Brain health can help you protect yourself from cognitive issues. Issues like having trouble concentrating, making decisions, or innovating. It can also help lower your risk of getting Alzheimer’s. There are times when you have to burn the midnight oil but make that the exception, rather than the rule. Learn how to train your brain correctly with your host Dr. Diane Hamilton and her guest Stephen White. Stephen is the Chief Operating Officer at the Center for BrainHealth. He joined the Brain Performance Institute to lead its commercial operations and help bring innovations to the public. Discover the science of your brain and how powerful it is. Be the architect of your own mind today!
We have Stephen White, JD, who is the Executive Director of the Brain Performance Institute, which is part of the University of Texas at Dallas’ Center for BrainHealth.
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
Be The Architect Of Your Brain: The Benefits Of Brain Health With Stephen White
I am here with Stephen White, JD, who is the Executive Director of the Brain Performance Institute, which is part of the University of Texas at Dallas’ Center for BrainHealth. With over fifteen years as an executive in commercial healthcare products and services combined with experience as a commercial attorney and CPA, Steve joined the Brain Performance Institute to lead its commercial operations and help bring BPI’s science-based innovations, technologies, and strategies to the public. It’s so nice to have you here.
Thank you, Diane.
I hope you don’t mind that I call you, Steve.
That’s good. My family calls me Stephen but that’s it.
That’s interesting because I have not thought about what to call you in quite a while. We haven’t seen each other in a few years. I hope you don’t mind I tell a little of our backstory.
It’s a great small-word story.
We have gone to high school together, so this has been a while. I don’t know if I ever told you the story of how we connected but a guy that used to drive me to school was your best friend and he told me that you might be calling me to take me to the prom. I had never met you. You called me out of the blue and asked me. For a minute, I stopped dead in my tracks and didn’t say anything. I don’t know if you remember but you asked me if I wanted to go to the prom and I didn’t have any response whatsoever.
I’m sure I had a great lead-in like, “Do you want to go to prom?”
It was something but we went on one date to the prom and it was a lot of fun. You were the prom king and this super-smart guy that everybody knew. No one knew who I was but you were very charming and we had a great time. I haven’t seen you since.
It is amazing. Isn’t it? When you reached out on LinkedIn, it was an epiphany because then I saw what you do and I thought our paths did not go in a straight line to where we landed. It’s an interesting parallel.
We both became interested in the brain, which is a very roundabout way that we’ve got there. You bring up a good point and I want to hear that path because I mentioned you are a CPA and attorney. It’s no surprise. You were part of the Honor Society and the top guy on campus, so I’m not even slightly surprised by your success. For those who don’t know you, can you give a backstory of how you achieved this level of success?
I can tell the path and you can decide how successful it was. My dad died when I was in high school. I was very young. I didn’t have a lot of guidance into where I wanted to go. I thought I wanted to be an architect. I had this weird math-art brain. My brother-in-law at the time convinced me to go into Accounting because you can get a job and that’s the way I went. I became a CPA at Coopers & Lybrand, and quickly realized that although I had a great experience with them and it was a great first job, I couldn’t see myself doing that over time, so I went to law school.
I met my wife in law school and started the normal journey. This was back in Phoenix. I started getting into Healthcare Law and had a great experience with an international firm, and then went into a boutique firm. That’s where I really started to dive into healthcare-related issues. It eventually encouraged me to get out of the practice of law and move to San Diego to start a healthcare finance company as their general counsel.
I had my stint as a CPA, then as a litigator, and then as general counsel for this new healthcare finance company in San Diego. After a few iterations of that, the credit crisis made it challenging for the company, so then I started getting into different kinds of healthcare technology. I’ve got out of the general counsel role and got into the commercial side of the business. I learned a lot from my mentor at Aperio Technologies, which was a pioneer in digital pathology.
When you think of pathology, you think of doctors looking through a microscope and at glass slides. It uses technology to take those slides and be able to put them on the screen, subject them to algorithms, do predictive analytics and diagnose cancer from a computer. It’s fascinating. That was part of the Danaher set of operating companies. Danaher is one of the largest, most successful companies in the world. They bought GE’s Life Science practice a few years ago.
They had something called the Danaher Business System, which is all about using the improved process to improve efficiencies. Some people call it Kaizen, and some people call it Lean. I have taken those principles now and married those with brain health, and we can talk about that down the road but I realized, that wasn’t where I wanted to land. I couldn’t see myself retiring there.
I then went into the sleep business technology to promote sleep, and lo and behold, my daughter had already started playing soccer out here at the University of Texas at Dallas. I knew nothing about this school other than it was part of the UT System. A job opened up, the job you described and I thought, “This marries my accounting background, my legal background, and passion.” I did some research and discovered that brain health, which is a higher level of health, which is not just mental health, is the next big thing. It can improve how we all think, work and live.
