Limitless: Core Techniques to Improve Performance, Productivity, and Focus

Limitless: Core Techniques to Improve Performance, Productivity, and Focus

by Jim Kwik

By applying a handful of practical methods, we can enhance our brains and increase our ability to learn. We live in a digital age where four simple "villains'' are challenging our capacity to think, focus, learn, grow, and be fully human. The first, “digital deluge,” is the infinite and unending flow of information in our internet age. We are drowning in data.

Second, “digital distraction” is flooding us with digital dopamine pleasure that is commanding our attention and stealing our focus. We are losing our ability for deep relationships, deep learning, and deep work.

Summary Notes

Becoming Limitless

Often when you put a label on someone or something, you create a limit—the label becomes the limitation.

An accidental fall in kindergarten left Jim Qwik with a traumatic brain injury. This injury made it difficult for him to focus and learn which led to bullying and ridicule from others. One of Qwik’s teachers even called him “the boy with the broken brain.”

Everyone tends to limit and shrink their dreams to fit their current reality. We convince ourselves that the circumstances we’re in, the beliefs we’ve accepted, and the path we are on is who we are and who we will always be. The Limitless Model helps to identify the mindset, motivation, and methods to help us remove labels and choose to live without limits.

Mindset helps us identify deeply held beliefs, attitudes, and assumptions. We can discard false and limiting thoughts, and reconsider what we are capable of achieving to re-evaluate what is possible. Motivation helps identify the “why” of what we are doing and gives us the energy to drive our purposeful actions. Methods are the specific process for accomplishing something in an orderly, logical, or systematic way.

These three things (Mindset, Motivation, and Method) are part of the framework that makes up the Limitless Model for unlocking your brain's potential.

Why This Matters Now

If we consume too much technology, just like if we consume too much food, it can have ill effects.

Today we are facing four “supervillains” of learning that are being fed by some of the greatest advancements of humankind. Technology is a vital part of progress, but we consume digital technology at a rate that is limiting our behavior and focus. The digital age has not created overload, distraction, forgetfulness, and decreased critical thinking. But it has become a way to amplify these conditions.

The four “supervillains” are “digital deluge,” “digital distraction,” “digital dementia,” and “digital deduction.”

Actions to take

Your Limitless Brain

The human brain has 100 billion neurons, each neuron connected to 10,000 other neurons. Sitting on your shoulders is the most complicated object in the known universe.–Michio Kaku

Your brain is extraordinary. It is so complex that we know more about our universe than we know about the inner-workings of the brain. Our brains have neuroplasticity which means that every time we learn something new, our brains make a new synaptic connection and physically change. Our brains are malleable with the incredible ability to change their structure and organization.

We even possess a “second brain” called the enteric nervous system (ENS). The ENS is made up of more than 100 million nerve cells which line the gastrointestinal brains. It takes up very little of our body weight, yet consumes 20 percent of the energy we take in. 

Understanding the brain and how it works can help us unlock its limitless potential and turn on our learning power.

How to Read to Remember This and Any Book

Questions direct your focus, so they play into everything in life. If you prep your mind with the right kinds of questions before you read, you’ll see answers everywhere.

Research suggests that our natural ability to concentrate wanes between 1 to 4 minutes. Using this kind of information about our brain can help us boost our learning potential and remove the limits we have placed on memory.

By using a simple approach called the Pomodoro Technique, you can improve memory and productivity. This technique is based on the effect of primacy and recency on our brain. Primacy is based on the brain's likelihood to remember what it has read or learned most recently.

Another critical approach to developing memory skills is developing a habit of forming meaningful questions when approaching your reading. You are more likely to remember something if it has personal meaning. Forming and asking meaningful questions will help you focus your reading and improve your memory.

Actions to take

The Spell of Belief Systems

The key to making yourself limitless is unlearning false assumptions.”

Often we don’t accomplish something because we’ve convinced ourselves we can’t do it. Limiting beliefs are revealed in our negative self-talk. These beliefs are formed around ideas that are not true. Sometimes these beliefs come from outside of us, like criticism from others or maybe from our parents growing up. But most of the time, it is our own inner-critic, or self-talk, that is holding us back or creating limiting beliefs.

There are three keys to reframing our beliefs and developing a mindset that removes limitations. The first key is to name your limiting beliefs. This is done by paying attention to every time you find yourself using phrases like “I can’t,” “I’m not,” or “I don’t.” Pay attention to negative self-talk and try to identify the origin of these beliefs. Be aware of how these are holding you back. Be aware that these are opinions, not facts.

The second key is to get the facts. One of the fundamental characteristics of limiting beliefs is that they are just plain wrong! You are not terrible at public speaking. You are not bad at leading a group. These are often just negative ideas with no supporting evidence. Maybe you felt like your last public speaking gig was bad. But feelings are not facts. Focus instead on the facts. Maybe you didn’t feel great because of the confidence you lacked. Ask yourself how much of your perceived performance is just negative self-talk.

