Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School

After years of investigating aging populations, researchers’ answer to the question of how much is not much. If all you do is walk several times a week, your brain will benefit. Even

A lifetime of exercise can result in a sometimes astonishing elevation in cognitive performance, compared with those who are sedentary.

Emotionally charged events are better remembered—for longer, and with more accuracy—than neutral events.

Emotions get our attention.

How People Learn. If you want people to be able to pay attention, don’t start with details. Start with the key ideas and, in a hierarchical fashion, form the details around these larger notions. Meaning before details.

If you wanted to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would design something like a classroom. If you wanted to create a business environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would design something like a cubicle.

If you wanted to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would design something like a classroom. If you wanted to create a business environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would design something like a cubicle. And if you wanted to change things, you might have to tear down both and start over.

I remember a story by a flight instructor I knew well. He told me about the best student he ever had, and a powerful lesson he learned about what it meant to teach her. The student excelled in ground school. She aced the simulations, aced her courses. In the skies, she showed natural skill, improvising even in rapidly changing weather conditions. One day in the air, the instructor saw her doing something naïve. He was having a bad day and he yelled at her. He pushed her hands away from the airplane’s equivalent of a steering wheel. He pointed angrily at an instrument. Dumbfounded, the student tried to correct herself, but in the stress of the moment, she made more errors, said she couldn’t think, and then buried her head in her hands and started to cry. The teacher took control of the aircraft and landed it. For a long time, the student would not get back into the same cockpit. The incident hurt not only the teacher’s professional relationship with the student but the student’s ability to learn. It also crushed the instructor. If he had been able to predict how the student would react to his threatening behavior, he never would have acted that way. Relationships matter when attempting to teach human beings—whether you’re a parent, teacher, boss, or peer. Here we are talking about the highly intellectual venture of flying an aircraft. But its success is fully dependent upon feelings.

Is jumping out of an airplane inherently stressful? The answer is no, and that highlights the subjective nature of stress. The

Jill was born into an inner-city home. Her father began having sex with Jill and her sister during their preschool years. Her mother was institutionalized twice because of what used to be termed “nervous breakdowns.” When Jill was 7 years old, her agitated dad called a family meeting in the living room. In front of the whole clan, he put a handgun to his head, said, “You drove me to this,” and then blew his brains out. The mother’s mental condition continued to deteriorate, and she revolved in and out of mental hospitals for years. When Mom was home, she would beat Jill. Beginning in her early teens, Jill was forced to work outside the home to help make ends meet. As Jill got older, we would have expected to see deep psychiatric scars, severe emotional damage, drugs, maybe even a pregnancy or two. Instead, Jill developed into a charming and quite popular young woman at school. She became a talented singer, an honor student, and president of her high-school class. By every measure, she was emotionally well-adjusted and seemingly unscathed by the awful circumstances of her childhood. Her story, published in a leading psychiatric journal, illustrates the unevenness of the human response to stress. Psychiatrists long have observed that some people are more tolerant of stress than others.

John Bransford, a gifted education researcher, has spent many years studying what separates novice teachers from expert teachers. One of many things he noticed is the way the experts organize information. “[Experts’] knowledge is not simply a list of facts and formulas that are relevant to their domain; instead, their knowledge is organized around core concepts or ‘big ideas’ that guide their thinking about their domains,” he cowrote in How People Learn.

Multitasking, when it comes to paying attention, is a myth.

Music has been a part of the cultural expression of virtually every culture ever studied. It may even extend into prehistoric times. A 35,000-year-old flute made from bird bone has been discovered,

One of the greatest predictors of successful aging, they found, is the presence or absence of a sedentary lifestyle. Put

Over the long term, however, too much adrenaline produces scarring on the insides of your blood vessels. These scars become magnets for molecules to accumulate, creating lumps called plaques. These can grow large enough to block the blood vessels. If it happens in the blood vessels of your heart, you get a heart attack; in your brain, you get a stroke.

Studies show that a person who is interrupted takes 50 percent longer to accomplish a task. Not only that, he or she makes up to 50 percent more errors.

