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How To Extend Your Mind

Your brain is more than just your brain

In This Issue:

How To Extend Your Mind

Your brain is more than just your brain

Tools and Talismans

  • Mindfulness Exercises to Train Your Interoception

  • Get $100 to take Mindvalley courses

  • The chemicals in your Reticular Activating System

How to Extend Your Mind

Did you ever discover you knew something without knowing it?

Let me give you an example.

A few years ago, we were remodeling our house.

The backyard was a chaotic mess of boxes, tables, and bins filled and covered with tools, screws, gloves, fasteners, cans of paint, caulk, and every kind of construction-related material you can think of.

One the the carpenters working on the staircase asked me, “Hey Jacob, do you know where that box of ledger locks went?”

“Just a second,” I told him. And then I gasped with wonder.

You see, I couldn’t answer his question. I had no idea where the box of ledger locks went.

But in just a few seconds, I walked right to the kitchen drawer that was only supposed to contain rags and cleaning supplies. And there were the ledger locks.

My body knew things that I didn’t.

Since then, I can’t count the number of times I’ve caught myself trying to remember where I put my keys, my phone, my bike helmet or a bottle opener.

I catch myself trying and failing to remember. Then I immediately think of something else, and I walk straight to the item I was looking for.

Thinking Outside the Brain

My wife recently gave me a book by Annie Murphy Paul called The Extended Mind: The Power of Thinking Outside the Brain.

This book helps explain my weird memory hack.

You won’t be surprised to hear that many neuroscientists think the digital age has created a problem that never existed before. We are cognitively maxed out, doing as much abstract thought as our brains our capable of.

But there’s some good news, too: A growing body of evidence that you don’t think with just your brain.

Your body, your social groups, and even your physical environment take on much of your cognitive load.

Mostly this happens at random, and most of the time you’re not aware of it. Which leads to an amazing possibility:

What if you could intentionally put these extra-cranial resources to work for you?

It turns out you can.

In The Extended Mind, Annie Murphy Paul talks about rich investors who consistently made lucrative stock trades by breaking the rules and following their gut.

She tells of ordinary people who could learn to predict seemingly random events without being able to tell you how they did it.

In one experiment, card players’ skin became more conductive (a sign of stress) when they were about to draw a card that would lead to a serious loss.

The secret seems to be interoception, or an awareness of sensations happening inside your body.

But the big question is, how can you develop this ability and put it to use?

The Body Scan: Your first step to superpowers

People who practice mindfulness are generally more in tune with signals from the body, and more likely to take them seriously.

If you’d like to train yourself to do this, the body scan is a good first step. Here’s a simple rundown.

  1. Sit comfortably. Take a few deep breaths and relax as much as possible.

  2. Focus all your attention on the little toe on your left foot. Feel the pressure against the floor or the side of your shoe. Feel the temperature. Are the muscles tense? Is there a sock or other material touching the skin of your toe?

  3. Repeat this with each toe, then the heel, ball, arch, and top of your foot.

  4. Repeat with your lower leg, knees, and upper leg.

  5. Repeat with your right toes/foot/leg, then work your way up your body until all your attention is focused on your scalp.

Do this at least once a day and note the sensations you feel in your body.

If you ever get a sudden impulse, a feeling in your gut, or any other unusual physical sensation, pay attention to it. It could be a warning, or it might be pointing out an opportunity.

You can also start thinking outside the brain by take walks, ideally in nature, when you’re working on a problem.

Dancing or other physical activities will work, too. The goal is to move without tiring yourself out. You also want tooccupy 90% of your thinking, but still leave space for that gut feeling or inspiration to kick in.

Annie Murphy Paul also suggests keeping an interoception journal. Write down the physical sensations you feel right before, during, and after an incident, or when you make an important decision.

Hitting your goals with interoception

If you buy a blue Tesla, you’ll start noticing blue Teslas all over the place.

This phenomenon has long been associated with the Reticular Activating System (RAS). It’s the main reason I always tell people to set ambitious goals for themselves—so the RAS can spot the people, situations, and resources that will help you achieve those goals.

I’m curious to know whether there’s a connection between interoception and the tendency to notice things that are connected with your latest thoughts.

But if your mind exists beyond the brain itself, them maybe the RAS has its extension in the body, the environment, and beyond.

Tools and Talismans 

  • More Mindfulness Exercises. This short Mayo Clinic article will give you more techniques to build your interoception skills. I love the walking meditation!

  • Get $100 off Mindvalley. Mindvalley offers unlimited access to hundreds of advanced courses on subjects like meditation, overcoming your fears, achieving altered states, as well as more down-to earth topics like personal branding and finding your soul mate. If you join through the link above, you and I both save $100. More importantly, you’ll get thousands of dollars in value. I recommend “The Silva Ultramind System,” which helps cultivate an extended mind.

  • How your RAS really works. Dr Andrew Huberman explains the Reticular Activating System through the lens of neuromodulators. If you don’t have time for the full video, watch the last 30 seconds.

That wraps it up for this week. If I’ve given you an idea or raised more questions, reply to this email to let me know. I read every reply.

Never stop growing,

Jacob Bear