My Top 7 Books on Brain Science

Brain_books-244x300

It seems there has been an explosive growth in the number of books recently published on brain science with a focus on self-development. These books on brain science keep popping up regularly either through recommendations on Amazon/Audible or at Barnes & Noble or even at my in-laws who are not your typical brain science readers. When I see these books my typical reaction is “Ooh, I have to read this book”. I don’t know what it is, either the titles are alluring or the subject is interesting, I somehow seem to get attracted to these books.

So, in the past 2-3 years I have read quite a few of these books and incidentally, have just started reading the book, “Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain” written by David Eagleman. Obviously, this book will not be in the list of top 7 books that I will be reviewing today.

  1. Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being. Written by Deepak Chopra and Rudolph E. Tanzi.
  2. Boost Your Brain: The New Art+Science Behind Enhanced Brain Performance. Written by Majid Fotuhi and Christina Breda Antoniades
  3. Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. Written by Joshua Foer
  4. Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School. Written by John Medina
  5. Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. Written by John J Ratey
  6. Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus & Working Smarter All Day Long. Written By David Rock
  7. You Are Not Your Brain: The Four-Step Solution for Changing Bad Habits, Ending Unhealthy Thinking and Taking Control of Your Life. Written by Jeffery Schwartz

As you can see from the titles, each of these books promises a lot. So, naturally after reading not one but seven books, I should have become a transformed person with maximum health, focussed work and with full control of my life. Let me tell you that the transformation has not happened yet.

The simplest reason is that there is a gap between knowing and doing. No one can become a tennis player by reading books on tennis. Similarly, I have read these books and then not practiced fully any of the principles outlined in these books. That is regretful and while writing this post, I am telling myself that I need to reread these books to at least get some of the benefits listed here.

Having said that, what I remember the most is that these books kept me very engaged while I was reading them. Some changed my thinking for sure especially Joshua Foer’s book on memory. I tried a few books on improving my memory and did some exercises. As is it with everything else, I did not keep at these exercises.

Anyhow, check these books out and see if any of these interest you.

Thanks for reading and have a great day!

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What if….there is God? – part 4

In the first post of this series, I talked about how the question “Is there God?” is not the right question and how asking the question, “What if…there is God?” may get us to a more common understanding.

In the second post, I talked about the possible fundamental condition between the created and The Creator and this possibility is the reason for inability to see God.

In the third post, I talked about the hidden Reality which manifests through physical experience and spiritual experience.

In this post I will elaborate on the equation below with the focus on its relation to understanding God.

Reality = Physical Experience + Spiritual Experience

If God were to be real and since this is what I have been exploring with the question, “What if… there is God?”, the spiritual experience may be more conclusive for a limited time to the person who has the spiritual experience but cannot be the only experience. I think it has to be supplemented by the physical experience other wise the physical surroundings take over so much so that the spiritual experience gets relegated to a dream.

But the difficulty is with the physical experience. Comprehending the importance of the physical experience is critical here and let me explain.

Physical experience does not mean that I have to see God to know that God is real. Since I established that seeing God with human eyes may not be the basic condition for freewill, there could be other physical ways of knowing God. One such way is through miracles.

experience God

I know I am touching on a difficult and complex topic here but let me simplify. My definition of a miracle is an event, a physical event that you experience with a group. What you see/feel is what everyone around you sees/feels and there is no possible explanation for this happening with your current understanding of natural laws.  The only explanation left is that God made this event happen.

I know that this simple explanation has many holes in its reasoning. There have been many so-called miracles that were easily explained through science. For example, in the movie, “Gods must be crazy”, the Coca-cola bottle falling from the sky has a simple explanation but is a miracle to the folks who have never seen it before. Here is the scene which I think is now a Coca-cola ad.

There are also opposing viewpoints to the entire miracle business as shown by Einstein’s quote below.

There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.

I may have to respectfully disagree with Mr.Enistein here because I think there is a third way. Yes, I understand both points of view. No miracles vs everything is a miracle.

My point is that miraculous happenings are a way of knowing that God is real. This is the third way. These happenings are rare and are very conclusive to the people around them. There can be no pooh-poohing this miracle and similarly, there cannot be this feeling of “yeah, this is an everyday part of my life. I am blessed God! Now, let’s go to Starbucks” kinda miracle. There is a specific purpose and specific conditions for these types of miracles in my personal and honest opinion.

I will try to explain my concept of a miracle in the next post by using “Parting of the Red Sea” as an example.

