Brainz Magazine Exclusive Interview
Jim Kwik, his real name, is the widely recognized world expert in memory improvement, brain optimization and accelerated learning. After a childhood brain injury left him learning-challenged, Kwik created strategies to dramatically enhance his mental performance. He has since dedicated his life to helping others unleash their true genius and brainpower.
For over two decades, he has served as a brain coach to students, seniors, entrepreneurs, and educators. His work has touched a who’s who of Hollywood’s elite, professional athletes, political leaders, and business magnates, with corporate clients that include Google, Virgin, Nike, Zappos, SpaceX, GE, 20th Century Fox, Cleveland Clinic, Wordpress, and institutions like the United Nations, Caltech, Harvard and Singularity University.
Kwik is the instant NY Times bestselling author of “Limitless - Upgrade Your Brain, Learn Anything Faster, Unlock Your Exceptional Life.” Through keynote speeches, he reaches in-person audiences totaling more than 200,000 every year, as well as online videos totaling hundreds of millions of views. Kwik is regularly featured in media, including Forbes, HuffPost, Fast Company, Inc., and CNBC. He is the host of the acclaimed “Kwik Brain” podcast, which is consistently the top educational training show on iTunes. KwikLearning.com’s online courses are used by students in 195 countries. Kwik is an advocate for brain health and global education, with philanthropy ranging from Alzheimer’s research to funding the creation of schools from Guatemala to Kenya, providing health care, clean water and learning for children in need. His mission: No brain left behind.
First of all, how has COVID affected you?
COVID has affected me like it has affected everyone else. For me, it was an interesting time to launch a book during COVID. We didn't delay the launch, because this book is more than just a book. It's not just about speed reading and remembering names. It's a book about managing your mind in times of crisis. It's about optimizing your productivity, your focus while you’re working remotely. It's about supporting your children if they're in and out of school. It's about learning new subjects or skills if your career has been disrupted, so I thought it was a timely work. So that's the only thing that has been a little bit different for me.
"I believe these difficult times can define us, these difficult times can diminish us or these difficult times can develop us. Ultimately, we decide."
In my book “Limitless”, there's a quote from a French philosopher that says "Life is C between B and D". B is birth, D is death and C is choice. And I believe these difficult times can define us, these difficult times can diminish us or these difficult times can develop us. Ultimately, we decide.
"You don't have to wait for a greater life to be grateful. Be grateful, and you can have a greater life."
So while the times have been very challenging, you control the controllable. And so for me, I really spent a lot of time in gratitude. If we talk about chronic stress and chronic fear, chronic stress shrinks our brain, and chronic fear suppresses our immune system. There's an area within psychology called “Psychoneuroimmunology”, and it makes us more susceptible to colds, flues and viruses. And I think, one of the antidotes to fear is gratitude. So, for me, I spend a lot of time there and I feel like gratitude rewires our mindset. You don't have to wait for a greater life to be grateful. Be grateful, and you can have a greater life. That's been my focus.
For people who don't know you, you had challenges as a child from a brain injury. Can you tell us what happened and how it played a big role in your life? Sure, when people see me on stages or Youtube or some videos where I do these memory demonstrations where I memorize 100 peoples names in the audience, or 50 numbers, or 100 words forwards and backward, I always tell people I don't do this to impress you, I do this to express to you what is truly possible, because the truth is, everyone who's reading this, they could do this too, regardless of their age or their background or their education level.
“That’s the boy with the broken brain”
The reason I know this is because when I was 5 years old I had a traumatic brain injury. I had a bad fall when I was in school and one of the most notable changes was my learning challenges, I was very poor in processing and teachers would repeat themselves over and over and I didn't understand, or I pretended to understand, but really I didn't understand. Poor focus and poor memory took me an extra 3 years just to learn how to read. And I remember when I was 9 years old, the teacher pointed to me and said “That’s the boy with the broken brain” and that label became my limit. So I struggled through life and I think my inspiration for doing what I do, is my desperation that our struggles can make us stronger. Through our struggles, we can find more strengths and that's been a pin roll that shaped who I am today. I believe challenges come and change, and that for all of us, adversity can be an advantage.
Can you tell us about your new book “Limitless”? What is it about?
