The following is the full transcript of Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman’s TEDx Talk: Flex Your Cortex: 7 Secrets to Turbocharge Your Brain at TEDxBayArea.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Flex your cortex – 7 secrets to turbocharge your brain by Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D. at TEDxBayArea
Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman – Founder and Chief Director of the Center for BrainHealth
Growing up, I wanted to be an astronaut more than anything and then I met Brian. Brain was 11 years old. He was labeled “Severely Mentally Impaired with Autism.” He couldn’t speak or understand spoken language.
One day, I was struggling with my tape recorder that wouldn’t work, and I’d taken it everywhere to be repaired. He took it from me and literally took it apart down to the screws and he put it back together in the blink of an eye.
What problem solving skills that denied his diagnosis. I realized suddenly we knew more about the universe and travel to the moon than we did about our own brain. I decided at that very moment I had to be part of discovering ways that we can unlock the immense human potential of our brain.
There is so much that we could tap into if we just flexed our cortex. As a brain scientist, 30 years and running I have dedicated my life to understanding, protecting and healing the brain. We’ve learned more in the last 5 years than all the years cumulative.
Now with our fancy brain imaging technology we can literally see normal people’s brain changing in real time as you learn something new in just hours. We’re learning a lot about what is it that harms the brain and what makes it work better, and yet it typically takes one to two generations before scientific discoveries trickle down to make a difference in our lives.
Well, guess what? That’s not acceptable. Because we also know that our peak brain years right now are in our early ’40s. Well, that stinks, because that means you’re living — we’re living the last half of our life with our brain in a state of decline. But it doesn’t have to be like that.
I’m the most optimistic person because of what I know. But I’m also impatient. Our brain can’t wait another year. So I’m going to share with you 7 secrets that are scientifically validated of how to turbocharge your brain, and I call them secrets because they literally challenge what we hold is true, that we think is good for our brain, that is not. Ready?
Secret 1: Single-task.
Our brain is exquisitely designed to do one thing at a time, and yet, in our fast-paced, charged life, we literally do 1 to 5 things on top of each other. We think it’s necessary and we think it’s beneficial. Nothing could be further from the truth. You see, your brain is not wired to do 2 things that require effort simultaneously. It’s quickly toggling back and forth from one task to the other and it’s literally being done by hijacking your brain’s smartest engine, your brain’s frontal lobes.
When you’re multitasking you’re degrading your brain systems, lowering your mental function, and increasing stress hormones. Single-task and you will see a significant increase in mental productivity.
Secret 2: Inhibit information.
In this day of information overflow, we have access at the touch of a finger to massive amounts of information. We are now exposed to 200 times more information today than we had even 20 years ago. Wow! Our brain with so much information, what it does — we thought the more information I take in the better for me, right? It turns out the highest performing individuals are not those who can remember the most. But rather those who know what to block out, what to inhibit, what to bounce from the get-go, and just to focus on the few things that they’re doing.
Secret 3: Detox Distraction.
One of the most common questions that I get asked is: “Is technology good or bad for your brain?”
And I say: “Yes.” Right?
Because you know it’s not technology in and of itself that’s bad for our brain, but it’s that we let it control us, instead of us managing it. We can’t even stand to be without our cell phone for a single minute, and some of you are sitting there and it’s beeping, and buzzing and you’re looking at it because we’ve become addicted to the ping of our technology.
Right now science is showing that we work only 3 minutes uninterrupted. How can you do high-level thinking in just 3 minutes? Way too much. We’re working with major corporations now to teach them how to increase their mental productivity. The secret that they have the most trouble with, that they want the most help with, is detoxing distractions.
Okay now, this is the really big one. This is the powerhouse.
Big Idea Thinking.
Big Idea Thinking is the supreme, unleaded fuel for your brain, and Big Idea Thinking is not a supercharged computer that can do big data storage and then retrieve it when you want it. No, Big Idea Thinking is when you’ve taken ideas from disparate areas, you combine it with your rich knowledge that you already have and you form some generalized higher-level way of thinking.
So some of the ways that we do Big Idea Thinking is if you synthesize. How do you extract the essence of talks that you hear? Or news stories that you hear, synthesize or interpret?
How many times do we have books and books and books and we can’t remember if we read them or not? Because we didn’t interpret the message.
Interpret, what does it mean? What’s the bottom-line meaning?
And 4, Powerhouse transformative communications.
Think about emails that you write. What does your subject line say? Is it boring? Is it rote? Is it something anyone can write? “Meet me at 2.” What if you came up with a transformative subject line that was so powerful everyone wanted to read it?
And what about the message? How often do you just do a deluge of information without really saying something that shows your deeper-level thinking?
Big Idea thinking is what makes your memory and thinking and learning the most robust. I’ve shown in randomized trials when you engage in Big Idea Thinking you increase your brain at all levels of health. Think about increasing your brain’s blood flow by 8% to 12%. That’s really happy for a neuron to get more brain blood flow.
We also saw 30% increase in the speed of neural connection across the central executive network, which is what’s important for planning and reasoning and problem solving. Big Idea Thinking is for the brain what push-ups and pull-ups are to the body.
Secret 5, and this fits in with balance: Calibrate.
Calibrate, how much effort you’re going to spend on things. So many times all of us, our mental energy at the end of the day, you’re so mentally exhausted you’re thinking: “Oh brain, please jump-start again for me tomorrow.” Because we spend too much time on things that we should do very quickly, or we don’t take enough time on things that we should really spend longer on.
One of the phrases that I like to tell individuals is: When you’re hunting elephants don’t waste your mental energy chasing rabbits. So do your rabbits quickly, but take time to do your elephants, your weighty things, and, for most individuals, the elephants need to be done when your brain is in its prime time, and that typically is the first 2 hours of the day for most people.