Jan. 13, 2023

Listener Favorites: Jim Kwik | Upgrade Your Brain, Learn Anything Faster, and Unlock Your Exceptional Life

Listener Favorites: Jim Kwik | Upgrade Your Brain, Learn Anything Faster, and Unlock Your Exceptional Life

A teacher once called Jim Kwik 'the boy with the broken brain'. Today, Jim is a world leader in learning and has recently written a new book, Limitless, which we dive into in this episode. Join us to become limitless and unlock your exceptional life.

Jim Kwik is an expert on brain improvement, speed reading and memory retention. When Jim was in kindergarten, he suffered a head injury that put him in hospital and affected his memory and attention span. A teacher once called him 'the boy with the broken brain'. Today, Jim is a world leader in learning and has recently written a new book, Limitless, which we dive into in this episode. Join us to become limitless and unlock your exceptional life.

Subscribe for ad-free interviews and bonus episodes https://plus.acast.com/s/the-unmistakable-creative-podcast.


Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.

Maximize Your Output With Mem 

The knowledge generation course for coaches, consultants, content creators, and small business owners who want to access and use their knowledge to create content, build a body of work, and grow their business. Enrollment for October Cohort is Now Open. 

Click Here to Learn More



Jim Kwik: There's no limit to our creativity. There's no limit to our imagination. There's no limit to human determination and our ability to come together. So I would love the education system to embrace more of that. So independent of whether you're applying it towards a periodic table or Spanish or Mandarin or anything, it's just you have skills and you can adapt because ultimately it's human beings who are adaptation machines.

It's just, how can you learn how to learn those subjects and those skills?

Srini: I'm Srinivas Rao, and this is the Unmistakable Creative podcast where you get a window into the stories and insights of the most innovative and creative minds who have started movements, built driving businesses, written bestselling books, and created insanely interesting art. For more, check out our 500-episode archive at unmistakablecreative.com.

Jim, welcome to Unmistakable Creative. Thanks so much for taking the time to join us.

Jim Kwik: Oh, it's so good to be back. Thank you for having me.

Srini: Yeah, so we have you back here for a second time, and anytime we have somebody back for a second time, it's because it says a whole hell of a lot about how amazing they were the first time. So no pressure at all, but we had such a fascinating conversation last time, and you have this new book out called Limitless, which is filled to the brim with so much valuable insight and information. But before we get into all of that I wanna start asking you, what is one of the most valuable things that you learned from one or both of your parents that influenced and shaped who you've become and what you've ended up doing with your life?

Jim Kwik: That's a great question. So Limitless is a book about, while the subtitle reads "Upgrade your brain, learn anything faster, and unlock your exceptional life". The book really is about superheroes and I model it after Joseph Campbell's, how we popularize the power of myth and the hero's journey.

And so I talk about superheroes a lot and my parents really are, my, my superheroes—which might sound kind of cliché—but it's in my dad. He moved to the United States when he was 13 years old. He had lost both his parents at that age. They couldn't afford to feed him there. And he came to the States to live with his great aunt, who I thought of as a grandmother.

He didn't speak the language, didn't have any money, and didn't have an education. We grew up in the back of a laundromat where my mother worked at. So there were some struggles for sure, but where I really feel like I won the lottery was in their example.

My parents aren't certainly the wealthiest or the most academically inclined or the most healthy and wellness or spiritual, but they're amazing just good people.

Srini: You're a vision of descent, and I think we maybe touched on this last time. First off, do you have siblings, and if so, what was the advice that your parents gave you in terms of making your way in the world as an adult? Career-wise, were they typical Asian parents to go become a doctor or engineers?

And if you had siblings, how did that advice shape their decisions?

Jim Kwik: Different? I have two siblings. They're both a younger brother and a sister. So I'm the oldest. And I didn't grow up with traditional tiger parents playing the piano and going to extra schools and having that pressure. My parents wanted me to grow up purer culturally. And they didn't impose anything; they loved us unconditionally. And that was really an advantage for me, that I felt like I could go, but I felt an incredible amount of pressure inside too, not to please them, but to make them proud. Meaning that I was very cognizant of how much they sacrificed for us. Both of them had multiple jobs, and while they were doing that, my grandmother raised me, my great-aunt, if you will.

