The first step to unlocking your brain’s potential is to change your perspective.
Imagine you have a bank account with a balance of one million dollars. Now imagine you can only access $20,000 of that million. That’d be a pretty frustrating situation, right? But that’s pretty much how little access you have to the wealth of brainpower inside your head. In the past, it was thought that the average person used around 10 percent of his mental capacity, but, according to more recent findings, it’s actually closer to 2 percent.
Here’s the good news: this treasure trove of potential power is just waiting to be unlocked.
Exactly how much potential is there? Well, we all have around 100 billion brain cells, and each one of these cells is connected to about 20,000 other cells.
According to brain expert Tony Buzan this means that if everyone could use all of their brain cells, each person could generate more ideas than there are molecules in the known universe!
“We don’t see the world as it is, but as we are.”
The combination of long-term thinking and immediate actions will make future goals possible.
People who are happy and successful tend to have a far better perspective, one that depends on long-term thinking.
Long-term thinking is about being a step ahead and considering the consequences of your actions – and then the consequences of those consequences, and so on.
According to Forbes magazine, there were 290 new billionaires in 2015, 66 percent of whom were self-made and had started off with next to nothing just a few years before. Accumulating that kind of wealth takes planning, and a perspective that doesn’t dwell on short-term circumstances.
This isn’t a new idea. In 1970, a Harvard professor named Edward Banfield looked at people from different socioeconomic backgrounds and observed that the people who earned more money were the ones who thought ahead. These are the smart people. Their IQ scores may not be sky-high but their behavior is brilliant; each of their actions brings them closer to their goals in life.
To make better decisions, slow down your thinking and use unbiased information.
Human thoughts are generally a bit like the bubbles in a glass of champagne – each one vanishes soon after it forms, along with countless others. Though there’s always plenty of mental sparkle and fizz, there’s not necessarily much that comes from it.
Getting smart requires that you stop thinking so quickly and superficially, and instead seek out information that doesn’t automatically chime with what you already believe.
Every minute, an overwhelming 1,500 words rush through the average human’s head, which, predictably enough, leads to incomplete and messy thinking. And this is further complicated by the confirmation bias, which leads us to look for unchallenging information or evidence that confirms conclusions we’ve already reached.
Avoid the traps of negative thinking and move forward with a positive perspective.
There’s often two ways to look at something, depending on your perspective. If you notice that one of your coworkers has a bigger house than you do, you can be negative and envious, or you can be happy that you have a house of your own in the first place.
Thinking negatively is always a roadblock to success, since it demotivates you and causes stress. Negative thinking often makes you feel bad about yourself and uncharitable toward others. This can lead to hostility which, in turn, can develop into a pattern where you see everything in a negative light.
It’s easy to fall into this trap when you’re discouraged about your job. Maybe you feel useless, like you’re wasting your time. Perhaps you envy those who are more successful. Soon enough, you feel hopeless, like there’s nothing you could possibly do to change your circumstances.
But these feelings only contribute to more stress and block you from noticing the real opportunities that are available to improve your situation. If your job is the problem, talk to your boss and see what can be done to improve things. Maybe there’s another position or maybe it’s time to start planning your own business.
To overcome these situations, you need to think positive, find the root cause and then eliminate it.
“When you turn toward the sunshine, the shadows fall behind you.”
Success in the modern world requires a flexible mind that continues learning.
Our world is constantly evolving. Albert Einstein demonstrated this back in 1952, when he gave his students at Princeton University a test that they’d taken the year before. This seemed ridiculous to some people, but Einstein explained himself thusly: yes, the test contained the exact same questions, but, thanks to the many discoveries over the past year, all the answers had changed.
It’s not just the field of science that is rapidly changing, either. So, no matter who you are, it’s wise to be flexible and adaptable in your thinking.
Anyone will tell you that we’re living in one of the most tumultuous times in human history. Therefore, a sharp business mind needs to be aware of technological advancements – things such as the Kindle or the iPad. These devices revolutionized the print industry and, as a result, the massive book retailer, Borders, went out of business within a year.
To avoid a similar fate, flexible thinking is key, and you must always be prepared to adjust your business model.
The Guardian, a popular British daily newspaper, recognized the changes that were going on and knew that it needed to revitalize its online content in order to maintain its readership. So it changed its online presence, updating its website several times a day while keeping it free and accessible to readers.
To stay sharp in this fast-paced world, you also need to keep learning.
According to Gary Becker, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, 20 percent of the top earners in the United States achieve an annual increase in their salary of approximately 11 percent, while the other 80 percent must make do with an increase of only 3 percent.
The difference? The top 20 percent are constantly educating themselves. Sure, it’s not bad to take time off to relieve stress, but that free time shouldn’t be entirely devoted to food, drink or exercise. Reading and learning are good ways to reduce stress as well!
Avoid mechanical thinking by taking creative chances.
If you enjoy cooking, you know that a first attempt at following a new recipe can often lead to culinary disaster. But a good cook learns from these mistakes, tries again and might even end up with a new favorite dish.
Smart thinking works the same way: you have to take chances, make mistakes, learn from these mistakes and find creative ways to improve. This is the opposite of mechanical thinking, which leads to risk-adverse people who aren’t particularly smart and don’t improve.
Mechanical thinkers believe in extremes – things are either a complete success or a total failure, with no room for anything in between. They also reject novel thought, due in part to a fear of failure, criticism and ridicule, which leaves them stuck with old ideas and methods.
Naturally, these people are not very successful, since they rarely get out of their comfort zone or make changes.
The key message in this book:
There are good and bad ways to use your brain. You can have a distracted and unfocused mind that only wants to learn about things that reinforce your negative preconceptions, or you can have a sharp and creative mind. The latter sees the positive things in life and finds success by being inquisitive, adaptable and innovative.
See the chance in every challenge.
Take a moment to think about your biggest problem. Now, instead of thinking of it as a problem, try to think of it as a gift – an opportunity to learn something about yourself. Maybe it’ll provide insight into your behavior and provide a chance for you to change the future and be more successful. Remember the words of Henry Ford:
“Failure and hardships are chances to start all over again and to make it better.”