The science is unassailable, so on a flyer, I came out to Dallas and talked to the people here about the job. I was so passionate about it that I moved two years ahead of my wife out here because our youngest daughter still needed to graduate in San Diego. I was doing a little bit of commuting back and forth but that’s how I landed here.
That’s interesting and I’m curious how you’ve got into the medical area. I worked for AstraZeneca for nearly twenty years and other fifteen pharmaceuticals. What was your interest there?
What a small world. The CEO of the company I went into healthcare finance came out of AstraZeneca. The parallels are bizarre. It was trying to find a way to do something big that helped a lot of people. It sounds a little bit fluffy and unicornish but it’s true. We realized that we could change the paradigm and how high-cost therapeutics got to patients.
When thinking of people going to cancer infusions, you know how expensive those therapies are and how challenging it is, so we put together a financing model that was going to improve access to that care. Make it easier for the doctors to get it, take all that profit incentive out of all the distribution channels, which is extremely complicated and fraught with a whole lot of mismanagement. That was the theory. It was inspirational. I was inspired to do something bigger than what I was doing at the time.
As you have progressed through different jobs that you think about what you are doing, and then, you look back and go, “Was that such a good idea?” I started this show 1,500 people ago. I used to ask people at the beginning, “Would you change anything?” Everybody says no because you learn so much from the different things you go through.
Your brain changes with everything you do within tech. It's pretty powerful that you can be the architect of your own brain. Click To Tweet
For me, the brain has always been the most interesting. If you remember, I took a brain course on something once and I have a Master’s level thing that I took for AstraZeneca in all these anatomy and physiology because I love this. My husband is a plastic surgeon, so I’m able to understand at least what he’s talking about. The brain, to me, and astrophysics are the two things that blow my mind when I went to study something because we know this much. You’ve got what you call brain health, which could mean a lot of things to a lot of people. I want to get your meaning of how you define that.
When people think of brain health, we will ask audiences, “What do you think of when you think of brain health? They will go, “My memory, not having Alzheimer’s and living to old age without becoming inferred.” A lot of the way people think about brain health, they think about mental health or the absence of disease. When we think about brain health, it’s about leveraging that very powerful tool of it’s hard to say, so I say, “Your brain is very plastic. All the scientists around me talk about neuroplasticity.” It really is. Your brain changes with everything you do with Intel. It’s pretty powerful that you can be the architect of your own brain, so when we say brain health, we talk about keeping healthy brains healthier, longer, and building that path to resilience.
It’s not a substitute for clinical care but it’s that whole pathway to build more resilience so you may not need as much clinical care. On the backside, when you are done with acute care or clinical care, a lot of our work was centered around warriors, people coming out of active duty, soldiers, and SEALs with a lot of different traumatic brain injuries. It’s like, “After you are out of acute care, what happens next?”
A lot of times, the doctors will say, “You’ve got a clean bill of health,” as a neurologist or the neurosurgeon is like, “I will put you back together and in a year, you will be as good as you can get.” A couple of years later, they are still not back to where they were. There’s a whole period after that where we talk about recapturing what you lost and that’s where we swim in those two big ones.
With me, when I think about the brain, a lot of it I see is from being pregnant and having body parts like my ovaries removed and different things. You are this bag of chemicals and you don’t recognize it until you lose parts of it. Some people are looking at this going, “Are you dealing with people who are healthy in general, have all their parts or have taken chemical additives if they maybe have depression?” There are all these other aspects. Are we talking about healthy people or are we talking about everyone here?
We are talking about everybody but again, we are not a substitute for someone who has a chronic condition that needs clinical care. Our founder says both/and. You can do both. If you need clinical care, get it but we can also help with some other things. Think of it this way. Your brain, we meet you where you are and say, “Let’s make tomorrow better or let’s make this year a little bit better.” You can have a generally healthy brain and make it better. You can have a brain that operates well in certain areas but maybe, you are not as creative or innovative as you would like to be.
We can work on that. Maybe your working memory isn’t as good as you might think. There are a whole host of reasons why that can happen, so we can work on that. We have 22 measures that go into brain health. We measure it. Go back to your business principles, “What gets measured gets managed.” When was the last time you went for a brain health checkup?
I took your assessment.
Before, then. Don’t cheat. When was the last time you had a true brain health checkup at your doctor’s office or somewhere else?
I don’t think they offer that. That’s the thing.
Think about it. It’s our most important organ and we ignore it. We ignore it because it’s an amazing tool that operates under stress. It self-regulates. Not maybe as well as it should but we ignore and abuse it. We have maladaptive behaviors because it keeps on cooking. At some point, we have abused it where you have accelerated that age-related brain decline.