Of course, it's called “Limitless: Upgrade your Brain, Learn Anything Faster and Unlock Your Exceptional Life”. It’s my very first book after almost three decades of teaching brain fitness and accelerated learning. This is meant to be an owner's manual for your brain and to fill in the gaps in our education system. I believe that in school they teach you what to learn, what to focus on, what to study, what to remember, what to read, what to think, but there are not a lot of classes that allows you to know how to do those things; how to learn, how to focus, how to study, how to remember things, how to read faster and better, how to think more clearly and make better decisions.
“Limitless is not about being perfect. Limitless is about advancing and progressing beyond what we think is possible."
I meant this book to be a playbook, or blueprints where I introduce a framework for accelerated learning and for doing what you believe is impossible. “Limitless'' is not about being perfect. Limitless is about advancing and progressing beyond what we think is possible. I wanted to get this book out to the world because fundamentally I’m a reading teacher and I don't want people to struggle the way I did.
If we continue to speak about limitless, what are your 3 best keys to become limitless in life? I believe that limits are learned, that I wasn't born with this belief that I was broken, that I have a broken brain, but every time I did badly in class, I did badly in an exam, I wasn't picked for sports, I would always say to myself “Oh it's because I have a broken brain”, so that limit was learned. So I believe limits are learned, and we can unlearn and un-limit ourselves in 3 specific areas: in our mindset, in our motivation, and in the methods we are using. Meaning that if somebody reading this feels limited in any area of their life, it could be their learning or memory, it could be their income, it could be their impact, it could be their relationships and their physical health and vitality. So if you feel like you’re in a box, that box is 3 dimensional and there are 3 forces that keep you in that box, but will be the same forces that will liberate you out of that box, and I believe that comes down to 3 M's: Mindset, Motivation and Methods, that you can learn. Initially, the book was on methodology, on how to read faster, how to improve your memory, how to focus and concentrate. I can teach them how to remember names, that would be the method - but if their mindset is “I’m too old”, or their mindset is “I’m not smart enough”, or their mindset is “I have a horrible memory”, then they'd still be stuck in that box. Or, they can have a limitless mindset and they can have a limitless method, a better method than repetition, a better method than subquestion or rereading words, but if they would have no motivation, they would still be stuck in that box.
"Do not downgrade your dreams to meet this current situation, instead upgrade your mindset, your motivation and the methods that you’re using to be able to reach your dreams."
So really the 3 things, or the best 3 keys to un-limiting your life is to be able to remove and withdraw the borders and boundaries on our mindset, on our personal motivation and the methods that we are using. We should not be downgrading our dreams right now with everything that's going on. Do not downgrade your dreams to meet this current situation, instead upgrade your mindset, your motivation and the methods that you’re using to be able to reach your dreams.
The Limitless Model: Here you have 3 intersecting circles called a Venn diagram where all 3 circles intersect. Where mindset and motivation intersect you have inspiration. And that means when you watch an inspirational movie for example, it opens up your mindset and it gives you some drive or motivation. Where mindset crosses over with the methods then you have ideation, meaning that you can believe it's possible, you believe you’re capable and believe you deserve it, and you have the methods, but you lack the motivation, so it just stays an ideation. The 3rd "I" is where motivation crosses over with methods, you have implementation. You’re motivated and you know what to do, the methods, but you could still be stuck in that box because you are only able to implement or achieve what you believe is possible, what you believe you deserve, what you believe you’re capable of, which is your mindset. Where all 3 M’s, and all 3 I’s intersect right in the middle, you have something called “integration”, which is the 4th "I", and integration like integral, it means you’re whole. That's the limitless state, so I called it the “Limitless Model”.
You are very talented, and also extremely humble, which I think is very admirable. How do you manage to stay so humble?
I appreciate that. A big part of what I do, I do it because it's my mission to do so. It’s not something that's really comfortable, so when I grew up with a feeling of having learning challenges, my superpower growing up as a child was being invisible. I would always sit behind the tall kid in class cause I, you know, you don't want the spotlight when you don't want to be seen or want to be heard when you don't have the answers. So a lot of what I do is because I feel I have an obligation to do it, more than doing it. I don't think I’m better than anyone else and my belief is that I’m not better than anyone else, that no one else is better than you either, that you are not better than anyone else, and no one else is better than you, and it keeps it very level. I have a core belief that I can learn something from everybody and that keeps me very humble also, as well, that everybody else had their different life experience. So I would say those 2 things, that I can learn from everybody and also that I’m on a mission being able to serve. That's where I get a lot of my personal fulfillment, through contribution.
