Short summary - Sort Your Brain Out - Jack Lewis

British literature summaries -

Short summary - Sort Your Brain Out
Jack Lewis


A neurobiologist talks about the brain: how it makes decisions, how to increase its effectiveness, how gadgets and stress affect it, how to learn new things in old age and avoid Alzheimer's disease.

The division of the retelling into chapters is conditional, and their names do not correspond to the original.

The most basic tips

There are a few things that can help you instantly increase brain performance.

  1. Drink enough water.
  2. At least 20 minutes of physical activity every day - among other things, they stimulate the growth of new cells in the hippocampus.
  3. Control your cortisol level (this hormone, released in response to daily problems, is responsible for making you feel stressed; cortisol stimulates the brain, which is very lazy in nature).
  4. Bask in the sun every day for at least 15 minutes.
  5. Consume caffeine. In moderation, it is (after all) beneficial for the brain.

Old dog and new tricks

They say that the old dog cannot be taught new tricks, but neurophysiologists disagree with this. It is all about suggestibility and those attitudes that were laid down in childhood by teachers, parents, and peers.

If the teacher made you believe that you are hopeless in mathematics, a self-fulfilling prophecy may be born : you will not be able to do mathematics with pleasure, stop coping with tasks, your brain will stop straining and, therefore, adapt to them. The inevitable unsatisfactory results that follow will reinforce the false belief that you are unable to understand mathematics.

So the key word here is suggestion. «Do you think that you can, or you think that you cannot — in any case, you are right,» - this thought of another American is much better in line with the principles of our brain.

The fact that the brain is especially adaptive in childhood is true. But it’s not true that we then lose the ability to learn new «tricks». It all depends on how much time we spend on learning a new skill. Children do this all the time, but we are much less likely.

Remember the regimen and the fact that you can learn new things all your life. In order to feel the positive effect of neuroplasticity and continue to improve in something, you should do it regularly, intensively and for a long time.

Is technology good or bad for the brain?

Technology alone is not harmful to the brain. Transferring some tasks to external devices, we accelerate the pace and provoke the emergence of new tasks. The problem is that we have become constantly distracted by smartphone alerts.

A man lived without gadgets for many thousands of years, despite this, today we check our smartphones every six and a half minutes. But the brain does not work in multitasking mode, it is only able to switch due to concentration of attention. Heavily dependent multitenders control their impulses worse and demonstrate lower scores of tests of mobile intelligence than weakly dependent ones.


Although you do not notice this, your brain constantly works far beyond consciousness, asking questions, solving problems, sorting out thoughts. The trick is to catch some useful ideas floating in your head.

The best state of the brain for creative thought is sleep, and the best time to catch creativity is nap. This was understood by Dali, waking himself up with the sound of a spoon falling from his hand, and he was right. The chances of solving the problem will greatly increase if you start the work of the subconscious, feeding it with the necessary information.

The brain loves novelty and strives for it. If you need a creative approach, step back, drop stereotypes, do something else - preferably something unexpected, new and funny. At least have a business meeting in an unfamiliar cafe.

To do or not to do

Everywhere you need to make a choice - important or insignificant, simple or difficult. Moreover, most decisions are made without our participation, in the depths of the subconscious. Conscious reflection on any issue, according to experts, can have a load of 40 bits, while subconscious information processing is estimated at 11 million bits. Logic often confirms our emotional choices only in retrospect.

The brain operates with neural estimates of the most probable outcomes, based on recent and most vivid experience. Trust your instincts in the circumstances in which you are experienced enough, and make sure that you are in a calm mood. Do not trust your premonitions in circumstances where you are inexperienced or where a specific choice will give you an advantage only in the short term.

By the way, the «good feeling» that you sometimes experience is pure anatomy: the redistribution of blood flow from the stomach to the brain. The same goes for butterflies in the stomach. This trembling feeling shows that your sympathetic nervous system is ready to work at full strength.

Cortisol! But in moderation ...

