Mind control

Professor Charles Xavier in the X Men has a powerful ability – mind control. There are multiple other cartoons and comics where controlling others’ minds is a superpower. And, I wouldn’t blame you if you thought this post was about that.

It isn’t, though.

This is about our minds. As we grow up, we spend a lot of time in school studying topics like Math, Science and Language. Then, in college, it could be Engineering, the Arts or whatever else. All of this is important brain food. And, yet, the single most important topic, Psychology, is completely optional. All those other things we studied can help us become extrinsically successful. But, they do little else and they definitely don’t help us understand our mind.

You could be in one of the most beautiful places on earth. But, you could be intensely unhappy inside. You could be living in a gorgeous home with everything a human being might want. But, you might be living in self created hell and be unable to notice it. On the flip side, you could have little compared to everyone around and, yet, be happy.

This isn’t an easy problem to solve. It takes time. Like all difficult problems, it first begins with awareness. It, then, needs us to learn and know better. We live in a time when an education in human psychology is a click away. Use it (if in doubt, start with the “7 Habits”).

All the other stuff we read will help us build a living. Understanding how to work with our minds will help us build a life.

The London taxi driver study – The 200 words project

In a lengthy study, Eleanor Maguire and Katherine Woollett from the neuroimaging center at University College London followed a group of 79 trainee taxi drivers and 31 controls (people who weren’t in training). Over time, they took snapshots of their brain structure using MRI and studied their performance on memory tasks.

The trainee taxi drivers had to memorize a map of London with all 25,000 streets and thousands of landmarks to pass; one of the toughest qualification tests in the world. As a result, only 39 of the trainee taxi drivers passed the test.

The researchers famously saw a greater volume of cells in the successful drivers’ hippocampus. This is the area of the brain associated with spatial memory. Over time, it also showed that the longer the driver’s experience, the larger the hippocampus. And, on the flip side, as time passed after a driver retired, the hippocampus shrunk to normal size.

This hippocampus study famously pushed us to consider the hypothesis that our brains develop with exercise and are not “fixed” as was previously assumed.

So, all this leads us to a big question we’ll tackle next week. Did the taxi drivers who passed have some innate talent or genetic predisposition that enabled them to pass the test?

The human brain remains ‘plastic‘ even in adult life, allowing it to adapt when we learn new tasks. – Eleanor Maguire

Source and thanks to: Peak by Anders Ericsson, The Hippocampus study, Wired’s article on the study

(The 200 words project involves sharing a story from a book/blog/article I’ve read within 200 words)

Compounding learning

Compound interest is the single most important concept in finance. Time value of money, as an idea, comes close. But, understand compound interest and it’ll change the way you think about saving money for the future. The simple notion behind compound interest is that you earn interest on your interest. This means small amounts invested today that get compounded over time earn a lot more in the long run than large amounts compounded less. It is powerful stuff.

I’d like to make the argument that learning works in exactly the same way.

Let’s imagine you come to me and say – “Hey, I’m going to read a non-fiction book for 10 minutes every day on an interesting subject.”

Great. Do we expect a difference between your understanding of the world and mine tomorrow? Probably not.

Day after? Again, probably not.

But, what about a year from now? Sure, there is likely to be a difference thanks to the accumulated knowledge of 3650 minutes of reading.

What about 10 years from now? Now, there is sure to be a difference. You’ve clocked 36,500 minutes of reading.

Then, what about 30 years?

Little actions carried out consistently over time can have tremendous power. You and I know that. But, learning is a different monster. In that first year, you probably just accumulated a vast amount of knowledge. But, fast forward a few years and that knowledge soon becomes understanding. As you read an interesting mix of topics, you soon begin to realize that science, art, management, psychology, leadership, self-help all become interrelated. You begin to see patterns and links. It is a deep understanding of these links that gives us wisdom. Wisdom is simply an extension of that understanding – it is knowing what to do with all this knowledge in the context of daily life. And, we know that it is one thing to be knowledgeable but it is quite another to be wise.

This is why we see a tremendous difference between people’s wealth, success, happiness and energy as they age. For most of the population, education ends when they finish schooling. But, for the folks who take it upon themselves to learn with greater vigor once formal learning is complete, the effect of their learning over time compounds. Put it simply, if Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates read an interesting book on human behavior right now, they’d get a LOT more value out of it than you and I. That’s because they have so many interesting mental models that allow them to test findings and incorporate learnings. It is these mental models that differentiates masters/learning machines and everyone else. 

Every single day, we have a choice, both with money and with learning, to use the power of compounding or not. Not being aware of the choice is not an excuse. And, not choose is, really, choosing..