My mom died of Alzheimer’s, so for a while, I wasn’t curious about my brain health, to use your word. I read your book on a flight to and from San Antonio. It was motivated by fear and some assumptions that were probably wrong. What I learned since I have been here, is you can do a lot with your brain that has nothing to do with medicine.
Neurogenesis is real and you can be an architect. It’s not just about feeling better. I worry that sometimes people think, “This sounds like psychology,” you are on a couch. You can rearchitect how your brain is networking, the neural connections, and the gray matter. You can thicken that and increase brain blood flow, so neurally, you can change how your brain is running
Is this through activities or diet? When you say you can do these things, how do you do these things?
We measure 22 different things including diet, sleep, and focused cognitive training. There are many different influences. Look at COVID over the past couple of years and what people had to do. They self-isolated. They were mandated to isolate. They had to do different things. We lost social connectedness. That’s another one of the very important measurements but our BrainHealth Index and data show that they come down to three buckets of factors of all these measures.
It’s about clarity, resilience and fortitude. The different measures that make up those different factors are fascinating. Again, we follow the data. Neuroscience tells us how that works so you can improve your curious thinking. You can improve innovation. You can improve the clarity of thought by focusing on different measures and tools to improve those metrics.
It is an interesting discussion. My husband, being an MD, and my background, we talk a lot about food because I’m not the best eater. I don’t like vegetables. Are you a good eater?
No. I was raising my hand to say, “Me neither.”
I tend to do too many carbs. Let’s put it that way. It’s interesting though to see how much your diet does impact your brain. I have always tried to do better, so in between my candy, I will eat my good food. I should get rid of all that stuff. That’s a bigger part of it that we need to look at of how we are eating and we know we are really bad about how we are eating. I took your assessment. I found it interesting how bad I was at one part. It wasn’t surprising because I already knew this. I could read something and it’s gone within 30 seconds.
Decide what information you're going to want to take in. You can't engage in deep thought by taking in massive quantities of information. Click To Tweet
It’s interesting to me because I was never a big fan of going to school. I graduated from our high school early. I’ve got out at sixteen and was done because I hated being at school. The fact that I ended up with a PhD is hysterical to me because I didn’t like going to school. I didn’t like studying but I wanted to learn. It’s very hard to read something, and then say back what I read. What does that say about me that I can’t even tell you which cities they were in, in a one-page document?
I’m in that bucket too and I learned a lot. When I talked with one of our clinicians because you can do a follow-on brain health coaching and you can do that remotely, what she pointed out is, “I’m surprised that short-term memory wasn’t better given the strength of the other parts of your assessment.” I said, “I have no patience for short-term memory. I take in so much information.” She goes, “You are pruning the information intentionally.” I knew I wasn’t going to swirl around on it because I have no patience for it.
She pointed out that as we get a little bit older, think of all the information we have taken in over time. Your brain can only take in so much information. Where your brain goes, your brain is going to go and you talk about it. What are you really curious about? What are you interested in doing? If it’s not interesting, I throw it in the trash. People go, “Did you read my email?” I go, “Maybe. If it’s important, come talk to me because I don’t reflect on yesterday’s news.”
Miss Nelson’s History class went right out the minute because I wasn’t interested in History. That one was rough. I remember in high school I’ve got my report card in her class. I was with honors in English, Algebra, and all these big classes where I’ve got all these A’s, and I was barely getting a C-minus in her class. She looked at me and assumed like I was this dumb blonde in her class. She couldn’t put it together. For me, it’s what you are interested in. A lot of it is tough. When I read that, it was history stuff and I was like, “I’m in Miss Nelson’s class. I’m out.”
You read one of those that was history-related, so you made a choice. The beauty is I have learned to excuse the little things that used to frustrate me. In the old days, before I knew better, I would say, “I’m going to end up like my mom but no. I’m just making a choice that I don’t care about that information. I’m not passionate about it. It’s not going to move the needle. Why do I care? If I really need a small fact, I jot it down because I don’t want to waste my working memory.
We are in an age where with technology, we can take in massive amounts of information. For the first time in history, studies show that we are taking in more information than our brains can even process. Think about people when you go into meetings. They are there on their computer taking in every detail. They are consuming information but they are not doing it with intent and curiosity. I’m repeating curiosity not to promote your book but you hit on something really important, which is what’s going to move the needle? Where are you headed? Ask yourself why.
It helps you decide what information you are going to not try to take in because you can’t focus. We can’t engage in deep thought by just taking in massive quantities of information. Again, this isn’t me talking. When I’m going to say these things, I’m surrounded by a bunch of neuroscientists. I’m like George Costanza. I want to pretend to be a neuroscientist but I’m not one. I retain what’s interesting and this is what the studies tell us.
