e. neuroplasticity and neurogenesis), if we learn how to use it and develop its potential. As Jim’s incredible story shows us, it is always possible to make progress! We are not just “broken brains”. This can be a challenging process, and does involve a lot of hard work, but it is well worth is. It is not about being perfect after all, but pressing on, going beyond what you and others think is impossible.
Memory, after all, is not a shoe size or eye color. It is important to remember that, no matter what you have been told or how many IQ, EQ and standardized tests you have taken, your intelligence is belief-driven; what do you believe about your capabilities? Indeed, these tests only offer a brief and limited snapshot of your true potential, as I describe in my book The Perfect You. Your intelligence is not defined by a test; it is determined by you.
2. Many people also incorrectly assume that our mistakes are our failures.
Children learn quickly because they are not afraid of making mistakes. As adults, however, we often place failure and success at opposite ends of the spectrum, rather than seeing them as important learning opportunities. This kind of thinking limits our ability to learn and grown, because failure is an integral part of success, as I discussed in a recent blog and podcast (episode #154). The more we fail, the more we learn!
3. We also need to stop thinking that we only use around 10% of our brains. We don’t just use a small percentage of our brain; we use all of our brain. Some people just use it more efficiently because they have trained it, and you can learn how to do this too!
As I describe in my books The Perfect You and Think, Learn, Succeed, there are actually 7 different intelligences/modules of thought, and the more you learn how to use all 7 ways of thinking, the better you get at it. In fact, true intelligence is a matter of learning how to use your unique brain and experiences better, not getting a certain percentage score on an IQ test! Remember, the question is not how smart you are, but how are you smart?
4. Regardless of what you have been told, knowledge is not power. Our true superpower is the ability to use the knowledge we have! As Jim says, the ultimate technology is the one we are born with: our brain.
5. Genius is not born, it is made. There is no limit to your creativity, determination or potential. With hard work, determination and practice, you can become your own genius.
6. You are not defined by what others say or think about you. You may have been called stupid, broken or dumb in the past, but you are not these things. As Jim says, people will criticize you no matter what you do. The important thing is to respect and love yourself, and pursue the dreams and goals that make you feel empowered and alive.
7. Learning new things can be hard, but it is not impossible. Don’t be afraid of the word “learning”. You have an amazing brain in your head, and you are capable of great things! All you need to do is learn how to harness your incredible learning potential, which can be hard and may take time, but is well worth the effort! Remember, the brain doesn’t come with a training manual—you have to learn how to learn before you can really learn!
When you recognize these lies for what they are, lies, you can embrace what Jim calls the “limitless model”:
- You will recognize that your MINDSET is important. This is the assumptions and attitudes you have about your abilities: where do you feel stuck? Are you limited or limitless?
- You will understand the power of MOTIVATION. What keeps you going? Jim has a useful formula for figuring out your motivation.
- P = purpose. You don’t have to love every moment, but allow yourself to feel the joy that comes with hard work and success. This will keep you motivated to keep on keeping on, just like the feeling after a hard workout, which makes all the effort worth it!
- E = energy. Make sure you have the energy to keep on keeping on, which means eating well, exercising, managing your stress, and getting enough sleep! Jim has some great tips in his book Limitless, and you can also check out my blogs and podcasts for lifestyle tips to help boost your energy, improve your mental and physical health, and keep you motivated!
- S = small. What small steps can you take right now that cannot fail and will bring you that much closer to your goal? For example, if you want to exercise more, a small step you can take to keep you motivated may just be putting on your running shoes!
- You will learn the METHODS needed to achieve true and lasting success. This is the process that teaches you how to use your brain, helping you learn how to think and learn, how to study, how to focus and how to make use of your knowledge.
When these come together, you get what Jim calls the 4 “i’s”: inspiration, ideation, implementation, integration, which is the limitless state, removing any restrictions you have placed on your life!
For more information on the learning and mental health, and how to use a fun ancient Greek memorization technique called the memory palace, listen to my podcast with Jim (episode #160), and check out his website, podcast and book. If you order his book now, you will get a 10-day program that will teach you how to speed read and improve memory, and other free gifts!
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