Book Review: Brain Rules

If you want to learn how to be a smarter, healthier person, I recommend you start with Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina. Hands down one of the most enlightening books about how we function at our core I have ever read. The great thing about Medina’s writing is that it is super-easy to digest and think about. And Medina is a developmental molecular biologist. I don’t even know what that means, but chances are, it means the dude is wicked smart. And it comes through in his 12 principles.


I’m not going to go through all his principles because I believe you should read the book, but I want to share two of my biggest takeaways.

The details matter, but not as much as the meaning. Our brains are constantly working overtime and in order for us to learn anything, we need to be giving the high-level first. The core concepts. Then and only then should we be given details. Perhaps that is why reporters and public relations students are always taught that the first few paragraphs need to be able to stand on their own with the most important core details.

I’m reminded of a line in one of my favorite movies, Thirteen Days, when President Kennedy says, “We’ve got to figure out what we’re going to do before we worry about how we do it.” You have to know at the core what you want before you can develop the plan to get it and the same goes for learning. Know what you want to learn, then go and learn it.

The second key takeaway from this book is that we need sleep. Of course, this comes as no surprise whatsoever, but here is a direct research recap from the book. Be prepared, you may need to read it twice:

Students were given a series of math problems and prepped with a method to solve them. The students weren’t told there was also a shortcut way to solve the problems, potentially discoverable while doing the exercise. The question was: Is there any way to jumpstart, even speed up, their thoughts? Can you get them to put this other method on their radar screens? The answer was yes, if you allow them to sleep on it. If you let 12 hours pass after the initial training and ask the students to do more problems, about 20 percent will have discovered the shortcut. But, if in that 12 hours you also allow eight or so hours of regular sleep, that figure triples to about 60 percent. No matter how many times the experiment is run, the sleep group consistently outperforms the non-sleep group about 3 to 1.

So what?

Like I said, if you enjoy learning about how we learn and how to function at your highest level, then you need to read this book. Plus, Medina gives some great solutions on how to incorporate what this great brain research is telling us. Some of them might surprise you.

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