I watched one of the other videos that I have to ask you about. I don’t know if you knew this but my dad was born legally blind. He would play books on tape. He would read the paper and have sports on the TV going. He would have seventeen things going at once and he knew what everything was all at once. I watched your video about how bad it is to multitask. I’ve looked and got seventeen tabs open on my computer and that’s the only way it gets something done. It’s bad to multitask but everybody is trying to get as fast as they can. What I’m doing sometimes, am I attention switching? Am I doing something else? Is that multitasking?
You are task switching and your brain is really good at it. You can’t practice it and this is before any habits. Believe me, it was on my CV. I said, “Excellent multitasker that works well while in a chaotic environment.”
I would hire you because that sounded good.
There are a couple of simple exercises we show and some of them are as simple as snapping your finger twice, patting your tummy, and then counting one. Do something else with your left hand under a different thing. We then say, “Now, do both at the same time.” It locks the executives up. Your brain switches very quickly from task to task. You have those seventeen tabs open.
If something requires cognitive engagement, you can only do one thing at a time. In nanoseconds, you might switch from one to another but you are doing it at a high cognitive cost. At the end of the day, if you have been multitasking all day long, you can do it but that battery is drained at the end of the day. Are you your best self when you get home?
I was talking to an MBA class at SMU before COVID hit. I said, “This isn’t all about rainbows, hammocks, and drinking piña colada from school because there are times when you have to burn the midnight oil. There are times where you need to grind through it. My only advice to them was, make that the exception rather than the rule, and if you build resilience with those better habits, take those brain breaks, focus on those cognitively challenging things in 45-minute chunks and your brain will thank you later. Let’s say you’ve got a big project to do and your brain says, “That’s going to take me 3 or 3 hours to get done. How long do you think it takes you to get that project done?”
I’m different than most people. I’m pretty good at estimating but a lot of people don’t estimate well
This isn’t a trick question. If you think the project is going to take two hours, how long does it take you?
If I think it’s going to take two hours, it takes less than two hours but for most people, I would say it takes more.
What we train is we are not saying don’t work for 2, 4, 6 or 8 hours. If you have cognitively challenging tasks, take 45 minutes. Get rid of distractions. Focus on that deep thought need for 45 minutes, and then take that brain break. It’s a little bit like physical training. I’m now Mr. Analogy. Everything is an analogy to me because of the way I think now.
It’s like training for a marathon training or sprinting. You do a little bit of both and your brain loves that. Your brain likes a little bit of change in routine, and if you focus on those 45 minutes on two big tasks a day that is cognitive loaded tasks, by the end of the day, you are going to reflect and see how much more you’ve got done. It’s proven true in the way I operate.
It’s interesting. When I bought my Labrador puppy, my husband and I had this joke. He would leave the house at 6:00 AM. I work out of the home and I teach for multiple universities and all my different companies. He would come back at 6:00 PM, and sometimes, I hadn’t moved. I’m like, “Are you home already?” It’s because I haven’t moved the whole time he was gone. Sometimes, he will go out the door at 6:00 AM, come right back in with something and he will go, “I’m home.” I wouldn’t notice the difference.
Again, being in the flow is fine. Frankly, we like that. When I get into a flow, I’m writing a book now, and sometimes the words come. Other times, they don’t. It’s not working hard and not working long hours because sometimes, we need to do it but take those breaks. Every now and then, take a break. Resist the urge to sit there for 2 or 4 hours at a time, and over time, your brain is going to reward you because it is more efficient. It will work more efficiently. You can be more innovative. It improves all those factors I talked to you about the 22 different measures. They all get better.
Let’s talk about your working memory. One thing you will see is our cognitive training, which is not meant to improve working memory and happiness but when we have seen people are working better cognitively when their brains work more efficiently, they are less depressed, less stressed, happier and their working memory improves. There is this halo effect or broad benefit to having your brain run better.
I took this assessment, which was great and I liked it. I wasn’t expecting that. I forgot this is research. I write assessments. I created mine for curiosity, one for perception, and all these different assessments, so I know the joy of how hard that is. I’m looking at it from that perspective as I was taking it but it was really well-constructed and very interesting to me. What happens after people take your assessment?
When someone falls off the bandwagon, it's good to help them get back on and nudge them in the right direction. Click To Tweet
Let me talk a little bit about The BrainHealth Project because we have a pretty ambitious goal, which is to bring brain health to every man, woman, and child all over the world. That’s pretty ambitious but we’ve got to start somewhere. We are starting here in Texas. In the project, we have people from all 50 states and 32 different countries participating in the project. We signed up 2,000 new participants.
