In this podcast:
- Understand why so many people actually die shortly after retirement (and it has everything to do with your brain!). 4:44
- The differences between a “fixed mindset” and a “growth mindset,” and how each one radically affects your life. 5:44
- Why our society has over-fantasized talent, what it really is, and how it can inhibit your own growth. 8:05
- How being a “renaissance man/woman” can ultimately be healthier for you and your brain. You don’t have to be “the best” at everything to be great at many things! 11:00
- Learn how brain metabolism impacts your overall health and personality and hear Kevin’s personal experiences with getting his brain scanned. 16:00
- The one skill that most Americans don’t have (but most Europeans do) that can increase your brain’s performance. 25:00
Click the play button to start the podcast:
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Kevin: Renegade Health Radio. This is Kevin Gianni with Frederic Patenaude.
Fredric: [music] That’s my $40 ukulele that I started picking up for fun.
Kevin: Man, the sound of it is more than 40 bucks. It’s real sweet. It’s nice, it’s good.
Fredric: Yeah, so it’s for my brain. I’m training my brain for brain health, you know? It’s good to learn new things.
Kevin: That’s amazing. Annmarie bought a piano, for the house, almost on a whim. She was with her mom and with Hudson and they were walking around San Pablo Avenue and there’s a piano store there and I guess she was attracted by one that was right outside and so they went inside and they came out and she had bought a piano and they had it shipped and delivered to the house. So, yeah. I mean, that’s great brain work too, right?
Fredric: So who’s going to play it?
Kevin: I’ve started to play it, but with all this book writing, I swear that the only thing I’ve gotten is like, I don’t know, 15 bars of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
Fredric: That’s good, that’s good.
Kevin: It’s amazing how the right and left hand coordination really could mess with your head. How it really takes…it’s almost, you know, and I’ve played piano before and I play guitar, but there’s this moment in any song where you finally just get it, where you can actually separate the two. It’s kind of like rubbing your belly and patting your head kind of thing where you ask like 15 people to do it and like one person can do it right away and then everyone else eventually like they start just both rubbing their belly and rubbing their head. And so it’s kind of one of these things where there’s this moment where it almost feels like your brain does get better.
Fredric: Yeah, it is, and it’s called like “finger independence” and that’s kind of like a weird concept in music, but when I was studying classical guitar, we had like exercises for…so you play a scale, and then you fingerpick the scale, but usually your brain wants to go in the same direction with your fingers. But when you cross strings, sometimes that doesn’t make sense, so your natural tendency is going to be to use the same finger twice and that’s wrong. So you play these really awkward kind of fingerings where you always have to use the same fingers in the same order even if you cross a string, and sometimes you end up going backwards with another finger, in an awkward movement, but eventually, your brain gets it that there’s what I’m doing with the left hand and there’s what I’m doing with the right hand and they all go together, but they’re also separate and they need their independence to function.
And that kind of…yeah, it really is, it’s like juggling or something. Eventually you kind of, you incorporate the neurology of it. So yeah, that kind of…we were talking about this before and that kind of is bringing the topic today of brain health, because I think it’s definitely something we’ve never talked about. And I think it’s something that’s very important because more and more people are suffering from dementia as they get older or even younger, sometimes.
Kevin: Yeah, I think where it starts is kind of the area of not necessarily the physical health of the brain, but definitely mental health of the brain. I think that’s probably where it all begins. And you know, a good friend of mine, and I mean like good friend, like we hang out kind of friend, is Jim Quick, who you guys have seen us talk about Jim on Renegade Health. He’s been on some of our…I’ve interviewed him before, I’ve done videos with him. And Jim, you know, one of his biggest things that he’s told me is that there are two parts, the two times during someone’s life where the brain, or brain power, brain capacity or just the brain kind of takes a break. And that’s right after graduation and right after retirement. And a lot of times, not after graduation, but after retirement, there’s a lot of evidence and a lot of data that shows people die after retirement. And you know, it’s very speculative to say this, but it could be because they just stop using their brain or they stop losing their sense of purpose or they stop, maybe they were so attached to their purpose in their job that when they were finished with their work, their life’s work, they come out of, you know, into retirement saying, “This is what I wanted my whole life,” and they’re like, “Well I’m just freaking depressed now. I don’t have anything to work for.”
