Jim Kwik – Unlocking Your Brain’s Limitless Potential
After suffering a traumatic head injury, to say that Jim’s life was a challenge was an understatement. Facing harassment in school for holding back the class, a teacher referred to him as the boy with the broken brain. Inspiration came from desperation. Upon discovering the field of brain science and learning how to learn. Jim began to see life from a whole new perspective. It wasn’t how smart you are, rather, “How am I smart. I realized that if knowledge is power, then learning is our superpower.”
About Jim Kwik:
Kwik, his real name, is the widely recognized world expert in memory improvement, brain optimization, and accelerated learning. After a childhood brain injury left him learning-challenged, Kwik dedicated his life to creating strategies to enhance his mental performance dramatically. He has since devoted his life to helping others unleash their true genius and brainpower.
For over two decades, he has served as a brain coach to students, seniors, entrepreneurs, and educators. His work has touched a who’s who of Hollywood’s elite, professional athletes, political leaders, and business magnates, with corporate clients that include Google, Virgin, Nike, Zappos, GE, 20th Century Fox, Cleveland Clinic, WordPress, and institutions like the United Nations, CalTech, Harvard, and Singularity University.
Kwik is the author of the NY Times and #1 WSJ bestseller: Limitless – Upgrade Your Brain, Learn Anything Faster, Unlock Your Exceptional Life.
Through keynote speeches, he reaches in-person audiences totaling more than 200,000 every year and online videos totaling hundreds of millions of views.
Kwik is regularly featured in media, including Forbes, HuffPost, Fast Company, Inc., and CNBC. He is the host of the acclaimed Kwik Brain Podcast, which is consistently the top educational training show on iTunes. KwikLearning.com’s online courses are used by students in 195 countries.
Kwik is an advocate for brain health and quality global education, with philanthropy ranging from Alzheimer’s research to funding the creation of schools from Guatemala to Kenya, providing health care, clean water, and learning for children in need. His mission: “No brain left behind.”
Follow him @JimKwik
Hey, this is Alan Olsen and welcome to American Dreams. My guest today is Jim Kwik. Jim, welcome to today’s show.
Alan. So good to be here. Thank you everybody who’s joining us.
So Jim, you know, for the listeners, you have quite a remarkable story, a story that is as you’ve journey through life, nothing was ever easy and did a start a back when you’re, in your younger years, you grew up with suffering a traumatic head injury and became known as an individual with a broken brain. I don’t know if that’s a fair statement. But can you give your story to us so we can better understand what you went through?
Sure. My my quest for on this path for brain optimization and accelerated learning came really from my inspiration was my desperation. When I was five years old in kindergarten class, I took a unfortunate fall headfirst into iron gray radiator rushed to the emergency room and there was a recovery there, but were really showed up my life as a child was learning difficulties. So I processing issues, teachers didn’t really understand how to deal with me, I, they would repeat themselves over and over again. My parents would also and I would eventually learn to pretend understand, but I didn’t really understand and memory issues, focus issues, took me a few years longer to learn how to read than all the other children. And yeah, when I was nine, I had a defining moment where I was, I was slowing down in the class and I was being teased pretty harshly for it by the other children and teacher came to my defense. And I remember she pointed to me in front the whole class and said, you know, basically leave this kid alone, he has the broken brain. And adults have to be very careful with your external words, because they become often the child’s internal words. So I just said, I didn’t know I had a broken brain. And every time I did badly on a quiz, or in school tasks exam, wasn’t picked for sports- and this was pretty much all the time, I would always say, oh, because I have the broken brain. And so my struggles, they kept on going every single day, I would work hard. I came from immigrant parents and so that part of the, you know, the discipline, the culture, hard work ethic was there, but I just, I would work harder, but not get the results as everybody else. And I just thought it was a little bit demotivating I doubted myself a lot. Felt like it was a little bit unfair. And it wasn’t till I was 18 that I discovered a mentor and books and I learned a little bit more about brain science and adult learning theory, multiple intelligence theory. I started studying ancient mnemonics I wanted to find out… I’m very curious, like, how does my brain work? So I can work my brain? How does my memory work? So I’d work my memory better? And I realized that it’s not how smart you are, how smart your spouse’s or how smart your kids are, how smart your team is, it’s more how are they smart? How am I smart. And I realized that if knowledge is power, then learning is our superpower. And I thought it was interesting in school that it’s often teaches you want to learn: math, history, science, Spanish. But there weren’t a whole lot of classes on how to learn those things. There was no classical concentration or, or problem solving or critical thinking or memory, you know, even and I always thought it should have been the fourth art in school reading, writing, arithmetic, but what about what about remembering, right, Socrates said, there is no learning without remembering. So I started studying those subjects, you know, really an area called meta learning the art and