Do you have any current life goals, or what do you like to accomplish in your life?
Thank you for asking that. Because I grew up with a traumatic brain injury and I grew up with learning challenges, that is my life goal, my life purpose is helping others to optimize their brain fitness, cause I didn't have much of that, and also maximize their learning abilities. My mission is positively to impact 1 million brains and no brain left behind. That's what I’m about. That's why I believe your passion is what lights you up, so learning is my passion and your purpose is how your passion can light somebody else up, so my passion is learning and my purpose is teaching others how to learn. I always wear shirts with a brain on it and people always see me on pictures pointing fingers to my brain, and the reason why I do that is because - what you see is what you take care of. You see hair, you take care of your hair, you see clothes, you take care of your clothes, you see your car, you take care of your car. But we don't see the thing that controls everything - which is our brain, so I wear brains on my shirt and point to the brain because I want to remind people to take care of their brain, and their brain will take care of you. Imagine if somebody gave you a car but that's the one and only car you get for the rest of your life, you can't have any other car. You would take care of it very well. Well think about our body, think about our brain. We have one of them. This is the vehicle we go through life with, and yet so more people take better care of their technology. They upgrade their technology more than they upgrade and care for the most important technology or tool we have, which is the human mind.
What is your best advice in improving your memory?
In my book, I talk about 4 digital supervillains that attack our peace of mind, our productivity, our prosperity if you will, our positivity. They are; Digital delusion, digital overload, which is too much information, too little time - that's why you have to read faster. Digital distraction, which is how you maintain your concentration in a world full of rings and pings and dings, the app notifications, social media alerts etc. Another one is Digital deduction which is technology telling us what to think all the time, because we don't have to use our brains to have critical thinking and analytical abilities.
The last one is Digital dementia. Digital dementia is a new term in health care that says we are outsourcing our memory to our smart devices. It keeps our calendars, it keeps our to-do’s. Think about how many phone numbers you used to know and how many phone numbers you know today, that's digital dementia, and its "use it or lose it". Not that I want to memorize 300 phone numbers but it should be concerning if we lost the ability to memorize just one - or something we just read, or remembering the conversation we just had. I believe the two most costly words in our life is “I forgot”. I forgot to do it, I forgot to bring it, I forgot this person's name.
"To overcome digital dementia, my best advice to everyone reading this, would be to use it or lose it."
To overcome digital dementia, my best advice to everyone reading this, would be to use it or lose it. To exercise your mind, to exercise your memory. Meaning that if you relied on technology, like a lift or elevators to go up 3 floors instead of using the stairs, there is a physical toll, right? It is like if I put my arm on a sling for six months, it wouldn't go stronger, it wouldn't even stay the same. It would grow weaker. If you relied on Uber, or lift, or taxi to get you from 3 blocks or 5 blocks, and you could have walked it, that would be being physically lazy, and it's the same thing with our mental muscles. I find that the two biggest dips in cognitive performance are usually when people graduate school because they feel like when education is done their learning is done also, or when people retire in their career, because they sometimes retire their brains as well. So I would say the most important thing is to use it, and use your memory, memorize a phone number, memorize a pin number. Don't always rely on technology. It's great to make it convenient but it can also cripple you. Reading is a wonderful exercise. Reading is to your mind what exercise is to your body. It exercises your focus, your creativity, your imagination and boost your EQ and empathy, especially when you read fiction. It can improve your memory as well. So use all fun ways of exercising your brain.
Apart from your brain injury as a child, what has been your biggest obstacle in your journey so far? I had 3 traumatic brain injuries before the age of 12, so that was a big obstacle, but I believe we can not only bounce back but bounce forward. I mentioned that I was painfully shy, very introverted and I was phobic of public speaking. That was a big obstacle I had to overcome because typically in a year I would address two hundred thousand people live. The universe has a sense of humor because my two biggest challenges, learning and public speaking is now what I do every day, like I’m doing now. So the big thing was to get over that, but in my venture that got me over that was having a moral imperative and having a moral obligation to help other people that were struggling and suffering the way that I did.
"I believe life is like an egg, if it's broken with an outside force, life ends - but if it's broken from an inside force, life begins."
