Deepak Chopra joins The Cycle to discuss his new book Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-Being. Deepak, who has authored more than 65 books, co-author’s this one with Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D. The book discusses how you can be happy for the holidays and beyond. The book goes as far into the mind-brain connection as possible and suggests a revolutionary new way for us all to relate to the brain.
With the holiday frenzy in full swing, Deepak offer three key pieces of advice: go with the flow, take time for daily reflection, and shift the conversation in your brain.
Be sure to tune in for the full conversation at 3:40 p.m. with Deepak and check out an excerpt from his book below:
A GOLDEN AGE
FOR THE BRAIN
What do we really know about the human brain? In the 1970s
and 1980s, when the authors gained their training, the honest
answer was “very little.” There was a saying circulating back then:
Studying the brain was like putting a stethoscope on the outside of
the Astrodome to learn the rules of football.
Your brain contains roughly 100 billion nerve cells forming
anywhere from a trillion to perhaps even a quadrillion connections
called synapses. These connections are in a constant, dynamic state
of remodeling in response to the world around you. As a marvel of
nature, this one is minuscule and yet stupendous.
Everyone stands in awe of the brain, which was once dubbed
“the three- pound universe.” And rightly so. Your brain not only
interprets the world, it creates it. Everything you see, hear, touch,
taste, and smell would have none of those qualities without the
brain. Whatever you experience today— your morning coffee, the
love you feel for your family, a brilliant idea at work— has been specifi
cally customized solely for you.
Immediately we confront a crucial issue. If your world is unique
and customized for you and you alone, who is behind such remarkable
creativity, you or the brain itself? If the answer is you, then the door to
greater creativity is fl ung open. If the answer is your brain, then there
may be drastic physical limitations on what you are able to achieve.
Maybe your genes are holding you back, or toxic memories, or low selfesteem.
Maybe you fall short because of limited expectations that have
contracted your awareness, even though you don’t see it happening.
The facts of the case could easily tell both stories, of unlimited
potential or physical limitation. Compared with the past, today science
is amassing new facts with astonishing speed. We have entered
a golden age of brain research. New breakthroughs emerge every
month, but in the midst of such exciting advances, what about the
individual, the person who depends upon the brain for everything?
Is this a golden age for your brain?
We detect an enormous gap between brilliant research and everyday
reality. Another medical school saying from the past comes
to mind: Each person typically uses only 10 percent of their brain.
Speaking literally, that’s not true. In a healthy adult, the brain’s neural
networks operate at full capacity all the time. Even the most
sophisticated brain scans available would show no detectable difference
between Shakespeare writing a soliloquy from Hamlet and an
aspiring poet writing his fi rst sonnet. But the physical brain is not
nearly the whole story.
To create a golden age for your brain, you need to use the gift
nature has given you in a new way. It’s not the number of neurons
or some magic inside your gray matter that makes life more vital,
inspiring, and successful. Genes play their part, but your genes,
like the rest of the brain, are also dynamic. Every day you step into
the invisible fi restorm of electrical and chemical activity that is the
brain’s environment. You act as leader, inventor, teacher, and user of
your brain, all at once.
As leader, you hand out the day’s orders to your brain.
As inventor, you create new pathways and connections
inside your brain that didn’t exist yesterday.
A GOLDEN AGE F O R THE B R AIN 5
As teacher, you train your brain to learn new skills.
As user, you are responsible for keeping your brain in good
In these four roles lies the whole difference between the everyday
brain— let’s dub it the baseline brain— and what we are calling
super brain. The difference is immense. Even though you have not
related to the brain by thinking What orders should I give today? or
What new pathways do I want to create? that’s precisely what you are
doing. The customized world that you live in needs a creator. The
creator isn’t your brain; it’s you.
Super brain stands for a fully aware creator using the brain to
maximum advantage. Your brain is endlessly adaptable, and you
could be performing your fourfold role— leader, inventor, teacher,
and user— with far more fulfi lling results than you now achieve.
Leader: The orders you give are not just command prompts on a
computer like “delete” or “scroll to end of page.” Those are mechanical
commands built into a machine. Your orders are received by a
living organism that changes every time you send an instruction. If
you think I want the same bacon and eggs I had yesterday, your brain
doesn’t change at all. If instead you think What will I eat for breakfast
today? I want something new, suddenly you are tapping into a reservoir
of creativity. Creativity is a living, breathing, ever new inspiration
that no computer can match. Why not take full advantage of
it? For the brain has the miraculous ability to give more, the more
you ask of it.
Let’s translate this idea into how you relate to your brain now
and how you could be relating. Look at the lists below. Which do
you identify with?