Third, create a new belief. The key here is to begin recognizing that the only thing holding you back is YOU! Replace those false limiting beliefs with positive self-talk based on facts. And the fact is that you possess all of the tools necessary to accomplish anything.

The Seven Lies of Learning

With a fixed mindset, things are the way they are. With a growth mindset, we have the ability to improve anything.

We are all subject to an endless stream of misinformation and myths about constraints to our capabilities. Here are seven common lies about learning and our abilities.

Lie #1: Intelligence is fixed.

Some people believe that you are either smart or not. The truth is that it’s not how smart you are, but how you are smart. Research shows there are multiple types of intelligence. Each of us has different strengths and abilities. It is how we employ these strengths and abilities that matter. We all have the capacity to learn and grow. Intelligence is fluid.

Lie #2: We only use 10 percent of our brains.

After extensively mapping the brain, researchers have concluded that there are no functionless areas of the brain. Just as some bodies are faster, stronger, and more flexible, brains are the same way. The key is to learn how to use the brain as efficiently and effectively as you can.

Lie #3: Mistakes are failures.

Even Albert Einstein made mistakes. During his school years, he was described as a slow and below-average student. Einstein said, “A person who never made a mistake, never tried anything new.” Too many of us don’t come close to our capacities because we are too afraid to make a mistake. Mistakes are a critical part of learning. We cannot learn without mistakes. The key is to remember that you are not your mistakes. There is no such thing as failure. There is only failure to learn.

Lie #4: Knowledge is power.

Knowledge is important, but power comes from action. Knowledge is not power. It only has the potential to be powerful if it is used and applied toward some action. You can read all the books, listen to all the podcasts, and attend all the seminars in the world. But if you don’t do something with the knowledge, it is useless. Knowledge X Action = Power

Lie #5: Learning new things is very difficult.

When we hear the word “learning,” we often think of school. And for many of us, school is not a fond memory. We often associate learning with the growing pains of school. In most cases, school did not effectively teach us how to learn. It’s not that learning is hard, but it does require effort. The key is to understand that learning is really a set of methods, and learning how to learn can make this process easier.

Lie #6: Other people’s opinions matter.

Part of being limitless is learning to let go of the fear of external criticism. People will doubt you and criticize you no matter what you do. You will never know your true potential until you break free from the unfair judgments you place on yourself. Don’t allow others’ unfair judgments, opinions, and expectations to ruin your life.

Lie #7: Genius is born.

Danila Coyle, the author of The Talent Code, reveals, “Greatness isn’t born, it’s grown.” Through deep practice, ignition, and master coaching, anyone can develop talent so deep it looks like genius.

Purpose

People who know their purpose in life, know how they are, what they are, and why they are.”

Knowing your purpose in life helps you live with integrity. And when you know yourself, it becomes easier to live a life that’s true to your core values. Our values have a hierarchy. When we are unaware of our values, it creates space for conflict to arise.

If you’re struggling to find the motivation to learn or accomplish anything in your life, there is a good chance you haven’t identified your core values, or those things that are most important in your life. These would be considered the “why” of what you do. They are your purpose for doing anything.

Actions to take

Energy

You see, when you give your body the best possible fuel, you have more energy, you’re stronger, you think more quickly.” –Michelle Obama

Mental and physical vitality is the fuel needed to drive your actions. Motivation is all about energy management and optimization. Here are 10 recommendations for generating limitless brain energy:

  1. A good brain diet:
    Your brain functions best when it gets only premium fuel. Eating high-quality foods that contain lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants nourishes the brain and protects it from oxidative stress.
  2. Brain nutrients:
    Research has shown that particular nutrients have a direct effect on your cognitive ability. In addition to a good brain diet, supplement with DHA, B-vitamins, turmeric, and consider foods that contain these nutrients naturally. Research and consider other brain healthy nutrition supplements.
  3. Exercise:
    Exercise changes the brain in ways that protect memory and thinking skills.
  4. Killing “ANTS”:
    ANT is an acronym for automatic negative thoughts. These negative thoughts place limitations on you. Be aware of when these negative thoughts arrive, and do your best to kill, eliminate, or replace these thoughts with more powerful and positive thinking that motivates your actions towards your most important goals.
  5. A clean environment:
    A clean environment doesn’t just mean air quality. Removing clutter and distractions from your surroundings will make you feel lighter and improve your ability to focus.
  6. A positive peer group:
    Who you spend your time with is who you become. Surround yourself with people that you want to be like and that bring out the best in you.
  7. Brain protection:
    Protecting your brain is critical. You only have one brain. Accidents are unavoidable, but try to put yourself in situations that eliminate the risk of brain injury.
  8. New learning:
    One of the most important things you can do for the health of your brain is to keep learning. As we keep learning, we create new pathways in our brains.
  9. Stress management:
    Whenever we experience stress, a hormone known as cortisol is released to alleviate the physical rigors of stress. The buildup of cortisol in the brain can lead it to cease functioning properly. Do your best to manage stress, give yourself breaks, and eliminate unnecessary stressors from your life.
  10. Sleep:
    If you want better focus, you need to get good sleep. If you want to be a clearer thinker, you need to get good sleep. If you want to make better decisions or have a better memory, you need to get good sleep. Increasing evidence from research shows that lack of sleep leads to a host of mental and physical problems. Get enough sleep, and get enough quality sleep. Sleep is not a choice.

