Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Information Overload? Seven Learning and Productivity Tips

We often talk in this blog about how to expand fun­da­men­tal abil­i­ties or cog­ni­tive func­tions, like atten­tion, or mem­o­ry, or emo­tion­al self-reg­u­la­tion. Think of them as mus­cles one can train. Now, it is also impor­tant to think of ways one can use our exist­ing mus­cles more effi­cient­ly.

Let’s talk about how to man­age bet­ter the over­whelm­ing amount of infor­ma­tion avail­able these days.

Hun­dreds of thou­sands of new books, ana­lyst reports, sci­en­tif­ic papers pub­lished every year. Mil­lions of web­sites at our googletips. The flow of data, infor­ma­tion and knowl­edge is grow­ing expo­nen­tial­ly, stretch­ing the capac­i­ty of our not-so-evolved brains. We can com­plain all day that we can­not process ALL this flow. Now, let me ask, should we even try?

Prob­a­bly not. Why engage in a los­ing propo­si­tion. Instead, let me offer a few strate­gies that can help man­age this flow of infor­ma­tion bet­ter.

1. Pri­or­i­tize: strate­gic con­sult­ing firms such as McK­in­sey and BCG train their staff in the so-called 80/20 rule: 80% of effects are caused by the top 20% of caus­es. In a com­pa­ny, 80% sales may come from 20% of the accounts. Impli­ca­tion: focus on that top 20%; don’t spend too much time on the 80% that only account for 20%.

2. Lever­age a sci­en­tif­ic mind­set. Sci­en­tists shift through tons of data in effi­cient, goal-ori­ent­ed ways. How do they do it? By first stat­ing a hypoth­e­sis and then look­ing for data. For exam­ple, an untrained per­son could spend weeks “boil­ing the ocean”, try­ing to read as much as pos­si­ble, in a very frag­men­tary way, about how phys­i­cal exer­cise affects our brain. A trained sci­en­tist would first define clear hypothe­ses and pre­lim­i­nary assump­tions, such as “Phys­i­cal exer­cise can enhance the brain’s abil­i­ty to gen­er­ate new neu­rons” or “Those new neu­rons appear in the hip­pocam­pus”, and then look specif­i­cal­ly for data that cor­rob­o­rates or refutes those sen­tences, enabling him or her to refine the hypothe­ses fur­ther, based on accu­mu­lat­ed knowl­edge, in a vir­tu­ous learn­ing cycle.

3. Beat your ene­mies-like exces­sive TV watch­ing. Watch­ing TV five hours a day has an effect on your brain: it trains one’s brain to become a visu­al, usu­al­ly unre­flec­tive, pas­sive recip­i­ent of infor­ma­tion. You may have heard the expres­sion “Cells that fire togeth­er wire togeth­er”. Our brains are com­posed of bil­lions of neu­rons, each of which can have thou­sand of con­nec­tions to oth­er neu­rons. Any thing we do in life is going to acti­vate a spe­cif­ic net­works of neu­rons. Visu­al­ize a mil­lion neu­rons fir­ing at the same time when you watch a TV pro­gram. Now, the more TV you watch, the more those neu­rons will fire togeth­er, and there­fore the more they will wire togeth­er (mean­ing that the con­nec­tions between them become, phys­i­cal­ly, stronger), which then cre­ates auto­mat­ic-like reac­tions. A heavy TV-watch­er is mak­ing him­self or her­self more pas­sive, unre­flec­tive, per­son. Exact­ly the oppo­site of what one needs to apply the oth­er tips described here. Con­tin­ue Read­ing

Brain Health and Fitness Workshops

Today I have an announce­ment to make. You prob­a­bly are seeing all the arti­cles about Brain Fit­ness in the press and wondering, “What is this all about?”, “Can some­one help me nav­i­gate through all the pro­grams out there?”, “How is Brain Fit­ness rel­e­vant to me in my per­son­al life or at work?”. Well…we are deliv­er­ing a series of work­shops to com­pa­nies and orga­ni­za­tions com­bin­ing mod­ules -includ­ing sci­en­tif­ic overview, the indus­try trends and key play­ers, fun team-build­ing exer­cis­es- that can be tai­lored to each organization’s spe­cif­ic needs. Ses­sions last from 1 to 6 hours, depend­ing on the group’s com­po­si­tion and agen­da and are deliv­ered either in per­son or via web con­fer­ence.