An unpleasant feeling of tension is created by the brain in response to the presence of stress hormones. During stress, the hypothalamus sends a chemical message to the pituitary gland, leading to the release of another hormone into the circulatory system, which is sent to the adrenal glands. This starts the process leading to the release of cortisol, DHEA and other stress hormones.

Cortisol has VIP access to every cell in the body. By controlling the genes, turning them off and on, he puts the body in a state that is most suitable for a particular situation, ideally trying to get rid of stress.

Do not reproach yourself for being overexcited. A moderately unpleasant tension is useful: it motivates us to act, otherwise we would not do anything at all. By releasing cortisol, you respond not only to problems, but also to joyful moments. As soon as you begin to ponder something serious, real or imagined, whether under your control or not, cortisol comes into action. That's why when you suddenly wake up in the middle of a nightmare, your heart beats fast and your breathing becomes fast and shallow.

Stress is a friend until you abuse your hospitality. Be a driver, not a passenger on a stress express train. Brake when necessary. Rest is vital to the brain if you want to give it a chance to carry out the necessary «repair work».

The last hour before bed should be as calm as possible. Do not try to sleep, and if you are still awake, do something that you hate to do. In the afternoon, find time to reboot.

Nuns on the run

The structure of gray matter is such that only our age reaches the middle of the third decade, the further path goes only down. The brain actually begins to shrink, but this does not mean that its functions are at their peak at 25 years old. Some cognitive abilities become more effective with age, despite structural degradation.

This gradual degradation is inevitable and inevitable. If we lived to be 150 years old, we would enjoy the symptoms of age-related cognitive decline as a result of the natural processes of brain aging. But today, many suffer from this. However, there is good news: many things that you must do to keep your brain in shape as long as possible are pleasant entertainment: chess, tennis, dancing, reading. By eliminating saturated fats and toxic smoke from your life, you help the vessels maintain their natural width and elasticity - which means that the risk of stroke is reduced.

Accumulate cognitive reserve. In 1986, the US National Institute on Aging conducted a study in which 678 Roman Catholic nuns participated. They have been observed for many years to better study the features of Alzheimer's disease. They were tested to evaluate cognitive abilities, for example, how many words from a list they can keep in memory or how many animals can name per minute.

Scientists came up with the idea to investigate nuns because their life experience is usually the same. Therefore, any difference in susceptibility to age-related mental problems could be associated with natural features (genes), and not with life experience.

When the nuns died, their brains were sacrificed for science. Not surprisingly, sisters with Alzheimer's disease found many changes characteristic of this disease. But it is surprising that in the brain tissue of nuns who never suffered from Alzheimer's disease, the same changes were found. This proves that people can function normally, despite the damage caused by this ailment.

An analysis of the differences between those who had and did not have pronounced symptoms of Alzheimer's disease showed that the style of writing and expressing thoughts by nuns (scientists examined the essays they wrote, taking monasticism at twenty) was related to the result. The nuns, whose writings contained several different concepts, were significantly less susceptible to the symptoms of Alzheimer's many decades later! Another key factor was the level of physical and mental activity before and after completing daily duties. Those who eagerly and read a lot and found time for a hobby functioned well at ninety years.

Believe or see?

We are very dependent on the feedback that we received in childhood. Unfortunately, many people have suppressed self-confidence.

The brain constantly re-creates reality, filtering it according to our preferences. As soon as you begin to believe in something, the mechanism of a tendency to confirm starts. As a result, the brain accepts those facts that are consistent with existing beliefs, and rejects those that do not fit them.

In other words, if the teacher told you that you are a complete zero in mathematics, and you decide that it is, then you will believe all the comments confirming this statement with enviable persistence and reject those that will refute it. This is bad news.

But the good one: self-hypnosis also works in a positive way. You should not look at what success others have achieved in order to understand that they can be achieved.

Everyone has the key to the fastest and most efficient engine in the world. It remains to pick up the control lever.