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Brain Rules

12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School John Medina Rule #1: Exercise boosts brain power. The human brain evolved under conditions of almost constant motion. From this, one might predict that the optimal environment for processing information would include motion. That is exactly what one finds. Indeed, the best business meeting would have everyone walking at about 1.8 miles per hour. Researchers studied two elderly populations that had led different lifestyles, one sedentary and one active. Cognitive scores were profoundly influenced. Exercise positively affected executive function, spatial tasks, reaction times and quantitative skills. So researchers asked: If the sedentary populations become active, will their cognitive scores go up? Yes, it turns out, if the exercise is aerobic. In four months, executive functions vastly improve; longer, and memory scores improve as well. Exercise improves cognition for two reasons:

Exercise increases oxygen flow into the brain, which reduces brain-bound free radicals. One of the most interesting findings of the past few decades is that an increase in oxygen is always accompanied by an uptick in mental sharpness. Exercise acts directly on the molecular machinery of the brain itself. It increases neurons creation, survival, and resistance to damage and stress.

Summary of Rule #1. Exercise boosts brain power. Our brains were built for walking12 miles a day! To improve your thinking skills, move. Exercise gets blood to your brain, bringing it glucose for energy and oxygen to soak up the toxic electrons that are left over. It also stimulates the protein that keeps neurons connecting. Aerobic exercise just twice a week halves your risk of general dementia. It cuts your risk of Alzheimers by 60 percent. Rule #2: The human brain evolved, too.

The brain is a survival organ. It is designed to solve problems related to surviving in an unstable outdoor environment and to do so in nearly constant motion (to keep you alive long enough to pass your genes on). We were not the strongest on the planet but we developed the strongest brains, the key to our survival.


The strongest brains survive, not the strongest bodies. Our ability to solve problems, learn from mistakes, and create alliances with other people helps us survive. We took over the world by learning to cooperate and forming teams with our neighbors. Our ability to understand each other is our chief survival tool. Relationships helped us survive in the jungle and are critical to surviving at work and school today. If someone does not feel safe with a teacher or boss, he or she may not perform as well. If a student feels misunderstood because the teacher cannot connect with the way the student learns, the student may become isolated. There is no greater anti-brain environment than the classroom and cubicle.

Summary of Rule #2. The human brain evolved, too. We dont have one brain in our heads; we have three. We started with a lizard brain to keep us breathing, then added a brain like a cats, and then topped those with the thin layer of Jell-O known as the cortexthe third, and powerful, human brain. We took over the Earth by adapting to change itself, after we were forced from the trees to the savannah when climate swings disrupted our food supply. Going from four legs to two to walk on the savannah freed up energy to develop a complex brain. Symbolic reasoning is a uniquely human talent. It may have arisen from our need to understand one anothers intentions and motivations, allowing us to coordinate within a group. Rule #3: Every brain is wired differently.

What YOU do and learn in life physically changes what your brain looks like it literally rewires it. We used to think there were just 7 categories of intelligence. But categories of intelligence may number more than 7 billionroughly the population of the world. No two people have the same brain, not even twins. Every students brain, every employees brain, every customers brain is wired differently. You can either accede to it or ignore it. The current system of education ignores it by having grade structures based on age. Businesses such as Amazon are catching on to mass customization (the Amazon homepage and the products you see are tailored to your recent purchases). Regions of the brain develop at different rates in different people. The brains of school children are just as unevenly developed as their bodies. Our school system ignores the fact that every brain is wired differently. We wrongly assume every brain is the same. Most of us have a Jennifer Aniston neuron (a neuron lurking in your head that is stimulated only when Jennifer Aniston is in the room).


Summary of Rule #3. Every brain is wired differently. What you do and learn in life physically changes what your brain looks likeit literally rewires it. The various regions of the brain develop at different rates in different people. No two peoples brains store the same information in the same way in the same place. We have a great number of ways of being intelligent, many of which dont show up on IQ tests. Rule #4: We don't pay attention to boring things.