I don’t ask myself to behave very differently today than I
I am a creature of habit.
I don’t stimulate my mind with new things very often.
I like familiarity. It’s the most comfortable way to live.
If I’m being honest, there’s boring repetition at home, work,
and in my relationships.
I look upon every day as a new world.
I pay attention not to fall into bad habits, and if one sets in,
I can break it fairly easily.
I like to improvise.
I abhor boredom, which to me means repetition.
I gravitate to new things in many areas of my life.
Inventor: Your brain is constantly evolving. This happens individually,
which is unique to the brain (and one of its deepest mysteries).
The heart and liver that you were born with will be essentially
the same organs when you die. Not the brain. It is capable of evolving
and improving throughout your lifetime. Invent new things for
it to do, and you become the source of new skills. A striking theory
goes under the slogan “ten thousand hours,” the notion being that
you can acquire any expert skill if you apply yourself for that length
of time, even skills like painting and music that were once assigned
only to the talented. If you’ve ever seen Cirque du Soleil, you might
have assumed that those astonishing acrobats came from circus families
or foreign troupes. In fact, every act in Cirque du Soleil, with
few exceptions, is taught to ordinary people who come to a special
school in Montreal. At one level, your life is a series of skills, beginning
with walking, talking, and reading. The mistake we make is
to limit these skills. Yet the same sense of balance that allowed you
to toddle, walk, run, and ride a bicycle, given ten thousand hours
(or less), can allow you to cross a tightrope strung between two sky-
A GOLDEN AGE F O R THE B R AIN 7
scrapers. You are asking very little of your brain when you stop asking
it to perfect new skills every day.
Which one do you identify with?
I can’t really say that I am growing as much as when I was
If I learn a new skill, I take it only so far.
I am resistant to change and sometimes feel threatened
I don’t reach beyond what I am already good at.
I spend a good deal of time on passive things like watching
I will keep evolving my whole lifetime.
If I learn a new skill, I take it as far as I can.
I adapt quickly to change.
If I’m not good at something when I fi rst try it, that’s okay.
I like the challenge.
I thrive on activity, with only a modicum of down time.
Teacher: Knowledge is not rooted in facts; it is rooted in curiosity.
One inspired teacher can alter a student for life by instilling
curiosity. You are in the same position toward your brain, but with
one big difference: you are both student and teacher. Instilling curiosity
is your responsibility, and when it comes, you are also the one
who will feel inspired. No brain was ever inspired, but when you are,
you trigger a cascade of reactions that light up the brain, while the
incurious brain is basically asleep. (It may also be crumbling; there is
evidence that we may prevent symptoms of senility and brain aging
by remaining socially engaged and intellectually curious during our
entire lifetime.) Like a good teacher, you must monitor errors, encourage
strengths, notice when the pupil is ready for new challenges,
and so on. Like a bright pupil, you must remain open to the things
you don’t know, being receptive rather than close- minded.
Which one do you identify with?
I’m pretty settled in how I approach my life.
I am wedded to my beliefs and opinions.
I leave it to others to be the experts.
I rarely watch educational television or attend
It’s been a while since I felt really inspired.
I like reinventing myself.
I’ve recently changed a long- held belief or opinion.
There’s at least one thing I am an expert on.
I gravitate toward educational outlets on television
or in local colleges.
I’m inspired by my life on a day- to- day basis.
User: There’s no owner’s manual for the brain, but it needs nourishment,
repair, and proper management all the same. Certain nutrients
are physical; today a fad for brain foods sends people running
for certain vitamins and enzymes. But the proper nourishment for
the brain is mental as well as physical. Alcohol and tobacco are toxic,
and to expose your brain to them is to misuse it. Anger and fear,
stress and depression also are a kind of misuse. As we write, a new
study has shown that routine daily stress shuts down the prefrontal
cortex, the part of the brain responsible for decision making, correcting
errors, and assessing situations. That’s why people go crazy
in traffi c snarls. It’s a routine stress, yet the rage, frustration, and
helplessness that some drivers feel indicates that the prefrontal cortex
has stopped overriding the primal impulses it is responsible for
controlling. Time and again we fi nd ourselves coming back to the
same theme: Use your brain, don’t let your brain use you. Road rage
is an example of your brain using you, but so are toxic memories, the
wounds of old traumas, bad habits you can’t break, and most tragically,
out- of- control addictions. This is a vastly important area to be
Which one do you identify with?
I have felt out of control recently in at least one
area of my life.
My stress level is too high, but I put up with it.
I worry about depression or am depressed.
My life can go in a direction I don’t want it to.
