Not all heroes wear capes…
If the late Stan Lee had written a comic book about Jim Kwik, a world memory expert, and optimal brain performance coach, he might have titled it, The Boy With the Broken Brain.
Today, Kwik works with leading organizations and individuals all over the world, but he wasn't always known for quick thinking. Kwik suffered a traumatic brain injury at the age of five, which caused his brain to work as if it was in slow motion. School became a challenge, and for naturally shy Kwik, the added pressure of a slow-processing brain brought life to a halt.
Kwik, a long-time friend of comic book writer Stan Lee, told Jay Shetty that he learned to read via comic books. Thanks to his brain injury, the feat took him four years to conquer.
With this daunting start to life, it was hard for Kwik to imagine he'd ever amount to much. As often happens in hero stories, though, his weakness was his superpower.
These days, Jim Kwik and Jay Shetty have crossed paths all over the world and have become good friends. They both passionately chase service and impact and promote the discovery of untapped potential in all people.
Jim Kwik and Jay Shetty sat down and discussed:
- How Kwik became one of the foremost experts on the brain, memory, learning, and learning retention.
- Why the brain is so powerful and helpful tips for using it to its full potential.
- Why positive self-talk is key to having a powerhouse brain.
Though school was not his strong suit, Jim did what any high school graduate did and jumped into college life. He told Jay Shetty the change of scenery did not help his results. He continued to struggle, both socially and in school.
Kwik was on the verge of throwing in the towel. He was overwhelmed, trying to keep up in class and daunted by the amount of reading required of his slow functioning brain. When a friend invited him home with him to take a weekend away and clear his head, he jumped at the chance.
Drowning in self-doubt and discouragement, Kwik recalls the conversation that he had with his friend's father.
“The father walked me around his property and said, ‘Jim, how's school?’’’ Kwik told Jay Shetty. “That was the worst question you could ask me, and I just started bawling. I told him my whole story about the broken brain.”
Then his friend's father asked him a question that changed his life. He asked Kwik what he had that he wanted to share with the world.
“I told him I didn't have any clue,” he said to Jay Shetty. “It's funny how when you don't ask yourself that question, you don't have answers.”
His friend's father, who later became Kwik's trusted mentor, told him to sit down and write down all of his dreams.
“When I was done, I had this bucket list of all the things that I wanted to accomplish,” he told Jay Shetty. “He grabbed it out of my hand and started reading it. I'm freaking out 'cause I wasn't expecting him to look at my deepest dreams.”
When his friend's father finished reading off the list, he looked Kwik in the eye, spread his fingers about a foot apart, and told Jim he was “that close” to everything on his list. He then took his fingers and put them to the side of Kwik's head, indicating that the key was his brain.
“He started reading every single one of my dreams out loud,” Kwik recalled to Jay Shetty. ‘I don't know what it was, but imagine you're this insecure 18-year-old kid, and you start hearing your deepest dreams. It messed with my mind and my heart something fierce.”
The man challenged Kwik to read one book a week. When he protested that he was already struggling to keep up with his coursework, his mentor quoted Mark Twain.
“Don't let school get in the way of your education.”
This mantra would draw Kwik into a life of learning and growth.
Same College, Different Story
Armed with a stack of books and fresh resolve, Kwik returned to college. Things didn't go as he planned, however. After reading himself to the brink of exhaustion, he collapsed and woke up in the hospital.
Thanks to a book provided by the nurse, he read these words by Albert Einstein: “The same level of thinking that's created your problem won't solve your problem.”
Kwik needed to do something different.
“I'm a very slow learner. I have a very slow brain,” he reasoned to Jay Shetty. “I had to think differently about it.”
Kwik decided his first step was to learn how to learn FASTER. He put his studies aside and started studying how to learn, and he didn't start small.
“I started studying neuroscience and adult learning theory and multiple intelligences,” Kwik told Jay Shetty. “Anything I could get my hands on – mnemonics, speed reading, everything. About six days into it, a light switch went on and I started to understand things for the very first time. I mean, it was just like night and day.”
In that light bulb moment, Kwik understood the power of the brain and the potential for learning outside the box for the first time. He did not know this at the time, but that light bulb moment would become the bedrock of his life's focus.
“I think it's a super power,” Kwik stated to Jay Shetty. “If there's one skill to master in the 21st century with all this change that's going on, the only constant is how do you learn, absorb, think differently, and apply it?” Kwik asks. Fostering this is what drives him.
Fast Money By Accident
Kwik had no idea yet the full potential his brain held, but he started by focusing on how he could help others with the knowledge he was acquiring.
“My passion became learning, but my purpose also became teaching,” he said to Jay Shetty. “Sharing it with other people was important because I felt really upset that I wasn't taught this back in school, and I had to go through all that suffering and struggling every single day.”
He decided to share what he'd learned about learning through a free class on speed reading memory tips.
He made a flyer, printed some copies, and hung them up around campus, not expecting anyone to come. To his shock, 110 students showed up for the first class.
Terrified, Kwik promptly turned around and walked out. There was no way he could speak in front of that many people! He mustered up all his courage and took one step back towards the room where everyone was waiting.
“Isn't it interesting that one step in another direction can completely change your destination or your destiny?” he reflected to Jay Shetty.
Although he has no recollection of what he talked about that night, that step was pivotal in his life. At the end of the class, he bravely announced he would be teaching a 5-week course with a price tag of $300.
Within 24 hours, 71 people had signed up for the course, filling his pockets AND growing his confidence.
His course went on to change people's lives. Months later, one of his first students thanked him for what he had taught. She explained that learning to read quickly allowed her to plow through medical books and pick up on a medical issue doctors had missed, ultimately saving her dying mother's life.