What we pay attention to is profoundly influenced by memory. Our previous experience predicts where we should pay attention. Culture matters too. Whether in school or in business, these differences can greatly affect how an audience perceives a given presentation. We pay attention to things like emotions, threats and sex. Regardless of who you are, the brain pays a great deal of attention to these questions: Can I eat it? Will it eat me? Can I mate with it? Will it mate with me? Have I seen it before? The brain is not capable of multi-tasking. We can talk and breathe, but when it comes to higher level tasks, we just cant do it. Driving while talking on a cell phone is like driving drunk. The brain is a sequential processor and large fractions of a second are consumed every time the brain switches tasks. This is why cell-phone talkers are a half-second slower to hit the brakes and get in more wrecks. Workplaces and schools actually encourage this type of multi-tasking. Walk into any office and youll see people sending e-mail, answering their phones, Instant Messaging, and on MySpaceall at the same time. Research shows your error rate goes up 50% and it takes you twice as long to do things. When youre always online youre always distracted. So the always online organization is the always unproductive organization.

Summary of Rule #4. People dont pay attention to boring things. The brains attentional spotlight can focus on only one thing at a time: no multitasking. We are better at seeing patterns and abstracting the meaning of an event than we are at recording detail. Emotional arousal helps the brain learn. Audiences check out after 10 minutes, but you can keep grabbing them back by telling narratives or creating events rich in emotion. Rule #5: Repeat to remember.

The human brain can only hold about seven pieces of information for less than 30 seconds! Which means, your brain can only handle a 7-digit phone number. If you want to extend the


30 seconds to a few minutes or even an hour or two, you will need to consistently re-expose yourself to the information. Memories are so volatile that you have to repeat to remember. Improve your memory by elaborately encoding it during its initial moments. Many of us have trouble remembering names. If at a party you need help remembering Mary, it helps to repeat internally more information about her. Mary is wearing a blue dress and my favorite color is blue. It may seem counterintuitive at first but study after study shows it improves your memory. Brain Rules in the classroom. In partnership with the University of Washington and Seattle Pacific University, Medina tested this Brain Rule in real classrooms of 3rd graders. They were asked to repeat their multiplication tables in the afternoons. The classrooms in the study did significantly better than the classrooms that did not have the repetition. If brain scientists get together with teachers and do research, we may be able to eliminate need for homework since learning would take place at school, instead of the home.

Summary of Rule #5. Repeat to remember. The brain has many types of memory systems. One type follows four stages of processing: encoding, storing, retrieving, and forgetting. Information coming into your brain is immediately split into fragments that are sent to different regions of the cortex for storage. Most of the events that predict whether something learned also will be remembered occur in the first few seconds of learning. The more elaborately we encode a memory during its initial You can improve your chances of remembering something if you reproduce the environment in which you first put it into your brain. Rule #6: Remember to repeat.

It takes years to consolidate a memory. Not minutes, hours, or days but years. What you learn in first grade is not completely formed until your sophomore year in high school. Medinas dream school is one that repeats what was learned, not at home, but during the school day, 90-120 minutes after the initial learning occurred. Our schools are currently designed so that most real learning has to occur at home. How do you remember better? Repeated exposure to information / in specifically timed intervals / provides the most powerful way to fix memory into the brain. Forgetting allows us to prioritize events. But if you want to remember, remember to repeat.

Summary of Rule #6. Remember to repeat. Most memories disappear within minutes, but those that survive the fragile period strengthen with time. Long-term memories are formed in a two-way conversation between the hippocampus and the cortex, until the hippocampus breaks the connection and the memory is fixed in the cortexwhich can take years. 4|Page

Our brains give us only an approximate view of reality, because they mix new knowledge with past memories and store them together as one. The way to make long-term memory more reliable is to incorporate new information gradually and repeat it in timed intervals.

Rule #7: Sleep well, think well.