My thoughts can be obsessive, scary, or anxious.
I feel comfortably in control.
I actively avoid stressful situations by walking away
and letting go.
My mood is consistently good.
Despite unexpected events, my life is headed in
the direction I want it to go.
I like the way my mind thinks.
Even though your brain doesn’t come with an owner’s manual,
you can use it to follow a path of growth, achievement, personal
satisfaction, and new skills. Without realizing it, you are capable
of making a quantum leap in how you use your brain. Our fi nal
destination is the enlightened brain, which goes beyond the four
roles you play. It is a rare kind of relationship, in which you serve as
the observer, the silent witness to everything the brain does. Here
lies transcendence. When you are able to be the silent witness, the
brain’s activity doesn’t enmesh you. Abiding in complete peace and
silent awareness, you fi nd the truth about the eternal questions concerning
God, the soul, and life after death. The reason we believe
that this aspect of life is real is that when the mind wants to transcend,
the brain is ready to follow.
A New Relationship
When Albert Einstein died in 1955 at the age of seventy- six, there
was tremendous curiosity about the most famous brain of the twentieth
century. Assuming that something physical must have created
such genius, an autopsy was performed on Einstein’s brain. Defying
expectations that big thoughts required a big brain, Einstein’s
brain actually weighed 10 percent less than the average brain. That
era was just on the verge of exploring genes, and advanced theories
about how new synaptic connections are formed lay decades in the
future. Both represent dramatic advances in knowledge. You can’t
see genes at work, but you can observe neurons growing new axons
and dendrites, the threadlike extensions that allow one brain cell to
connect with another. It’s now known that the brain can form new
axons and dendrites up to the last years of life, which gives us tremendous
hope for preventing senility, for example, and preserving
our mental capacity indefi nitely. (So astounding is the brain’s ability
to make new connections that a fetus on the verge of being born is
forming 250,000 new brain cells per minute, leading to millions of
new synaptic connections per minute.)
Yet in so saying, we are as naïve as newspaper reporters waiting
eagerly to tell the world that Einstein possessed a freakish brain— we
still emphasize the physical. Not enough weight is given to how a
person relates to the brain. We feel that without a new relationship,
the brain cannot be asked to do new, unexpected things. Consider
discouraged children in school. Such students existed in every class-
A GOLDEN AGE F O R THE B R AIN 11
room that all of us attended, usually sitting in the back row. Their
behavior follows a sad pattern.
First the child attempts to keep up with other children. When
these efforts fail, for whatever reason, discouragement sets in. The
child stops trying as hard as the children who meet with success
and encouragement. The next phase is acting out, making disruptive
noises or pranks to attract attention. Every child needs attention,
even if it is negative. The disruptions can be aggressive, but
eventually the child realizes that nothing good is happening. Acting
out leads to disapproval and punishment. So he enters the fi nal
phase, which is sullen silence. He makes no more effort to keep up
in class. Other children mark him as slow or stupid, an outsider.
School has turned into a stifl ing prison rather than an enriching
It’s not hard to see how this cycle of behavior affects the brain.
We now know that babies are born with 90 percent of their brains
formed and millions of connections that are surplus. So the fi rst
years of life are spent winnowing out the unused connections and
growing the ones that will lead to new skills. A discouraged child,
we can surmise, aborts this process. Useful skills are not developed,
and the parts of the brain that fall into disuse atrophy. Discouragement
is holistic, encompassing brain, psyche, emotions, behavior,
and opportunities later in life.
For any brain to operate well, it needs stimulation. But clearly
stimulation is secondary to how the child feels, which is mental and
psychological. A discouraged child relates to his brain differently
than an encouraged child, and their brains must respond differently,
Super brain rests on the credo of connecting the mind and brain
in a new way. It’s not the physical side that makes the crucial difference.
It’s a person’s resolve, intention, patience, hope, and diligence.
These are all a matter of how the mind relates to the brain, for better
or worse. We can summarize the relationship in ten principles.
A SUPER BRAIN CREDO
HOW THE M IND R EL AT ES TO T H E B R A I N
1. The process always involves feedback loops.
2. These feedback loops are intelligent and adaptable.
3. The dynamics of the brain go in and out of balance but always
favor overall balance, known as homeostasis.
4. We use our brains to evolve and develop, guided by our intentions.
5. Self- refl ection pushes us forward into unknown territory.
6. Many diverse areas of the brain are coordinated simultaneously.
7. We have the capacity to monitor many levels of awareness, even
though our focus is generally confi ned to one level (i.e., waking,
sleeping, or dreaming).
