A Stroke of Insight – The Amazing Journey of a Harvard Neuroanatomist Inside Her Own Brain

Apr 25, 11 A Stroke of Insight – The Amazing Journey of a Harvard Neuroanatomist Inside Her Own Brain

Posted by in Books, Videos

I stumbled over Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s book – “A Stroke of Insight” – just a couple of days ago, and I couldn’t put it down. It tells the amazing story of a scientist who had the bad luck/huge opportunity (you can honestly say it was both) to witness her own brain’s decay and recovery after a stroke and to learn a lot of counter-intuitive lessons along the way. I found her story fascinating – a true lesson to the amazing resources of our brain, and then I looked her up on the internet and found her TED speech, in which she describes her experience on the verge of death and the incredible lessons she learned along the long (8 year) road to recovery. I think this speech is worth watching, if one can get past her speaking style, which, after reading the book, I found appropriate to the experience she went through (but which you might find a bit…exalted). What is her key message? Our identities are the sum of two types of perception on the world – our left brain perception and our right brain perception. The left hemisphere of our brain processes details, language, in helps us analyze the past and plan for the future and, maybe most importantly, it gives us our sense of ego and personal identity, of being unique and separate from the rest of the world. The right hemisphere on the other hand, is in charge of big picture thinking, of living in the moment, of interpreting sensory information from our environment, of visual thinking and of making us feel connected to the world around us, a part of a larger whole. Dr. Jill’s discovery upon her stroke (which took place in the left hemisphere of her brain and practically shut it down, making Jill forget who she was, how to read, speak and even lose her sense of where her own body started and ended) was that the right hemisphere holds amazing resources for finding and...

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Traditional Learning is Dead. Long Live Brain-Friendly Learning!

The idea for this post came to me after a recent discussion with a group of participants in one of my workshops. It all happened last week, when I facilitated a “Communication Skills” workshop for a group of professionals in the financial field. The course was a mixture of behavioral science, sales techniques and presentation skills, aimed at giving attendants the tools and techniques to successfully sell their ideas to a group of  clients. I quickly found that my participants were  particularly concerned  with the “presentation skills” part of the seminar, because speaking in public and getting their message across to a group of potentially reluctant customers was a major source of worry for them. They all had sat through too many mind-numbing presentations in their lifetime, and the last thing they wanted was to take the place of those nightmarish presenters that had wasted countless precious hours of their time and whose ideas they had forgotten 5 minutes after the presentation  finished. Together, we tried to answer a few thorny questions: How do you get people’s attention? Even more importantly, how do you keep that attention? And, to top it off, how do you get them to remember your message and differentiate yourself from a host of other presenters whose messages compete with yours to get a prime spot in your clients’ memories? These questions led us to a very interesting discussion about how our brains process information and how far most presenters, public speakers and teachers are from delivering brain-friendly presentations that we may enjoy, remember and act on afterward. The principles by which our brain processes information are wonderfully synthesized  by John Medina in his book, “Brain Rules“, where he talks about discoveries that have started to revolutionize the way we teach or present our ideas to others. To mention just a few: The brain likes to learn through stories and metaphors rather than abstract concepts Our brains like stories more than anything. It’s not by chance that, as children, we...

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The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy or Why Children Get Smarter When Their Teachers Believe Them to Be Smart

 I had the opportunity to witness the most interesting discussion between two managers attending one of my seminars. One of them, let’s call him Victor, said that he is very careful when investing trust in people – he always starts off with 0% trust and expects people to work hard to earn his trust. This way, Victor said, he avoids getting disappointed. The other manager, Chris, looked at him in wonder and said that to him it’s the other way around – he always invests 100% trust in the people who work on his team and, should the case arise, is prepared to take some of this trust away, but usually people seem to work very hard to prove worthy of his investment. Are YOU Victor or Chris? Or someone in-between? Which approach is better? Give 100% and risk bitter disappointment or stay on the safe side and invest 0% lest you’ve received countless proofs of worthiness? There is a fascinating experiment undertaken by Harvard Professor Robert Rosenthal and school principal Lenore Jacobson that gives a surprising answer to this dilemma. The subjects of the experiment were 5th grade children whose IQ’s were tested. Afterwards the researchers randomly chose a few children in several classes, telling their teachers that these children showed greater intellectual potential when compared with their peers. The children never knew teachers held high expectations of them, while teachers were convinced the selection had been for real. Now what do you think happened? Well, if you guessed that teachers’ expectations somehow influenced pupils’ performance, then you were right. What was surprising however, was how powerful the self-fulfilling prophecy (also called the Pygmalion Effect) really was. As it turned out, children’s IQ scores actually increased for those kids whose teachers expected them to get smarter. You can watch a video about this experiment here. If you’re wondering how exactly this Pygmalion Effect works, here is what teachers actually did differently (without being aware of it) with those children of whom they had high expectations. First, they were simply kinder...

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