It’s really interesting.
It’s unlike research like you are used to at AstraZeneca. Think of pharma research. That research can be locked down for 3, 5 or 10 years. All this stuff happens behind in these black ops rooms. This is truly interventional research. We are learning as we go. This research is different because what we are doing is we are taking what we are learning as we go, improving the platform, simplifying the assessment, and the engagement side on the backend all while we gather data.
We are going to be having parallel technologies and strategies that come out of the research and we will spawn those off and license those to other people who want to go get rich doing it. That’s fine. That’s licensing out of a university. That’s what they do but this research engine is going to continue to run. It is free but that may change because we learn more about the benefits people enjoy as we scale. What we needed to prove is that our training is effective at scale.
We were good at training people in groups of 20 and 40 people. We bring them in right here to the Center for BrainHealth in Dallas. They go away and feel great but we didn’t have a good way to sustain it and nudge them. I like your Daniel Pink reference in your book. Nudging is very important because we all fall off the bandwagon, so we help you get back on. It’s nudging you in the right direction. You will get a follow-up. You will get an opportunity to have a coaching call.
They will say your results are ready, and then, you can have a remote coaching call with one of our clinicians and they will go over the results with you. Eventually, we are going to automate some of that reporting, and then you will develop your own strategies. What do you want to work on? We are not going to tell you what to do. We are going to talk to you about what you want to do, and then you start taking these strategies and weaving them into your everyday life.
It’s an interesting process to create an assessment. When I’ve got my PhD, my research was on emotional intelligence and its impact on sales performance, so that got me very interested in emotional intelligence tests. That’s why it was wonderful having Daniel Goleman on the show and some others that have focused on that. When I started to study curiosity, I was very interested in finding the assessment that went along with it. All the assessments told you is if you had higher or low levels. I was like, “Where’s the one that tells you what’s stopping you?” That’s why I had to create that.
As I created it, I recognized it was challenging. I hired all these psychometric statisticians, doing statistics myself but I ended up having to teach myself factor analysis and go back because they weren’t doing what I wanted to have done. I was looking at how you have created this. I know I would like to tweak things as I go along with my assessment, so I liked that you are tweaking things. I haven’t done that with mine but I look back and go, “I wonder if I would change this or that,” but I am really happy because mine turned out the way it did. I was able to work on the perception one after the curiosity one. It taught me how to focus on certain areas.
As I was taking yours, I noticed there were areas that were emotional intelligence-based. The wording was a red flag to me but probably not to other people who don’t think this way. I was like, “Look at this.” With perception, we have IQ, EQ, and CQ for Curiosity and Cultural Quotients. What aspects of those are in yours and what other ones do you think are in there?
They are all in there but we use different terminologies. The 22 measures, I bet you there are 3 or 4 of those measures that fit right within an EQ wheelhouse. We have this other platform that’s cool and you were ahead of the curve. We say IQ is an antiquated way to look at intelligence in the World Economic Forum. When you look at the top ten skills needed, it’s all about EQ or emotional intelligence, the ability to be adaptive and creative. What you don’t think about is their holistic BrainHealth Index. You have your thumbprint. I want people to understand that you have a different brain print. The nice thing is unlike your thumbprint, your brain print can change.
We have a great story from a retired Brigadier General who did a lot of work for us promoting what we do with warriors and soldiers. He said, “I can’t wait to take your assessment.” He came back and he was low on all the innovation quality. He was stunned but when you think about the Army, the Army is great at rote. They are great at repetition and efficiency.
Unless you were in the field of battle or a ranger, you have to be innovative at the moment but they don’t focus and teach on that. He was able to improve on the innovation as a retired general who has been remarkably successful but it goes to show you that your brain is plastic and you can change it. I took a DiSC assessment when I was at the Danaher company.
What are you?
What do you think?
I imagine D.
I’m a heavy D with a little bit of I but let me tell you how that has changed me since I have been here. That’s a label. I’m a heavy D. It tells me and other people how I think, so they know how to deal with me. What I didn’t do at the time was to challenge myself to be less heavy D. Rather, I resist the urge to give them the answer when someone comes into my office.
I resist the urge to exercise that dominance and try to empower them to resolve their own issue. People are typically coming into my office like, “We are stuck or I’m stuck. What do I do?” I have now learned to put my foot on those brakes a little bit, take a breath and let that happen. I have my opinion but with intent, I might be able to put a little bit of that on it.
I worked in a company as a loan officer. I was an Account Executive for a subprime mortgage a long time ago. They made us take a personality test and post them on our cubicles. If you were a high D, you might have been a red direct. We knew if we went to a red direct to get to the point and not bug them with too much detail. I was a green, which was an extrovert, so they knew I was going to talk their ear off and that they would hurt my feelings if they cut me off from the red.