And this constant attitude of lifelong learning is something that Jim talks about very specifically. And actually, I’m reading a book right now—I didn’t even tell you about this, Fred—but I’m reading a book called Mindset. I’m actually listen-reading it, so I have it on audio program. And essentially, the author, and I can’t remember her name right now—Dweck I think is her last name—there are two types of mindset. And again, just like anytime you do like a black and white kind of thing, there’s one and then there’s the other, there’s always variation in between. But this book just talks about two types of mindset. One is a fixed mindset and one is a growth mindset. And the fixed mindset is a mindset where you’re kind of programmed to believe that you know who you are is who you are. And the growth mindset is the mindset where you kind of go into this place where you’re willing to accept suggestion and you’re willing to grow and willing to work to make things happen. And I think the growth mindset is one of those areas as long…including the lifelong learning kind of space, but having that growth mindset I think is also a brain health hack, if you will.
Fredric: Yeah, because there are definitely two kinds of people. And I haven’t read Mindset, but I read other books where they talk about this concept. And just for mental health in general and success that people who believe…I believe the, and I’m really paraphrasing here, but one research comes to mind that was done I believe on students, who were followed later in life. And the people who thought that success was kind of, essentially that the result of their efforts was mainly what led to success, and another group had more of the belief that, you know, of talent, that you’re either born with certain talents and then, you know, that’s what it is and then you focus on that.
So the people that had this mindset of growth, that essentially they’re responsible for their success, were more successful later in life, even though they were not necessarily the most talented earlier in life. And you often see that with kids that are told that they are talented. “Oh you’re so talented and you are so good at this and you are so good at this,” and they kind of internalized this believe that they are naturally good at certain things and that impairs their performance and their success later in life, because the reality is that you’re not that good at many things naturally, and that’s been debunked so many times.
Even I think popular culture emphasizes too much the idea of talent. And we want to believe that certain people are talented. And we like to talk about talent as this magical thing, like Mozart was this amazing talented person, but if you read Mozart’s biography, you realize that he was the hardest working musician you probably ever heard of. And the idea that’s been kind of spread in popular culture, because of the movie Amadeus and other things, that Mozart kind of wrote his music without making any changes; it just kind of flowed directly into his brain, is totally false. It’s been revealed that he had like big sketches of his music and symphonies and he was rewriting a lot of things. It’s just, you know, it wasn’t as effortless as we like to think. But most people like to think that some people just have the natural talent for things, because I think that once you say that, it kind of exempts you from…it’s a good excuse for not being successful yourself. If you’re not good at music, it’s because you don’t have the talent. But I believe…I mean, there is some element of talent and things like that, but it’s mostly about the time you put into it and the effort you put into it.
Kevin: Yeah, and it also goes to the fact, because when I’m reading this book, and it’s exactly the same what you are talking about, I mean, the book is exactly the same. It has a lot of the same principles. I think there’s a level where you have to smartly pick the things that you want to be good at, too, you know what I mean? Like I could go into music if I wanted to, but I mean, do I want to commit the time to do that and also to commit time to the other things that I’m doing, as well? So if you are thinking like, “Oh well, I could be a great musician, but I really don’t want to,” that’s fine. You know what I mean? I just want to make that pretty clear for someone out there. But if music is your absolute passion, you want to be a great musician and you are in a fixed mindset, the best thing to do is to learn how to get into a growth mindset and believe that you can actually get better and you can become whatever musician or whatever health expert or whatever incredible ballet dancer that you want to be.
Fredric: Well, it’s probably that if you want to be the best in the world or in the top, let’s say, 100 in the world at something, that probably that’s the only thing you can do, right? You have to really follow that passion 100 percent. And you probably cannot be the world’s best piano player and at the same time being the world’s most advanced linguist. But I think that it’s still possible to be a sort of renaissance person, a renaissance man or woman, where you are not the best at everything, at one thing, but you are good in a variety of topics and a variety of fields and I think it’s totally possible.