Thanks for reading and have a great day!

|<<< part 1, <<< part 2, <<< part 3, >>> part 5(yet to come)

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“What do you do for fun?” can be a difficult question to answer

how boring

I heard a speech recently where the speaker was asked this question at a party and had a difficult time coming up with an answer. For some this question, “What do you do for fun?” is the easiest one to answer. You may have come across these folks who could be any one of the hikers, the fishermen, the skiers, the gardeners etc., to name a few. They will go on for hours and make you wish that you had asked a different ice breaker question.

Don’t get me wrong. This is a pretty good ice breaker question and since the purpose of socializing is to connect with folks who have similar interests as yours, you may find out some interests that match and thereby connect.

For some it could be a very difficult question to answer. I used to be in this category too. I did not know how to make “reading books”, “going to the movies” and “watching TV” sound like fun. I could visualize the judgmental look I would get if I answer this question truthfully. So, I would tell that I have been very busy at work lately but if I had time then I would like to go hiking or play tennis or something like that and avoid the question completely.

This was my predicament too until Gretchen Rubin, in her book, “Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun”, gave me an out and this is what she wrote.

I tended to overrate the fun activities that I didn’t do and underrate my own inclinations. I felt like the things that other people enjoyed were more valuable, or more cultured… more, well, legitimate. But now it was time to “Be Gretchen.” I needed to acknowledge to myself what I enjoyed, not what I wished I enjoyed. If something was really fun for me, it would pass this test: I looked forward to it; I found it energizing , not draining; and I didn’t feel guilty about it later.

Rubin, Gretchen (2009-12-16). The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun (Kindle Locations 2024-2028). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Of all the peer pressures that one has, what you do for fun should not be one of them. With this insight, I felt at peace with my idea of fun. It is perfectly fine if my idea of fun is to curl up with a non-fiction business book or my idea of a fun outdoor activity is to go to a park, sit on the grass and read a book.

The speaker I mentioned at the beginning of the post had a distinguished career and found the time he spent working was the time he had the most fun. But he understood that work as fun was something that other people would not find amusing or interesting. So, naturally he had difficulty answering that question at a party.

Anyhow, the crux of the matter is that we should not see what we like to do for fun from other’s perspective. What is fun for me is my business (as long as it legal, ethical,,,,)  and it does not matter what others think of me.

Thanks for reading and have a great day!

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Word of caution. Lumosity can be addicting

In my earlier post on Lumosity, One simple and easy way to improve brain power – Use lumosity, I talked about how I was planning to start using lumosity. The good news is that I started using lumosity and the bad news is that I am kinda addicted to some of the games.

brain workoutBefore I get into the details of the addiction, here are some of my stats that Lumosity has tracked.

  1. I have played at least 1 game in 23 days in the past 4 weeks.
  2. My Lumosity Performance Index (LPI) has gone up by 42%
  3. Out of the 5 areas (Speed, Attention, Flexibility, Memory and Problem Solving), the most improvement that I have shown is in Flexibility
  4. I am in 52nd overall percentile which means I am not average anymore (woo hooo) although by not much of a margin.
  5. My worst area is Speed where I am at 38.5 percentile.

All these stats are definitely helpful and kinda motivate you to keep playing Lumosity. This is how I probably got hooked. So, a word of caution to you if you were influenced by my earlier post. Any game can be addictive even if its purpose is to help you. I have learnt it the hard way now.

I have been playing Lumosity these past two weeks whenever I had free time. That is the reason why there has been a gap in my blog posts. I am still in the middle of my addiction and the two games that I have become addicted to are “Word Bubbles Rising” for verbal fluency and “Train of Thought” for divided attention.

Word Bubbles Rising is a game where you are given word stems like “ai”, “coll”, “mis” etc, and you need to complete unique words to get points. The word lengths are from 3 to 10+ and each word length group must get at least 3 to get a star. If you finish all the stars then you get bonus points for each word. This tests your verbal fluency and your memory to recall the words.

Train of Thought is a game where multiple colored trains keep coming out of the tunnel and you have to find a path for each train to get to its matching station.

I will update later when I overcome this addiction, hopefully soon. I wanted to get a quick word out about how lumosity can be addictive. I think that could be one of the reasons why Lumosity does not allow kids younger than 13 to play these games.

Thanks for reading and have a great day!

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Why budgeting is a good idea

A few years back I was reading Mahatma Gandhi’s biography, “An Autobiography or The Story of my Experiments with Truth” and came across this passage that made me appreciate one more facet of Gandhi’s life.