My parents immigrated to the United States and my Dad was only 13 years old when he lost both of his parents, and they couldn't afford to feed him. He came here to live with an aunt and didn't speak the language. My mother grew up in the back of a laundromat that she worked in. So language was a barrier, no finance to speak of, no education to speak of, no connections or network. It thought me though that somebody can have little external resources but they can be very resourceful, meaning that they have internal resourcefulness, so I always encourage people that it's really about the things that are on the inside. I believe life is like an egg, if it's broken with an outside force, life ends - but if it's broken from an inside force, life begins. The great things begin on the inside and everyone reading this has greatness inside of them, they have geniuses inside of them, and while the beauty is in the butterfly, the growth happens in the cocoon. Its that creature whos will is to struggle, to push its way out, and it develops the strength to be able to sore new heights.
"It's not how smart you are, it's how are you smart."
I'm hoping that, at one point in school, it's not about the grades, or how smart you are - It's how are you smart. Sometimes in the schooling system, it's like 10% get A, 10% get B, 70 or 80% they just didn't do well in school and they felt like they were failing school, so maybe the education system has to do their part. The world has changed so much. We live in an age of autonomous electric cars and spaceships that are going to Mars. But our vehicle of choice when it comes to learning, sometimes it's like a horse and a buggy. And it hasn't changed as much as the world has changed currently, so I’m very passionate about those things.
What are the top factors that you would attribute to your success?
I would say the top factors attribute to this is curiosity and consistency. Those are two things that I hold dear even when I didn't learn, I would get curious as to why some people have better focus than others. I think self-awareness is a superpower, so I think we need the curiosity to know ourselves, and I also think you need to have the courage to be yourself, and when you are being that consistently then you will get the results you are hoping for. If you’re persistent you can achieve it, but if you are consistent, you get to keep it. When you are facing a doubt, or a dilemma, or decision - asking yourself what you need to do is one thing, but I think the better question to ask first is "who do I need to be at this moment?". So I would say the top factors that contribute to anybody’s success is; have your “to-do list” but to also have your “to-be list”. Your to-be list is who you're showing up consistently as. Cause if you choose to be disciplined, or be confident, or be compassionate, or loving, behavior happens naturally and organically. But I will say curiosity. Meaning that if you make mistakes, you can be curious instead of just shrinking. If you're making mistakes, I think one of the ways getting over it is curiosity and also showing up every single day for yourself, consistency.
What do you do to get in the zone, if you feel out of focus?
I think all of us get in that place sometimes, because once again, we are not perfect, we are just looking for progress. And one of the things I’m talking about in the book is power routines and habits. I believe first you create your habits and then your habits create you. You create your habits of movement, of breathing, of gratitude, of meditation, of exercise, and eating well. Your habits create you back. I also talk about flow states, these states of flow where things happen naturally and organically. When your level of capability is matched by your level of challenge, where if there is too much challenge and not enough capability, you will be overloaded with stress. But if there is too much capability, not enough challenge, you’re just bored. So I always challenge myself to get in the zone. I would say the thing I would look for is to reset my mind and my body, meaning that how I reset my mind is by asking new questions to get my focus better, because questions are often the answer. It activates that part of your brain called the reticular activating system, or RAS for short, that directs your focus to where your spotlight is, so I’ll ask myself things like "what I can be grateful for right now?", "what’s the most important thing in this moment?", "how can I use this?", "why must I use this?" I ask new questions and get new answers to get in the zone and refocus. I also reset my body, meaning that I find sometimes that a stagnant body leads to stagnant thinking. One of the best things you could do to get in the zone is just going for a walk. Meaning, instead of sitting around in tables during your meeting or just looking at your screens all the time, just go get fresh air. Movement is key, cause as your body moves, your brain grooves. It has been shown that once somebody does something rhythmic, like elliptical, or they go for a brisk walk while listening to an audiobook or a podcast, they will be more focused and retain that information better. When you move, you create Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factors or "BDNF" which is like a fertilizer for new connections, so I’m always looking to change either in my psychology or in my physiology to get in the zone.
"When your body moves, your brain grooves."
I think this is very important, especially now when people are remote working or remote learning, to get off the screen. We suffer from screen fatigue. People are trying to multitask even though they can't. Research is clear, you can't multitask, it's a myth. When you go from one thing to another and try to do it parallel, it takes more time, because it takes you another few minutes to get you back into that flow, or that zone, to regain your focus. You also do more mistakes when you try to multitask. The third thing is that you use up more brain glucose when you try to multitask, you use more mental energy so it gets very fatiguing. I think it's very important now for people to do one thing at a time. FOCUS for me stands for Fixed-Ongoing-Concentration-Until-Successful. I think it's very important to get off the screens, to just get outside and move, because when your body moves, your brain grooves.