I mean, I could learn all the main chords in the ukulele in probably a month, and that won’t make me a great ukulele player, but it’s like something I can incorporate. I’ll be better than most people who pick up a ukulele and only learn a couple of chords. And it’s the same with languages. I mean, you know, you don’t have to know a language to be good enough to let’s say translate War and Peace, but you can learn it enough to have like 3- or 4- or 5,000 words of vocabulary, a pretty good command of the grammar and stuff, and be able to enjoy written, audio and so on material, in that language, without being perfect. And I think people expect too much. They don’t try new things because they’re like, “Hey, what’s the point?” It’s better to kind of be good at one thing than to be good at many things.
But I really like now this idea of trying to be good at many things. And it goes against like the mindset of the culture that says that you should be a specialist. And I think that a lot of research shows that you don’t have to be a specialist to be good at something. You can be like a renaissance man or woman and that benefits your brain and I think certain people have to do this.
There is a really great book that I wanted to share with everybody. If you find yourself, like maybe that’s you, Kevin, or maybe that’s other people, if you find yourself that you are constantly trying out new things and people tell you, “Why don’t you stick with one thing?” But you can’t because you are interested in new things all the time and you have different passions and then you have to follow them. And you can’t seem to commit to just one thing. And then people kind of…you feel guilty about it because everybody says, “You should be just doing one thing,” right? Well there’s a great book called Refuse to Choose that I discovered recently, a couple of years ago, and it’s really great. It’s about this idea that well, for a lot of us, we want to try out many things, and that doesn’t mean that you are not good at anything. Like the famous saying, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” Well that’s not true. Maybe you just want to know enough about a particular topic for what you want. Like you want to know a little bit, but then you move onto something else.
That’s kind of my perspective, but I definitely agree that we need to be lifelong learners for our enjoyment of life, but also for brain health.
Kevin: Yeah, and I think what you mentioned there is also deeply engrained in our personality type. Frederick and I are both taking a test called the “Color Code” and we actually give it to everyone of our team members before we hire them just to give an idea of someone who we don’t even know, when they come in, like what they’re like.
And the color code has four different colors. There’s yellow, which the word is fun; there is blue, which the word is loyalty or intimacy; there’s white, which is peace; and there’s red, which is power. And I know that that yellow, that fun, yellow personality type, that’s the personality type that needs to jump from things, from one thing to another. And if you put that yellow in a box and say, “This is the only thing that you can do for the next three years,” that yellow is going to freak out. That person is going to go crazy. And Frederick and I are both in that yellow category, so we definitely have that sort of like, “No, I have to do something else.” I mean, I see it when I’m writing my book, you know, 45 minutes in I got to walk around. I don’t even know what I’m going to do. I just need to do something different. Maybe I need to check some email, maybe I need to do something. Otherwise I’m going to go absolutely crazy.
Fredric: So Kevin, do you have some tips about brain health? Like how can people, you know you’ve been researching a little bit for your book. So how can people kind of stay young mentally?
Kevin: Well I think one of the coolest things that I did for the book and it almost affirm that yellow that I was just talking about, is that I went to the Amen Clinic and I got my brain scanned. So what they do is they inject you with a, what is it? It’s some sort of radioactive kind of compound.
Fredric: It sounds scary.
Kevin: I know, relatively harmless. I mean, it’s one of those things you don’t want to inject it every day. And then they make you sit in front of a computer and you have to hit a spacebar for every letter that comes up except for “X” and when “X” comes up you don’t hit the spacebar. You have to like pause. And you do it for 14 minutes. I mean, I think it’s…and they turn the lights off, into this dark room and it’s like, there’s letters flashing, they flash at different speeds, and I mean, I swear to you, like every two minutes that “X” would come up and I would nail that spacebar, because I just, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t focus. And then essentially what that does is that actually gets your brain functioning so the radioactive compound or whatever it is gets into your brain, and then you get under a scanner, and then for 20 minutes, this thing just scans your brain.
And after you’re done, you meet with the doctor and what they’re looking for is metabolism in your brain. Is your brain metabolism—brain metabolizing—and where is it metabolizing? And for me, that was really exciting because you can’t see your brain, you can’t feel it. You can’t touch it. You can’t like, you know, there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s not like your skin or something like that where you can see if you have acne or if you have like a tumor in your breast, you can feel that. And you’re just like, “Oh no, something is wrong.”
