Brain Hacking … 25 ways to think smarter, to learn something new, to develop yourself everyday at work

March 5, 2018

We used to think we knew it all.

We used to go to business school and emerge with MBA-style passports to a long and prosperous career. We used to top up our business skills with the occasional workshop, maybe augmented by a business book or two. We used to go through those chaotic moments of “change” when organisations shake up, and then settle down again. We used to become increasingly expert in our chosen field. And do what we do.

But the world isn’t like that anymore.

Change is relentless, everywhere and in everything. More change in the next 10 years than the last 250 years. Technology, but also its applications and consequences. Changing what people want, their aspirations and expectations. Changing how we work, our business models and daily tasks. Changing what success looks like, from productivity and scale, to new measures of impact and progress.

How do we keep pace with this incredible world?

What we learnt 10, maybe even 20 or 30, years ago just isn’t relevant, or even sufficient anymore. The capabilities that made us great have been superseded by new skills or even machines. The ability to keep doing the same thing, or evolving the same model doesn’t work. And as change accelerates, it feels like there is no time for anything – shorter cycle times, faster delivery, instant results.

So when is there time to learn, to develop ourselves?

Taking time out to refuel your mind, to attend a training program, seems impractical and impossible. 4 weeks for an executive program seems like a lifetime. A book is quickly distracted. Even sitting down to watch a TED Talk seems like a luxury. Yet there is a whole new world to explore – new knowledge, new skills, new opportunities.

The problem is not time, it is our mindset.

Too many of us still try to optimise the whole world. To keep doing what we have always done, but better, evolving and adapting, in search of perfection. Instead we need to let go, to adopt a growth mindset, where we constantly seek to explore and experiment. To grow. To move ourselves and our organisations forwards in new ways. To be interested, curious and creative, to learn in everything we do.

Added to this is how we think of learning.

The best forms of learning are when we are active not passive – when you need it, when you are doing it, when its gone wrong, when you’re teaching it. The old forms of learning – classrooms, seminars and books – are passive. Learn on demand. Learn from each other. Learn by doing. Learn by figuring out the learnings. This means learning becomes part of every day at work, not an alternative to work.

You need the drive to develop yourself, to do better and different, everyday.

Like in our children’s schools, teachers have realised that the key skill is now what to learn, but how. Today’s universe of knowledge is so fast and dynamic, that it is not about retaining information, even specific skills, but knowing when you might need them, and how to find them when needed.  Innovative educational platforms, like Udacity with its nanodegrees, have reinvented how we learn.

We need a new mindset to survive, as well as learn and thrive.

It used to be the young people who did most of the training. Today it is the older people, and often the most senior people, who have most to learn. In a world where we will live to 100 years or more, we need to learn to keep learning,  to keep challenging and changing ourselves in order to be relevant and useful in an even faster changing world.

Brain scientists have one piece of really good news.

That old idea that as you got older your brain declines has been proven to be totally wrong. The brain is alive, and can be shaped and reshaped to your advantage. At least until you’re around 70. Keeping your mind malleable matters, giving your the ability to keep growing. Solving puzzles, playing music, foreign languages, and red wine, are all ways to keep your brain fit and healthy.

Here are 9 strategies from Ryan Stephens to think about how we learn, and ways to learn better:

  • Did you know there’s a science behind learning new skills ? Well there is and it is super interesting. (Lifehacker)
  • Work on your presenting skills by speaking up more . Whether it’s at an all-company meeting or a small morning team check-in, find places to let your voice be heard. (Jonathon Colman)
  • Make it a goal to learn something new about everyone on your team this week. You’d be surprised at how much those little interactions can build your bonds and help your career in the long run. (Ryan Stephens)
  • Chances are that you could probably be better at meeting deadlines. Use these four tips to start turning things in early (without breaking a sweat!). (LinkedIn)
  • Do you have enough on your plate? If not, here’s what you need to doto ask your boss for more responsibility. (Brazen)
  • Given all the stress in most work environments, it’s easy to feel tired, irritable, and negative. Instead, work to change your mindset and put forth a positive attitude (Tiny Buddha)
  • Push yourself to meet more people and put yourself out there professionally. Hey, knowing a couple more people is never a bad thing. (Careerealism)
  • No one likes hearing about their weaknesses, but if you want to grow as a professional, you need to ask people (bosses, co-workers, and clients) for feedback (Fast Company)
  • If you’ve never tried out different productivity tricks before, using one of these may be the way to go. (The Daily Muse)