The battle of the sexes has existed for a very long time, illustrated by three quotes separated by centuries: “The female is an impotent male, incapable of making semen because of the coldness of her nature. We therefore should look upon the female state as if it were a deformity, though one that occurs in the ordinary course of nature.” Aristotle (384–332 BC) “Girls begin to talk and to stand on their feet sooner than boys because weeds always grow up more quickly than good crops.” Martin Luther (1483–1546) “If they can put a man on the moon … why can’t they put them all there?” Jill (graffiti I saw on a bathroom wall in 1985, in response to Luther’s quote scribbled there)

The brain acts like a muscle: The more activity you do, the larger and more complex it can become. Whether that equates to more intelligence is another issue, but one fact is indisputable; What you do in life physically changes what your brain looks like. You can wire and rewire your brain with the simple choice of which musical instrument---or professional sport---you play

The brain appears to be designed to (1) solve problems (2) related to surviving (3) in an unstable outdoor environment, and (4) to do so in nearly constant motion. I call this the brain’s performance envelope.

The brain pays more attention to the gist than to the peripheral details of an emotionally charged experience...present information in a logically organized, hierarchical structure.

The Mozart Effect comes to mind: the popular idea that listening to classical music makes students better at math.

The problem in today’s economy is that people are typically starting a family at the very time they are also supposed to be doing their best work. They are trying to be productive at some of the most stressful times of their lives. What if companies took this unhappy collision of life events seriously? They could offer Gottman’s intervention as a benefit for every newly married, or newly pregnant, employee.

There are two ways to beat the cruelty of a harsh environment: You can become stronger or you can become smarter.

The typical human brain can hold about seven pieces of new information for less than 30 seconds!

Three researchers at Stanford University noticed the same thing about the undergraduates they were teaching, and they decided to study it. First, they noticed that while all the students seemed to use digital devices incessantly, not all students did. True to stereotype, some kids were zombified, hyperdigital users. But some kids used their devices in a low-key fashion: not all the time, and not with two dozen windows open simultaneously. The researchers called the first category of students Heavy Media Multitaskers. Their less frantic colleagues were called Light Media Multitaskers. If you asked heavy users to concentrate on a problem while simultaneously giving them lots of distractions, the researchers wondered, how good was their ability to maintain focus? The hypothesis: Compared to light users, the heavy users would be faster and more accurate at switching from one task to another, because they were already so used to switching between browser windows and projects and media inputs. The hypothesis was wrong. In every attentional test the researchers threw at these students, the heavy users did consistently worse than the light users. Sometimes dramatically worse. They weren’t as good at filtering out irrelevant information. They couldn’t organize their memories as well. And they did worse on every task-switching experiment. Psychologist Eyal Ophir, an author of the study, said of the heavy users: “They couldn’t help thinking about the task they weren’t doing. The high multitaskers are always drawing from all the information in front of them. They can’t keep things separate in their minds.” This is just the latest illustration of the fact that the brain cannot multitask. Even if you are a Stanford student in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Until researchers started measuring the effects of cell-phone distractions under controlled conditions, nobody had any idea how profoundly they can impair a driver. It’s like driving drunk. Recall that large fractions of a second are consumed every time the brain switches tasks. Cell-phone talkers are more wild in their “following distance” behind the vehicle in front of them, a half second slower to hit the brakes in emergencies, and slower to return to normal speed after an emergency. In a half second, a driver going 70 mph travels 51 feet. Given that 80 percent of crashes happen within three seconds of some kind of driver distraction, increasing your amount of task switching increases your risk of an accident. More than 50 percent of the visual cues spotted by attentive drivers are missed by cell-phone talkers. Not surprisingly, they get in more wrecks than anyone except very drunk drivers. Putting on makeup, eating, and rubbernecking at an accident aren’t much better. One study showed that simply reaching for an object while driving a car multiplies the risk of a crash or near-crash by nine times.

We are human because we can fantasize.

WE DO NOT SEE with our eyes. We see with our brains.

We must do a better job of encouraging lifelong curiosity.

What you do and learn in life physically changes what your brain looks like—it literally rewires it.