So, for me, I wanted to see what my brain metabolism was. And so when I got the pictures back and I talked with Dr. Bradley Johnson, who is the person here in Brisbane on the Bay here, in San Francisco, just south of San Francisco, he said two things. He said first, he said, “I can clearly tell you’re ADD by the fact that you couldn’t do the 14-minute “X” test with the spacebar.” And the second thing he said was that in my frontal cortex—you get this picture of this brain back—and in my frontal cortex there’s these, like, two big metabolic holes…it doesn’t mean real holes, but it just means there’s still flesh there, there’s still brain material, but there’s these two big metabolic holes that don’t show any activity.
And the first time I saw this without him explaining to me, I was a little freaked out. I’m like you know, do I have like, is this like the workings of like a personal self-induced lobotomy? I mean like you know, this is pretty intense. And he said, “No.” He said, “These two holes here generally show across the thousands and thousands of patients that we have analyzed, they tend to show, you know, one they tend to show ADD, and two, they also tend to show hyper focus.” And so if someone has these two areas that are “empty”—it doesn’t mean that there’s nothing there—he says that, you know, I always ask them, do they have…if they don’t like doing something, do they do it? And the answer of that of course for me is like absolutely not. And then the second he said, “Are there moments where you are so hyper focused that you don’t even like realize anything else around you?” and I’m like, “That’s like me every day.”
So he was just like, “So this is a good thing.” And I’m like, “Wow, that’s crazy, I didn’t even think about that.”
On top of that, you know, he noticed that there was a spot where I bumped my head at one point and there’s low metabolic activity there as well. But, in general, it was a really interesting experience to see my brain, and I look at it and I’m like, “I can improve on that.” Because he showed me a picture of like super healthy brain, and I was like, “Man, I got to move into that,” you know? I’m like, “That’s going to take a little bit of time,” because it just wasn’t as nicely formed. Because you see this picture of this, like the brain metabolism, and there are areas where it’s just not metabolizing. And you’re like, “Well, I want my brain to be better.”
So, of course, thinking about mindset, thinking about spending more time outside, thinking about getting more omega-3s, these are all things that are really helpful for brain health and brain stimulants.
Fredric: Kevin, how much does a test like that, out of curiosity?
Kevin: Well, it’s expensive. I believe the test and like with consultation, if you do a follow up, I believe it’s somewhere between $2,000-$2,500.
Fredric: Okay, so quite expensive.
Kevin: Yeah it is expensive. But the people who go there are not necessarily you or me, Fred. The people who go there are people who are like really having problems with their brain and they feel it. And there’s nothing more valuable than identifying if your brain is functioning or how it’s metabolizing and working with Dr. Amen or some of his people. They’ve also done a lot of work with NFL players and people who have suffered multiple concussions. And the improvement, if you go onto his website, I believe it’s just Dr. Amen or danielamen.com or you can just search Daniel Amen. Amen like amen. And you can see some of the work that he’s done with NFL concussion, concussed players. And it’s amazing. I mean some of these players, these retired players, they’re starting to really lose their minds, literally. And they recover somewhat nicely. I mean, some of the brain damage that they have is not reversible. Or maybe it is. I mean, that’s from the fixed mindset that I mentioned. Maybe I should go into the growth mindset. Maybe it is reversible, but he does some great work with that, too.
Fredric: Well, what we know is that we know very little about the brain. I mean, the brain, I heard the quote from scientists that the human brain is the most complex system that we’ve ever identified anywhere in the universe. I mean, it is an incredibly complex system. I mean when you think about it, it kind of blows your mind when all of the…how can we know language and then learn a second language on top of it? And then learn a third language? I mean, how does it actually happen, you know?
And there were interesting discoveries. I don’t know, Kevin, if you’ve read the book The Talent Code. And there’s another book called, Talent is Overrated. And they kind of go in the direction we were talking about. That you can learn more than you think you can learn, and it’s not so much about talent, but it’s how you learn.