Small Simple Steps

We first make our habits and then our habits make us. –John Dryden

The repetition of small simple steps leads to a habit. Our habits are a core part of who we are. Studies have shown that somewhere between 40-50 percent of what we do every day is the product of habit. That means nearly half of our everyday life is dictated by habits. It is much easier to start doing something new than to stop doing something habitual without a replacement behavior.

To create a new habit, a person must be motivated, able to facilitate the behavior, and able to create a signal, or prompt, that reminds them to perform the new habit. Being able to facilitate the new habit is key. For example, if someone wants to cook healthier, but owns no cooking utensils, pots, or pans, then facilitating that change will be futile. Giving yourself the correct tools and space for the new habit is key.

Remember, starting a new habit is critical in order to eliminate a bad habit. The new habit must replace the old habit.

Actions to take

Flow

Flow is the telephone booth where Clark Kent changes clothes, that place from where Superman emerges.” –Steven Cotler.

In this cutting-edge book on flow, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. The experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it. Flow is an expression of optimal experience.

The eight characteristics of flow are:

  • Absolute concentration
  • Total focus on goals
  • The sense that time is either speeding up or slowing down
  • A feeling of reward from the experience
  • A sense of effortlessness
  • The experience is challenging, but not overly so
  • Your actions almost seem to be happening on their own
  • You feel comfortable with what you are doing

Actions to take

Focus

Concentration is the crux of all human success and endeavor.” –Hindu priest Dandapani

Focus allows us to train our brainpower on a particular task and burn through that task. It's amazing what we can accomplish when we’re focused. Practicing concentration is a way to increase our ability to keep awareness on a single thing for an extended period.

Concentration is like a muscle. You can train it to become stronger with practice. Whenever possible, try to do one thing at a time. Contrary to common belief, multitasking is grossly inefficient.

Breathing exercises are a great way to build concentration and calm a busy mind. It is an effective way to recenter yourself when you find that you’re losing focus.

Actions to take

Study

Nothing has such a power to broaden the mind as the ability to investigate systematically.” –Marcus Aurelius

Most people do not know how to study effectively because they were never taught. Many people naturally assume they already know how to learn, but many of these ideas and techniques are old and ineffective.

The most successful people in the world are lifelong students and are committed to continuously learning new skills. Learning how to study better is imperative to a growth mindset. Continuing to learn new skills and habits will aid in helping you study, learn, and acquire new information.

Actions to take

Memory

Memory is arguably the most important part of the learning process.”

There is no knowledge without memory. Your memory is also one of your greatest assets. It supports you in every area of your life. Memory is so important because it serves as the foundation for every action you take now and every one you will take in the future.

The exercise of memory develops learning and improves your ability to learn. The more you remember, the more you can learn. The secret of a good memory is attention, and attention to a subject depends on our interest in it. We rarely forget that which has made a deep impression on our minds.

Visualization, association, emotion, and location are four keys to having a great memory.

Actions to take

Speed Reading

Just as memory is the foundation to nearly all brain function, reading is the foundation to nearly all learning.

Any plan to make your learning limitless needs to include reading. When you read, you’re using your brain for many functions at once. Because you’re giving your brain a great workout when you read, your brain functions at a higher level, improving memory. 

Reading also improves focus, vocabulary, and imagination. One of the greatest benefits of reading is increased understanding. The average person's reading speed is between 150-200 words per minute. A person who can increase their reading speed to 400 words per minute only needs to study half as long.

Actions to take

Thinking

Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is the probable reason why so few people engage in it.–Henry Ford

Albert Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” This is why it is important to try and think from a variety of perspectives.

When we don’t push ourselves to expand our ideas and consider different perspectives, we are restricting our range of thinking. It is important to have tools to help us think in different ways. There are many different ways of thinking and using intelligence. 

Dr. Howard Gardner, Harvard Professor of Cognition and Education, has identified eight distinct forms of intelligence. They are:

  • Spatial:
    Someone who thinks from the perspective of the space around them, such as pilots.
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic:
    Someone who uses their body as a form of expression or problem-solving, such as athletes.
  • Musical:
    Someone with a strong sensitivity to rhythm, pitch, meter, tone, timbre, and melody.
  • Linguistic:
    Someone who is attuned to the implication of words, such as writers, orators, and lawyers.
  • Logical-Mathematical:
    Someone who has strength in seeing logical relations among actions or symbols, such as engineers and scientists.
  • Interpersonal:
    Someone with a deep innate ability to connect with others and their feelings, such as therapists.
  • Interpersonal:
    Someone with a refined sense of what’s going on inside you and strong emotional intelligence.
  • Naturalistic:
    Someone who can see the world of nature in all of its complexities, such as a zoologist.
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