The Memory Cure

The Memory CureThe Memory CureThe Memory CureHow do we keep our brain healthy? Healthy so that it’s bright and agile when we’re young and so it continues to serve us well in to our old age?

You can pick something up off the floor because you unconsciously you remember how to co-ordinate your limbs; when you phone a friend you remember their phone number, name and the history of experiences that are your relationship.

Memory is the basis of conscious life and dulling it or even losing it to dementia or Alzheimer’s in old age is crippling

Majid Fotuhi M.D. Ph.D. book does two things – it educates you about what actually causes memory loss and more serious issues like dementia and, the bit that everyone should read, ten steps to keep your brain healthy.

The biggest risk factor for memory issues is age... that is the older we get the higher our risk. There is however a big difference between age related memory impairment which is a normal part of aging, and of something more serious. So, Majid spends the first third of the book explaining the differences and the specific medical issues that can lead to dementia and Alzheimer’s (the latter is one possible cause dementia).

Now, Majid is not just a keen hobbyist with this memory cure thing. Straight from his biography:

Majid Fotuhi obtained his MD from Harvard Medical School and his PhD in neurosciences at Johns Hopkins. He completed his residency training in neurology at Hopkins and then joined Sinai hospital's neurology team in 2003. He currently heads the Center for Memory and Brain Health at LifeBridge Health Brain & Spine Institute. He is also an assistant professor of neurology at Hopkins and teaches at the Harvard-MIT program in Boston.

He has spent his professional career studying the brain and working with patients with memory problems and disease. So the ten recommendations for a healthy brain that he includes in the book are really worth noting.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the things we would do ‘stay healthy’ and care for our heart are also good for your brain. Things like a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, a little wine, exercise, and if you have them dealing with issues like high blood pressure, cholesterol and one I hadn’t heard of high homocysteine, are key.

A little more surprising was the suggestion to get regular eye & hearing checks and keep the prescriptions up to date. The theory is straight forward, you can only remember the things that your senses, sense! If you can’t see or hear well, you won’t remember the things you don’t see or hear!

My favourite was that the old adage for your physical body- ‘use it or lose it’, works for your brain too. Exercise your memory through socialising, doing puzzles and quizzes and generally making an effort to use your head! (I’m going straight back to my Pocket PC brain training program.)

In the closing part of the book Majid uses his knowledge of the brain to suggest a few techniques for improving your memory.

I’m going to recommend this book to everyone I care about.

Format: Audio bookAudio bookAudio book and bookbookbook
Author : Majid Fotuhi M.D. Ph.D.


Take It to the Next Level - What got you here, won’t get you there

Marshall Goldsmith audio program When you buy a book or as in this case a CD audio program, you really don’t know if it’s going to live up to the hype.  This program by Marshall Goldsmith from Nightingale Conant is however, a corker.  It combines two killer elements, solid information and humour.  I like lots of programs and books that don’t include humour, but Marshal does seem to have that rare, something special.

So, what’s it about?  Well, Marshall is an executive coach with both academic qualifications (he earned a Ph.D. from UCLA Anderson Graduate School of Management in 1977) and the experience that has honed it.  So, the program is about coaching… but not like I’ve heard it before.

Like many programs do, Marshall starts out on CD 1 by talking about success and successful people (and he’s worked with lots of successful people) – telling you both why they are successful AND why those traits (such as strong self belief, choosing success, being willing to do what’s necessary) can stop you from getting to the next level.

He then follows this up with the 21 bad habits successful people have – which he calls the 21 success factors  ; and of course some thoughts about how to change them (if you break the bad habit, it can help you succeed).  You get a good flavour of how the program is different with the first two:

  • Winning too much – when you’ve programmed yourself to win, it’s really hard to pull back and there are lots of situations where you really should, pull back.
  • Adding too much value – being used to having your own opinion and solving problems means that it’s really hard to stop, and again… there are lots of situations where it’s better not to solve ‘the problem.’

