What do you see when you look at the picture?
A duck? A rabbit? It’s an ambiguous image so you’ll first see one, then the other. Ambiguous images are the gateway to understanding how awesome your brain has the potential to be. That’s right, you can also be Einstein.
What the duck’s got to do with genius
Ambiguous images are caused by the multi-stable perceptual phenomenon — aka spontaneous subjective change. Why this is relevant is because nothing about the image changed between seeing a duck or a rabbit.
What changed was your mind/brain conversation in which your perception (the mind) altered neural pathways (the brain), making you see something different. Therein lies the key. How your mind relates to your brain has the potential to change your world.
A brief lesson in brains
When Einstein died, an autopsy revealed a plain old brain — no bigger, denser or different than anybody else’s. What made him remarkable was his adaptability and ability to relate to the world in an entirely different way.
Okay so I lied a little, they did find something different… his corpus callosum, the nerve superhighway connecting the two halves of the brain, was thicker which allowed for greater connectivity between creativity and logic. He had an extraordinary prefrontal cortex, the bit responsible for abstract thought, decision-making, correcting errors and assessing situations. He also had peculiarities in his parietal lobes (the mathematical bits) and no surprise there.
But before you think my argument’s invalid, Einstein’s brain anomalies aren’t isolated. ’The Knowledge‘ of London black cab drivers is a memorised detailed map of the sprawling, disorganised city.
Through training, their hippocampuses (the spatial intelligence part of the brain) actually grow larger than ordinary folk, proving that the brain you’re born with isn’t the one you’re stuck with. How you use it influences its structure due to the ability of the brain to remodel itself.
Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain, instructed by the demands of the mind, to remodel and remap itself. This isn’t just post injury, but all the time. That means your 100 billion nerve cells forming a trillion (perhaps even quadrillion) connections have the ability to re-route in response to the world around you and based on how you tell your brain to.
And here’s the key to turning your bog-standard brain into a super brain. The brain and mind work seamlessly together, but are separate things.
What makes you is not your brain, but the mind, something philosophers have been very busy arguing for centuries.
Deepak Chopra, co-author of Super Brain, offers this simple analogy to describe the mind and brain: “The brain doesn’t create a thought in the same way that a radio doesn’t create Mozart. The brain provides a physical structure for delivering thought, as a radio allows you to hear music.”
Though the mind and brain can work seamlessly together, there are times when one dominates the other, throwing things out of balance.
Brain games: What’s really in control?
Part of developing a super brain is understanding and being aware of the difference between the brain using you, or you using your brain. Here you’ll see two examples.
Brain using you
- Phobias are negative outcomes imposed by a false reality. Heights and spiders are not automatically cause for panic, but a phobia is a conditioned response causing a cascade of chemicals in the brain that trigger a primal freak out. In today’s world, we don’t just fear spiders but also failure, humiliation, rejection, sickness etc.
- It’s incorrect to believe the instinctual brain overrides the higher brain, blocking out all rational thought when we’re scared. If that were true we wouldn’t have any mountain climbers, Fear Factor, or desensitising therapy. The same brain that subjects you to fears is also able to conquer them.
You using brain
- Your thoughts are able to affect your body: Excitement, fear and anger can increase your heartbeat. Happiness boosts your immune system.
- Meditating monks use their minds to lower blood pressure and heart rate, regulate body temperature, and induce alpha-waves. The same monks are also able to reach a state of compassion because of the physical changes they induce in their prefrontal cortex.
- So you’re not a monk. The mental demands your mind makes of your brain shape physical structure. It’s up to you whether you use this power for good or evil.
The more you master the process, the closer you get to developing a super brain. The first step is in creating awareness. Through awareness you’re able to make beneficial choices that will evolve your brain, create new neural pathways and unlock a second evolution that rests on personal choice rather than circumstance. It’s better than mind over matter. It’s mind into matter.
Your three-pound universe, in other words, doesn’t simply interpret the world, it creates it. So if you want to be Einstein, you’ve just got to start thinking like him — with adaptability and creativity.
The human brain can do far more than we ever thought and its limitations are imposed by us, not by its physical shortcomings, after all it’s continuously changing. The more you ask of your brain, the more it responds to you.
Here’s the catch though: It needs stimulation. Stimulation doesn’t mean you need to learn Mandarin. It can be as simple as intentionally doing old things in a new way like trying a new route to work; it’s not falling into the trap of ’being set in your ways.‘
From baseline to super brain
Here’s the other catch. Your brain is a mass of neurons waiting to be conducted. To usher in your brain’s golden age you need to act as leader, inventor, teacher, student and user all at once. All these roles require just one thing: Attention. So how are you using your brain? Test yourself with these assumptions.
So you fall victim to some standard thinking patterns that are hampering your super brain development. To unleash your inner genius you need to adjust how your mind relates to your brain. This isn’t brain magic, but straight forward retraining. Once the brain has been trained in something, be it good or bad habits, the response feels normal. It therefore takes attention and focus to retrain yourself.
Rebooting the brain
Like a physical workout builds muscle and flexibility, mental workouts focusing on awareness create new brain connections and strengthen existing ones. By choosing to be aware of the thoughts and feelings evoked in your brain and choosing to follow an upward learning curve no matter how old you are, you can fundamentally alter your brain’s performance and adaptability.
Keys to adaptability are:
- Stop repeating what never worked in the first place
- Step back from the problem, the answer never lies in the thick of it
- When old stresses are triggered, walk away
- Taking on more of the burden than you think you deserve
- Stop attaching so much weight to being right.
You’ll become more adaptable when:
- You can laugh at yourself
- See that there is more to the situation than you realise
- Other people aren’t antagonists just because they disagree with you
- You’re able to negotiate, and compromise isn’t a negative word
- You can hang loose in a state of relaxed alertness
- You’re delighted by seeing things in a new way.
When you’re adaptable, you’re able to create new solutions. Saying “I need to think about this,” is a good first step, but you must allow yourself time to hang loose — which can be especially difficult in a crisis. Mounting anxiety fuels the lower brain, which amps up its emotional and instinctual reactions — neither of which are good for higher brain functionality and creative solutions.
Worried this won’t happen to you? First, stop worrying. Second, if you’ve had an out of the blue aha! moment in the past, you can trust that it will happen again. In your quietness, ask for an answer. Then back off and relax.