John Medina
Do you know what's really going on inside your head? Our brains are much too complex for most of us to...well, wrap our brains around. 

However, author and scientist John Medina says there are a few simple rules you can use to improve the way you function at work and at home. In his book Brain Rules, Medina offers up 12 simple rules you can apply to your daily life.

Medina gives us a glimpse inside the human brain and reveals three of his rules.
Go ahead and multiply the number 8,388,628 times 2 in your head. Can you do it in a few seconds? There is a young man who can double that number 24 times in a few seconds. He gets it right every time. There is a boy who can tell you the exact time of day at any moment, even in his sleep. There is a girl who can correctly determine the exact dimensions of an object 20 feet away. There is a child who, at age 6, drew such lifelike and powerful pictures, she got her own show at a gallery on Madison Avenue. Yet none of these children could be taught to tie their shoes. Indeed, none of them have an IQ greater than 50. 

The brain is an amazing thing. 

Your brain may not be nearly so odd, but it is no less extraordinary. Easily the most sophisticated information-transfer system on Earth, your brain is fully capable of taking little black squiggles on your screen and deriving meaning from them. To accomplish this miracle, your brain sends jolts of electricity crackling through hundreds of miles of wires composed of brain cells so small that thousands of them could fit into the period at the end of this sentence. You accomplish all of this in less time than it takes you to blink. Indeed, you have just done it. What's equally incredible, given our intimate association with it, is this: Most of us have no idea how our brains work. 

This has strange consequences. We try to talk on our cell phones and drive at the same time, even though it is literally impossible for our brains to multitask when it comes to paying attention. We have created high-stress office environments, even though a stressed brain is significantly less productive. Our schools are designed so that most real learning has to occur at home. This would be funny, if it weren't so harmful. 

Blame it on the fact that brain scientists rarely have a conversation with parents, teachers and business professionals. Unless you have the Journal of Neuroscience sitting on your coffee table, you're out of the loop. 

Brain Rules covers 12 things we know about how the brain works—exercise, memory, sleep, stress, etc. There is a way that you can apply each rule to your daily life, especially at work and school.

3 rules to get you started!
Brain Rules book cover
1. Exercise boosts brain power. We are not used to sitting at a desk for eight hours a day. From an evolutionary perspective, our brains developed while working out, walking as many as 12 miles a day. The brain still craves the experience, especially in sedentary populations like our own. That's why exercise boosts brain power in such populations. Exercisers outperform couch potatoes in long-term memory, reasoning, attention, problem-solving tasks and more. I am convinced that integrating exercise into our eight hours at work or school would only be normal. 

2. Sleep well, think well. Ever feel tired around 3 o'clock in the afternoon? That's because your brain really wants to take a nap. You might be more productive if you did: In one study, a 26-minute nap improved NASA pilots' performance by 34 percent. Even so, the brain isn't resting while it sleeps. It is surprisingly active. And whether you get enough rest affects your mental agility the next day. 

3. We don't pay attention to boring things. Multitasking, when it comes to paying attention, is a myth. We can talk and breathe, but when it comes to higher level tasks, we just can't do it. A good example is driving while talking on a cell phone. Cell phone talkers are a half-second slower to hit the brakes in emergencies, slower to return to normal speed after an emergency and more wild in their "following distance" behind the vehicle in front of them. It's worse than driving drunk. Despite research that shows your error rate goes up 50 percent and it takes you twice as long to do things when you attempt to multitask, our workplaces and schools actually encourage it. 

What do these studies show, viewed as a whole? 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. Starting over is what Brain Rules is all about.

John Medina, author of the New York Times best-seller Brain Rules, is a developmental molecular biologist and research consultant. He is an affiliate professor of bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine. He is also the director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University.


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