And I was very, I wanted a lot of my pressure growing up, with my learning difficulties from my head injury, and all of that was self-imposed. They never made me feel like I had to perform, but I wanted to make their sacrifice worth it. Yeah.

Srini: You mentioned feeling this, profound sense of obligation to your parents for making something of the opportunity that they've given you and making their sacrifice worthwhile. And I think that's common for most immigrants. I think I feel that to a large degree, even with the work that I'm doing here and I'm also in that first generation where our generation isn't doing better than our parents.

I look at the life my parents lead now, and I'm like thinking, "Oh, wow. I would love to be able to get to that just so I can be able to give back to them in the way that they've given to me." Whereas I remember when I was younger, I used to think, "Oh, I'm like, I never want the life that my parents have. I wanna be way richer than they are." Interesting.

Jim Kwik: Yeah. Yeah, I feel like I had that pressure to make them proud because I had such, on the other side of it, I had severe learning difficulties. And so everything was magnified for me. And so I had to study harder to get fewer results than my peers in school all through elementary, middle school, and high school even.

And those were very formative years where you're shaping your personality and your values. And so I was always working hard and that was my purpose. I'm gonna, about the book, talk about motivation and a formula for motivation. I really felt it. And it was always present for me wanting to make them proud.

And it wasn't just a financial thing for me. It was also to be an example to my younger brother and sister. Yeah.

Srini: One thing. I guess what I wonder is, for anybody who's feeling that way, like I do, how do you overcome that sense of sort of obligation or the pressure?

Because obviously, on the one hand, that pressure can motivate you, but it can often also be the very thing that gets in the way of your ability to do the thing you say you want to do.

Jim Kwik: So it's very topical because, as you read in the book, you know what, when I talk about Limitless, it's not just a book about accelerated learning and speed reading and learning languages and remembering people's names. It's also a book of Unlimited. Unlimited is an active process of removing limits that hold us back. And one of those limits could be that other people's expectations and opinions matter more than they do. Meaning that I feel like a lot of us are fueled, as I was, by meeting other people's expectations or opinions, and they don't learn as quickly or perform maybe because they feel like they're in a box or they put themselves in a box.

Because sometimes, you know what, it's, I spent a lot of time in senior centers, visiting the elderly. And one of the reasons why is because I feel like to be able to give, to be able to polish off memories. Part of the reason why is because of losing my grandmother and watching her go through dementia was challenging, especially when I was going, labeled the boy with a broken brain by one of my teachers everything at the same time.

Be with my grandmother a lot, and she

Srini: Yeah. It's funny 'cause I just finished writing a blog post about risk, titled "The Essential Skill We Should Have Learned in Childhood That Impacts Everything." And I was like, "How is it that we, I interviewed an economist named E. Schrager about this, and it, it really, I'd been processing this idea for almost six months."

I was like, "Wait a minute. There is literally nothing in this life that you get without taking a risk, whether it's a first date or a good grade, right? Every one of those involves risk, and somehow we're actively discouraged from taking risks. Like, basically our risk-taking capacity has been drilled out of us with age."

Which I think makes a perfect segue to talk about something that you said in the book. You say that we convince ourselves that the circumstances we're in, the least we've accepted, and the path we're on are who we are and who we will always be. But there is another choice: you can learn to un-limit and expand your mindset, your motivation, and your methods to create a limitless life.

And you actually offered three key tips to overcome a belief that puts us in

Jim Kwik: No, this is wonderful. I love geeking out over this because I feel like it's the most important conversation because again, people could know what to do, but they won't do it for fear of looking bad. And we talk about how children are such wonderful learners. Even when they're first learning how to walk, they could fall, countless times, but they don't give up after the 17th time. They don't say, "Okay, forget about it. I'm just gonna crawl the rest of my life." But sometimes as adults, we'll take a coding class or karaoke or a salsa class or something, and then we'll have an experience and then we won't pursue it anymore. And so these lies have to be, go through a process of un-limiting.

