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Talking Brain Power


Never mind your age or IQ. Anyone can fine-tune their brain to perform at a higher level, according to neuroscientist Mark Fenske, a professor in the department of psychology at the University of Guelph.

Fenske has developed a handy guidebook, The Winner’s Brain: 8 Strategies Great Minds Use to Achieve Success (Da Capo Press), with co-author Jeff Brown, a brain expert, from Harvard Medical School.

This volume features a tour of the brain, interviews with well-know achievers and how-to instructions to improve your brain.

Brain tour

The book begins with a quick tour of the brain, painting a mind-bending picture of how new research has changed our understanding of the body’s most mysterious organ. In ample, clear language the scientists explain the physical structure of the brain, and how each part functions.

Inspiring stories

The Winner’s Brain is peppered with stories of people who have trained their minds to reach their maximum potential. They include: comedian Phyllis Diller, Olympic gold medalist Kerri Strug, blues legend B.B. King, and Aaron Fechter, the inventor of popular carnival game Whac-a-Mole. As well, the authors talked to London’s elite black cab drivers who have enlarged their hippocampuses – the area of the brain used in memory and spatial navigation – by memorizing city routes.

Brainpower tools

The scientists used neuroimaging and studies of human behaviour to examine how the brain’s attention and emotion systems can boost performance. They identified five "brainpower tools" used by successful people:

1. Opportunity radar: High achievers have the ability to spot hot prospects, even when they show up as problems.

2. Goal laser: They know what they want and have the patience to achieve it. "Goal laser is about more than just having hopes and dreams; it’s about locking on to them for as long as it takes to achieve them."

3. Optimal risk gauge: They have the ability to gauge risk, and they are willing to confront failure.

4. Talent Meter: Successful people are tuned to their talents, and they are aware of their weaknesses.

5. Effort Accelerator: They muster the energy to push past obstacles, and cultivate the drive to win.

Winning tips

The good news is that the authors believe almost anyone can rewire their brains by employing the strategies successful people use to overcome obstacles and reach their goals.

Here are their eight winning tips:

1. Self-awareness: Train yourself to acknowledge how you feel at points throughout the day. State it out loud. Simply, by saying: "I’m feeling rushed" or "I am feeling angry right now" or "This is wonderful", you gain greater control of how you react in a situation.

2. Motivation: If you have trouble sticking to your goal, break it down into steps and focus on each step rather than the outcome. This stepping-stone approach may push you into a higher state of mind, allowing your brain to let go and flow.

3. Focus: Sometimes you can actually perform better when you’re not concentrating too hard. When preparing for a presentation, if you find you are beginning to lose your edge, leave it aside, go for a walk and let the brain work on autopilot.

4. Emotional balance: Try changing your perspective. For example, tackle a highly emotional event as a challenge rather than a problem.

5. Memory: Edit your brain so you can concentrate on useful data. "Imagine a broom sweeping away useless information like the answers to a test or an old phone number."

6. Resilience: Successful people know how to give failure a positive spin. "Try to think of failure as a trampoline," the authors write. "Each time you rebound, you build more momentum. The next bounce might lead to success."

7. Adaptability: Take a few minutes a day to calm your thoughts. Even small amounts of meditation can help you adapt to change. If your mind wants to chatter, just imagine your thoughts flowing by like water in a stream.

8. Brain care: The research has identified four essential ingredients: physical activity, meaningful experiences, a healthy diet and plenty of good sleep.

The Winner’s Brain is an ideal guide to mental fitness, and it is bound to bolster your desire to pursue your dreams.