And there’s this research that’s been done on this substance in the brain called “myelin.” And this is sort of, you know, let’s say you’re learning a new skill like juggling. As you learn the skill, you make mistakes, and as you correct your mistakes, there’s a pathway that forms in the brain. And this is not just like imaginary. This is physical. This is a physical pathway of neurons and connections that form. And there’s a substance called myelin that they found. And this substance essentially helps like the electricity conduct better or something like that, through that pathway, so that instead of being something you have to think about, it becomes something totally automatic.
So, at first, you have to think about the movements and how to avoid making mistakes and correcting yourself. And every time you get better, there’s this sort of reinforcement, like you feel good about yourself. “Oh I did it right.” So that substance myelin kind of forms, and over time. That’s why when you’ve learned something really well, you never forget it. You might get rusty, but it comes back easily because there is so much myelin that’s been built around that skill that you literally can’t forget it. I mean, I don’t think I could ever forget French or English, right? Those two languages, but I know I can definitely forget like a language that I’ve studied for a while and haven’t practiced in a while, like Portuguese. But eventually, if I practice, it comes back little by little. But there are things that…I mean, essentially you can learn more than you think you can learn, and it’s all about how you practice and how you train your brain.
So I think there is still a lot that is left to understand about the brain and it’s an exciting new field of science.
Kevin: But when you think about it too, you think about say Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player that’s ever lived. There must have been a point where he transcended like the thought about his shot and it just became wired in his brain just exactly what he needed to do, you know what I mean? Just by shooting practice and reward, the endorphin hit when a shot is actually made. I mean, his brain…I mean, again I’m just speculating, but there must have been, there must be some connection in his brain that followed that, there’s a pathway, that followed that practice, shot, reward, that connected all those dots and made that almost automatic.
Fredric: Absolutely. If we had to think of everything consciously it would never work. But it becomes, yeah, it becomes automatic, like you…any skill. Kevin, finally, do you have any, like besides what you’ve mentioned, tips for improving your brain health? Because I have a quick one that I’d like to throw out there. Because it’s an interesting study that came out that a multilingual brain is quicker and nimbler and better able to deal with ambiguities, resolve conflicts, and even resist Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. I’m quoting from a Time article. And in the study, they…it seems to be for adults, not for children, so children that are bilingual don’t get that benefit, but as they get older it becomes a benefit.
So if you are fluently bilingual, you know, you can improve the performance of your brain in other areas. So I believe this must also occur with other forms of learning. If your brain is static and only is good at what you like to do and you never learn anything new and challenging, and I think the word “challenging” is probably key here. That if we always focus on the things that we’re naturally good at, or we think we’re good at, you never learn much, right? You never force yourself to be a little uncomfortable learning something that you don’t feel qualified, you don’t feel naturally good at or talented, so to speak. But if you kind of force yourself on a regular basis, “Yeah, I’m going to learn a new skill,” I think that we are going to find more and more research that’s going to show that this keeps our brain healthy, and also improves like all of the whole brain functioning.
Kevin: Okay, fantastico.
Fredric: Anything else on that topic, Kevin?
Kevin: Yeah, I mean I mentioned omega-3. I think omega-3 is one of the, has the biggest wealth of knowledge or data, in terms of brain health. So getting your omega-3s is extremely beneficial. Obviously eating healthy. We know that. If you are on this podcast, you’re listening to us here. I think there’s some data about ginkgo biloba. That might be something that you want to take. And also alcohol. Lowering the amount of alcohol that you drink, as well as caffeine. Caffeine tends to fire your brain fast, but then it leaves you worn out.
And then finally, flying does actually affect your brain metabolism. So when I went in to get this brain scan, Dr. Bradley told me afterwards, he asked me if I had flown in the last three to five days. And I’d flown in the last like six days. So I said, “Yeah, I have, but not three to five.” And he said, Well, usually we see, because of either the compression or whatever, or the oxygen, or the different levels, who knows, that your brain actually can be affected by flying. So for those people who have healthy and even more unhealthy brains, you might notice that you’re…not only are you jetlagged, but your brain fog might actually really be real. It’s not just this thing that you are feeling. It’s actually the fact that your brain is metabolizing not as well as it does when you’ve been on the ground for an extended period of time.
Fredric: Good stuff, good stuff. So keep on learning.
Kevin: Keep on learning guys. Pick up a new hobby in the next week and tell us what it is.