And what I focus on is I focus on seven lies in the book that are just, I feel like generally widely accepted. And, but they really are BS; they're just our belief systems and those are the things that could keep us back. And you've heard these, I've heard these anecdotal stories where if you go into a group of five, five-year-olds and say, "How many

Srini: One of the things I say, and I've realized I say this very often to people, is I say I'm not a great marketer, but I'm actually a good creator and I'm much more committed to mastery than marketing because I suck at marketing. And I always say, yeah, that's why, 10 years later there are people whose audiences are far bigger than mine, who started way after I did. And that belief had never occurred to me how often I say that until I came across this section in your book.

Jim Kwik: And there are consequences to that having any kind of beliefs because all behavior is belief-driven. Yeah. And now I'm curious when you say those words, do you really feel like it's true, or do you feel it's something?

Srini: Yeah, like secondary gain. So I, I do feel like it's true to some degree, partially because I have seen people who started after us. Now, keep in mind the circumstances are different too. There are variables in there that I actually always leave out when I say that. So for example, if a person has a hundred thousand people on an email list and they start their podcast today, of course, they're gonna be, like bigger, have a bigger audience than ours right off the bat because of the fact that they have this one component that actually is much bigger. But yeah, I think part of it is it's oh, there's always this feeling of oh, for how long I've been doing this, we should be bigger. We should have sold more books. Do you know what it is? It just it's this cascade of all these other "shoulds" that come from that one thing.

Jim Kwik: It's interesting. I feel like I've done the same thing. I talk about it for the first time, really publicly in the book, my sleep challenges. And I, for 10 years I've overcome a good portion of them of recent, but for the prior 10 years to that for the first five of those 10 years, I slept about 90 minutes to two hours a night. Wow. And not straight, like deep sleep, very interrupted. Where it wasn't until five years into it that I had a very comprehensive overnight sleep study at a clinic where they diagnosed me correctly that I had very severe sleep apnea where I wasn't breathing. I stopped breathing about 214 times a night, and each time was for at least 10 seconds. So the doctors were like, "No wonder you're not sleeping. It's like somebody coming in 200 times a night and putting a pillow over your face." And and and I later found out at my parents had it both also, and so did my brother and sister. Not as severe as mine, but that's my Achilles heel, that's my kryptonite if you will. Yeah. Because it also got amplified back in school when I would pull

Srini: Wow. Wow. It's funny to even hear you talk about this. I'm like, wait a minute. I'm saying that I'm bad at marketing, and I literally wrote a book about standing out in the world like that was the thing I got a book deal for. So it's ironic that I even believe that. Let's shift gears a little bit. Let's actually get into the tactical components of this because I think that you provided methods and I think it is funny, like the sheer volume of acronyms. I was like, wow, your brain definitely works in a way that I realize you've found all these different ways of dealing with whatever issues you have that are fascinating and incredibly effective.

I don't wanna go into focus because we've just done so much around that with people like Cal Newport and all the other people that have been here. But before we get into a sort of studying memorization and reading, I do want to briefly touch on something that you said about the education system.

And you and I talked briefly about this last time you were here, but you say that education hasn't changed enough to prepare us for the world that we live in today. In the era of

Jim Kwik: One of the kindest blurbs that we got for the book was from Sir Ken Robinson, who I really admire. Many of you are familiar with him. He's got the number one TED Talk of all time. And he was knighted for the work he did in education and creativity. And I feel a huge sense of responsibility because of what I went through in the education system, meaning that I struggled, I feel like primarily because school taught us what to learn, what to focus on, what to read, what to think, what to study, what to remember, but not how to do those things.

So those are the chapters of the methodology. Part of the book is about how to focus, how to learn, how to study, how to read better, how to remember things, and critically think. I feel like it has been embraced at a ground level, and that's been my approach. While I have spoken at various universities from Caltech to Harvard, and we have an enormous huge following base of students who are educators.