What is your best memory?
I believe memory is so fundamental because you can use your memory to remember facts, figures, foreign languages etc. Really the essence of my work is I think you need to remember three things. Number one, your life. If your life is worth living, it's worth remembering. Some people don't even remember those special moments but they remember what they had for lunch. So that's why I think it's important to have a good memory. The second thing I would say, is to remember your loved ones. Because they are the people you are living for. We only have today, and tomorrow is not promised, so make sure you tell and show to those you love that you care about them. And lastly, your lessons, because sometimes people repeat the same mistake over and over again. They date the same kind of person or they make the same mistakes in their business or career, or they eat the same bad food because they don't remember the lessons and what those lessons thought them, so they repeat them. My best memories have to do with my life, moments of my life, or my love, or the lessons. I feel like every single day I’m making memories, even right now in this conversation. I will always remember it because everything that I do, I bring my presence to. I’m not distracted. Everything in my life is heck yes or heck no. Meaning I only agree to things I really wanna do. Many people lose their focus, they don't retain things because they have too many tabs open in their lives, so for me, this moment is a great memory. In terms of my best memories, I put some of them on social media like Facebook or Instagram. I got to meet a number of my heroes over the years. Some who have passed. One of them happened to be a special lunch with a mentor of mine, Sir Ken Robinson who was knighted for the work he did in education and creativity. We recently built a school and we donated all the pursuits of our book. We built schools from Ghana to Guatemala to Kenya. Those are some things that really light me up, and there are so many more great memories. What are your Top 5 Books?
Top 5? Oh goodness, I’ve read thousands of books. It depends on what subject you're interested in. "The Magic of Thinking Big" by David J. Schwartz is one, "Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor E. Frankl is another, "Think and Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill is a classic, "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" by Stephen Covey, "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success" by Carol S. Dweck is a wonderful book also. It is so hard to narrow it down just to five but those are five really good ones to start with.
Lastly, how do I train my brain to be more focused?
I believe focus is a muscle, and just like when you go to a personal trainer to get stronger, to get flexible and more playable, more endurance, greater energy. That's what I want to be. I want to help someone have that for their mental muscle. I want your focus to be stronger and your memory to be better and your thinking to be sharper, and it's definitely trainable. So how would you train your focus? I would say 2 things: First of all, stop training your distractions. The opposite of distractions is traction, meaning having the focus to complete something in your life, and most people are training their distractions. The number one way they are doing that is touching their devices first thing in the morning. When you wake up in the morning, you are in this relaxed state of awareness, it's an alpha state, you're very suggestible - and when you pick up your phone you rewiring your brain to be distracted. You like, share, and comment on a cat video - that's just a dopamine fix, it feeds your addiction.
Number 2 is retraining your brain to be reactive, which means it puts you on the defense. You can't have a quality life and win if you are just reacting and fighting fires to every voicemail, social media message, text message, emails, and such. Stop training your distractions and instead start training your focus. It doesn't mean it has to be through meditation. You can train your focus through reading. You can also train yourself with something simple like brushing your teeth with the opposite hand, meaning it forces you to be present and you will not try to think about other things. Everything that brings your presence to it. I find that a big part of people complain about their memory and say it's their retention. It's not your retention. It's you not paying attention. People are not forgetting a name, they are just not hearing it to begin with. I would say one of the best things to regaining your focus is to stop training your distraction muscles with your smart-devices, and start training your focus, meaning put your presence into things that you are doing. If you are reading something, ask questions to get you pulled through the information as suppose to your attention being pulled apart. And If you are talking to somebody, be active listening instead of thinking about what you are going to say. Stop waiting for your turn to speak. Actually listen in silence and be curious. That will improve your focus - being there in the moment.
Jim's book Limitless: Upgrade your Brain, Learn Anything Faster and Unlock Your Exceptional Life, is available worldwide at www.limitlessbook.com
You can also listen to his podcast, The Kwik Brain podcast. A fun, fast-paced show designed to help busy people learn and achieve anything in a fraction of the time, where Jim teaches you things like how to remember names, how to learn languages, how to study better etc. You can find the podcast right here!
“JIM KWIK KNOWS HOW TO GET THE MAXIMUM OUT OF ME AS A HUMAN BEING."
– WILL SMITH