8. All qualities of the known world, such as sight, sound, texture,
and taste, are created mysteriously by the interaction of mind
9. Mind, not the brain, is the origin of consciousness.
10. Only consciousness can understand consciousness. No mechanical
explanation, working from facts about the brain, suffi ces.
These are big ideas. We have a lot of explaining to do, but we
wanted you to see the big ideas up front. If you lifted just two words
from the fi rst sentence— feedback loops— you could mesmerize a
medical school class for a year. The body is an immense feedback
loop made up of trillions of tiny loops. Every cell talks to every other
and listens to the answer it receives. That’s the simple essence of
feedback, a term taken from electronics. The thermostat in your living
room senses the temperature and turns the furnace on if the
room gets too cold. As the temperature rises, the thermostat takes in
that information and responds by turning the furnace off.
The same back- and- forth operates through switches in the body
that also regulate temperature. That’s nothing fascinating, so far.
But when you think a thought, your brain sends information to the
heart, and if the message is one of excitement, fear, sexual arousal,
or many other states, it can make the heart beat faster. The brain
will send a countermessage telling the heart to slow down again,
but if this feedback loop breaks down, the heart can keep racing like
a car with no brakes. Patients who take steroids are replacing the
natural steroids made by the endocrine system. The longer you take
artifi cial steroids, the more the natural ones ebb, and as a result the
adrenal glands shrink.
The adrenals are responsible for sending the message that slows
down a racing heart. So if a patient stops taking a steroid drug all at
once rather than tapering off, the body may be left with no brakes.
The adrenal gland hasn’t had time to regrow. In that event, somebody
could sneak up behind you, yell “Boo!” and send your heart
racing out of control. The result? A heart attack. With such possibilities,
suddenly feedback loops start to become fascinating. To
make them mesmerizing, there are extraordinary ways to use the
brain’s feedback. Any ordinary person hooked up to a biofeedback
machine can quickly learn to control bodily mechanisms that usually
run on automatic. You can lower your blood pressure, for example,
or change your heart rate. You can induce the alpha- wave
state associated with meditation and artistic creativity.
Not that a biofeedback machine is necessary. Try the following
exercise: Look at the palm of your hand. Feel it as you look. Now
imagine that it is getting warmer. Keep looking and focus on it getting
warmer; see the color becoming redder. If you maintain focus
on this intention, your palm will in fact grow warm and red. Tibetan
Buddhist monks use this simple biofeedback loop (an advanced
meditation technique known as tumo) to warm their entire bodies.
This technique is so effective that monks who use it can sit in
freezing ice caves meditating overnight while wearing nothing more
than their thin silk saffron robes. Now the simple feedback loop has
become totally engrossing, because what we can induce merely by
intending it may have no limit. The same Buddhist monks reach
states of compassion, for example, that depend on physical changes
in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. Their brains didn’t do this
on their own; they were following orders from the mind. Thus we
cross a frontier. When a feedback loop is maintaining normal heart
rhythm, the mechanism is involuntary— it is using you. But if you
change your heart rate intentionally (for example, by imagining a
certain someone who excites you romantically), you are using it instead.
Let’s take this concept to the place where life can be miserable or
happy. Consider stroke victims. Medical science has made huge advances
in patient survival after even massive strokes, some of which
can be attributed to better medications and to the upsurge of trauma
units, since strokes are ideally dealt with as soon as possible. Quick
treatment is saving countless lives, compared to the past.
But survival isn’t the same as recovery. No drugs show comparable
success in allowing victims to recover from paralysis, the most
common effect of a stroke. As with the discouraged children, with
stroke patients everything seems to depend on feedback. In the past
they mostly sat in a chair with medical attention, and their course
of least resistance was to use the side of the body that was unaffected
by their stroke. Now rehabilitation actively takes the course
of most resistance. If a patient’s left hand is paralyzed, for example,
the therapist will have her use only that hand to pick up a coffee cup
or comb her hair.
At fi rst these tasks are physically impossible. Even barely raising
a paralyzed hand causes pain and frustration. But if the patient repeats
the intention to use the bad hand, over and over, new feedback
loops develop. The brain adapts, and slowly there is new function.
We now see remarkable recoveries in patients who walk, talk, and
use their limbs normally with intensive rehab. Even twenty years
ago these functions would have languished or shown only minor
And all we have done so far is to explore the implications of two
The super brain credo bridges two worlds, biology and experience.
Biology is great at explaining physical processes, but it is totally
inadequate at telling us about the meaning and purpose of our subjective
experience. What does it feel like to be a discouraged child or
a paralyzed stroke victim? The story begins with that question, and
biology follows second. We need both worlds to understand ourselves.
