Review: Brain Rules

Improving my mind has always been one of my interests. That’s because I believe that the quality of the mind has significant influence on success. But of course, improving the mind can’t be separated from knowing how the brain works. You need to know how the brain works in order to use your mind effectively.

Brain RulesThat’s why the book Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina is interesting to me. It aims to introduce you to the latest discoveries in brain science while giving you practical ways to apply them. In the author’s words:

Most of us have no idea how our brain works… Unless you have the Journal of Neuroscience sitting on your coffee table, you’re out of the loop.

This book is meant to get you into the loop.

Let’s look inside the book.

Inside Brain Rules

Brain Rules covers 12 principles of how the brain works that are called the “brain rules”. Accordingly, the book is divided into twelve chapters.

1. Exercise

Rule #1: Exercise boosts brain power.

Exercise can improve your cognitive performance. The exact amount of exercise you need is different from person to person, but a good rule of thumb is doing aerobic exercise two or three times a week for 30 minutes each time. If possible, integrate exercise into your workday. Take regular breaks and fill them with exercise.

2. Survival

Rule #2: The human brain evolved, too.

Human brain evolved through the ages. There are three parts of the brain: “lizard brain” that keeps you breathing, “mammalian brain” that helps you survive (by allowing you to feel fear, for instance), and “human brain” (the cortex) that gives you abilities like vision, memory, and speech.

3. Wiring

Rule #3: Every brain is wired differently.

Your brain is unique and because of that you should ensure that you are doing what your brain is wired to do.  In education, it’s good to have smaller class size because the teacher can then track everybody in the class. In business, there should be “mass customization” to treat every employee as an individual.

4. Attention

Rule #4: We don’t pay attention to boring things.

Better attention means better learning. So it’s important to grab the attention of your audience early and keep it along the way.  It’s also important to keep your attention undivided when you are learning. Using emotions (like fear or laughter) is good to grab attention.

5. Short-term Memory

Rule #5: Repeat to remember

Memories have different life spans. To increase the life span of a memory,  focus on the meaning of the information rather than just the details. You can do this by finding real-world examples that are relevant.

6. Long-term Memory

Rule #6: Remember to repeat.

To have good retrieval of a memory, you should repeat the information in timed intervals. It’s also helpful to think or talk about the information soon after you receive it.

7. Sleep

Rule #7: Sleep well, think well.

Healthy sleep can improve learning while lack of sleep can hurt learning. One good sleeping habit is napping. A NASA study showed that 26-minute nap improved pilot’s performance by more than 34 percent.

8. Stress

Rule #8: Stressed brains don’t learn the same way.

Stress adversely affects your brain and health. That’s why it’s essential to create healthy environment at home and work. The worst kind of stress is the feeling that you have no control over the problem.

9. Sensory Integration

Rule #9: Stimulate more of the senses

You can enhance learning by creating multisensory environment. Multisensory environment allows people to learn in a more elaborate fashion and therefore retain more. The two most popular senses are vision and hearing, but smell is becoming increasingly popular.

10. Vision

Rule #10: Vision trumps all other senses.

Vision is the most dominant sense that takes half of the brain’s resources. For that reason, make the information visual.

11. Gender

Rule #11: Male and female brains are different.

Men tend to remember the gist of an emotional experience while women tend to remember the details. Having both of them work together as a team will give the team complete perspective of a stressful situation.

12. Exploration

Rule #12: We are powerful and natural explorers.

Babies naturally explore new things and test everything in their environment. You should keep this curiosity alive. Curiosity is the fuel that keeps your intellectual engine run.


Brain Rules is a useful book that gives you solid understanding of how the brain works. Rather than giving you unproven myths, the book gives you scientific truth on the subject. It dispels popular myths such as “left brain is for analytical thinking” and “right brain is for creative thinking” and gives you explanation of what actually happens. In each chapter, there are ideas on how to apply the rule in business and education.

I enjoy the stories inside the book that shows the power of the brain. For example, there was a person who could read both pages of a book simultaneously (using left eye for the left page and right eye for the right page) and memorize them perfectly.

I also like the fact that many scientific explanations inside the book are explained using metaphors that make them easy to understand.


  1. Hrm.. nothing too new I guess in this book?

  2. There are certainly useful points to take away from this review. As it says we don’t pay attention to boring things, it is up to those of us who are creators to keep “making an item interesting” in the back of our minds while working on it. This can involve stimulating more of the senses, as the other point brings up. Instead of creating a plain PowerPoint presentation, we can create one that conjures up more thoughts in the viewer by adding in charts or mind maps, or images that connect to each other during the presentation.

    Another point I noticed brought up here is the one about stress causing brains to not learn the same way. I recently wrote an article about this concept, explaining a point from the book Social Intelligence, about how optimal cognitive efficiency occurs at the point between high-stress and complete boredom, and that too much stress causes fear hormone to be released and rise along with cortisol levels, leading to less efficient learning.

  3. Thanks,

    I don’t think I ever heard of this book, will read reviews and possibly order

    I am fascinated by learning as well

    I like Joe Dispenza book – Evolve Your Brain, it is really good

    I wrote a post in the morning about energy management, it is not about learning but based on covered points shares very similar concepts

    Also Learning Strategies corporations is a great place to improve memory, brain power and so force


  4. Kathy,
    Some of the principles in the book are already well known but many people don’t know the reasons behind them and therefore don’t take them seriously. Also there are many myths out there regarding the brain. In my opinion, the main contribution of this book is giving you the why and helping you separate the facts from the myths.


    it is up to those of us who are creators to keep “making an item interesting” in the back of our minds while working on it.

    That’s right. A book that I’ve found useful for that purpose is Made to Stick. By the way, yours is a nice article. One thing I learn is “there is no added benefit to your efficiency to work in a perceived high-stress scenario.”

    Thanks for the recommendations. I’m always looking for new books and resources so I will check your recommendations.

  5. I’m a student who strives to do my best, and when I saw this book at the bookstore, I hoped this would help optimize my brain function. I find myself unable to focus at times, and I sometimes wonder how I can’t better my brain capacity.

    I just started reading this first two chapters of the book (about exercise and survival), and I am considering taking some of the advice the author gives to improve my brain function.

    However, before I invest too much time and effort into these “12 rules”, I want to know: Has any one strictly followed these rules in some way or form and now feels different in the way they are able to function?


  6. Avani,
    If your goal is to study better, there are two books that I recommend: Accelerated Learning for the 21st Century and Learn More Study Less. Brain Rules is a good book, but for students I think these two books are more practical.

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