Updated: Jan 14, 2020
David's Verdict 9.5/10 | Must Read
Second Edition now available on Amazon for £14.94 (used from £9.45)
Who should read "Make Your Brain Work" by Amy Brann
This book is perfect for leaders, team managers and coaches looking to understand how psychology and cognitive science can bring about enhanced productivity and influence for themselves, their teams and clients.
I first discovered Brann's book five years ago, her approach makes it easy to absorb the subject matter, especially in comparison to scientific papers and textbooks.
Overview of "Make Your Brain Work"
The book contains 15 chapters, split into three parts: you | your colleagues and clients | your company.
Each chapter starts with a story that explores an improvement opportunity through a coaching lens. The story is laid out in such a way that you get the coachee's perspective, as well as the triggers that inform the coaching intervention.
Brann explains the science behind each scenario before concluding with various action lists for a given approach: Top Tips for that approach, Top Benefits For Understanding/Mastering that approach.
Example - Chapter 3: Learning how to influence what feels out of control
The chapter starts with a story about Ben and his coach, Stuart, and a scenario where Ben's emotions are getting the better of him. The narrative progresses to explain the differences between emotions, states and feelings:
Emotions are made up of internal experiences and involve neural and chemical processes. States are highly generalised ways of being. Feelings are your perceptions of the changes occurring internally" p. 57
Next up is an experiment, "How to win a game of trivial pursuit", which introduces the importance of priming as a way to improve performance. Brann goes on to suggest that anyone wanting to take more control needs to ask themselves:
What do I want to improve in my life?
What do I want to achieve?
Who excels at a component of that?
How can I most easily prime myself?
Brann then explores whether we can actually control our feelings. Her findings were that it is easier to recognise the trigger for a given response to an emotion, adjusting accordingly, as opposed to controlling the emotion itself. Brann looks at the cognitive aspects of control and Amygdala Hijacking, where the amygdala, which is heavily involved in emotions, overrides the Cortex which is involved in thinking.
The chapter progresses to explore how neural pathways are created, and the need for repetition to unlearn a previous pathway and a new routine to be formed. Brann then leads the reader to the concept of anchoring and the importance of self-awareness in determining the positive/negative anchors that influence your feelings. Interestingly, Brann concludes the chapter by emphasising the importance of smell as a means to quickly recall positive experiences.
Finally, the reader is left with:
Top tips for negative states: e.g. authentically seek to understand other people's emotional responses to you.
Top tips for mastering negative states: e.g. Get better responses from other people.
Top 3 things I love about Amy Brann's "Make Your Brain Work"
The narrative is engaging, well thought out and takes the reader on a logical learning journey.
Brann is focused on impact through the everyday application of the principles she introduces.
The chapter summaries allow for quick recall and rehearsal of the concepts she introduces.
What could be better about Amy Brann's "Make Your Brain Work"
Honestly, not much. I do note that Brann flips between accepted terms from psychology and neuroscience and the widely challenged concept of Neuroscience-Linguistic Programming (NLP). For example, Brann uses the NLP definition for "anchoring", as opposed to the more traditional cognitive bias in decision-making definition in the field of psychology. This can be a little confusing, and could call into question Brann's credibility. However, I found Brann's supporting arguments to be strong and well-considered, challenging the reader researcher to dig deeper and think different.
I would also like to have seen a discussion on next steps for those interesting in stretching their understanding further. However, this is really nitpicking and doesn't detract from what is a brilliant read.