Try to learn something new and make at least one improvement that makes me better at something every single day. It sounds daunting, but improvements don’t have to be huge, they can be really small which incrementally leads to huge change. Think improving just 1% each day and build upon that every single day. Doing so has a dramatic effect and will make us 37x better, not 365% (3.65x) better at the end of the year. Wake up every day and ask yourself what is the 1% improvement I can change to make myself better personally and professionally. Imagine yourself making 1% changes every day. That compounds and will make you 37x better by the end of the year. Imagine if everybody was doing the same. Imagine how much better you. and the world will be next year.

So here are the 25 “brain hacks” to keep growing:

Never stop learning

Learn something new every day. Whether that is reading a book, listening to a pod cast or completing a MOOC online. You need to take continue to take responsibility for your own learning and actively pursue means to improve. Read for 1 hour every single day.By reading one hour a day, regardless of your perceived level of knowledge, you can become a world leading expert in any subject in 7 years. If you begin now, you could become a world leading expert in your chosen field in less than 10% of your lifetime. It obviously requires commitment and consistency but its incredibly easy to sit and read if you are literate. 42% of college graduates never read anotherbook after college so think how far ahead that could get you.

Do something different

If you zig when others zag you will avoid being in the majority making it easier to rise to the top. Its far easiest to be great in a smaller pool.

Unmercifully pursue your dreams

10,000 of hours of dedication to something is what it takes for someone to be the world-class at something. With that being true I would advocate another route being inherently more useful as the world moves towards a more diverse future. Spend 1,000 hours on 10 different subjects. You won’t become the best in the world at any one thing but you will become a world leading generalist which will ensure you can benefit from most of this new exciting post-capitalist world. The benefits of being better at 10 things than 90% of the global population than better than 99% of the world population at one are monumental. The crossover between your skills will lead to new unimaginable opportunities.

Compete against people better than you.

Go places where you know you will be at a disadvantage. Competing against superior performers will expose you to strategies which enable you to alter your own. You’ll learn tricks and spot hints to improve your own performance you won’t learn in years of competing against rookies.

Give yourself too little time

Purposefully give yourself less time than you know you need to achieve something. You’ll surprise yourself or be forced to invent creative ways to improve your efficiency. It might help you spot trends from alternative industries/activities/sports you can utilise in a new way. In business it is often better to repackage and existing average idea and improve on it to achieve greatness.

Remove interruptions

Live life without distractions by disposing of the things in your life that are frivolous. Abandon social media, stop living your life through the prism of technology and comparison to other and experience things instead of seeing them. Unmercifully remove the things in your life that don’t matter so you can foxus on the things that do.

Set goals

write them down. recording your goals will make you 100% more likely to achieve them. Write short, medium and long term goals and actively track your progress against them. It will give you a sense of achievement which will inspire you and spur you on.

Say no

Say no to almost everything so you can say to the things that matter.

Be more original

Following the status-quo may help you achieve short term success, it might assist in enabling you to pass exams and get into university, but ultimately it is going to detrimentally affect your creativity. Take risks, spot chances and dove in. Share your ideas and get feedback. Be brave.

Put yourself out there

Meet people, reach out and talk to people; never be afraid to ask advice. I never let somebodies reputation scare me into submission. I’m a vehement believer in the adage that if you never ask you’ll never know and find this particularly true of those people who have ascended to the highest heights. I’ve exchange correspondence with everyone from Arianna Huffington, Bob Keiller, Gareth Williams, Adam Grant to name but a few. It’s worth remembering even the most successful among us are people to.


Broaden your horizons, open your mind and deepen your well of exposure. Understand the idiosyncrasies between cultures and experience living. Go to the places on the periphery and understand the countries you visit. A resort with a pool and a sandy beach could be anywhere. Go to places and distil their true meaning and gain enlightenment. By understanding how different cultures and communities operate our lives are enriched with understanding, compassion and appreciation for people unlike ourselves.

Record your ideas

Record your thoughts and ideas in a journal every day for you to reflect upon labour. Recording a brilliant thought you’re not quite sure to develop allows your mind to continue working on a solution or utilisation of your mind long after you’ve recorded the words on paper.