science of learning how to learn. And when I did, my grades shot up. And I started with that passion. I couldn’t help but help other people. Because I actually felt a little bit embarrassed and actually a little upset that I wasn’t taught these things earlier. And I started to tutor and one of my very first students- I remember like it was yesterday. She was a freshman in college, and she read 30 books in 30 days. Now I know how she did it, because I taught her some advanced a reading comprehension, speed reading techniques. But I wanted to know why. I’m very curious why some people follow through and implement what they learn and other people don’t. And I found out that her motivation was her mother. Her mother was diagnosed with cancer. Doctors gave her mom only a couple months to live maybe 60 days and the books she was reading were books to save her mom’s life. And health, wellness, medicine. And fast forward six months, I get a call from this young lady and she’s crying and crying. And when I find out that they’re tears of joy, Alan and her mother not only survived, but is really getting better. Doctors don’t know how or why they’re calling it a miracle. But her mother attributed it 100% to the great advice she got from her daughter who learned it from all these books. And that’s when I learned and I really engrained my mind and in my spirit that If knowledge is power, and learning is our superpower. Knowledge is power, we hear that all the time, then learning is our superpower. And it’s a power we all have. And it just wasn’t taught in school. And isn’t that a slight against teachers. My mother became a special education teacher early on helped me with my learning challenges. You know, I have educators in my in my family, but it’s just the system hasn’t changed a whole lot like, you and I were talking before we started recording about the world and disruptive technology. And, you know, you know, we live in a world of autonomous electric cars, right spaceships that are going to Mars, but our vehicle of choice often when it comes to learning and education is more equated to the vehicle of a horse and buggy. It hasn’t improved as much as like our classrooms haven’t changed as much as the world has changed. And so my passion and my mission the past three decades, nonstop full time as 30 plus years is to build better, brighter brains, you know, no brain left behind. And it happens in our, you know, how does it show up, it shows up in our podcast, it shows up in the books that I write it shows up in can we have an online academy with students in every nation in the world 195 countries. And that’s really the mission show people really the limitless potential they have between their ears.
So this is a fresh look at it, you know, coming into a world of constant change, where people are saying, hey, how do I adjust? What do you do as a brain coach.
So just like any coach, a coach is somebody who takes you from your current state to a desired state, in an effective enjoyable, maybe enjoyable process, because they could fast track you because having a coach just like a personal trainer, a personal trainer, you have one it would, they’re there to get your body in shape, they want to make your muscles stronger, then we want to make you more pliable, more flexible, greater endurance, greater levels of energy and agility. I want your mental muscles to be stronger, I want your memory to be sharper your focus, to have greater endurance, your ability to think and and that’s what we do, we train people’s mental muscles, we want to increase their their brain fitness, if you will. So they could not only catch up, but they could keep up and get ahead all your listeners, it’s not like it was 100 years ago. It you know, we’re Agricultural Age, industrial age, it had big back then it was like your muscle power that was your worth, advertise your mind power them, but it’s not. It’s no longer your your brute strength. As a hunter gatherer it’s your brain strength. And, and so I believe we live in the millennium of the mind. And after you can learn, the faster you can earn. And that’s, that’s what I do. And so we take an approach where we take, you know, the new and latest neuroscience applied towards learning and performance and productivity. We also draw on ancient wisdom, like I wanted to when I first learned these, I got very curious, I wanted to find out what did people do before technology before there were, you know, computers before there were even printing presses? How did people memorize information and recall it? And so I started studying the ancient Greeks, what did they do a couple of 1000 years ago, to be able to be pass on history, to be able to be a great orator. And so we put it together in the work that we do, and then we take out more of a whole self approach. It’s not just left brain, right brain, but it’s your three different brains are conscious or unconscious, it’s you’re asleep, the best brain foods, stress management, and so much more. So there’s, I realized there’s no magic pill, everybody wants to take like a limitless pill, to fix their memory or their focus. But I realized that there’s no such thing as a good or bad memory. There’s no such thing as a good or bad brain. There’s a train brain, in an untrained brain the challenges sometimes with technology, and I love technology, it allows this you and I to connect like this and to us to inspire, to empower, to educate, to entertain. And also, if we’re so dependent on technology, then maybe we don’t have to use our mental muscles as much any more than if somebody just took up their car to go to the post office, you know, to five blocks instead of using their body or they take an elevator to go up three floors to their apartment, they don’t have to get the exercise on the stairs. So I think there’s a balance there.
