28 Apr 2014

How to optimise your brains performance (Documentary)

The brain needs no introduction

The brain is simply and paradoxically complicatedly amazing - the more I learn about it, the more amazed I become. I rather like how one of the worlds most foremost neuroanatomists Marian Cleeves Diamond describes the brain "It is the most complex mass of protoplasm on Earth, and perhaps in our galaxy. A simple essay can only begin to describe its magnificence on the one hand and its malice on the other."

Some facts and stats about the brain you may not have known:
  • Your brain uses 20% of the total oxygen and blood in your body
  • It's the same consistency as tofu and about 60% of it is fat
  • When awake the brain produces enough electricity to power a small bulb
  • There are over 100k miles of blood vessels in the brain!
  • Aristotle mistakenly thought that the functions of the brain actually took place in the heart

Rewire my brain

Unlike the pathologist who performed the autopsy on Einstein and then sought wisdom by stealing his brain and keeping it in a jar for 20 years, I prefer reading and watching documentaries to learn more about it and this is what this post is about - an incredible documentary about a subject we would all benefit knowing more about; neuroplasticity.

I recently watched a brilliant three-part documentary called 'Re-wire My Brain' presented by Leo Burnetts CEO Todd Sampson and wanted to share it with you, as the lessons to be learnt within the documentary are potentially life changing. Over the course of three months and three episodes Todd bravely uses himself as a case study and demonstrates with quantifiable results the immense ability of the brain, its staggering influence on everything we do, its impressive capability to be optimised, and how crazily quickly improvements can be made with minimal yet dedicated daily training.

Each of the three episodes focuses on a specific subject matter.
  1. Make me smarter: Looks at memory, attention, speed and flexibility of the brain
  2. Make me creative: Looks at creativity, innovation and lateral thinking as a learned brain process
  3. Mind over matter: Looks at the role and influence of the brain to visualise success to overcome fear 
'Re-wiring' is now known as Neuroplasticity and has been a subject that I have been fascinated about ever since reading 'The Brain that changes itself' a few years ago. I highly recommend you read this book as it explains a seemingly complicated topic in a simplistic way that makes sense to anyone (i.e most of us) who are not brain experts.

What is Neuroplasticity?

"Up until the 1960s, researchers believed that changes in the brain could only take place during infancy and childhood. By early adulthood, it was believed that the brain's physical structure was permanent. Modern research has demonstrated that the brain continues to create new neural pathways and alter existing ones in order to adapt to new experiences, learn new information and create new memories." Source

Essentially what the above paragraph means is that the previous common notion that the brain is pretty much hard wired after a critical period of infancy is in fact not the case. The brain is actually capable of forming new neural pathways - that is, it can literally re-wire itself throughout our lives. With the right training we can not only improve cognitive functions to optimise its performance but actually rewire pre-existing pathways. Now that is exciting. 

There are many amazing very tangible examples of adults (and children) who have overcome huge physical barriers and 'against all odds' have been able to re-train their brain to operate at a level similar to that prior to their accident/event. Think of people that have suffered brain damage from an accident or a stroke and who may have lost the ability to move, walk and/or talk. Through small repetitive steps and a huge amount of dedication these people have harnessed neuroplasticity and rewired their brains to give them a better quality of life. 

Plasticity allows for specific body or brain functionality as represented in the brain to move to a different area of the brain, if and when necessary.

Training your brain- Lumosity

Skill is defined as 'maximum efficiency and minimum effort' and relies upon past experience (muscle memories) along with the brains ability to process and filter real-time data to perform a skill in the best possible way.  A skill could be doing keepy uppys in football, playing guitar, surfing, talking in a foreign language, painting, balancing on a tight rope, card counting etc etc. What all these skills and talents have in common is that they all require initial time of repeated training and focus to become competent at the skill, but then continued practise thereafter to keep the execution of the skill at peak performance. 

Well, exactly the same is true of the brain and there is a notion as stated in the  'The Brain that changes itself' of 'use it or lose it''. As we get older we stop practicing certain skills and mental processes as frequently, we form set routines and these routines make us mentally stagnate and don't allow for new neural pathways to be created as often. Similarily the more we don't do something that we used to do, the more faint the pathway 'the memory' gets. Quite literally, our brains performance becomes under optimised and with age deteriorates. This documentary demonstrates that the affects of ageing to the brain can be greatly reduced.

Neuroplasticity training initiatives such as Lumosity (which is an amazing brain training product found on IOS, android and desktop), and the three episode series below demonstrate the huge optimisation possibilities we can all achieve with as little as 30 minutes of daily 'brain training'.

Global brain training leaders Lumosity focus on the following elements to train through a series of interactive games:
  • Brain Speed
  • Memory
  • Attention
  • Flexibility
  • Problem solving (literally and laterally) 
Try them out. I have been using it for a couple of weeks and am already seeing real and quantifiable improvements. 

Rewire my brain - Three Episodes

Below is a playlist I have created for the three 'Rewire my Brain' episodes.
Enjoy as this will literally blow your mind.

About the author
Si Muddell is a Digital Strategist who has worked extensively both agency and client side. Si is fascinated about marketing, psychology & what motivates people, and loves guitar, surfing and travelling.

Get connected with Si on TwitterLinkedIn &

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