The 21 success factors run over two CD’s and are followed by a proven process on how to change.  Marshall does a nice job in making the program relevant to both an individual and a coach working with others.  And when working as a coach there are few basic and practical pieces of advice – for example, only work with people that want to change AND are prepared to put in the work to change (Marshall has a specific process that he can quickly outline to describe to an individual or team what ‘putting in the work’ means).  These sound terribly obvious, but I know I’ve worked with several people as a coach where the first bit was true, but second, being prepared to put in the work… wasn’t.

Marshall goes on to describe his specific process for affecting long lasting, effective and measurable change.  Along with the concepts of ‘feed forward’ rather than ‘feed back’ and ‘peer coaching’.

If you are planning on or are already in a leadership role or work as a business coach, like I said at the start, I think “Take it to the Next Level – What got you here, won’t get you there’ is a corker.

There is also a bookbookbook available with the same title, which I haven’t read, but I suspect is pretty good too.

Format: 6 Audio CDs + printed 51 page workbook
Author: Marshall Goldsmith
Dialect: US English


Inevitable Illusions - How Mistakes of Reason Rule Our Minds

InevitableIllusions We're all familiar with optical illusions - where we think we see something that is in fact an illusion. The problem is that we create the three-dimensional world in our head based on the input of our senses and the rules that do that translation, and normally serve us so well, can be tricked.

It turns out that the rules used by other parts of our brain can be similarly tricked - giving rise to the term cognitive illusions.  Illusions that are independent of sex, race or IQ.  Massimo Piatelli-Palmarini is a cognitive scientist (actually a principle research associate for the centre for cognitive science at MIT and the director of the dept of Cognitive Science at the Institute of San Raffaele in Milan, so I guess he knows what he's talking about!) and his book Inevitable Illusions - How mistakes of reason rule our minds is intended as a layman's guide to these cognitive illusions.

Massimo describes the process as mental tunnels - the grooves that our brain just can't help getting themselves into.  For example the way we process probabilities, even simple ones, is open to all sorts of mental tunnels.  The simplest probably tunnel described is illustrated thus:

"I have just tossed a coin 7 times, and I ask you, who have not seen the result, to guess which of the three sequences below represents the sequence of results:


Go on, which one would you choose?  Having repeated this experiment many times we're assured that bets are placed in the order: 2, 1, 3.  The preference for 2 is very strong... and is an example of the most common cognitive illusion - mistaking typical for the most probable.  In fact, probability theory tells us that in seven tosses of a con, the probabilities are totally even and so ANY of the three are the right choice.

The result is that we find ourselves committing what Massimo describes, somewhat playfully as the seven deadly sins:

  1. Overconfidence - in our illusion lead thinking.
  2. Illusory correlations (magical thinking) - we reach results thinking they are based on logic when they're simply not.
  3. Predictability in hindsight - once we have the answer or facts we think we could have perfectly predict the outcome (this is a big one for historians).
  4. Anchoring - the first thing we notice incorrectly informs the conclusion of our thinking - the easy example here is: given 2 seconds tell me the result of multiplying the numbers 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 together?; your answer will typically be much lower than if you were asked: in 2 seconds multiply the numbers 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 together.
  5. Ease of representation- we are likely to report the things we can easily imagine or remember as being more frequent.
  6. Probability blindness - our intuitive ability to calculate probabilities is totally floored.
  7. Reconstruction under suitable scripts - a ridiculous end situation can look much more plausible if you take someone through a multi-step script of how 'a' could lead to 'b', which could lead to 'c', to 'd' and 'e' which would give you the end state. When the individual steps are unlikely, the overall result is so completely implausible as to be ridiculous - I loved his example of Othello - where Iago sets out to make Othello believe his beloved wife, Desdemona is unfaithful to him, by making up a plausible but deceptive scenario involving Desdemona's handkerchief; which ultimately leads to Othello killing her!  Massimo likes to call number 7 'the Othello effect'

Although I enjoyed the book, I sometimes found it a little awkward - Massimo took prolonged paragraphs to explain some simple concepts and on other occasions skipped over something that I didn't quite get.  So, overall I found it a little long winded but it certainly reveals some really interesting insights in to the way we think!

Format: Book, 209 pages
Author: Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, Ph.D.