Now, Jim, if you know when I’m hearing what you’re walking through about learning and how people learn. My experience in life is that there’s different approaches to learning. For example, I’m a visual learner. I’ll often have dreams that will give me the wisdom and direction that I need to overcome to solve problems. When you’re working with people? Do you identify their gifts and their learning style as you adjust the process?
So it’s it’s interesting, I mentioned that school they teach you what to learn math, history, science, Spanish, but not necessarily how to learn those things. I think a superpower is self awareness called having the curiosity to know yourself. And then the other part of success and fulfillment, I feel like not only having the curiosity to know yourself, but also having the courage to be yourself also, as well. So many people go into talk therapy, they journal they, they self reflect, and they build their intrapersonal intelligence, their self to self intelligence and IQ. And then they also, you know, the other part is expressing that to the world. In in limitless, for example, we have it’s full of assessments, in terms of primary learning styles, preferred learning styles, multiple intelligence theory. And so assessments based on the work of harm Howard Gardner out of Harvard University, basically saying, things like IQ is, is a little bit outdated metric for somebody’s potential and their gifts that you can, the idea that you take a test when you’re eight years old, and that’s your kind of your fixed potential when you’re 88 years old. And everywhere in between is not really sad, because even if you look at standardized tests here in the US, you look at things like the SATs it was testing for, for only two forms of intelligence, really, primarily, there was math, right logic, and the other part was verbal, linguistic, but there’s so many other different forms of how people show up in the world. How genius shows up meaning somebody have great kinesthetic intelligence, they’re an incredible athlete or choreographer, musical intelligence. Also visual spatial intelligence, the great artists, graphic artists, architects, if you will, interpersonal intelligence, people like yourself, who are just do have just this natural charisma they could connect with, with with strangers very quickly. And have greater influence, like a bench might show up in sales, or then forms of leadership and No, nobody’s any one thing. So there’s different multiple intelligence. So we have all those different assessments in our work, including my book limitless, then people could just take those assessments and get some wisdom in terms of how they work their best, again, not how smart they are, but how are they smart specifically?
So have you found that individuals with ADHD learn differently from other people?
I take a very strength based approach to and so I’m not trying to necessarily fix anything I thought about the I think how people show up in their unique gifts is unique. And just like every superhero, you know, not everybody is a wonder woman or Captain America, some people have different superpowers. Some are super fast, they’re super accurate with their their bow and arrow, if you will. It’s interesting. When you look at nature, and you’re modeling Mother Nature, every creature has a superpower, some good fly, some could climb, some could breathe underwater, some are super fast, or super strong, human beings interesting that we’re not any of those things naturally. But we because our superpower lies between our years, right our brain we can do all those things we can fly. Because of the mind. We can breathe underwater, we can be super fast or strong. And and I believe the future belongs to those creators in a world where a lot opportunities being outsourced or going to machines, artificial intelligence, automation, what’s not going as easily be outsourced, is, you know, in our careers or opportunities, is truly what’s limitless. There’s a limit to our creativity, there’s no limit to our ability to solve problems, there’s no limit to our imagination, our ability to come together, also also as well. And so I to live in a world that’s diverse neuro diversity, where everybody is acknowledged where it’s you could have a strength based approach to things like ATD, ADHD, dyslexia, as you know, in you know, it’s almost cliche, but we all know, leaders who are achieving in areas of athletics or commerce, and in business, that have I grew up with dyslexia or ADHD, and it forced them to see the world in a different way. And they come up with different behaviors and solutions than than others. And so I like to encourage, I think it’s finding out who we are and how we work. And then and then developing those strengths and then creating a team around us, you know, a learning organization. Just like, like superheroes come together. You know, it’s really great to see Marvel and DC Batman have their movie and Wonder Woman have their movie and, you know, but when they came together as the Justice League, or they come together as the Avengers, and then there they become a pretty inspiring, unstoppable force of nature.
I think you just answered, but I’m gonna ask the question anyways. So how would you help someone that struggles to make decisions?