Recording ideas is the single most important piece of advice I would ever give. What do the greatest people in the world have in common? Prolificness. Those who develop things which result in paradigm shifts are more likely to have worked on thousands of solutions than those who did not. They simply give themselves more opportunity to achieve greatness. You only need to be right once to change the world.

Don’t waste time

Use a timer for everything. Some things may seem inconsequential but that 30-minute meeting that takes 37 minutes bi-weekly is costing you over 12 hours of productive time a year. Extrapolate that figure across every individual at the meeting and you have a significant economic loss. Multiply that for every meeting that runs even a minute over. Your schedule is sacred, protect it or you’ll pay for it in your own time. The same applies even for menial chores. Once you know how long something takes you have a target to beat.

‘Swallow the frog’

Do the thing you are least looking forward to first and the whole day will seem brighter and easier. Get the things out the way that make the biggest difference to progress not the things that take longest. Email takes time, can be done at any point and slows down momentum, do the things that enable progression.

In fact, lock email in a box and do the following.

Only check emails once per day. Some of you may question how this is possible or believe it would force me to miss important messages through the day. In truth, it simply made me far more productive. It allowed me to focus on the task at hand more clearly and if anything did come up I started receiving phone calls which allowed me to tackle the problem quicker, easier and without the need for additional emails.

Stop sending as many emails. It sounds simple because it is, but I was able to drastically reduce my emails received on a daily basis by as much as 40%. No more emails to emails that didn’t require a reply. No more emails to people I could phone and get an answer from in ten seconds. The freedom gained is truly invigorating.

If something that requires attention comes up someone will call; you wouldn’t email the fire brigade to inform them your house is on fire.

Recognise errors

Recognise when you are wrong and make amends. Never be too proud to apologise or patch things up. Even if you are right and the other person is wrong, if they are adamant in their beliefs, changing their mind isn’t going to improve relations therefore even being right can mean you are wrong.

Trust people

Don’t be precious and protective of things. Let people showcase their expertise and benefit collectively. Welcome people into the team with open arms, don’t be suspicious of their intentions. Ultimately you and the team are the beneficiaries. You will meet lone superstars along the way so find ways to connect whereby the partnership is mutually beneficial.

Congratulate and inspire

Praise people when they do well. Nothing motivates people more than the acknowledgement of the effort they have put in to achieve success. Better yet praise people in front of the whole team which simultaneously encourages the person who has done the great work and lets the team witness what happens then they contribute to the team’s success.

Who are you?

Character is who you are when nobody is looking. Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are while your reputation is merely what others think you are.


Treat people how you want to be treated. Whether you acknowledge the cleaner tidying up your mess in the hotel or the CEO of your company, humility and sincere interest are ubiquitous in revealing you humanity.

Be trusted, earn respect

Do what you are going to do when you say you are going to do it. In fact, do it before. Trust is the currency that enables transactions to occur in higher frequency. Without trust and respect, in life and in business, you are nothing.

Ask, don’t tell

The easiest way to lose the support of your team/friends/family is to demand and tell instead of requesting or politely asking. Kill people with kindness and generosity and they will gladly assist you in any endeavour. Thank them for their time and expertise making them feel valued and appreciated.

Realise you can’t win arguments

You can’t because if you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it. Suppose you triumph over the other man and shoot his argument full of holes and prove that he is wrong. Then what? You will feel fine. But what about him? You have made him feel inferior. You have hurt his pride. He will resent your triumph. “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

Be honest

Be honest to others but most importantly be honest with yourself. Being upfront and honest about your own limitations, sharing concerns and identifying problems when they happen can save huge expense and alleviate small issues before they become massive problems. Being honest with yourself allows you to identify your weaknesses and unmercifully pursue improvement and personal development.

Never wait for things

You need to fight to improve. Good things come to those who go out and get them, nobody achieved greatness waiting for it to find them.

Be prolific

Quality comes from quantity. Quantity is evolved from trying over and over again until you perfect something. Be relentless, never give up. You’ll succeed through obsession, normal people can’t compete with it. Persevere with your passions and create on an unprecedented scale. Love what you do and never settle. You need to find what you love.


9 out of 10 companies fail, so start 10, keep going until you find success but never a plan B. Having one means you’ve already accepted the possibility of failure. Failure is only failure if you fail to learn, take chances when you have the opportunity, one day you won’t be afforded with the time you have now.

It doesn’t matter how many times you fail, it only matters that you don’t the last time you try.


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