From the Publisher
"A young man's honest and humorous explanation of the most dangerous place we live, inside our heads, yields wonderfully provocative action steps to help the brain help you."
-New York Times Bestselling Author Dr. Oz
"This book gives hope to our most vulnerable population while giving insight and strategies to help young people change their brains and lives."
-New York Times Bestselling Author Jenny McCarthy
"This book can make a very positive difference and get people started thinking about the most important organ in their body at an early age."
-New York Times Bestselling Author JJ Virgin
"This book is filled with practical wisdom to help boost the most important part of you, your developing brain."
-New York Times Bestselling Author Dr. Mark Hyman
"Dr. Payne's enlightening book reveals just how much the brain affects our behaviors, emotions, and decisions. When we truly grasp this fact and comprehend its consequences, we can harness this 'brain power' and channel it towards useful, positive activities that build our lives for good. A great book for teens who don't always understand why they feel what they feel or do what they do!"
-Sean Covey, author of the international bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens
"Jesse Payne has written a remarkable book that should be read by everyone under the age of twenty-five. In an age in which anxiety and neurological dysfunction seem to be the new normal, young adults are desperately searching for answers. Jesse provides an easy to understand insights to why these changes are happening in the brain and more importantly gives a step-by-step process to retake control of the most important organ we have. This is a necessary first step for living a meaningful life."
-Barry Sears, Ph.D., author of The Zone
Read an Excerpt
For a long time, the brain has been the redheaded stepchild of the human body. Think about what you learned about the brain in school. More often than not, any lessons about the human brain entailed a long list of vocabulary words and facts about brain structures, neurons and dendrites that were boring and difficult to grasp. I would also guess that there probably wasn't any explanation of what these various brain structures actually do and how they affect you in your own life.
If this sounds similar to what you experienced in school, then get angry and prepare to start a revolution. The fact that we are not taught about the amazing complexity of the human brain, the importance of helping it work right, and the connection between our brain and our life is insane. When you begin to grasp some of the practical and easily understood brain basics, you will be amazed to learn that you have the power to improve your brain and have a better life. By understanding the inner workings of your brain and how they relate to all aspects of your life, you'll begin to understand why you are the way you are, and why you act the way you act. Your tendencies, your struggles, your personalityall of these come from your brain. But it's not like you're just born with the brain you have and you've got that brain your whole life. Once you realize that, the amount of power and influence you have over the functioning of your own brainand, by association, your lifebecomes clear. This is when the magic happens.
Of course, before you become the master of your brain, it is important to start with the brain basics. The eight brain facts in this chapter may appear absurdly simple and commonsensical. Well, this is true, and that's the beauty of it. What you will find after reviewing each of these brain basics (information that's based largely on the work I did with Dr. Amen during my time at the Amen Clinics) is that you have probably never stopped to put it all together. Perhaps you've known this information all along, but when you couple it with the powerful program in this book that will help you change the way your brain works, things will begin to click. And you will undoubtedly give your brain the respect it deserves.
Before you read any further, take the Brain Systems Quiz, which was adapted from the work I have done with Dr. Amen, to give you better insight into which parts of your brain might be contributing to some of the frustrations and/or struggles in your life. Please rate yourself honestly on each of the items in the list. Follow the instructions at the end of the quiz to determine what your answers mean. After you've analyzed your answers, put the quiz aside. We'll come back to the results later on.
Brain Fact #1: You Are Your Brain
As profound as this might sound, the simple fact is that you are a construct of your brain. Let's think about this for a second. Your heartbeat, bodily functions, organs, movements, thoughts, moods, actions, reactions, interactions, personality, memories, health, spirituality, happiness, feelings, relationships, successes, energy, focus, creativity, failures, problem-solving skills, anxieties, diet, decisions, hurts and dreams are all dependent upon the moment-by-moment functioning of the three-pound supercomputer housed within your skull. Your brain is involved in every aspect of your life. It controls everything.
Brain Fact #2: Your Brain Is Ridiculously Complex
As much as we have learned about the brain in just the past decade, we still have not even scratched the surface of understanding how incredibly complicated the human brain is. In fact, many argue that there is nothing in the universe more complicated than the human brain. Nothing.
Your brain is estimated to have more than one hundred billion neurons within it, and these neurons have trillions of supporting cells. To complicate things further, each of these trillions of supporting cells can have as many as forty thousand connections (called synapses) between them. This means that a piece of your brain tissue the size of a grain of sand has more than one hundred thousand neurons with more than one billion synapses all talking to one another. The critical consensus is that there are more connections in your brain than there are stars in the known universe.
The brain is estimated to hold the equivalent of about six million years' worth of the Wall Street Journal. Information travels through your brain at an impressive 268 miles per hour. And although your brain accounts for only about 2 percent of your body's weight, it burns nearly 30 percent of the calories you consume. When we look at the overall temperature of the organs in the human body, the brain is like a massive heat center, burning energy from the food you give it. It works faster and harder than any other organ to manage everything it is responsible for. (This means that you literally are what you eat. Chapter 14 will give you much more insight into the power of food and how it can aid in the healing or hurting of your brain.)
Brain Fact #3: Your Brain Is Not Fully Developed Until Age Twenty-Five
The title of this book was purposely chosen to highlight this critically important brain fact. We may like to assume that we are adults when we turn eighteen; however, the truth is our brain is still undergoing a significant amount of construction until our midtwenties. Research has shown that the brain is not fully developed until a person reaches about the age of twenty-five. For some males, full development can extend until age twenty-eight.