“I kept account of every farthing I spent, and my expenses were carefully calculated. Every little item such as omnibus fares or postage or a couple of coppers spent on newspapers, would be entered, and the balance struck every evening before going to bed. That habit has stayed with me ever since, and I know that as a result, though I have had to handle public funds amounting to lakhs, I have succeeded in exercising strict economy in their disbursement, and instead of outstanding debts have had invariably a surplus balance in respect of all the movements I have led. Let every youth take a leaf out of my book and make it a point to account for everything that comes into and goes out of his pocket, and like me he is sure to be a gainer in the end.”

Excerpt From: Desai (Translator), Mahadev. “An Autobiography or The Story of my Experiments with Truth.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/2Qkew.l

I understood Gandhi’s advice at an intellectual level but putting it into practice…well… I am not a Gandhi…let me leave it at that.

To me the word budgeting had a lot of negative connotations.

  1. Budgeting is restrictive
  2. Budgeting is hard work
  3. Budgeting does not work
  4. Budgeting is not for everyone especially not me.

These negative connotations were slowly being bombarded through various sources. I had budgetsa co-worker who was passionate about budgeting. He sent me Excel templates and instructions on how to use them. I read some financial books that put budgeting as the first step. Vicki Robin in her book, “Your Money or Your Life” made a great case for budgeting and not just budgeting but the relationship of money with your life’s energy.

Slowly and surely these negative connotations have all been neutralized and in their place I have some new insights on budgeting.

  1. Budgeting is about freedom
  2. Budgeting is about valuing your time and energy
  3. Budgeting is about prioritizing
  4. Budgeting is easy

 1. Budgeting is about freedom

By setting a limit for spending, I am not restricting myself but giving myself permission to spend that money. I am consciously deciding to spend the money I allocated without any guilt whatsoever. This is freedom.

2. Budgeting is about valuing your time and energy.

Realizing the equation between the money you earn and what it costed you in terms of your time and your energy will make it easy to walk away from that random and mindless purchase.

3. Budgeting is about prioritizing

Knowing what is important vs what is not important to you personally is very critical. Say, you like clothes or travel or eating out or cars and don’t care so much about books or movies or cable or cellphones. If you decide on your #1 priority for spending then you can put a limit on it that can be satisfactory to you. Similarly, you can put a limit on your lower priorities. Anything you save spending on your lower priorities can be added onto your higher priorities which will give you more satisfaction.

 4. Budgeting is easy

I have started using Mint which makes it so easy to budget and track your spending. There are similar tools available to track spending but I have liked Mint so far and planning on using it.

Following Gandhi’s advice of tracking expenses daily may be a bit too much but weekly or even monthly tracking of your budget is not a bad idea.

Thanks for reading and have a great day!

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How did our ancestors survive? part – 7

In part-6 of this series, I linked a documentary titled, “The Search For Scientific Adam”. This documentary showed a scientist using DNA analysis to find out if all existing humanity came from one person and if so where did he live and how did he look like. If you have not watched this documentary then spoiler alert! Yes, the search is successful.

To me, it is amazing that all of us came from one single person. That all of us have one common human ancestor. Also, since all life came from one single amoeba, for some it may not seem such a big deal about having a common ancestor. Because we have a tendency to search for patterns and meanings, having one common ancestor gives a little bit more meaning. Let me explain.

If there was one common ancestor to all of existing humanity in all these different parts of the world then why did people not stay in one place? Why did folks move from a familiar place to a new place and start all over again? New place, new foods, new challenges, new predators, new climatic conditions and new methods for surviving?

Survival was possible only in groups. Only groups could hunt and bring food. Surviving as an individual or a family was almost impossible. So, why did groups decide to move out from the familiar base and expand into different territories? Was there a system that was put in place? A collaborative system that chose/volunteered/trained folks to move out of the base after the group reached a certain number.

We may never know but it is worth spending a few minutes to reflect on the driving factors for not just survival but growth. One day humans may outlive the earth, the solar system and find new homes in space. On the other hand, with the current climate change and wars, it may look like humans are ready for extinction. As the comedian George Calvin ranted about it as shown in the youtube video below, the only reason why we are here could be plastic. Earth needed plastic. It created humans. We made plastic and then we will be gone…. maybe.

But there is a  possibility that if humans existed for a few more millions of years then they wouldn’t be living on earth. Earth may become inhabitable and this was the backdrop to Will Smith’s movie, “After Earth”.  Anyhow, the crux of the matter is that the survival of future generations could depend on what we do in this generation or every generation from now on.

