Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School

Summary by Leza Chryssovergis – Instructional Systems Design Specialist, School for Family and MWR


Medina, J. (2008). Brain rules: 12 principles for surviving and thriving at work, home, and school. Pear Press. Seattle, WA.


The brain really is amazing organ; however, many people do not understand the complexity of it. This is the premise of John Medina’s Brain rules (2008). Medina outlines twelve things we know about how the brain works. For each Brain Rule, Medina presents the science and then makes suggestions for how this applies to our daily lives focusing on work and school.


1. Exercise: Exercise boosts brain power.

Because of the way humans have evolved, one can predict that the optimal environment for processing information include motion.

We should be moving at work to be most productive. Get up from your desk throughout the day (about every hour).


2. Survival: The human brain is evolved, too.

The brain is a survival organ designed to solve problems related to surviving in an unstable environment; and although we are not the strongest on our planet, we have the most developed brains.

We have to feel safe to perform at our optimal; developing relationships with people at work is important so that you feel safe in that environment.


3. Wiring: Every brain is wired differently.

We are hard wired to be… flexible! Everyone’s brain is wired differently and regions of the brain develop at different rates in different people.

Do things that develop/stimulate your brain activity to help develop the different areas of your brain.


4. Attention: People don’t pay attention to boring things.

What we pay attention to is influenced by our memory; so previous experiences predict where we’ll pay attention. Emotion arousal helps the brain learn. Our brain can only focus on one thing at a time.

When presenting, use rich narratives or create events rich in emotion to keep the audience engaged. Do one thing at a time. Research shows that the error rate goes up 50% and it takes twice as long when multi-tasking.


5. Short-term memory: Repeat to remember.

The human brain can hold about seven pieces of information for less than 30 seconds. If you want to extend the 30 seconds, you will need to consistently re-expose yourself to the information. The brain decides if the information being heard will also be remembered within the first few seconds of hearing it.

Repeat the information you want to remember. The best chance of remembering something is to recreate the environment in which you first put that information into your brain.


6. Long-term memory: Remember to repeat.

It takes years to consolidate a memory. What you learned when you were five is not completely formed until high school. The best way to remember, as stated above, is repeat exposure to the information, add timed interval and that provides the most powerful way to fix a memory in the brain.

To make your long-term memory more reliable, add new information in chunks and repeat what you’ve learned.


7. Sleep: Sleep well, think well.

The loss of sleep hurts attention, working memory, cognitive processes, mood, quantitative skills, logic reasoning and motor dexterity. When we are sleeping, our brain isn’t; it’s still learning.

Don’t schedule important meetings 12 hours after the midpoint of your sleep; no one is at his/her best. We should take a quick 15-20 minute nap at that time or at least do something less brain taxing.


8. Stress: Stressed brains do not learn the same way as non-stressed brains.

Our brain is not designed for long term stress. Stress damages memory, cognitive processes and motor skills. Long-term stress can damage your immune response.

Emotional stress impacts productivity. You have one brain; the same one at work is the same one at home. Both places have to be healthy environments for the brain to thrive.


9. Sensory integration: Stimulate more of the senses at the same time.

We absorb information about an event through our senses. The more senses engaged, the more we’ll remember.

It is best to stimulate as many senses as possible to create lasting memories.


10. Vision: Vision trumps all other senses.

Vision is the most dominant sense, taking up half the brain’s resources. Hear a piece of information and three days later you’ll remember 10% of it; add a picture and you’ll remember 65% of it.

Make presentation more picture-based than text (especially PowerPoint presentations).


11. Gender: Male and female brains are different.

The X chromosome carries a large percentage of genes involved in brain manufacture. Men remember situations by remembering the gist; women, the details.

Having a team of men and women allow us to see the gist and the details.


12. Exploration: We are powerful and natural explorers.

We learn not by passive reaction to the environment but by active testing through observation, hypothesis, experiment and conclusion.

Spend some time exploring new ideas at work.

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