When were asleep, the brain is not resting at all. It is almost unbelievably active! Its possible that the reason we need to sleep is so that we can learn. Sleep must be important because we spend 1/3 of our lives doing it! Loss of sleep hurts attention, executive function, working memory, mood, quantitative skills, logical reasoning, and even motor dexterity. We still dont know how much we need! It changes with age, gender, pregnancy, puberty, and so much more. Napping is normal. Ever feel tired in the afternoon? Thats because your brain really wants to take a nap. There's a battle raging in your head between two armies. Each army is made of legions of brain cells and biochemicals - one desperately trying to keep you awake, the other desperately trying to force you to sleep. Around 3 p.m., 12 hours after the midpoint of your sleep, all your brain wants to do is nap. Taking a nap might make you more productive. In one study, a 26-minute nap improved NASA pilots performance by 34 percent. Dont schedule important meetings at 3 p.m. It just doesnt make sense.

Summary of Rule #7. Sleep well, think well. The brain is in a constant state of tension between cells and chemicals that try to put you to sleep and cells and chemicals that try to keep you awake. The neurons of your brain show vigorous rhythmical activity when youre asleep perhaps replaying what you learned that day. People vary in how much sleep they need and when they prefer to get it, but the biological drive for an afternoon nap is universal. Loss of sleep hurts attention, executive function, working memory, mood, quantitative skills, logical reasoning, and even motor dexterity. Rule #8: Stressed brains don't learn the same way.

Your brain is built to deal with stress that lasts about 30 seconds. The brain is not designed for long term stress when you feel like you have no control. The saber-toothed tiger ate you or you ran away but it was all over in less than a minute. If you have a bad boss, the sabertoothed tiger can be at your door for years, and you begin to deregulate. If you are in a bad marriage, the saber-toothed tiger can be in your bed for years, and the same thing occurs. You can actually watch the brain shrink. Stress damages virtually every kind of cognition that exists. It damages memory and executive function. It can hurt your motor skills. When you are stressed out over a long 5|Page

period of time it disrupts your immune response. You get sicker more often. It disrupts your ability to sleep. You get depressed. The emotional stability of the home is the single greatest predictor of academic success. If you want your kid to get into Harvard, go home and love your spouse. You have one brain. The same brain you have at home is the same brain you have at work or school. The stress you are experiencing at home will affect your performance at work, and vice versa.

Summary of Rule #8. Stressed brains dont learn the same way. Your bodys defense systemthe release of adrenaline and cortisolis built for an immediate response to a serious but passing danger, such as a saber-toothed tiger. Chronic stress, such as hostility at home, dangerously deregulates a system built only to deal with short-term responses. Under chronic stress, adrenaline creates scars in your blood vessels that can cause a heart attack or stroke, and cortisol damages the cells of the hippocampus, crippling your ability to learn and remember. Individually, the worst kind of stress is the feeling that you have no control over the problemyou are helpless. Emotional stress has huge impacts across society, on childrens ability to learn Rule #9: Stimulate more of the senses.

Our senses work together so it is important to stimulate them! Your head crackles with the perceptions of the whole world, sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, energetic as a frat party. Smell is unusually effective at evoking memory. If you're tested on the details of a movie while the smell of popcorn is wafted into the air, you'll remember 10-50% more. Smell is really important to business. When you walk into Starbucks, the first thing you smell is coffee. They have done a number of things over the years to make sure thats the case. The learning link. Those in multisensory environments always do better than those in unisensory environments. They have more recall with better resolution that lasts longer, evident even 20 years later.

Summary of Rule #9. Stimulate more of the senses at the same time. We absorb information about an event through our senses, translate it into electrical signals (some for sight, others from sound, etc.), disperse those signals to separate parts of the brain, then reconstruct what happened, eventually perceiving the event as a whole. The brain seems to rely partly on past experience in deciding how to combine these signals, so two people can perceive the same event very differently. Our senses evolved to work togethervision influencing hearing, for examplewhich means that we learn best if we stimulate several senses at once.