When I started on this topic, I had no idea how I was going to end this series. Somehow, slowly the picture emerged. Along the way I made some wild guesses that human survival even at the early stages could have had a driving purpose. The purpose of perfecting the body and mind for future generations to survive. Once perfection was achieved with Adam, the world was ready to be taken over. Language, drawings, writings, agriculture and  industries followed in the blink of the earth’s eye to get to the current state where humans may be at the cusp of destroying themselves.

I know that there are many initiatives to reverse climate change. Personally, I have not taken any action other than recycling. I want to do my part no matter how little it may be. If there was any benefit in writing this series then this may be it. Knowing where we came from can only help in knowing where we want to go. If a simple decision by a chimp to stand upright against all odds put into motion all of this then no decision can be small to move us in the right direction.

Thanks for reading and have a great day!

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What if…there is God? – part 3

In part-2 of this series, I wrote about the fundamental condition between the Creation and the created. It is that the created soul will know The Creator the moment it comes in contact with The Creator. No explanation needed. No proof needed. That is as good a condition as it can be, in my honest opinion.

The full experience will happen after the death of the human body and until then if there is  any experience then the experience is not complete. (I will avoid using, “in my honest opinion” because it is understood that these are all my opinions, some strong and some weak but nevertheless just my opinions). There has been lots of books written about this experience, a spiritual one, from time immemorial. It is complicated and not so much conducive for a small blog post. Let me simplify.

Reality = Experience

Whatever you experience is your Reality. Many experiences are common and so we have a common Reality. There are some experiences that are uncommon and these are so strong that they alter your perception of Reality. When these uncommon experiences are explained to rest of the common folks, some understand, some get confused and many ignore. To put it simply, in reality, Reality seems elusive.

That is when folks expect science to explain Reality. But the problem with science is that it has many branches and sub-branches. With these different branches, Reality becomes like the proverbial elephant that is being understood by 4 blind men. Each blind man has his own experience. One says it is like a tree, another says it is like a rope. Each one is right but no one has the full picture.

Sometimes, a spiritual experience gives the blind the power to see the Reality. It is like seeing the elephant for a brief moment but not knowing what the elephant is capable of nor where the elephant came from. Also, it makes it tough to explain this experience to the folks who have never seen an elephant before. So, it is complicated and here is an example to further illustrate my point.

I came across an interesting biography of a guy called Bruno from the science show on TV, “Cosmos: A space-time Odyssey”, hosted by Neil Degrasse Tyson. Bruno sees a vision of  earth as a planet revolving around Sun. This was in 16th century or so when earth was considered to be at the center of the universe and the sun was thought to revolve around the earth.

When Bruno spoke about his vision, he did that in a strong way and not as an idea or a concept. He got on a pulpit, condemned folks who could not understand his Reality. Bruno’s contention was that his new Reality proved God more powerful and more worthy of worship. Bruno’s Reality is now common knowledge.

I have talked about this in my earlier blog post about the pale, blue dot that earth is. This Reality is more amazing than the one where earth is flat and the sun goes round the earth during the day and during the night it travels back to east and rises back from east. This reality would be so boring!. But our ancestors lived in this Reality for millions of years.

Anyhow, coming back to our story, Bruno gets rejected every where but does not give up 1024px-Brunostatueon his Reality. He gets into trouble with the Catholic Church and when the Church sentences him to death, he says this memorable words which have made him a science martyr. Perhaps your fear in passing judgment on me is greater than mine in receiving it.”

To stop Bruno from talking any further, his tongue was pierced and jaw locked down. Bruno was then burnt on the stake. In other words Bruno literally staked his life for his Reality which manifested to him through a spiritual experience. Today, there is a statue of Bruno in Rome in the spot where he was killed.

With Bruno’s story as the backdrop, we can add spiritual experience to the understanding of Reality.

Reality = Physical Experience + Spiritual Experience

We may know the true Reality when physical experience is enhanced through spiritual experience. With his spiritual experience Bruno was able to explain better the physical experience of Sun rising from the east every day, movement of stars etc., Rest of the folks did not understand him because Reality like the proverbial elephant was limited in experience for them.

I will elaborate on this further in my next post on this topic.

Thanks for reading and var a great day! 

|<<< part 1, <<<part 2, >>> part 4

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“The Griddle” is now our new favorite breakfast place

Brunches will now be more fun after the opening of the new breakfast place in our neighborhood. We tried it out last Saturday. The food was great. The ambience was great.

Before I get into more details on what we ate at The Griddle , let me give a little background of our brunches.

