5 Brainy Books to Read If You Want to Be a Badass

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When I came across the notion that I could get good at anything I set my mind to, I was blown away. The whole idea that you can’t teach old dogs new tricks has now been debunked (both for humans and for dogs). Thankfully, the brain is far more plastic than people used to believe, and you can shape your mind through disciplined practice. So just because you’re bad at something today doesn’t mean you have to keep being bad at it tomorrow.

That concept was one of the driving forces behind my obsession with learning how the brain works. I figure if the brain is the organ that literally constructs the world around me (don’t believe me, read the books listed below), then I had better figure out how it works so that I could take control of the process. And I don’t think it’s overstating the case to say that taking control of that process and focusing my energies on learning the neuro-anatomical realities of unleashing my full potential, is what allowed me to succeed as an entrepreneur.

It’s been said that the brain is the most complicated and mysterious thing in the entire universe. The five books below are not only the books that most shaped my understanding of the brain, but they are the ones that will help you unlock some of those mysteries and in the process completely supercharge your mind. Understanding is the key to unlocking your full potential. Read on, but only if you want to become a total badass. #JediStuff

1. Incognito

By David Eagleman

Most people think of themselves as being their conscious mind. But as author David Eagleman shows in this book, the conscious mind is often the last to know, and the real work of constructing what you think of as “you” is being done by the subconscious.

This revelation is detailed through an endless stream of ingenious studies (many of them his own) that have been conducted in recent years—including ones that will make you ask the question, “Does free will actually exist?” Your conscious mind, as Eagleman points out, is constantly lying to you. And the implications of this concept on your daily life and society at large are massive.

Eagleman does an excellent job of bringing these deep mysteries within easy grasp without ever dumbing things down. This book is not only fun to read, but it will help you become at least aware of some of the processes and subroutines that make up the bulk of your existence but sit just out of conscious view. This fresh perspective allows you to take control of some of these processes, or at least not be as controlled by them—and that is the first step toward getting out of The Matrix.

2. Phantoms in the Brain

By V.S. Ramachandran

Taking its name from the strange phenomenon of phantom limb syndrome (the persistent feeling that an amputated limb is still present and usually very painful), Phantoms in the Brain is a remarkable book by V.S. Ramachandran, who, with levity and a tremendous knack for captivating storytelling, explores the weird and wonderful world of the brain and its uses of mapping, re-mapping and specialization.

Ramachandran, a researcher by trade, is both profound and funny as he explores the hidden secrets of region-specific brain function. While the book covers a lot of amazing ground, the sections that I found most enlightening were around self-deception. Self-deception is something anyone interested in self-improvement needs to study closely, and nobody handles the topic better than Ramachandran.

3. The Tell-Tale Brain

By V.S. Ramachandran

The subtitle of this book is “A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human,” and that through line makes this book accessible, wildly entertaining and ultimately useable. Ramachandran explores everything from mirror neurons, a region of the brain with mind-bogglingly deep implications for how we relate to and understand each other, to synesthesia, a disorder in which people’s neurological wiring gets crossed and people taste shapes and hear colors.

In understanding the brain at its best and its most terrifyingly broken, you really do begin to understand the processing power, and most importantly, the perspective that creates this human experience. In peeking under the hood at the processes that drive our mental functions, much like Eagleman, Ramachandran helps the reader not only better understand the brain, but also begin to transcend the algorithms that invisibly steer our behavior.

4. Making a Good Brain Great

By Daniel Amen

There are many amazing things in this book, but what I liked most about it is how practical and applicable it is—from how to protect your brain from subtle damage that can accrue to how to defeat ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts) and regain control of your brain and your mind. I have used the strategies in this book for years now. This is one of the most immediately useable books on the brain I’ve ever read.

5. The Female Brain

By Louann Brizendine

Whether you’re male or female, this is a must-read book. The book details the phases and changes that a woman’s brain goes through (physically and hormonally) from childhood to post-menopause and everything in between. For me, it really helped me understand the neurological underpinnings of the female perspective, and for my wife (who has read this book now multiple times), it helped her put words to her thoughts, feelings, and maturation as a woman. Discussing the book and its concepts helped us both communicate better and ensure that we were speaking the same language.

There are many other amazing books on the brain, and these are truly just a few of the books that have shaped my understanding of the mind. Since the brain is the organ most in control of shaping our world, if you’re only going to study one topic, for my money, the brain is it. These books are an awesome primer to get you started. I hope you enjoy the journey and get as much from it as I have.      By Tom Bilyeu, May 2018

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