Book Review: “The Winner’s Brain: 8 Strategies Great Minds Use to Achieve Success” by Jeff Brown, Mark Fenske

There are good advises given in the book how to leverage your brain to achieve successes in life. Having some neuroscience behind the reasons and recommendations help to make them sound more scientific but I don’t think they’re less credible purely based on empirical data than physical science. I did learn a few things so people should learn somethings from the book though they’re not earthshaking. Summary below:

The book started out with a quick tour of each brain elements’ function: cerebral cortex with four lobs: occipital (vision), temporal (hearing, language, memory and object and scene recognition), parietal (somatosensory processing, visuospatial processing, attention, visually guided actions), and frontal (motor processing, working memory, decision making). Left hemisphere (language and dealing with symbols) and right hemisphere (visual-spatial processing and recognizing faces) are connected by corpus callosum. Prefrontal cortex: mental multitasking, making predictions based on past experience, evaluating right form wrong. Anterior cingulate cortex (ACC): cognitive and emotion-related functions – detecting errors, balancing emotions, making decision. Insula: perceiving and experiencing certain aspects of emotion, physical and psychological revulsion. Amygdala: associated with emotion, particularly emotionally charged memories that involve learning and responses, like touching a hot stove. Hippocampus: forming the long-term memories, also related to spatial navigation and memory. Basal Ganglia: reward and motivational systems.

Five essential elements of success:
1. Opportunity radar (e.g. Phyllis Diller, George de Mestral who invented Velcro)
2. Optimal risk gauge: Must be good at recognizing what the risks are, determine how much risk you can tolerate and whether or not you are willing and able to pay the consequences if you fail. Taking risks that are substantial enough that they have a personal stake in the outcome, yet more gratifying than if they sat on the sidelines playing it safe.
3. Goal Laser: helps you take aim at what you want out of life without allowing the static of distractions and stressors to interfere.
4. Effort accelerator: possess the self-directed energy inherent that keeps them chugging along.
5. Talent meter: excel at divining that most successful path to take. A finely tuned Talent Meter means being aware of weakness, too. But upon identification of the weaknesses, be fanatical about learning as much to minimize them.

Win Factor #1: Self-awareness: Thinking about yourself to become a winner.
Pay attention to your immediate emotions, thoughts, and body sensations without passing judgment or jumping into action. Ask for advice from people you trust for why you’re unsuccessful at something.

Win Factor #2: Motivation: Cultivating the drive to win.
The critical role that emotional evaluations can play in motivating behavior; find the upside in the ordinary allows you to maximize your everyday life. It minimizes the lack of follow-through that often derails achievements. Feeling the reward in everyday activities is important. When you approach even the small, day-to-day issues with optimism and creativity, the journey is so much more enjoyable. People with an internal point of view tend to value what psychologists refer to as intrinsic rewards like personal satisfaction, better health or happier relationships. Intrinsic interest in a task – the sense that something worth doing for its own sake – typically diminishes when someone is reward for doing it – less enjoyable. To avoid procrastinating, concentrate on concrete rather than intangible aspects of your task. Start with something small; a series of small steps adds up to a whole staircase.

Win Factor #3 Focus: Locking on to what’s important.
A state of narrow focus is the mind’s version of blinkers. Focus reinvestment: in the middle of something that requires a lot of Focus, stop and consciously reorient yourself to critical details. Pay attention to minutiae like sounds, textures and colors you might not ordinarily notice. Avoid the distractions by meditation. It’s necessary to keep a wide focus in a life-or-death pressure situation. The more tasks you can automate and more information you can shift to implicit memory (via practices), the lighter the load on the attention systems and more control you gain over your power of focus and concentration. Try scaffolding, a technique where you practice the individual parts of a skill in a stepwise fashion. Toggling back and forth between narrow and wide focus at appropriate time can be helped by meditation. Winners continuously bring a situation factor to the top of the list, examine it, eliminate it if necessary, and then move the next item to the top of the list. Flow happens when there is balance between level of ability and challenge – seek out situations that are challenging.

Win Factor #4: Emotional Balance: making emotions work in your favor.
How you feel dictates how you react. Winner make a point of directing their emotions in productive ways. Performance increases with emotional arousal, but only to a point. The relation between emotional arousal and performance forms an inverted U. The more accurate we become at predicting and guiding our emotional responses in different situations, the more easily we find joy, happiness, and other positive emotions. Creating distraction (attentional deployment) – directing your attention away from a too-intense emotional event. Changing your perspective (reframing, reappraisal) by working through the issues beforehand until they view them as challenges rather than problems. Take a deep breath.

Win Factor #5: Memory: “Remembering” to have a winner’s brain
The gift of prediction is memory’s most crucial contribution to success. Capitalizes on ways to purposely strengthen memory traces for important information to ensure that it can be efficiently retrieved when it is most needed. “When new information is connected to existing knowledge or when you concentrate on the meaning of that information, you’re more likely to retain it in memory.” Practice allows your brain to expend less effort when it retrieves and processes critical information so it is able to do so more quickly and automatically. Use the Journey technique: mentally picturing a familiar journey, and placing pictures associated to the information you are trying to memorize along that route. A mentally simulated experience can sometimes serve the purpose just as well as a real one – a mental dress rehearsal. Memories can be made more durable by forming them under highly emotional circumstances.

Win Factor #6: Resilience: Bouncing back into success
Battling adversity is something you can intentionally practice and get better at. High-resilient brains were able to temper their emotional response following a potential threat and had the ability to quickly recover when everything turned out all right. When you practice anticipating and accepting failure without fear or judgment, you leave the door open for success. Successful people are able to slow down following an error, just enough to alter their behavior and avoid another mistake. Reframe a failure to find the benefit, even if it’s just a tiny nugget. Shifting your attention for a moment can also boost your Resilience because it seems to actively get your brain busy doing something else besides preparing for disaster.

Win Factor #7: Adaptability: Reshaping your brain to achieve.
Winners take control over plasticity by intentionally making the changes they want and they deliberately take the steps to think and act in ways that fine-tune their brains and help to achieve their goals. Regular yoga and meditation practice increases cortical thickness in as little as 8 weeks. If you find yourself in a slump with something you’re normally good at, try a reboot. Take a few lessons, read a book geared toward beginners, or practice some basic drills.

Win Factor #8: Brain Care: maintaining, protecting, and enhancing your winner’s brain
4 brain-care habits: physical activity, providing your brain with rich and meaningful experiences, eating a brain-healthy diet, and getting plenty of sleep. Omega-3 and -6 are essential fatty acids (EFA). Fish is high in vitamin D. Apples, full of antioxidants help guard against the oxidative damage to brain cells. Blueberries are bursting with flavinoids. Sleep is vital for optimal brain function. A good night’s sleep restores the balance of communication between the prefrontal cortex, and amygdala, and other emotion-related centers. Caffeine provides emotional and cognitive advantages such as improved moon, better memory, and alertness for most people.