A few years back we decided to limit going to chain restaurants like Village Inn and IHOP to minimize eating processed foods. So, there was not much choice of restaurants in our neighborhood. We had no option but to drive somewhere from half an hour to 1 hr and then the wait time most of the time used to be an hour to an hour and a half.

This made the brunches anywhere from 4 to 5 hour activities. Last time when we wanted to go to some nice breakfast place, I called ahead and found that the wait time was 1.5 hours. So, we decided not to go.

Now, imagine my excitement when I saw this new place open in our neighborhood. I immediately stopped by to pick up the menu hoping to go there on the weekend. On a weekday, the restaurant was buzzing and that was another good sign.

The very next Saturday, we went around 10 AM. The drive was 2 minutes and the wait was 15 mins. Not bad at all. The menu was definitely interesting and after much deliberation (most of the items looked good), I decided to go with Savory Griddle Cakes – Veggie.

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That was a great choice. It had jalapeño, tomato, onion and mushroom mixed in the pancake and topped with avocado and sour cream. It tasted amazing and even though it was a lot, I did justice and finished almost all of it. This was my first time eating a savory pan cake and am now a fan of it.

Ayesha and Heba liked their choices too. So, overall it was a great experience trying out some good food in a neighborhood place.

Here is some more info about the restaurant. It is owned and operated by the Garman family. Grandpa, Grandma, Son, Son’s girlfriend, Daughter, Son-in-Law and grand-daughter all work there in different capacities. Website is www.TheGriddle303.com

Thanks for reading and have a great day!

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Can getting to Zero In-box decrease your stress and make you healthier?

Getting to Zero In-box when your inbox looks like the one in the picture can be inbox-overflowvery challenging. There are multiple ways in which you can get to Zero Inbox and I have outlined some of these in my earlier posts. My tips have been mostly in the space of improving productivity. However, it is well known that clutter causes stress. If the physical inbox where the paper stuff comes in is down to zero then it is a source of joy.

Every time my desk is clean and the mail is sorted and put into the right folders, I feel a sense of accomplishment/relief/joy. In other words a clean and organized desk is a source of happiness. Gretchen Rubin, author of “The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun” used to take this to another level. She would not only keep her stuff organized as seen in the title of the book itself, “Clean My Closets” but also volunteer her services to organize her family and friends’ homes.

If you look into Feng Shui, there is a lot of focus on decluttering your space so that there is a flow of positive energy. Karen Kingston, the author of “Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui: Free Yourself from Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Clutter Forever” talks about the reasons why clutter happens in the first place. What are your thought processes that lead to clutter happening.

One of my colleagues, who downsized from a big house to a smaller house by moving to west coast, was telling me about how the spouse who never cooks would store cook books from years and would not throw them away. That was just one example of the collector’s mentality. Because of this collector’s mentality, they were overflowing with stuff and when forced to move they made the easiest decision that many folks make in that situation. They rented a storage space to keep their stuff.

The same thought processes are in place when you let your electronic inboxes cluttered. . There are two emotions that are in play usually.

  1. The thought that you will need this email or this article later –  Collection
  2. The thought that you do not want to deal with this email or article now – Procrastination

How to overcome these emotions is not the focus of this post. The focus is understanding the benefits. Once you know the why then you there are many ways to figure out the what and the how.

Even though there is no brain research that I have come across that links a zero inbox to increased dopamine levels in your brain that are a cause for your happiness, I have a strong hunch that clearing your inbox will decrease your stress and make you healthier.

Thanks for reading and have a great day!

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Tony Robbins on financial independence

I came across this video where Tony Robbins talked about financial independence. It is an hour long video and if you have the time then watch it otherwise I have listed below some key takeaways.

  1. Definition of financial security, financial independence and financial freedom.
    1. Financial Security: Housing, cars, food and basic entertainment is covered for life
    2. Financial Independence: You don’t have to work and everything is covered
    3. Financial Freedom: You don’t have to work and everything you can think of is covered.
  2. No amount of money will make you wealthy because the moment you reach your goal, you move it further.
  3. Pick a specific percentage of income to invest periodically – no matter what. “Pay yourself first” philosophy.
  4. 80% of wealth is psychology and 20% os mechanics.
  5. Three buckets of asset allocation in the following order.
    1. Security Bucket (30-40%) consists of cash for 2-6 months, your home, IRA, insurance, fixed income investments
    2. Growth Bucket (30-40%)
    3. Dream Bucket (remaining %)
  6. Your decisions not your conditions determine your financial destiny.

Thanks for reading and have a great day! 

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