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10 Myths About the Human Brain

10 Myths About the Human Brain

Recently, an infographic from journl.com was published illustrating the inaccuracy of the 10 most common myths about the human brain. It’s interesting to know that in an age where it’s important to understand the mechanics of success, we still embrace these myths. After all, learning how to utilize our brain power effectively is essential to attaining goals. The following myths are addressed in the infographic briefly. This articles goes a little more in depth.

It is time to stop believing false myths about our brains. Some can make a big difference in the way we perceive things and our overall success.

Myth #1: We Only Use 10% of Our Brains

This myth is the most commonly believed one so we will begin with it.

The myth most likely came from William James, an American psychologist in the early 1900s. When James was quoted while saying, “the average person rarely achieves but a small portion of his or her overall potential,” the quote was altered. First altered to,”10 percent of our capacity”, then further modified to “10 percent of our brains”. Even though we can scientifically prove that humans use more than 10 percent of their brains, this myth is believed true by many.

Myth #2: The Brain Declines as We Get Older

Some mental skills improve with age. Vocabulary, language comprehension, critical thinking, and emotional control are a few of the areas that continue to develop.

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Recent studies suggest that mindfulness is another way to increase brain function. Studies suggest that brain function improved in certain areas for study participants after an eight-week mindful based stress reduction program. Participants showed an increase in gray matter clusters controlling functions of emotion and social cognition. Studies suggest mindfulness may be useful in treating depression and post-traumatic stress disorders.

Myth #3: Brain Damage is Always Permanent

Although it is true that severe brain damages may never heal completely, functions enabled by the damaged portions can improve, and connections lost between neurons can reconnect.

The bottom line is that damaged neurons cannot grow back. However, damaged connections between the neurons eventually reconnect, reversing damage. When neurons are damaged, the brain can rewire to use other portions in performing the lost function. Functions such as speech may be handled by another part of the brain once that part can learn the function through therapeutic repetition.

Myth #4: The Brain is Hard-Wired

The truth is that brains can be re-wired. Therapy encourages new parts of the brain, not associated with a skill, to take over the performance when the associated part is unable. For example, the hearing of a blind person is enhanced when sight is not available. A stroke victim can speak by teaching an area not usually associated with performing the task to control speech.

Re-wiring your brain is also possible to change habits. Brains learn through repetitive actions. If you want to stop smoking, you can train your brain to stop sending the signals that make cravings unbearable. It just takes time and repetition to retrain your brain.

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Myth #5: Left-Brained People are Organized Right-Brained People are Creative

Division of brain hemispheres is another great example of a myth that was altered by others and then gained popularity until it was believed to be true.

The reality is that both sides of your brain control most activities. For example, when performing math, both the right and left hemispheres of your brain are utilized. If we were to believe that the left hemisphere controls logic and the right hemisphere controls creativity, it wouldn’t make sense to use the right side. After all, math is all logic, right?

Myth #6: Your Memory is an Exact Account of What You See and Experience

We recall memories from the brain. They are not an actual account of what took place. When we recall a memory it takes on the form of the last time we recalled that memory. That means we enhance certain portions of the memory and allow other parts to fade into the background.

If we remember a traumatic experience, our brains may block certain parts as a protection. It is also important to know that psychologists have successfully been able to implant false memories. All of this better explains why several people can witness the same event, but everyone recalls it differently.

Myth #7: Listening to Classical Music Will Make a Baby Smarter

In the 1950’s, physician Albert Tomatis claimed success in treating auditory disorders with classical music. He based his findings on a theory formed after 36 college students were asked to listen to 10 minutes of a Mozart sonata before taking an IQ test. The students were found by an overseeing psychologist, Dr. Gordon Shaw, to have improved their IQ points by eight. With the findings, the “Mozart effect” came to life.

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No physician has been able to duplicate the results of the study since the original findings. Dr. Frances Rauscher, involved in the initial study, advises the results never claimed listening to Mozart made the group smarter. Instead, they found it increased performance on certain spatial-temporal tasks. However, the myth was born and still lives today.

Myth #8: Brain Games Improve Your Memory and Reasoning Skills

In theory, it seems to make sense that brain games would improve your memory and reasoning by exercising the portions of the brain that control those functions. However, research has proven this not to be true.

The BBC took initiative to look into this theory. In a study of over 8,600 people, ages 18-60, brain function in memory and reasoning skills did not improve after participating three times per week, ten minutes per day, in games designed to improve these skills. Myth busted.

Myth #9: Your IQ Stays the Same Throughout Life

Do you believe some people are born smarter than others and IQs will not change? If so, you’re not alone. Although it is true that the standardized IQ test will show little increase in intelligence over a lifetime, it is not publicized that a learning curve is built into the test.

The test factors in the amount of learning expected to take place over time, and then discounts it, making scores appear to stay the same when we are actually getting smarter.

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Myth #10: Your Brain Works Better Under Pressure

The theory is a widely popular one, but in reality your mind is not working better under pressure, you are just more focused on the task.

Because added focus makes people think they work better under pressure, they will wait until the last minute to perform a task. The stress caused to a brain while under pressure increases the release of cortisol. Too much cortisol can hamper learning and memory formation causing long-term adverse effects.

Now that you know the 10 most common myths about the brain are debunked, it’s time to educate the world. Next time someone tells you they are right-brained and cannot do something, you will have an educated answer as to why they can.

Featured photo credit: Andrew Becraft via flickr.com

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Missy Yost

Missy enjoys decorating, capturing the beauty of her surroundings on canvas, and making new friends. She shares about lifestyle tips on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on March 21, 2019

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

1. Start Small

The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

Do less today to do more in a year.

2. Stay Small

There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

Why?

Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

Peter Drucker said,

“What you track is what you do.”

So track it to do it — it really helps.

But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

5. Measure Once, Do Twice

Peter Drucker also said,

“What you measure is what you improve.”

So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

6. All Days Make a Difference

Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

Will two? They won’t.

Will three? They won’t.

Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

What happened? Which one made you fit?

The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

7. They Are Never Fully Automated

Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

10. Punish Yourself

Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

11. Reward Yourself

When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

In the End, It Matters

What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

Keep going.

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More Resources to Help You Build Habits

Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
[4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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