I thought it was interesting. I don’t like putting people in boxes so much. I know we do a lot of that with some of these assessments but they are helpful to know what you aren’t because you know what you are, especially on self-assessment. If you don’t know what you are putting down and you are surprised by those results, that always fascinates me right there.
Knowing the opposite of what you prefer is helpful. It’s like the Myers-Briggs training I took when I was getting my emotional intelligence training to learn more about personality assessments. Even if you don’t think Myers-Briggs is that great a thing, it gives you an insight into the opposite of the way you feel. As an extrovert, it’s easy for us to talk all over the person who comes into our office instead of letting them have a minute to answer our questions. All of this is important but a lot of people don’t know what to do with what they get.
There is more support but we have to take advantage of human behavior. It is why the most expensive or highest margin items in a grocery store are at eye level. We need those nudges. Daniel Pink talks about it. What we are learning through our training is especially leveraging technology because it’s your angel and devil at the same time. We all look at our phones too much but that is the world we live in. What we have to do is find a way to remind people gently. It’s not like I have to go to the brain gym 0.5 hours or 1 hour a day and be like, “Now, I have to do my brain stuff.” No one is going to do that.
It’s a little bit front-end loaded with some of the training and we are considering breaking that out into smaller chunks. It’s microlearning. It’s those little touches to start changing habits. What we are doing with the brain-healthy workplaces is it’s going to become a cultural shift for the workplace. If COVID taught us anything, it’s we are going to have to pivot. How many times did you hear pivot during the last couple of years?
You have a thumbprint and you also have a brain print. But unlike your thumbprint, your brain print can change. Click To Tweet
In my day, when I came in through accounting, we bragged about how hard and late we worked when we’ve got in early, and how little sleep we’ve got. That was a badge of honor. That has shifted. In this day’s twenty-something-year-olds, they won’t tolerate it. It’s not going to happen. I was talking with a senior partner at Greenberg Traurig. He said our entire new class of hires almost formed a union and said, “We are not coming back to work. We are not coming back in the office.” He was ready to say, “Don’t let that door hit you in the ass.” It was such a shift. Again, you have to take the good with the bad, so the timing is right to shift the culture.
If we can prove to companies, which we can, that there’s a return on investment if you use your brain more efficiently, it becomes a wellness benefit for your employees and it’s going to help the company’s bottom line. What could be better? That’s the journey we are on is working with companies and we have some early BrainHealth champions. We have an NBA team that we are working with. It’s not the players, just the front office.
Also, we are trying to develop those stories that we can tell. We know what it does for you neurally but that’s a yawner for most people like, “Your white matter integrity is better.” I don’t know what that means but, “Yay.” If you can say, “I’m getting better sleep. I’m happier at home and I’m more innovative,” and the company goes, “You are cranking it out.” That’s a win-win for everybody and we can show that return on investment.
People have a little bit of patience because it’s not commercially ready yet. It’s still a research engine. The Framingham Study is the most famous heart study around. It started back in the ’40s. It was meant to be a longitudinal study of about 5 to 10 years but it’s still going on. What we are going to do for the brain has already been done for the heart. We are living longer. We doubled our lifespan in the past century. We need to do that for our brains because we are outliving our brain health by about twenty years and that’s bad for everybody.
You brought up so many great points and I’m trying to think of what I wanted to hit in all of that. You talked about what we want instead of IQ and different things. I can’t tell you how many people would hire me to talk about emotional intelligence and soft skills in the past before I wrote about curiosity and perception which falls into the soft skills. We know that people are hired for their knowledge and fired for their behaviors. We are seeing a shift in that and we are talking about behavioral changes here.
To me, recognizing what’s inhibiting us is what I was trying to do with my research. I wanted to see what stops me because how can you know where to go if you don’t know what’s in your way? You are looking at the things that are in their way so that they can move forward. I’m curious about what you think where curiosity falls because I have asked almost everybody on the show. Is curiosity about all of this first? Where does it play a part? A lot of people will talk about how curiosity leads to innovation or curiosity leads to motivation. We are talking about all these things. Where does it fall from your perspective?
I would say curiosity is one of those things that creates inspiration. It allows you to unlock bad habits. Jud Brewer is one of our collaborators at Brown University. He leverages his curiosity to help people with chronic addiction. Look at the power of curiosity and habit formation depends upon curiosity. Also, you said it. You weren’t curious about history, so why bother? Look at what you have been curious about and look where you have landed. We don’t measure curiosity specifically but we know from a human behavior side that curiosity is what’s going to get you to that next thing.