So it’s interesting choices are everything right the decisions that we make every single day, who in one way of looking at it as our life is a sum total of all the decisions we’ve made up to this point, right? You know, where we’re going to put our focus, where we’re going to live, we’re going to spend time with where we’re going to eat, you know, when we’re gonna go to sleep, all these little decisions add up to big decisions and habits in our life. And I believe first you create your habits. And your habits create you that every decision we make, is not only what you’re going to do, it’s who you’re going to be at that moment. You know, in terms of our identity, I would say that, there’s a quote in my, in my book limitless, from a French philosopher that says life is the sea between B and D. Let’s break that down. Life is C, the letter C, between the letters B and D. and B stands for birth, D stands for the other side, death, life see choice. Right? So the decisions that we make, and I believe that these difficult times, they could define us these difficult times can distract us, these difficult times can diminish us, or these difficult times can develop us. Ultimately, we decide the challenges is, you know, school teaches not only what to learn, as opposed to how to learn, but also teaches what to think, as opposed to how to think. And this area of metacognition, learning how to learn or thinking about our own thinking, I think becomes more paramount in a world that’s in constant flux, disruption and transformation and change. Right? Our ability to learn to unlearn to relearn something is a superpower. Because if you can learn how to learn and learn how to think and focus and concentrate, retain, implement, you could apply that towards any subject matter, math, money, marketing, management, martial arts, Mandarin, you know, everything in your life gets easier when you learn how to learn, learn how to think. And we’re not given frameworks even to how to make a good decision. And so that that’s interesting also, as well. So in our podcast, again, or in our book, we give different models and frameworks, frames of mind, if you will, to make a good decision. One of them I highlight, there is six thinking hats. And this is credited by created by Edward de Bono, that basically, the idea here, and I’m oversimplifying, is that let’s think about a decision or dilemma that we’re facing some kind of difficulty, right, most people get stuck, because with insanity, doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result, because they’re looking at it from the same point of view. And so six thinking hats, for instance, gives you an opportunity to do a thought experiment, Imagine you’re sitting and I encourage everyone to try this even right now, as you’re listening to this. And in front of you. Maybe as laid out six hats, six different colors. And now you’re you’re presented with this situation, you need to make a decision. And the challenge is look at these hats. And let’s, let’s reach out and grab, let’s say the white hat. And just imagine putting on the white hat. And the white hat allows you you can only see this situation, this problem, this dilemma through the eyes of logic, and just as a memory aid, because I’m a memory coach, imagine like a scientist white coat, right. And so you can only look at through data. And so you’re looking at the situation, just looking at the facts, you know, through through what’s being presented in front of you. And then so you see the world through a different way. And some people exclusively look at the the world like that, right, but it’s a narrow lens. And so if you, for example, take off the white hat and grab the red hat and put it on now you can’t see things as as data, you have to see things based on how it feels to you. Or your intuition. Your if you’re looking at the situation should I be in this relationship? Should I pursue this opportunity? How did how things feel, you know, and this is the red is like the heart, the emotional hat. And so you can only siphon and filter through through your emotions. And then you can take off the Red Hat. And you can see where this is going to put on the yellow hat. And that’s the opposite. That’s the optimism hat and that’s like, what’s the upside to this venture this investment? What are all the things that could go right? Right and you take it off, you could put on the black hat, which optimism is kind of like a yellow sign is a memory a the black hat could be the the robes of a judge. Now this is the critic and you’re looking at the situation is what’s the downside? You know how if you’re risk adverse, what can go wrong here. And so you’re looking at that and then in the Go goes on and on the green hat is the one of like maybe the third opportunity, it’s green like grass that grows and so what maybe it’s not between this or this maybe there’s a third of new idea, right something that’s that’s more creative path that we haven’t explored yet. And then the blue hat interesting, and I’m oversimplifying, this is kind of like the blue sky. It listens to all the other hats and it’s kind have like the manager, it listens. And then it takes all that information and then makes a more vivid, more accurate decision because it got to see things from different perspectives. And so the idea here is sometimes you have to go to No, we do an annual brain performance, brain health fitness conference, and we had Quincy Jones there a few years back, and we brought him on stage, unplanned, and I just asked him all these questions, and one of the questions was, you know, you know, you’re you’re 80 something years old. Every year, everyone knows all the Grammys and the Oscars and thriller, and we are the world. What were the problems? You know, I want to know, what what what are you? What are you facing right now? What are the problems? And he said, Jim, I have I don’t have any problems. I’m like, all we all have problems with. It’s like, No, I have puzzles. And I was like, Ooh, interesting. That’s an interesting filter. Because puzzles, it means there’s a It’s fun, right? If it doesn’t love a challenge, there’s a solution there. And then we’re talking about language learning a little bit and traveled. And Quincy has pretty proficient in like, 20, something plus languages. And there’s a correlation between that and then the music. And that though, that part of your brain music and movement and language learning. And he’s had this race, like you have to gym, you have to go to know, when I go from different place, and I’m in a different culture, it’s a different food, different love with different languaging different thinking patterns, different art, and it gives you and gives you a different perspective. And so when we change the place, or the people that we’re spending time with, we often get to see the world in a different point of view a different light. And that allows us to have a more vivid representation of the situation. And in game theory, whoever has the most flexibility and options will will generally win. Right? All of the things being equal. And when you have, you have more options, because you see the world and you cut it up in different ways. I think as if you’re a great financial investor, you know, they have certain things that they they see the world through mental models that other people don’t, somebody is extremely healthy, or they have a great relationship. And it might be unconscious also as well. You know, my message for people is that genius leaves clues that if somebody is exceptional in some area, any area of their life, then there’s a method behind what looks like magic, when I go in front of an audience. And I memorize 100 people’s names, as they pass around a microphone introduce themselves, or they challenge me to memorize 100 random words or 100 digit number. I always tell people, I don’t do this impress you, I do this more to express to you what’s possible, because the truth is, we could all do this and a whole lot more. We just weren’t taught. Right. And you know, with my challengers, it’s interesting that through struggles these with learning was a struggle, it became a strength. And her challenge comes comes change. And so I think that life is hard for one or two reasons life is hard, because we’re either leaving our comfort zone, right, we’re challenging ourselves in different ways, or life is hard, because we’re staying in our comfort zone. And I think we have to just choose choose our heart every single day, you know, and it goes back to the power of one little decision.