My mother became a school teacher for decades. When I was going through these challenges, she recently retired, but she did it because she didn't know how to help

Srini: It's funny you mentioned, yeah, things being recommended to us. I think this is one of the things that I've found really somewhat frustrating about the little Covid experience because this is one thing I started to realize was how often there is a fundamental difference between walking into a bookstore and just looking around and going to Amazon. And honestly, I have discovered so many people that I would've never spoken to here. I got to interview Andrew Yang, a presidential candidate. Oh my God. Found out about him because he was in the bookstore. Like I, I stumbled upon his book and there's, I, I think that bookstores are made for browsing whereas Amazon is made for searching, and searching basically is already predetermined in terms of what you're gonna get as results because of its algorithms. But before we let's actually get into some of the tactical components...

Jim Kwik: Of this love talk. I would love to comment on that algorithm.

Yeah, please. Go ahead. It's really pervasive because again, a lot of this book is about taking the invisible and making it visible, because then when you make it visible, you are conscious of it, then you can potentially change it. For what, it's not right or wrong, it's just what serves you.

And so you think about algorithms on social media, Facebook or Instagram, you're scrolling through. If we engage with every cat post, we like it, we comment or we share it, that algorithm is gonna show us a lot more cats. And again, it could be great because if we love cats, that's a wonderful thing.

The challenge though is like our mind has that same algorithm. So for those people who are choosing to indulge in the news, and I'm not saying again, this is all choice. There's a quote in the book from a French philosopher that I put in there that's very paramount saying, "Life is the C between B and D." B is birth, D is death, and C is choice. And that's life as a series of choices

Srini: Yeah. Speaking of which, let's talk specifically about the process. I think that we did a pretty good job talking about reading last time. I think the thing that I do want to go into this time, and this is of course for very selfish reasons, is studying in particular, because I think that you pointed out that often we were never taught how to study.

And I realized that I wasn't, because I got through high school and got really good grades, but got shit grades in college. Now looking back, I realize it was because nobody taught me how to study. I had a friend who literally would never go to class, and he got straight A's.

And I realized now why it was, and it was because he knew how to study. And the way I want to do this is with a practical example. Looking through the studying framework. So I just enrolled in a copywriting course because I wanted to become a better copywriter.

It's funny because I literally did exactly what you said this morning in terms of active recall. I just finished reading your book, so can you go into the sort of five or six habits for studying that

Jim Kwik: No, I love that. And the study is not, it's not regulated to just students. I, we have five chapters in the methodology section and study is the second chapter after focus and concentration which you've covered a lot on your podcast.

The study is not just regulated to our education stopping when school stops. And so let's just state that in one of the chapters in Chapter Four. My goal in writing this book, I remember coming back to, was for people to get results and that is my primary drive. Because I feel like people buying a book is different than somebody reading a book and studying it.

Meaning some people, which I would say is the majority of people, are very good at going online or going into a store and purchasing books. Some people would benefit from bookstores having shopping carts because they buy so many books. And I get it, but then they sit on people's shelves and become shelf-help, not self-help because people aren't actively reading and studying them.

And I think the primary reason is that they're not good at it. Just think about I don't play a lot of golf because I'm not

Srini: You know, I have Notion Notes specifically for doing that for my community manager Melina, where I'm like, "Hey Melina, check this out." And I literally just adjusted a blog post that I'm working on for tomorrow based on the first thing I learned in that program.

Srini: Yeah. Wow. It's funny. I don't wanna spend a lot of time reading, only because we talked about it last time, but there is something I do want to ask you, because of the fact that yours is one of the rare moments, and only because I knew we were doing the interview and I wanted to make sure that I actually read the book beforehand, where I had to, I was forced to read the Kindle books, which I personally can't stand. Kindle books. Like I absolutely hate digital books because I find them hard to read. Like I even publish this with emails: Hey, here's a pdf. And I was like, no, I need you to send me a physical copy. And of course, with the coronavirus situation, I've been forced to adapt. I noticed that I can read faster, but I actually don't prefer it because I know that I definitely don't retain, and I don't think it's a coincidence that literally Ryan Holladay, Stephen King, like every author that you talk to who has written extraordinary books, swears by physical books. Yeah. And what is, what is your research showing about that in particular?