“I realized at that moment if knowledge is power, learning is your superpower,” Kwik told Jay Shetty.
“It's a superpower we all have inside of us. And I devoted my life to showing people how to unlock and unleash it.”
Jay Shetty was wowed.
“I get a little choked up thinking about that, but it's my mission,” Kwik said. “I just want no brain left behind. I want to show people really what they're capable of and that we all have genius inside of us.”
For Kwik, the question isn't how smart you are. The question is, how are you smart?
Strap On That Cape And Get To Work
Any superhero knows that their power is only effective if used rightly. Jim Kwik holds himself to that same standard. “Just having superpowers doesn't make you a superhero,” he explained to Jay Shetty.
“Everybody has a superhero power,” said Kwik. “But having one doesn't make you superior. You have to use those powers to make a difference; to make the world a better place.”
Kwik has devoted his life to helping people tap into the power in their brains and put it to work. He and Jay Shetty unpacked some of his top tips for how to make that happen.
What You Believe You Will Become
Kwik explained that it all begins with belief and posturing oneself to work out of a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset.
Shetty asked him to dive a little deeper into this idea surrounding belief.
“What is your advice to people who have those limiting beliefs?” Jay Shetty asked. “How do they start that journey or that process of opening up their minds or whatever you feel is right for them?
“If you knew how powerful your mind is,” replied Kwik, “you wouldn't have a thought or say something you didn't want to be true. Your brain is like a supercomputer, and your self-talk is a program it will run. If you tell yourself you're not good at remembering names, you will not remember the name of the next person you meet because you program your supercomputer not to.”
Kwik explained that people's self-talk could set them up for failure before they even start. He encouraged listeners to think about making simple word shifts.
“I don't know how to do that” and “I don't know how to do that, yet” carry dramatically different meanings. So do “I get to go pick up my kids” and “I have to go pick up my kids.” These changes might seem trivial, but the shift that comes from training the brain in this way can make a massive difference in the long run.
“I always tell people your mind is always eavesdropping on your self-talk,” he said to Jay Shetty. “It's always listening.”
“It's incredible how simple it sounds and seems, even though it has such a profound effect on us,” Jay Shetty reflected. “It has such a profound effect like changing or adding that three-letter word – ‘yet,' right? Just that small thing can have such a huge impact.”
The Dangers of the Digital Age
As much as he loves learning, Kwik is not a fan of the digital age. He's concerned that instead of enhancing learning, it only overloads the brain.
“I love knowing what everyone's up to,” he told Jay Shetty. “It's great for staying up to date with friends and family. It's great for learning and inspiration. But you know, we talk about superheroes and superpowers, but there also could be the supervillain in this digital age – digital overload. Too much to learn, too little time.”
Kwik stated the main hazards he sees stemming from this digital overload are:
- Digital distraction – being addicted to the likes, shares, and comments from social media
- Digital dementia – relying on our phones for things we used to do ourselves
- Digital depression – comparing ourselves to everyone else's highlight reels
Kwik encouraged listeners to set limits and make conscious decisions to create parameters around social media usage.
Busy Isn't Always Best
One of the most significant pieces of advice Jim Kwik has for people is to slow down.
“A lot of people have too many tabs open in their life,” he told Jay Shetty. “They're saying, yes, yes, yes. They're helping their friends, their family, their loved ones or customers or clients, but they're not taking care of themselves.”
He and Jay Shetty agreed there's nothing wrong with helping others – they highly encourage it and have centered their lives around it. What they don't promote is over-busyness.
“People have this badge of honor saying they're busy all the time,” Kwik said to Jay Shetty. “They have designed their whole life around being busy, and they wonder why they're stressed all the time.”
The challenge, the two friends say, is to differentiate between being busy and being productive. Using the word busy gives the mental image of juggling a lot of things. Using productive gives a sense of empowerment.
Friends Make the Best Teachers
Kwik has met thousands of people via his teaching, lectures, and online courses. He's worked with people like Elon Musk, Will Smith, Stan Lee, and Quincy Jones. Jay Shetty wondered what the most important thing he's learned has been.
In many ways, Kwik credits Stan Lee for saving his life.
“He's responsible for teaching me literacy,” Kwik told Jay Shetty. Having attempted to learn to read for years, he finally found success in the pages featuring Lee's superheroes.
He also learned 3 Ps from Lee: Play, Passion, and Purpose.
“At 95, he was the youngest old person I knew,” Kwik said. “He still went to work nine-to-five well into his eighties or early nineties because he loved telling stories. He turned his passion for superheroes into a real purpose.”
“The reason why I love superheroes is because they all have flaws,” said Jay Shetty. “They've had challenging lives. They're still trying to save the world, and they're working together – that's huge with all of their flaws and with their different traits. They are confident in their powers, and at the same time, they can appreciate their need for the others.”
Thanks to Stan Lee's passion and vision, lessons like this will be passed down for generations to come.
Seize the Day
Though Kiwk's start to life was rocky, he didn't let that stop him. Despite setbacks and the fact that it took years to get to the point of success, the master learner and teacher was not deterred. He just put in the work.
“What research shows is that regardless of your age, your background, your career, your education, your financial situation, your gender, your history, your IQ, only about one-third of your intellect, your potential, and your memory is predetermined by genetics and biology,” said Kwik to Jay Shetty. “That means two-thirds are in your control.”
On Purpose with Jay Shetty
Listen to the entire On Purpose with Jay Shetty podcast episode on “How To Learn Faster, Remember More, and Find Your Superpower” now in the iTunes store or on Spotify. For more inspirational stories and messages like this, check out Jay’s website at jayshetty.me.