What does this mean for you? If you are under twenty-five, this means every decision you make, every thought you have, every action you take, all the food you eat, the amount of sleep you get and everything else you do throughout your day has a significant impact on your developing brain. In short, what you are doing now can affect the rest of your life.
The more effort you make in taking care of your brain and optimizing it now, the better your chances of achieving your goals and dreams. Conversely, the more you harm your brain now, the more difficult things will be in your future. (Chapter 2 will cover the developing brain in much greater detail.)
Brain Fact #4: Your Brain Is Quite Fragile
When we think of the human brain, we often imagine a rubbery, firm organ. This is probably because the brains we have seen outside of skulls are typically kept in formaldehyde, which makes the brain firmer and more rubbery than it really is. Your living brain has about the same consistency as warm butter, an egg white, soft gelatin or soft tofu. If I were able to take the top of your skull off, I could stick my hand in your brain and mush everything around to create one giant mess. Now that's a terrifying thought.
Of course, your brain is surrounded by fluid and housed in a protective skull, but this is often taken for granted. While your skull protects your brain, the brain is still quite vulnerable. When you house something that is very soft in a compartment that is very hard with ridges along the sides that can be as sharp as knives, disaster can strike if proper care is not taken.
I want you to think of some scenarios in which the phenomenon of a soft brain surrounded by liquid and encased in a hard skull would be a negative. Perhaps you thought of Newton's first law of motion: an object in motion stays in motion until acted upon by an external force. In our case, if your head is in motion and then comes to a sudden stop, your brain keeps moving until it smacks against the skull. Then, depending on the severity of the impact, your brain might also bounce the other way and smack against the opposite side of the skull. Anytime this happens, damage to your brain occurs. Car accidents, blunt force trauma and falling out of a second-story window are all obvious ways to damage your brain. What about the less obvious ways we can damage our brain? playing. In Ethan's case, his brain scan showed repeated injury, flattening and damage to his prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain in charge of attention, focus, impulsivity, planning and organization. (You will learn much more about this part of the brain in Chapter 3.)
Football is another dangerous sport. Our brains were not designed to be put inside a helmet and then slammed against other helmets. An average tackle on a stationary player can result in up to sixteen hundred pounds of tackling force, with an impact speed of twenty-five miles per hour. Football is the sport with the highest rate of concussions for male athletes. Players have a 75 percent chance of sustaining one.
Nearly 50 percent of athletes who have suffered a concussion do not report feeling any symptoms, which can include headache, fatigue, sleep difficulties, personality changes, sensitivity to light/ noise, dizziness, deficits in short-term memory, difficulty with problem solving, and a general decrease in academic functioning. In some cases, these symptoms are permanent and disabling. And if you have sustained one concussion, you are one to two times more likely to sustain a second one. If you have had two concussions, you are two to four times more likely to sustain a third one. If you have had three concussions, you are three to nine times more likely to sustain a fourth one.
(Chapters 7 and 8 will cover many of the other ways that young people hurt their brains and how this affects their overall chances for a happier, healthier and wealthier life.)
Brain Fact #5: When Your Brain Works Right, You Work Right
Think of what happens when the hard drive on your computer is not functioning at its best. It could be due to a virus, the fragmentation of data, clutter or a host of other issues. What happens when there is a problem with the engine of your car? It doesn't run quite right. Fuel might not be used as efficiently, the engine might be working too hard to get itself going, or it might lose some of the power necessary to move the car efectively.
Many people don't realize that the human brain works in a very similar way. When your brain is working right, you have a much greater chance of working to your full potential. This is when you have the greatest access to yourselfwho you really are and what you can really doand have the ability to achieve the goals you have set for yourself.
But what happens if your brain is not working right? Chances are that you might be having some trouble in your life. This can happen if your brain is underactive, or not working hard enough in certain areas. It can also happen if your brain is overactive, or working too hard in certain areas. I'll talk more about this later in the book.
The images you see below show a comparison between two brains that are very different from each other. The brain on the left is an actual brain scan of a healthy person, taken with the use of SPECT imaging (which looks at blood flow and activity). This person's brain is full, even and symmetrical. It's a nice-looking brain. The image on the right, however, is an actual brain scan of a person who has been using methamphetamines for a number of years. You can clearly see global deficits of brain function scattered throughout. It is important to note that this person's brain does not actually have holes in it. The areas appearing to have holes are actually specific regions of the brain that are underactive in terms of blood flow and activity.
Throughout this book, you will see many detailed images of the brain that indicate brain injuries and the use of drugs and alcohol. You will also explore the underlying biological mechanisms behind brain struggles, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and many others. (I use the term brain struggles to describe a broad spectrum of brain-related issues that people experience, whether it's a diagnosable disorder or simply a behavioral tendency that causes difficulty in a person's daily life.) The important questions you have to ask yourself now as you look at these two images are, Which of these two people has the best chance of success, and which of these two people has the greatest access to his or her true personality and potential?
Brain Fact #6: Certain Parts of the Brain Are Associated with Certain Behaviors
New and exciting research has brought us an impressive amount of information about the brain, though there is an overwhelming amount of information we still do not know. One of the more exciting discoveries concerns which parts of the brain are associated with specific behaviors and tendencies. Thanks to the information that has been amassed, we have begun to understand that problems in certain parts of the brain tend to cause specific symptoms and struggles.
Although there are many important parts of the human brain that have been connected to behaviors and success (e
g., the occipital lobes, the parietal lobes, the temporal lobes, the cerebellum and so on), this book focuses on the few parts that relate most to the developing brain.