So I want to this is all very, very good. And of course, we want people to read your book limitless, we’ll put a connection to that in the in the transcript there so they can get it on Amazon is that where your main distribution channel is or where
you can get anywhere where where books are sold, it’s and dozens of languages globally, and we donate 100% of profits to charity, you know, and so we build schools and Guatemala, Kenya, Ghana, fully funded health care, clean water for the kids, also Alzheimer’s research and memory and my my grandmother who passed have dementia.
So last question here, top suggestions to help someone increase their productivity?
Absolutely. And so one of the things I would say is that, first we create our habits, and then our habits create us, right. And I would suggest that a lot of our habits are unconscious. There’s studies done at Duke University and other places where upwards of 40%, or more of the things that we do is just just on autopilot. And when did we actually sit down and design those behaviors, those routines, those rituals, those habits, if you will, I think if you want to someone was like win the day, and be more productive than they have to win that first hour of the day. So how you start your day and win the day is how you win, you know, really starts in that first morning. For me, I do this little thought experiment. I don’t think it’s about doing everything. And I really don’t think it’s about time management. We hear that a lot. I think it’s more about energy management, Environment Management, priority management. A lot of people are very busy, but they’re not productive. Right. And so priority management is maximized use is that the most important thing is to keep the most important thing, the most important thing right that’s the that sets your goal and for me when I wake up, most people grab their phones which is most unproductive thing that they could do because they’re rewiring their brain and that when you’re free just wake up, you’re very relaxed and very suggestible, you’re rewiring your brain for distraction. First of all, every like share common cat video, ring, Ding ping striving to distraction while you and you wonder why you can’t focus in meetings or focus at school. It’s also rewiring your brain to be reactive, meaning that you get one message, social media, text, message, voicemail, phone call email, and it could hijack your whole day. And it puts you in the defense. And I would say, leadership, right as being proactive, and how can you start your day by being reactive and training that muscle and flexing that, and it’s going to show up in life? So I would say, instead of doing that, just do a quick thought experiment, use the power of your mind your imagination, right? Einstein said, Imagination is more powerful than knowledge. I do this thought experiment when I wake first wake up. And I would say, Okay, I’m fast forwarding to the end of the day. And somebody asked me, as I’m winding down, how was your day? And I say, wow, it was awesome. I crushed it today, today was incredible. Then I say, Okay, what had to happen in order for me to feel that way? You know, what, maybe three things personally, or three things professionally, or maybe both? What six things if you will happen during the day. And I just focus on those things. Because I think that with a growing to do list. You know, a lot of people finish the day and they have more things on their to do list. And then when they started the day, and I think again, that if you could have that, that idea, I have a friend named Clay Schools at a champagne moment in sports, you know exactly when you’re gonna break open that champion and celebrate. But do we have that in our day? Right. And so that’s kind of our TrueNorth I think a lot of people are burnt out, not because they’re doing too much. Maybe you’re burnt out because you’re doing too little of the things that lights you up that make you feel alive, the things that really mattered most. And so I would start my day in a way instead of being reactive and distracted, something a little bit more thoughtful and begin as Dr. Stephen Covey talks about in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People begin with the end in mind.
Thank you, Jim. I appreciate you being with us today.
Alan, it’s a real pleasure. Thank you.
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