Smells have an unusual power to bring back memories, maybe because smell signals bypass the thalamus and head straight to their destinations, which include that supervisor of emotions known as the amygdala.

Rule #10: Vision trumps all other senses.

We are incredible at remembering pictures. Hear a piece of information, and three days later you'll remember 10% of it. Add a picture and you'll remember 65%. Pictures beat text as well, in part because reading is so inefficient for us. Our brain sees words as lots of tiny pictures, and we have to identify certain features in the letters to be able to read them. That takes time. Why is vision such a big deal to us? Perhaps because it's how we've always apprehended major threats, food supplies and reproductive opportunity. Toss your PowerPoint presentations. Its text-based (nearly 40 words per slide), with six hierarchical levels of chapters and subheadsall words. Professionals everywhere need to know about the incredible inefficiency of text-based information and the incredible effects of images. Burn your current PowerPoint presentations and make new ones.

Summary of Rule #10. Vision trumps all other senses. Vision is by far our most dominant sense, taking up half of our brains resources. What we see is only what our brain tells us we see, and its not 100 percent accurate. The visual analysis we do has many steps. The retina assembles photons into little movie-like streams of information. The visual cortex processes these streams, some areas registering motion, others registering color, etc. Finally, we combine that information back together so we can see. We learn and remember best through pictures, not through written or spoken words. Rule #11: Male and female brains are different.

Whats different? Mental health professionals have known for years about sex-based differences in the type and severity of psychiatric disorders. Males are more severely afflicted by schizophrenia than females. By more than 2 to 1, women are more likely to get depressed than men, a figure that shows up just after puberty and remains stable for the next 50 years. Males exhibit more antisocial behavior. Females have more anxiety. Most alcoholics and drug addicts are male. Most anorexics are female. Men and women handle acute stress differently. When researcher Larry Cahill showed them slasher films, men fired up the amygdale in their brains right hemisphere, which is responsible for the gist of an event. Their left was comparatively silent. Women lit up their left amygdale, the one responsible for details. Having a team that simultaneously understood the gist and details of a given stressful situation helped us conquer the world. Men and women process certain emotions differently. Emotions are useful. They make the brain pay attention. These differences are a product of complex interactions between nature and nurture. 7|Page

Summary of Rule #11. Male and female brains are different. The X chromosome that males have one of and females have two ofthough one acts as a backupis a cognitive hot spot, carrying an unusually large percentage of genes involved in brain manufacture. Women are genetically more complex, because the active X chromosomes in their cells are a mix of Moms and Dads. Mens X chromosomes all come from Mom, and their Y chromosome carries less than 100 genes, compared with about 1,500 for the X chromosome. Mens and womens brains are different structurally and biochemicallymen have a bigger amygdala and produce serotonin faster, for examplebut we dont know if those differences have significance. Men and women respond differently to acute stress: Women activate the left hemispheres amygdala and remember the emotional details. Men use the right amygdala and get the gist. Rule #12: We are powerful and natural explorers.

The desire to explore never leaves us despite the classrooms and cubicles we are stuffed into. Babies are the model of how we learnnot by passive reaction to the environment but by active testing through observation, hypothesis, experiment, and conclusion. Babies methodically do experiments on objects, for example, to see what they will do. Google takes to heart the power of exploration. For 20 percent of their time, employees may go where their mind asks them to go. The proof is in the bottom line: fully 50 percent of new products, including Gmail and Google News, came from 20 percent time.

Summary of Rule #12. We are powerful and natural explorers. Babies are the model of how we learnnot by passive reaction to the environment but by active testing through observation, hypothesis, experiment, and conclusion. Specific parts of the brain allow this scientific approach. The right prefrontal cortex looks for errors in our hypothesis (The saber-toothed tiger is not harmless), and an adjoining region tells us to change behavior (Run!). We can recognize and imitate behavior because of mirror neurons scattered across the brain. Some parts of our adult brains stay as malleable as a babys, so we can create neurons and learn new things throughout our lives. Get more at