Jim Kwik: Very much and that's what research has found, that one of the best ways of taking notes is through keywords and key ideas and see how things relate to each other. And so, we teach various methods of taking notes, and mind mapping are one of them. A very simple way for people if that's too creative, quote unquote, for some people using symbols and colors and that kind of expression then something that's more linear that I would think is much better than how people traditionally take notes is just something I call capture-create. Where you take a piece of paper and put a line right down the middle and on the left side you capture information. And on the right side, you create meaning; on the left side you take notes and on the right side you make notes. So you're taking notes or capturing, how to remember names and how to speed read and how to, how to study. But on the right side, if your mind's gonna go somewhere else, instead of it being distracted in your imagination, going somewhere else, put it on the right side and write your impressions of the things you're capturing. Things like, how am I gonna use this? How does it relate to what I know?

Srini: Of books and interviews, I've mind-mapped. That's why I've always said verbatim transcripts of a podcast are utterly useless. I've never been willing to provide them, mainly because I'm like, "Fine if you want them, we can get them. We can put them behind a paywall." At the same time, I'm like, "By themselves, they're not useful."

Even when I go through them myself, I've found that, wow, okay, if I go through and I highlight and I bold certain things and do what Tiago Forte calls progressive summarization, they become a thousand times more valuable. But by themselves, they're not worth it.

Jim Kwik: I'm the same way. So for personal preference for me, I like print books just like I like hand note-taking. It's funny cuz I hate audio books despite them being interesting. Yeah. Yeah. And so I don't wanna, and that's it's interesting. I love it, I think people have preferences on how they consume like to consume information, and the studies on audiobooks compared to physical print books show that people get more out of physical print books than audiobooks.

And one of the reasons why is because I would imagine, as the research suggests, is because if you're listening to it, you're probably doing something else, meaning you're probably listening to the podcast or audiobook while you're driving or working out or cleaning the house. And so part of it has to do with distraction.

I also think listening to stuff, and I'll get to your question in a moment, is also a little bit more passive, but when reading you're more active and it's engaging a different part of your brain. Going back to, for me I see cuz we have a lot of students that, the ones that really succeed, and again

Srini: I absolutely will be ordering the physical copy of your book after this conversation. I, as I said, I got the Kindle version specifically so I could get through it for our convo for our interview, but I want to make sure I have a physical copy so I can read it again 'cause I, I just know the retention is different.

Speaking of retention, let's talk about memory briefly. It's hilarious because my roommate and I joke that he often says, he remembers more about my life than I do. He's like, he corrects the stories of my memories. And I was like, yeah, but you tell them to me. And so I think we're in this very interesting place with memory where you have people like Tiago Forte who talk about building a second brain, which I find invaluable in terms of my ability to process information. You and I were talking about this earlier, I think some of what he's done around personal knowledge management has been really a godsend for me. And a lot of people. And yet, the idea of a second brain is, I, again, I don't think what he's saying is that we want to outsource human memory, but I think he

Jim Kwik: My own life? So that's a great question. And this is something that I teach at places like Google, where their mission is to organize all the information. And I get, people have asked me, even in those training Jim, why do I have to remember information that we can search for? And I completely get that idea.

And for me, there are a couple of reasons why. First of all, and then how, and I'll get to the how, but why we want to do it is because if we lost half of our memory, we know we wouldn't be as effective as if we lost half the words or understandings or expertise or people's name, whatever. We wouldn't be able to perform as well.