We want to be able to reach more orga­ni­za­tions, so please let us know of any ideas!

Some recent examples

1. Man­ag­ing Stress for Peak Per­for­mance (we men­tioned some notes on an Accen­ture ses­sion)

New and chal­leng­ing sit­u­a­tions – such as tak­ing on new respon­si­bil­i­ties– can trig­ger reac­tions in our brain and body that lim­it or even block our deci­sion-mak­ing abil­i­ties. These reac­tions may also harm our long-term brain pow­er and health. Although we can­not avoid change and stress­ful sit­u­a­tions, we can learn how to man­age our stress lev­els to ensure peak per­for­mance-even in tough moments. The lat­est neu­ro­science research proves that stress man­age­ment is a train­able “men­tal mus­cle.” This is true for any high pres­sure pro­fes­sion, be it trad­ing, sports, or sim­ply mod­ern life.

2. The Sci­ence of Brain Health and Brain Fit­ness (sim­i­lar to what I will teach at UC Berke­ley OLLI)

Neu­ro­sci­en­tists have shown how the human brain retains neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty (the abil­i­ty to rewire itself) and neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis (the cre­ation of new neu­rons) dur­ing its full life­time, lead­ing to a new under­stand­ing of Read the rest of this entry »

Keep Your Brain Nimble as You Age and Brain Fitness Events

Some good links today:

1) Keep Your Brain Nim­ble as You Age
MSNBC — May 13, 2007
“If using your com­put­er as a men­tal gym sounds good to you, SharpBrains.com’s Fer­nan­dez sug­gests ask­ing a few ques­tions first to deter­mine a product’s…”

2) Great blog by Stan­ford Busi­ness School’s Jack­son library, includ­ing an announce­ment of an upcom­ing lec­ture there by our very own Dr. Elkhonon Gold­berg and Alvaro Fer­nan­dez Pump­ing I.Q., not Iron

3) Some blog car­ni­vals (col­lec­tions of blog posts around spe­cif­ic top­ics)

Baby Boomers, Memory and Wisdom

The NYT Mag­a­zine today is devot­ed to the top­ic of Can Sci­ence Tell us Who Grows Wis­er.

It may have been even bet­ter had the ques­tion been, “What Sci­ence Tells us About How we Can Grow Wis­er”, but it is a pret­ty good issue any­way.

A very good arti­cle on The Older–and–Wiser Hypoth­e­sis. Quotes: 

  • One of the most inter­est­ing areas of neu­ro­science research involves look­ing at the way peo­ple reg­u­late their Read the rest of this entry »

Lifelong Learning and Brain Health Event in San Francisco on May 16

If you are in the Bay Area, we hope to see you at this event! Feel free to for­ward the invi­ta­tion below to any­one you know who may be inter­est­ed.


The grow­ing move­ment for improv­ing brain health has brought many inter­est­ed pro­fes­sion­als and inter­est­ed com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers to the table. Shar­ing our infor­ma­tion, activ­i­ties, and planned events to pro­mote brain health increas­es the pow­er of our reach.

Please join us on May 16, 2007 from noon to 1:30pm for a com­pli­men­ta­ry gath­er­ing co-spon­sored by:

Dr. Elkhonon Gold­berg, well-known neu­ro­sci­en­tist and author of The Wis­dom Para­dox: How Your Mind Can Grow Stronger as Your Brain Grows Old­er and Alvaro Fer­nan­dez, CEO and Co-Founder of Sharp­Brains and instruc­tor of the Exer­cis­ing Our Brains class, will pro­vide an overview of the sci­ence and trends behind the emerg­ing brain fit­ness field.

Please bring infor­ma­tion on your work and events to share with oth­ers inter­est­ed in brain health.

Where: SFSU OLLI (835 Mar­ket Street, 6th Floor, San Fran­cis­co, Room 675)
When: Wednes­day, May 16, 12–1:30 pm
What: A chance for net­work­ing with Read the rest of this entry »

About SharpBrains

As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters and more, SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking health and performance applications of brain science.

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