Otherwise, we fall into the biological fallacy, which holds
that humans are controlled by their brains. Leaving aside countless
arguments between various theories of mind and brain, the goal is
clear: We want to use our brains, not have them use us.
We’ll expand on these ten principles as the book unfolds. Major
breakthroughs in neuroscience are all pointing in the same direction.
The human brain can do far more than anyone ever thought.
Contrary to outworn beliefs, its limitations are imposed by us, not
by its physical shortcomings. For example, when we were getting
our medical and scientifi c training, the nature of memory was a
complete mystery. Another saying circulated back then: “We know
as much about memory as if the brain were fi lled with sawdust.”
Fortunately, brain scans were on the horizon, and today researchers
can watch in real time as areas of the brain “light up,” to display the
fi ring of neurons, as subjects remember certain things. The Astrodome’s
roof is now made of glass, you could say.
But memory remains elusive. It leaves no physical traces in brain
cells, and no one really knows how our memories are stored. But
that’s no reason to place any limitations on what our brains can remember.
A young Indian math prodigy gave a demonstration in
which she was asked to multiply two numbers, each thirty- two digits
long, in her head. She produced the answer, which was sixty- four
or – fi ve digits long, within seconds of her hearing the two numbers.
On average, most people can remember only six or seven digits at a
glance. So what should be our norm for memory, the average person
or the exceptional one? Instead of saying that the math prodigy has
better genes or a special gift, ask another question: Did you train
your brain to have a super memory? There are training courses for
that skill, and average people who take them can perform feats like
reciting the King James Bible from memory, using no more than
the genes and gifts they were born with. Everything hinges on how
you relate to your brain. By setting higher expectations, you enter a
phase of higher functioning.
One of the unique things about the human brain is that it can
do only what it thinks it can do. The minute you say, “My memory
isn’t what it used to be” or “I can’t remember a thing today,” you are
actually training your brain to live up to your diminished expectations.
Low expectations mean low results. The fi rst rule of super
brain is that your brain is always eavesdropping on your thoughts.
As it listens, it learns. If you teach it about limitation, your brain will
become limited. But what if you do the opposite? What if you teach
your brain to be unlimited?
Think of your brain as being like a Steinway grand piano. All
the keys are in place, ready to work at the touch of a fi nger. Whether
a beginner sits down at the keyboard or a world- renowned virtuoso
like Vladimir Horowitz or Arthur Rubinstein, the instrument is
physically the same. But the music that comes out will be vastly different.
The beginner uses less than 1 percent of the piano’s potential;
the virtuoso is pushing the limits of the instrument.
If the music world had no virtuosos, no one would ever guess
at the amazing things a Steinway grand can do. Fortunately, research
on brain performance is providing us with stunning examples
of untapped potential brilliantly coming to life. Only now are
these amazing individuals being studied with brain scans, which
makes their abilities more astonishing and at the same time more
Let’s consider Magnus Carlsen, the Norwegian chess prodigy.
He earned the highest ranking in chess, grand master, at the age of
thirteen, the third youngest in history. Around that time, in a speed
game, he forced Gary Kasparov, the former world chess champion,
to a draw. “I was nervous and intimidated,” Carlsen recalls, “or I
would have beat him.” To play chess at this level, a grand master
must be able to refer, instantly and automatically, to thousands of
games stored in his memory. We know the brain is not fi lled with
sawdust, but how a person is able to recall such a vast storehouse of
individual moves— amounting to many million possibilities— is totally
mysterious. In a televised demonstration of his abilities, young
Carlsen, who is now twenty- one, played ten opponents simultaneously
in speed chess— with his back turned to the boards.
In other words, he had to keep in mind ten separate chess boards,
with their thirty- two pieces, while the clock permitted only seconds
for each move. Carlsen’s performance defi nes the limit of memory,
or a small slice of it. If it is diffi cult for a normal person to imagine
having such a memory, the fact is that Carlsen isn’t straining his
brain. What he does, he says, feels completely natural.
We believe that every remarkable mental feat is a signpost showing
the way. You won’t know what your brain can do until you test
its limits and push beyond them. No matter how ineffi ciently you
are using your brain, one thing is certain: it is the gateway to your
future. Your success in life depends on your brain, for the simple
reason that all experience comes to us through our brains.
We want Super Brain to be as practical as possible, because it can
solve problems that are far more diffi cult, or even impossible, for the
baseline brain. Each chapter will end with its own Super Brain Solutions
section, with a host of innovative suggestions for overcoming
many of life’s most common challenges.