By Deepak Chopra, MD, FACP and Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), co-authors of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being. (Harmony)
Evidence is gathering by the day that the brain isn’t really an object but a continuous and active process. Thoughts and experiences create new pathways in the brain. They even affect the output of genes. What this means for the individual is extremely important. The control center for the brain’s constant shaping and reshaping is you, the person who is using the brain. Although there are many brain processes that run on automatic, they too are highly influenced by experiences – that’s why, for instance, the automatic rise and fall of blood pressure during the day is highly responsive to all the things that happened to you during the day.
Brain health comes down to a simple-seeming formula: maximize the positive input and minimize the negative input. The result will be positive rather than negative output. To some extent the difference between positive and negative input isn’t hard to define:
It’s positive to maintain balanced diet, negative to eat an imbalanced one.
It’s positive to take regular exercise; it’s negative to be sedentary.
It’s positive to have good relationships, negative to have stressful ones.
Anyone who has kept pace with the public campaign in prevention can make the list longer; the risk factors for a healthy lifestyle are well known. But this is where the difference between positive and negative get trickier. Information isn’t the same as compliance. That Americans are getting more obese and sedentary while consuming massive quantities of sugar and fatty junk food isn’t due to lack of information. Non-compliance is about inspiring your brain to function in a better way. This is a role assigned to the mind; the brain can’t inspire itself.
In our book Super Brain we focus on how to you can best relate to your brain on the basis of more positive thinking, emotions, attitudes, and beliefs. In that regard we are running counter to the prevailing trend, which sees the brain as an organ that needs to be maintained the way one would maintain the heart of stomach. Of course the brain is an organ, but far more importantly, it serves the mind. Therefore, everything you think, say, and do depends on aligning the brain with your desires, intentions, and the vision you have of your life. The brain keeps a constant feedback loop going with the mind and body; if you were to fall into a coma, it can sustain life.
But only you can sustain meaning and purpose. For all of its brilliant discoveries, neuroscience can’t give your brain meaning, and if you feel that you lack purpose, there is no drug or surgery that will bring it back. At present the main breakthroughs in neuroscience are medical. Curing organic disorders like Alzheimer’s and depression are urgent goals since they undermine anyone’s chance to find meaning and purpose.
But our emphasis is to raise the everyday functioning of the brain to a higher level. The baseline brain, as we call it, passively handles everyone’s life given the input that is provided. Super brain, on the other hand, goes beyond the baseline brain to actively optimize what the brain can do – it brings to life hidden potential that exists in everyone’s brain. To give a sense of what we mean, here’s a quiz to test how much of your brain’s potential you are presently using.
Quiz: Baseline Brain versus Super Brain
Look at the following list and place a check beside each sentence that describes your behavior at least some of the time. Don’t be judgmental or hard on yourself. Simply mark the items that honestly seem to apply to you.
____I don’t ask myself to behave very differently today than I did yesterday.
____I am a creature of habit.
____I don’t stimulate my mind with new challenges very often.
____I like familiarity. It’s the most comfortable way to live.
____I’m not that excited with the work I do.
____My relationships follow pretty set patterns.
____I should pay more attention to my weight.
____I don’t exercise regularly.
____I can be impulsive and then regret it later.
____I have certain habits I just can’t seem to break.
____I look at my past and see major regrets.
____I know that I have missed some major opportunities.
____I’m only fair at making decisions.
____I’m aware of having inner conflicts.
____I worry about aging, particularly memory loss.
____I’ve had much better times in my life than now.
____The future fills me with uncertainty.
____I need to be in better control of my life.
____I wonder what my purpose in life is.
____I wish that my emotions were more valued.
____I rarely read inspirational stories, poetry, or scriptures.
____I feel that I deserve more appreciation.
____I don’t see my life really getting better.
____I have a hard time getting a good nights’ sleep every night.
____I don’t feel that great about my body.
Total Score __________
Analyzing your score: Every item on the list describes the baseline brain. Its attitudes, beliefs, and habits are self-limiting. They aren’t bad or wrong – this quiz isn’t about judging yourself. It’s about the habitual way that you relate to your brain. The point is to assess where you stand in relation to your hidden potential.
18 – 25 points. You are not sufficiently proactive as you relate to your brain. Much of the time you allow inertia to creep into your daily life. You let old habits and beliefs hold power over you. When something goes wrong, you tend to let it slide. You don’t believe that you can change your life at every moment, significantly. It’s good that you see yourself realistically, because each item that you checked off can be improved, as you will discover reading Super Brain.
11 – 17 points. You know that your life could be better and have a good appreciation of your limitations. You have spent some time trying to change, either through therapy, self-help, or spiritual pursuits. You may consider yourself a seeker. Even if you don’t, you would welcome positive change. Looking back at your past, you know that you had more potential than you have fulfilled so far. It’s good that you are so ready to change. Every page of Super Brain will speak to you personally and help you to get on the path to fulfillment.
5 – 10 points. You are a self-aware person who has been interested in fulfilling your potential for a long time. It’s likely that you are very familiar with therapy or the spiritual path. You value yourself and don’t easily accept limitations. You are ready to turn the rest of your life into a rising arc. You are already so proactive that Super Brain offers fulfillment at an unusually high level. The possibility of reaching higher consciousness and calling on the higher brain to get you there is very real.
0 – 4 points. Either you are astonishingly self-aware or you didn’t take the quiz seriously. Please take it again without fearing that you will make yourself look bad. The quiz is about an objective assessment, not about judging against yourself.
In the next post we’ll discuss the implications of turning baseline functioning into higher functioning.