When I ask people, “Are you curious about your brain health? Do you want to take a BrainHealth?” We used to call it a BrainHealth Physical, which scared the crap out of everybody. Now, we call it a BrainHealth Index. People said, “I don’t want to know.” I also said I don’t want to know given my mom’s history. You talked about fear and assumption is what blocks that natural curiosity. How can you not be curious about your brain?
I can’t remember the disease state in young children but there is an affliction that happens to infants and the cure is to remove the entire left hemisphere of their brain. When those children reach adulthood, most people would not know that it happened to them. One of our other collaborators has developed a wristband that can teach people to hear because how do you hear? It is electrical impulses permitted by your brain. His name is David Eagleman.
Is it for the deaf?
Yes. It teaches you to hear. I’m looking outside my window. Your brain doesn’t see light. Your brain is a black box that operates in the dark. We take it for granted when we look outside that we are seeing light, we are not. Your brain is just interpreting electrical impulses.
Can you do that for sight too? It’s for my dad. I’m curious.
I have not seen anything but if you talk to Dr. Eagleman, he would say, “That would be the next big thing we would love to conquer but no, I don’t,” because of that very reason. The brain is so powerful but people are scared about what they don’t know. I thought that if I’m going to get Alzheimer’s, I would rather not know until it happens but I know now with brain training, I can’t say I can cure Alzheimer’s but I can get myself a better chance to not get it.
Are you able to tell from your results if you are headed that way?
No, and we don’t try to be predictive. Again, it’s not a clinical tool. All we know are the areas that are working better. My working memory has gotten better although I don’t try to work on that. I can tell you I am more innovative. I can tell you I’m less reactive. I can also tell you that I overtly take negativity and throw it in the trashcan. It’s frustrating to my wife sometimes because she will be like, “You act like you don’t care about that anymore.” I’m like, “I cared at the time, but it’s in the rear-view mirror.” The Dalai Lama said it. Why would you let stress dictate, either you can do something about it, so do it and if you can’t do something about it, why worry about it? It sounds simple but it’s pretty powerful.
Some of those things sound great like, “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” but it’s hard to do that sometimes.
As I said, there’s no magic wand here and sometimes, the small stuff still gets to me. We can get a little bit better at it. The title of my book is going to be Kaizen for Your Brain. It’s leveraging those principles of continuous improvement and applying them to your most important asset and most complicated process in your body, which is your brain.
Is that coming out this year in 2022 or next year in 2023?
It’s going to be in 2023, probably. Given how productive I am on the weekends with my book, it’s going to be in 2023.
I know you do certifications and all this coaching and training. I saw the Warrior Training, which was interesting to me because I have had Navy SEALs on like Mark Divine and others on my show but what interested me the most because I do a show with Dr. Gilda who was famous for being in Sally Jessy Raphael and all the different shows. She has done so much media. We talk a lot about media and how to speak. You do Charisma coaching. That’s interesting. Is this something completely separate from this or is this part of what you are doing?
Let me tell you, the initial audience for Charisma and there’s application beyond it. I don’t know if it’s divine intervention or karma but we had our advisory board meeting and our Charisma team presented an update to the advisory board. Our strategies are called SMART strategies, Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training. It’s based on these cognitive neuroscience principles that have come out of many years of focused research.
What Charisma does is take those principles and apply them to, whether diagnosed or not, youth and adults with social challenges. We go as young as eight and as old as whatever. Think of folks on the autism scale. Think of people who have paralyzing social anxiety, fear of failure, and fear of engagement. It’s across the board.
Curiosity creates inspiration. You can't measure curiosities but from a human behavior side, curiosity is what's going to get you to that next thing. Click To Tweet
You hear the concept of a neurodiverse population. That population is growing. It creates this avatar environment. It’s like a gamified environment. The Charisma participant is not a patient because we have a coach and a participant. They go play this game of social engagement. The coach and participant are avatars. We learn that for some of these folks that have this social anxiety and these challenges, they don’t want to go into an office and sit face-to-face with someone. It’s easier for them to go play the game of social engagement and learn about behavior, responses, and interaction in that environment. It has been hugely successful.
Think about it in terms of how you work in different cultures. I did a lot of work in China and Japan in a prior life and that’s a different culture. What a great way to go into a virtual world and practice interacting with a senior member of a medical institution in Shanghai. We are understanding what it’s like to talk with a member of the government in the Ministry of Health in Japan. If you can practice that engagement and talk about what’s your EQ and your social skills, sometimes that’s easier to do in a gamified environment. That’s what Christmas is all about.
You use the Quest 2. That’s the coolest thing to me. Have you ever been on those?