Because ultimately, going back to life is the C between B and D. It comes down to choice and decisions we can only make good decisions based on the information we currently have inside. And so if we lost half of that information, we wouldn't be able, we'd be at a handicap for sure. But if we were able to retain more of its, important information, then we could able perform and

Srini: I feel like I could talk to you for hours just because, as I said, I haven't read the book. We could have done literally one episode per chapter. It's hands down one of the most tactical books I've come across in a long time, which is why I was very, it was, I was literally hounding you. For those of you who don't know, I must have sent Jim two or three emails - he'd be like, "Yo, can you come back to the podcast?" So I really appreciate you coming back. So I wanna finish with my final question, which I know I've asked you before - what do you think it is that makes somebody or something unmistakable?

Jim Kwik: So I've always loved the title of your show. For me, unmistakable really is, as it is defined, I haven't looked this up, but it is not able to be mistaken for something else. And for me, I feel like what makes us distinctive and what makes us our uniqueness is our story and who we are. I believe that to truly be unmistakable is to have the curiosity to know yourself. Meaning that we are all individuals. And this process of knowing ourselves, knowing like who we are, and what we stand for, knowing the values that are important to us, the beliefs that support those values, our talents, our skills, and having the curiosity to know yourself. And then the second part of being unmistakable is, once you know yourself, the curiosity to know yourself is having the courage to be yourself. Because some people do a lot of the self-reflection and they meditate, or they do talk therapy, or they go through these processes and they get an ‘I’, they get this very clearer idea of who they are, but then they don't act in accordance with who they are. And it takes courage to really be who you are, going full circle to how we started the conversation

Srini: Where can people find out more about you, your work, the book, and everything else that you're up to?

Jim Kwik: So a Limitless book is the place that, that everyone's coming to because there was a big gift there when people were doing something special. I mentioned that we wanted everyone to read this book to make it the most-read book on their shelf. And, to that end, when people go to Limitlessbook.com, there's a 10-day audio-video companion course that I gift you. And so when you're waiting for your book to arrive, which it's available now you could actually go through it and learn about the three Ms: mindset, motivation, and methods including focus, study, memory, and speed reading.

So when the book shows up, you're ready to finish that book. That's my goal is for you to finish and apply the book. And we're also gonna do a four-week book club when everybody has their book. I'm gonna do four sections to the Hero's Journey main sections, and I'm gonna spend one week per section and show everybody how to read it. We're all gonna share how we're applying it. I'm gonna teach you how to remember the important parts. And then there are two bonus chapters. Also, the Limitless model is applied to businesses.

Srini: Sweet! I can't thank you enough for taking the time to join us for a second time and share all of your wisdom and insight with our listeners. This has been, as I expected, packed with so much value and insight.

Jim Kwik: I appreciate you so much. Thanks for making space for this. And then, I think, and especially now, it's so important. Another reason why I appreciate your show would be that besides the through-line of like creativity, I think the future belongs to the creators in the world we're in right now.

I think we need somebody to encourage us, to educate us, to inspire us, to counterbalance a lot of the things that are out there, because while viruses and fear are contagious, so are positivity, performance, wisdom, and kindness - and that stuff is free. So sprinkle that stuff everywhere.

But thank you everyone for participating.

Srini: Amazing, and for everyone listening, we'll wrap the show with that. Have you ever heard our podcast guests say something that you wanted to remember? Or maybe you read something in a book and then a day goes by and you can't remember what it was or where you heard it or where you read it?

And in the world we live in, there's so much competition for our attention.

Jim Kwik: We're constantly inundated with blogs, social media posts, text messages, emails, Netflix, whatever it is. And if you've ever tried to build a second brain, you probably noticed that you end up spending a lot of time maintaining and organizing folders, which ends up becoming a part-time job in and of itself.

Srini: itself.

But what if there was a better way? Our new Ultimate Guide to Building a Second Brain will show you how to build a second brain that allows you

Jim Kwik: To capture everything and find anything without creating any folders or spending any time organizing the information you need. If you want to be able to put the information that you consume to use and organize your digital life

Srini: Be sure to check out our Ultimate Guide to Building a Second Brain at Unmistakable Creative.com/brain.