Mind Over Brain Matter
The Organized Mind by Daniel J. Levitin
First Line: “We humans have a long history of pursuing neural enhancement–ways to improve the brains that evolution gave us.”
This book is thick, but don’t be intimidated. Levitin does a great job of holding our attention and I found myself jotting lots of little notes during this long read. It’s basically a college crash-course in brain science studies, covering things like memory, productivity, and making decisions. There are some good insights and tips and tricks on how to…what? Function better in the world?
Levitin reminds us that decision-overloads lead to a loss of drive. If all of our brain power is sucked up throughout the day in making petty choices, we end up feeling grumpy and lethargic. (Think: Having to pick the best pen out of 50 options while shopping at an office supply store. Not exactly a life-changing decision, but still mentally exhausting!)
The book goes on to discuss how happy people, calm people, highly successful people–whatever you want to call them– are smart because they know how to liberate their intellect. They understand the value of that “good enough” option and are able to satisfice, or accept the middle path. Not sweating over the small stuff throughout the day helps them focus better when they need to solve a truly tricky problem.
Of course, conserving your mental energy is a lot easier when you’ve got a personal shopper, private chef, PR assistant, etc. You know that quote/guilt trip floating around about Beyoncé having just as much time in the day as you, or anyone else? That’s totally bogus. Highly successful individuals are able to disperse their life/business responsibilities to an entire crew of people. They limit the minutiae of their everyday life through outsourcing, giving them more time and space to pursue more important things.
Even if you can’t afford a personal assistant, Levitin’s offers some practical, scientific advice on how to be more mentally organized. We’ve got the good ol’ “Eating the Frog” approach (i.e., doing the most unpleasant task first thing in the morning, because your willpower will lessen as the day progresses), studies on how to strengthen social ties with transparency (even in the workplace!), and a fun section discussing how the best creative work happens when our brain is in a Flow State.
I finished this read with more hope than despair. There’s much to do to get more organized, focused, and productive, but fortunately Levitin makes it all seem attainable. And it’s a science book, not self-help. So it’s got a great tone for both business professionals and curious intellectuals.
Bottom Line: Your brain doesn’t want you to spend more time on a decision than it’s worth.