First of all, the title Mindhacker: 60 Tips, Tricks, and Games To Take Your Mind To The Next Level needs a bit of explanation. The word hacker is used here in its original context, not in its later criminal association. The term dates back to the early sixties at MIT, and was defined as, “A person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and stretching their capabilities, as opposed to most users, who prefer to learn only the minimum necessary.” It had nothing to do with the malicious mischief later associated with it, such as ID theft and the like. True hackers are intent on the intellectual quest to gain knowledge, never to harm others.
It is in this spirit that Mindhacker has been published, and it is full of various strategies for us to improve our brain functions. The book focuses on ways to improve performance in nine distinct areas. These are memory, learning, information processing, time management, creativity and production, math and logic, communication, mental fitness, and clarity. The 60 tips, tricks, and games mentioned in the title are referred to as “Mind Hacks” and are associated with each chapter. They are not equally distributed, however. For instance, the “Creativity and Production” section features 11 hacks, while three others only have five.
The book is not meant to be read as a straight narrative though, or as a textbook. In the “Introduction,” the authors encourage us to flip through the chapters to the ones that intrigue us most, then use those lessons as a jumping off point to other sections. In this type of usage, we mimic the brain, which tends to work in that way on its own.
Short-term memory is something I struggle with, and so that is where I began. Taking the age-old, string-around-your-finger method to remember things is an easy metaphor to begin with, so we are shown other ways to expand on this rudimentary technique. They suggest that the string should not just refer to one particular thing, but rather a whole “string” of related items, so that the whole string can represent an entire course of action.
Keeping a checklist is another simple, but very effective tip as well. After explaining a study at Johns Hopkins University, where nurses were instructed to follow doctors prepping for surgery with a ten-point list of basic steps, the results were pretty incredible. Over the course of a year, post-op infections had previously ran at 11% for patients, but with the checklists in place, the rate of infection dropped to zero. This was seen as evidence of an over-familiarity on the doctors part. The basics such as washing their hands and such were so second nature to doctors, that they often overlooked minor items on the list, which the nurses were able to remind them of.
The real life application of this would be for someone who has a morning routine, yet always seems to forget something. This is definitely a problem for me. Armed with a checklist every morning however, it becomes very simple to take all you need at one time. I like the final line on this list also, “Prepare tomorrow’s list.”
In the “Creativity and Productivity” chapter, I found the Hack 35: Ratchet to be very useful as well. The concept here is that when faced with a big project, work incrementally. Funnily enough, in this case blogging is mentioned first. It is a small and easy way for each of us to build up our writing skills, entirely at our own pace. Using small time is another excellent point. “Whenever you have half an hour, or even 15 minutes with little to do, consider how to fill it,” they write. Small jobs such as folding a pile of laundry, cleaning off the table, or reading an article are some examples of productive things that can be done. By using small time to complete small tasks, soon you will find the big tasks completed.
Besides the tricks and tips, there are also games one can play to make learning these lessons more enjoyable. They have even included various online resources for those who wish to delve deeper into the project. Many of these are accessible on the website for Wiley Books
The examples mentioned are just a couple that I found immediately useful, but this book seems like one I will return to again and again. Areas that may not seem as pressing to me today may well become very important to me tomorrow, and Mindhacker may be my best hope yet in fighting off senility.