No. It’s a flat-screen VR environment but we have immersive VR and speaking of immersive VR, we had a donor group. In our VR room, you can put on a VR headset and walk inside one of our science collaborators’ brains and watch his brain networks interact with one another. It’s fascinating.
I had somebody on my show who has a whole virtual training that uses the headsets and the whole thing for education. In the classroom, you would see COVID spreading instead of trying to figure out the formula. I probably would have liked Ms. Nelson’s class if I had sat in Greece and looked around.
One of the fathers of VR in healthcare, Walter Greenleaf at Stanford, is one of our collaborators, the possibilities are endless. At MD Anderson and this goes to my prior life, they use VR for infusion patients while they are getting these infusions so they can go on a trip while they are getting their infusion and take their mind off of what’s going on. You talk about, “Give it context, then it will stick.” I think that would be a great application
If I had read about Pearl Harbor and it has zero impact but going there, you are like, “This is awful.” Different types of the edge of intelligence like Gardner’s and all the different kinds of spatial stuff, we know that we need this. Understanding the brain is so critical to our success. COVID has given us time to reflect on the things we weren’t doing, our preparedness training, and all these things. For me, it has been interesting to look at how a lot of the stuff that I’m interested in is getting out there.
There was a study posted by SAS. I don’t know if you saw. They are a data analytics company that looked at how much the term curiosity is being spread on LinkedIn over the last couple of years. It completely is blowing up because everybody is wanting to know more about things. What you are doing is critical. I love taking the assessment. I want to see my results. I know I died at that one part but I would like to see the rest. That one is going to be painful to look at but there’s no surprise there.
It’s empowering. I was worried to take it and I have taken it three times now. The beauty of it is we want to make it easier to take over time so that people can track it as you do with other things that are important to you because that’s how people stay motivated.
We know we can develop emotional intelligence and I figured it would change based on how much emotional intelligence I saw in there. It’s important that we see that. Some of these assessments like Myers-Briggs, you are what you are and your preference is right or left-handed. We need these assessments that tell us where we are so we can move forward. This is great and helpful for a lot of people. Before we wrap up here, I want to see if there’s anything I didn’t ask you that you would like to make sure we’ve got in there because I know a lot of people are reading this. What else would you like people to know about brain health or anything you are working on?
I’m going to use this time for a little bit of a pun. We are a not-for-profit, so I am not here to get rich and retire. I came here to make a difference. I would ask people to develop a curiosity about brain health. Brain health is different than mental health. Don’t make assumptions about your own brain health. Go on the website and look around. Join The BrainHealth Project, as you did, and help us out.
If it strikes a chord with you, help be an evangelist for us. You talked about it. It’s sparking that curiosity because we want to build a revolution. We are never going to be the Amazon of brain health. We don’t want to be. What we want to do is change the discussion. On LinkedIn, we want brain health to be a thing. We want it to change the culture. It’s very powerful. I want to thank you for letting me come into this slot and share our story. Also, thanks for reaching out. On our exchange, you were like, “Is this Saguaro High, Steve?” My response was, “Yes. Is this Saguaro High, Diane?” That’s how long it was, so thanks for reaching out. I’m so glad you did.
I appreciate it. When you popped up on my LinkedIn as a potential to connect, I was like, “He looks familiar.”
That’s very kind of you. You have gone to the fountain of youth. Age has caught up with me but that’s about it.
I was excited to see what you were working on. I thought, “I’ve got to have him on the show. This is going to be great,” and it was. Thank you so much for being on the show.
- Center for BrainHealth
- Jud Brewer
- David Eagleman
- Mark Divine – Past episode
- Gilda Carle – Past episode
- Walter Greenleaf – LinkedIn
- The BrainHealth Project
- David Eagleman
- LinkedIn – Dr. Diane Hamilton
About Stephen White
Stephen White, JD is Executive Director of the Brain Performance Institute, part of the University of Texas at Dallas’ Center for BrainHealth. With over 15 years as an executive in commercial healthcare products and service, combined with experience as a commercial attorney and CPA, Stephen White joined the Brain Performance Institute to lead its commercial operations and help bring BPI’s science-based innovations, technologies and strategies to the public.
Prior to joining the Brain Performance Institute, Steve was Vice President of Global Sharing Solutions for Leica5 Biosystems, a Danaher Life Sciences company and helped commercialize innovative digital pathology solutions to improve patient access to subspecialty expertise. Steve was also head of Corporate Development and General Counsel for Aperio Technologies before Danaher acquired Aperio in 2012. Before moving to the corporate world, Steve had almost 20 years of experience in private legal practice in Arizona, partly as Senior Counsel at Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, before opening his own practice focused on health care and specialty finance. Before that, Steve practiced as a CPA and business consultant for the audit team at Coopers & Lybrand.
Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share!